Lower vs Higher Self
By Leo Gura - July 27, 2015 | 56 Comments
Understanding your two-faced nature
Hey, this is Leo for Actualized.org, and in this episode I am going to talk about the lower vs. the higher self.
You are like a light switch. Meaning, that you have, basically, two modes on which you can run. On and off. Or, in other words, the lower self and the higher self.
The Concept of Lower Self
What is the lower self? The lower self is who you are when you’re fearful. When you’re mean. When you’re petty. When you’re untruthful. When you’re selfish. The higher self is when you’re calm. When you’re kind. Noble. Generous. Truthful. And selfless.
And the human organism, if we think of the human organism as a machine, is like you have this switch. And this switch can be flipped at any time. And it can send you from the regular place that you’re at, which is usually the higher self, it can send you down into the lower self. And this is really the difference between the animal inside you and the human inside you.
The lower self is like the animal, the beast. Although, in a sense it is kind of a sleight and a slander on animals to say that. Because it is interesting, with the human organism, the human is capable of being hyper-human and embodying everything that’s the most noble about humanity when you’re in your higher self.
But when you’re in your lower self, it’s like the flip opposite of that. 180 degrees. And, in fact, you’re much worse than an animal. And the things that a human being does from the lower self are really damaging. Both to the individual who does it, but also to the people around that person. And also to society at large, right?
And most of the issues and the problems that we have in society, and the really serious problems that we have in our personal lives, often come from the fact that this switch gets flipped. And we’re not conscious of the fact that the switch is getting flipped. So, I want to talk a little bit about that, here right now.
And I am going to give you two key insights, here in this episode. The first key insight is the following: there is a boundary between the lower and the higher self. And this boundary is something that you probably have never thought about and you’re totally unconscious of. But here’s the insight.
This boundary is being threatened. When you are threatened, you go into your lower self. And the crazy thing is that this happens, for most people, unconsciously. They are not aware that this is going on. And that creates a lot of problems.
And want to give a credit to Evin Pagen for introducing me to this insight here. It’s a very, very powerful and rare insight that most people do not make in their lives. And this creates all sorts of problems, which is why it’s so important. So, think about this.
If you’re making a decision from your lower self, chances are it’s going to be a disastrous decision. Also, if you’re trying to take some action in your life, from the lower self, it’s probably going to be a disastrous action or behavior. And if you’re making some sort of plans for your life, or setting goals for your life, from a position of the lower self, then that’s going to be a disastrous plan that you’re making.
So, why is this issue important? Well, for these reasons: because we don’t want you making bad decisions, bad behaviors and bad plans, right? And people who really screw their lives up, one of the most common ways is this issue right here. Something happens, they get pissed off, or they get really afraid, they get threatened in some way.
They get sent down from their usual higher self, which is nice. And then they get sent down to this mean, petty, brutal person. And then they do something, or say something, that they really regret and can never take back. And then, this destroys their life.
And that can happen once or twice, but it’s really bad when it keeps happening repeatedly and you don’t understand what’s going on with you. And the crazy thing is that you can be a very intelligent person and still not be conscious and aware of the fact that this is happening to you.
So, there’s a distinction to be made here between intelligence, which is one thing — which is not really that important — but, on the other hand, emotional intelligence and awareness, which is completely crucial to the results that you get in your life.
So, when we say that the threat that you experience sends you from a higher self into the lower self, what are we talking about? Well, clearly, we’re obviously talking about physical danger. If you get into a situation where you are in physical danger, for example, maybe you’re driving your car and then, all of the sudden something happens and you realize that, oh shit, you’re really in trouble here, in the next couple of seconds.
You had one of those moments while driving. Even if something bad happens to you, ultimately, still you sense that physical danger, and all of the sudden it sends you into that flight-or-fight response, right?
It’s a physical threat. So, that’s obvious stuff. Or if there’s someone stalking you in a dark parking lot, then you’re going to sense that you’re in physical danger and you’re going to get flipped into your lower self. But, what’s interesting is that there are also triggers that are more subtle. And these are the ones you really got to watch out for. Because, the physical danger stuff…most of us aren’t really always in physical danger. That’s a rare situation that happens to us.
