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Most psychosocial theories talk about the progressive stages of psychological development, from immaturity to a mature, adult self. Many of these theories include physical, emotional, moral and vocational phases – the well-known psychologist Maslow focused on a hierarchy of needs, or how needs and values progress over time.
My interest is the growth of self-awareness and how that occurs within relationships over the course of our life.
Self-realisation or actualisation requires an extension of human identification beyond humanity to include the non-human world. We first need to be at home within ourselves (to have a clear sense of the little me and the larger Self). This helps us to be securely located in a forever-changing world.
The central self is the individual self, the inner sense of self: the little “I” or the ego-self. It is a primal space where the focus is normally only on survival, ownership and defensiveness. We need to begin our journey of self-awareness to discover the limitations or unhealthy beliefs, often taken on in childhood, that keep us trapped in this reactive or conditioned aspect. The first step towards a higher consciousness (or the Self) requires us to wake up to the concept that the little ‘i’ is only a small aspect of the expansive consciousness of our being.
Beyond that is the familial self, that part of yourself that interacts with your loved ones – the family of origin or the family that raised you. This includes parents and siblings and all other family members that you are in relationships with. It can also include ancestors. We need to be aware of how our family influences us and recognise that we are a complex system of relationships that affect us emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. To be more aware of this opens us to the path of individuation or a higher consciousness.
The cultural or societal self is the social self that interacts with the community, the school and the culture within which you live and interact. Most of the time when we refer to the self, we are most often referring to an image of our interaction in a particular social setting: “I am a psychologist”. Or we are referring to a unique quality or talent: “I am musical” or something to do with abilities. This depends on how we compare ourselves to others or to the cultural norms. At this stage we need skills, coping mechanisms and capacities in order to be wholesome and functional within our culture or society. These can be learnt. This is where training and workshops help us discover aspects that need to be developed.
The ecological self – this is our interrelatedness to the ‘other than human’ beings: the web of life. In ecology the unit of survival is not the individual but is the organism-in-environment. An ecological identity is an expansive yet an embodied state and not a fully awakened, ‘out of body’ spiritual state. It is an experience, one where the whole person is fully engaged. To me complete ecological consciousness or identity happens with and through the body where the entire person is in an unencumbered state of reciprocity with everything in the environment. It is mindful, awake and conscious, yet it includes the unconscious, the “imaginal” and the collective energies. To me ecological awareness cannot be a state or a fixed way of being. It is only ever a process and can only exist within relationship to others.
The actualised self is the large ‘I’ that includes all these levels above, which I refer to as the Self, with a capital S. It is the fully awakened state of living permanently as if ALL is connected and ALL is sacred. This is a state of flow where we recognise that we are more than our mind, body or environment. It is full awareness that moves in harmonious and effortless flow. This is not something I teach – this is the arena of my own personal practice.