Social and Essential Self: Two Aspects of Our Nature
“There is mouse in us, and there is bird. The bird carries the cage upwards, while the mouse drags it down. A hundred thousand different wild beasts are together within us, but they are all converging on that moment when the mouse will renounce its mousehood and the bird its birdhood, and all become one.” ~Rumi
[Mouse Riding the Bird – Drawing by Lisa Freeze]
At the core of my work with clients is to help them transform their attitude towards life and to reorient their identity. This new attitude and reorientation work is referred to as self knowing (Know thyself) which is the cornerstone of Universal Timeless Wisdom. Universal because it is not local or cultural, and timeless because there will never be a time that this truth goes out of fashion and won’t be applicable. Such work, if done in an open and open-ended manner leads to uncovering and living one’s unique life purpose; which means actualising one’s potentials in a meaningful and fulfilling way. But what is this self that one must know?
Each person has only one self but there are two aspects to our nature and therefore two orientations to knowing ourselves: the social self and the essential self. It is a matter of who we take ourselves to be, which aspect of our nature we identify with more; our social self or our essential self. It means to recognise how our life is driven by our social self and reorient ourselves to be gradually guided by our essential self. We will then operate in the world with our physical capacities and personal characteristics guided by our essential or true self.
In the words of Rumi, this means recognising yourself as the jewel mine that you are:
Even though spellbound by this world,
in your inner sense you are a jewel mine.
Open your inner eye;
return to your origin, to your essential self. ~Rumi 
So, we have two sides to our nature which are sometimes at odds with each other. We live in a society that is predominantly focused on Adam-1 while stifling the quiet voice of Adam-2. David Brooks paraphrasing from Rabbi Soloveitchik describes Adam-1 and Adam-2 in the following manner:
|Adam-1 (Social self)||Adam-2 (Essential self)|
|Career oriented, ambitious, wants to build, create, produce and discover things.||The internal or “the humble Adam” who not only wants to do good, but also to be good.|
|Wants to conquer the world.||Wants to obey a calling to serve the world.|
|Asks how things work.||Asks why things exist and ultimately why are we here.|
|Wants to venture forth.||Wants to be anchored in home.|
|Economic logic:||Moral logic(inverse):|
|Input leads to output.||You have to give to receive.|
|Effort leads to reward.||You have to surrender to something transcending yourself to gain strength within yourself.|
|Practice makes perfect.||You have to conquer your desires to get what you crave.|
|Greatest success leads to greatest failure which is pride.|
|Failure can lead to the greatest success which is humility and learning.|
|In order to fulfil yourself, you have to forget yourself.|
|In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.|
The goal is not to be one or the other; it is rather to strike a balance between the two aspects of our nature. It is about integration and becoming whole. But unfortunately the society and culture are increasingly oriented towards the social self (Adam-1) to the extent that most of us are conditioned to take ourselves only as that. We mostly identify with our social self with little or no idea of our essential self. This is the disintegration of the self which leads to much malaise.
The good news is that we can live a worldly life inspired and guided by our essential self aspect and functioned or acted in the world by our social self aspect.
Rumi beautifully puts it like this:
Within us are many things. There is mouse in us, and there is bird. The bird carries the cage upwards, while the mouse drags it down. A hundred thousand different wild beasts are together within us, but they are all converging on that moment when the mouse will renounce its mousehood and the bird its birdhood, and all become one. For the goal is neither going up or down. When the goal shows itself clearly, it will be neither above nor below. ~Rumi
I invite you to reflect on this and share your thoughts, comments and feelings with us.
[i] See Dear Rumi, tell me about money.
[ii] In “The Lonely Man of Faith” by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Adam 1 and Adam 2 are also briefly described by David Brooks in his book “Road to Character”. You can watch his speech with the same title here (~9:45 minutes mark, Resume virtues vs. Eulogy virtues.)
[iii] Respected author of the “Inner Game” series, see his website.