And, actually, a lot of times we respond fine to that. The problem is when you start responding, or just reacting, from your lower self to some of these other threats. So, here are some categories for you. For example, money. A whole category of threats can be subsumed under that. Money threats. There are triggers there that can trigger you, right? So, if you’re going broke, you feel like someone’s going to steal money from you. Or you fell like you’re not going to be able to make more money in the future, something like that.
How about family triggers? The family category, huge. How many of us are triggered by stuff relating to our family, that we don’t like, or we’re going to see that person, or we’re going to have a talk to this person, or we’re going to have to negotiate something there? And those triggers send us into the lower self.
Also, intimate relationships is a huge category. Career is a huge category. Reputation is a huge category. Think about situations where your reputation is on the line — and that’s trigger for sending you into your lower self. Or, also, think about belief systems. Think, about if you hold a religion, or you have religious dogmas. Or if you have some sort of scientific background, and you have scientific dogmas and beliefs.
And you have to defend all that. And whenever those come under threat, then you feel like you have to defend, and when you’re doing that defending, you’re dropping into your lower self. So, the question is: are you aware of what triggers you to cross this boundary?
The idea of this entire episode is very simple. It’s just that there’s this boundary and you’re crossing it. And this boundary is just a threat. But you need to actually get mindfulness and awareness around this in your own life. And you need to see: what are the individual, idiosyncratic triggers that you personally have?
Watching The Triggers
Because each of us has a unique constellation of triggers that send us into this fear-mode. The question is: what is that for you? You need to start identifying that and getting more and more clear about it. And one of the best ways is to just keep a journal, or a diary and, any time that you actually do get sent down into your lower self, and you later notice it, you write down the situation.
So, maybe you come home after work and you’re in a conversation with your spouse, and you two are talking about something. And all of the sudden, some issues comes up, and it’s like: that’s the issues that triggers you to go from higher self to lower self. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s the in-laws. Maybe it’s the discussion about having children. Or maybe it’s about some religious view.
Usually, what would happen is that you would just get sucked in o the lower self and note even realize that that’s what happened. You just have a big argument, and you’d kind of know what it happened. But, on the other hand, you didn’t really understand why it happened, right? And from that lower self, maybe you did something nasty or stupid, or mean, and that then ruined your relationship.
That’s just one example. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks and come up with your own examples of how this works. So, you need to start to do this work of actually identifying this stuff. Not just taking it as a theory, because, as a theory, this is nice, but when you identify it that’s when it really hits home to you. When you actually see it in action.
And here is the second key insight I want to give you here. What’s the actual mechanism by which this lower self gets activated? Sure, there’s this boundary you get threatened, but is it actually happening? What happens when you’re in your lower self? This key insight came from my meditation retreat, which I just came back from. And what I noticed there was something very interesting.
First of all, I heard the facilitator talking about the emotional body. And he said a very curious thing, that really peaked my interest. He said that one of the most important ways in which mindfulness can help us, as human beings, in every-day life, is to make us more aware of how our emotional body revs up. And that made me very curious.
And, in fact, he said that the way he designed his whole system, and the way that he uses language to explain mindfulness, to make certain distinctions in your mind, his whole model for mindfulness was basically — one facet of it — was designed in such a way that it would help you be able to identify this within yourself while it’s happening.
And I didn’t quite. I kind of, intellectually, understood what he meant, but I didn’t get an experiential sense of what he meant. Until I was meditating, and I was meditating outside for most of the retreat. Next to this little, nice, beautiful wooden chapel. Just like this small, little private chapel. And there’s a bench, and I was sitting outside. And it was this place near the woods, so there’s a lot of insects flying around.
The Wasps Parable
And I was sitting there meditating for the whole week, and what I noticed is that there are a lot of wasps flying around me. And at first, it just seemed like a random wasp, here and there, that’s normal. But then I looked around as I was setting up my bench one morning. And I discovered that — oh, shit — there’s a wasp nest right behind me as I’m sitting on my bench.
And it’s, kind of, near the ground. And I’m sitting on this balcony, and no wonder all these wasps are flying around me when I’m meditating. It’s because I’m sitting in their flight path. It’s like they are flying to and from their home, and I’m right in the middle of it. Sitting there, trying to meditate.
But it was a beautiful spot, so I wanted to keep the spot, didn’t want to move. And what I did is I just said: ok, I’m just going to deal with that. I’m going to sit through it. But the very interesting thing that happened to me is that, see, the problem is that the emotional body revs up of you probably many times a day in your life — but you don’t actually notice it.
You’re not mindful enough. You don’t have enough awareness. This is a muscle that needs to be developed. so, when I was sitting there, I got a really interesting science experiment just fall on my lap. Because I was sitting there, and I was meditating, and I was getting into a place where I could totally calm myself down.
And if you ever get into that kind of meditative place, where you calm yourself down completely, and you get a really clear sense of what’s going on in your body, emotionally — you get in touch with all the different sensations in your body — what you’re going to notice is that there’s a very clear and palpable sense, like: “Oh, I’m relaxed and everything is normal and cool, and I can just be calm.”
And you notice that there’s a lack of any kind of churning emotions, or any kind of churning sensations in the stomach, or in the chest, or any kind of tingling sensations in your limbs, stuff like that. But then, when a threat presents itself — and this is actually the interesting thing here — because usually, when you’re meditating, you don’t get threatened very often.
But this was interesting, because the wasp, as I’m meditating with my eyes opened, the wasp flies by my face and I can’t help but go into an emotional reaction. Even though I’m not doing it consciously. It just happens to me, right? Because, in humans, we’re hard-wired to have phobias of spiders and snakes and various insects.
So, this was very curious, because I was sitting there and I was totally peaceful and calm. But then, this wasp just flies and hovers near me. And all of the sudden, I can see, like: holy shit, my emotional body just lit up like Christmas tree, right? I can see it, it’s getting doing and getting doing and getting doing, right?
And it starts like a sensation in your lower abdomen, and then maybe it moves up to your chest, and maybe your hands and feet get involved, and your limbs get involved, and then your mind gets triggered, and your mind starts flashing pictures to you of a wasp biting you in the eye. Or biting your eyeball out. Or landing on the back of your neck when you’re meditating and stinging you multiple times in a row. Or something like that, right?
You start getting these fantasies of a killer wasp out hunting for you. Or maybe the whole family is going to come join this one wasp, and they are all going to sting you to death. That’s literally what your mind starts coming up with once the emotional body revs up more and more and more.
And what’s fascinating is, if you ever get the chance to just sit there and watch how your emotional body revs up, and then also revs back down, and then revs back up, and then revs back down — then you start to really get this sense, like: “Oh, man, this is a really important skill to develop, this ability to sense when this emotional body is doing what”.
Now, I was sitting there and this was like a perfect science experiment. Because I was sitting there almost like this lab setting, where I could isolate the variables. The problem is that most people in their lives don’t get this kind of opportunity.
And, in fact, just the other day I was sitting and doing some work, and only because I’ve been meditating a lot over the last couple of weeks, after I finished the work I took a little break, sat down on the couch. I realized: holy shit, I was just working for fifty minutes and my entire emotional body was lit up like a Christmas tree.
But I wasn’t really aware of it. Until I just came out of that work session and into my break, and now I’m sitting here trying to practice a little bit of mindfulness. And now I can actually see: Oh, man, there’s all this weird emotional sensation happening in my lower abdomen.
And I can really feel it. And it’s there. And It’s not that easy to just let it all go. Actually, I had to sit there and practice meditation for, maybe, two or three minutes just to start it to get to rev down, and rev down, and rev down, and put me into a really nice, calm, even-grounded place.
Now, that’s something that you get when you do meditation practice, and mindfulness practice, which is what most people are missing out on, right? They think that meditation is just going to give them something, or some calming of the mind. But they don’t understand that they are going to get these critical distinctions than now you can apply to places in your life. And it’s like a muscle that you have to build up, this mindfulness muscle.
So, what I’m talking about here, this insight of the emotional body revving up, I don’t mean that, just as soon as it revs up that, instantly, you’re in your lower self. Usually, what happens is that it revs up and you’re still cool. But then it revs up a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more. And after a certain point, it revs up enough that it kind of becomes this snowball that’s rolling down the hill. And it’s totally lost control. And it’s turned into an avalanche, which is now this powerful thing and it’s unstoppable.
And that’s when you’re in your lower self. When that avalanche…when that snowball turns into an avalanche. And so, why mindfulness is so powerful, and meditation is such a powerful practice, is that you can start to see when the snowball starts rolling. When it’s still a little, baby-snowball. Before it turns into an avalanche. And you can prevent it from becoming an avalanche. Not even by trying to control it, necessarily. But simply by observing it.
It’s crazy that just simply observing what’s happening in your emotional body is enough to make is dissipate and go away. Whereas, when you’re not observing it, and you don’t even know that this is happening inside you, what happens is that it tends to be just runaway effect. And you just get blind-sighted by this thing.
So, one thing I recommend is that, if you do have a hornet’s nest near your house, then go try this out. This is a really cool experiment. Go try meditating outside. And make sure that you’re sitting there with your eyes wide pen, so you can see all the wasps flying around you. Maybe you want to even put some food for them, that they can come near you, right? And just see how your emotional body revs up. It’s a really cool exercise to do. But also, not everyone has a hornet’s nest near them, so it’s a little hard to engineer that.
Alright, so that’s the two key insights. Now, you might ask: “OK, I get the theory. Now what do I do with this, Leo?” Well, here are some action steps for you.
Number one is: make sure that you make a commitment right now, and for the rest of your life, to never make decisions when you’re in your lower self. Now, of course, this implies that you have the ability to be aware of when you’re actually in your lower self. So, what that means in practice, if you want to actually honor this commitment, is that you build your awareness muscles, so you can see when that line is actually crossed, and when you do step down into your lower self.
There are a couple of ways you can do this. One way is to just let it happen to you. And you’re only going to be able to tell after the fact, right? So, maybe you’re spouse says something nasty to you, and that sends you into your lower self. And you don’t realize it for a day, and you have this huge, blow-out argument. with your spouse. But then, the next day, in the morning, you realize: “Oh, shit, I got sent into my lower self and I didn’t even realize it. But at least I realize it now. OK, so that’s how it happened”. And then you retrace your steps.
So, there’s that way. That’s kind of the trial-and-error approach. Not the best way. But that one works for people in a pinch. So, you can use that. You got to remember, though, to do that. Otherwise, you’re going to forget. Maybe keep a journal or a log of all these incidents that happened to you of crossing the line.
So, that’s one way. Another way is just practicing more meditation. Another way might be doing this wasp experiment that I told you. So there are multiple little techniques you can employ to do this.
The other thing you should do, as an action step, is make a commitment to disengage from people when you’re in your lower self. We don’t want you making decisions when you’re in your lower self. We also don’t want you engaging with people.
Why not? Because probably you’re not going to have something nice to say when you’re in your lower self. Probably, you’re going to be a dick. Probably, you’re going to be a bitch. Probably, you’re going to say something nasty. Probably, you’re not going to really be generous or magnanimous. Or very truthful or very honest, right? probably, you’re going to be quite selfish.
So, all these things we’d like to avoid in our lives — because there’s a lot of bad fallout that comes from behaving that way — so, one simple solution is just to disengage from people. And actually, you can tell them: “Hey, I’m in my lower self right now, so I don’t want to engage you”.
Maybe your spouse is talking to you, and you guys are in the middle of a conversation, and you’re sensing that it’s getting heated. And you sense that: “I, just crossed the line!” And if you have enough awareness of that, then you can just tell your spouse: “Hey, let’s just cut this conversation off right now. I’m going to go watch some TV for an hour, because I sense that I just got triggered into my lower self. And I don’t want to say or do something that I’m going to regret”. And, just, actually say that to your spouse. And just see what happens.
You’ll probably get a much better reaction than you normally would. Or, if you’re engaging with your boss at work, or with your employees. Same kind of deal, right? As soon as you sense yourself getting triggered into your lower self, find a way just to distract yourself to not have to deal with that situation right there. That you can just take a little bit of time off. Your emotional body can rev down, and then you can come back clear-headed. And deal with the situation with a more powering way.
So, make that commitment too. Also, practice mindfulness of the emotional body revving up. This is a more subtle thing than actually crossing the line. And this is something you can do on a daily basis. Just go work for a couple of hours. And then get off work and come sit on your couch, or sit in a chair at your office, and just meditate for five minutes. And just see. Calm yourself, and see where were you at before and where you are at now.
What you’re probably going to notice is that you’re so stressed during the day, and you don’t even notice that you’re stressed. Because it just becomes like you’re a fish in water. You don’t notice the water. It’s only when you calm yourself down, and actually put yourself into a meditative state, that you can, actually, finally realize, by way of contrast: “Oh, damn! I was stressed for two hours.
And only now I can realize why I was stressed and the fact that it’s happening somewhere in my body”. And you’re going to get more and more experience with that. And then you’re going to get better and better mindfulness muscles. So, that’s a good way top practice that.
Another thing you should do is change the structure of your life, if you need to, to remove the triggers that send you into a threat mode. So, if you’re living in a part of town where there are gangs and violence, then you probably don’t want to just sit there and get accustomed to that. You probably, actually want to go and change your neighborhood.
Or, if you’re living in some third-world country where there are some safety issues, and you feel like you’re in physical harm, you probably want to change your location. Or maybe change where your house is positioned. Something like that. Maybe get some stronger locks on your door.
I mean, it’s ok to actually go out and take some action to fix this stuff, right? It’s not just all mental. But also, beyond the physical danger stuff, you need to get more awareness around the triggers that you have. So, money, family, relationships. All that stuff we talked about. Career. Your reputation.
And once you know those triggers, then you got to actually change the structure of your life to remove the worse triggers. Because, if you’re living your life in this way where you’re constantly triggered by these things, all the time — and that’s just the function of the environment that you’ve created for yourself — then you know what? All the personal development in the world is not going to really help you. Because you do need to work on these triggers.
So, maybe you have a boss that’s always yelling at you and berating you at work. And maybe that’s always sending you into your lower self, because you always feel threatened when he’s yelling at you. OK, well, you probably want to consider changing jobs. Or moving to another department at work, right? That’s what I would call a structural change to your life.
But, before you can do that, first you need to recognize: what are the triggers? So, the last action that I want you to take is — go get some coaching or some therapy. Or, if you can’t afford that, then sit down and really some serious journaling yourself. And ask yourself this question: What are the most common triggers for me that send me into my lower self? That’s the key question for you.
And this might be something you can sit down and think about right now, and come up with some examples. But also, it might be something you have to actually do over the weeks and months. Because you’re probably not going to be aware of these triggers until they actually start happening to you. And now, you know these ideas that I’ve talked to you about, right? Now, you have these distinctions which you didn’t have before.
So, sit down, and slowly, progressively make this list of triggers. So that you know what they are. And you can get coaching on those. You can get therapy on those. You can go buy some self-help books that will help you deal with those. You basically have to un-wire them.
Surviving Through The Game
What you’re going to discover is that, a lot of those triggers, they probably go back far into your past. The roots of that trigger stem all the way back to your childhood somewhere. Maybe to your earliest memories. Or maybe to the dysfunctional relationship you had with your mother, or with your father, or with your sister, or your brother. Something like that. That’s usually what it is.
And you know, those can involve some work to un-wire. That’s why therapy’s so popular. Because therapy does that. That’s why coaching is popular. Because coaching helps you to do that. And it can be difficult to un-wire a trigger like that all by yourself. Because, usually, what happens is that you’re so sucked into the trigger that, again, you’re like a fish in water.
You don’t notice that this triggers is actually not a part of you. It’s like an artificial, dysfunctional part of you. So ,a lot of times it helps a third person to look at your situation, to give you some guidance. Which is why therapy or coaching can be so effective. But, you can do it yourself. If you’re very determined. Alright, so that’s it. Those are your action steps. Go ahead and do this, and I will see you soon.
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