Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I? 4


The cave of the heart

In my second therapy I remember asking, but ‘who am I’? The analyst’s answer was you are what you feel. Being in touch with what we feel is about how we are, and perhaps even who we are at any one time. Different emotions can bring us to a different sense of self or of ‘I am’ – these are the non-egoistic emotions such as ‘compassion, humility, wonder, sorrow, grief, empathy, remorse, shattered’, and so on. These bring a completely different sense of ‘I’ – usually quiet, strong but without a sense of violence, and can be called the impersonal emotions, only in the sense of not strengthening the egoic sense of who I am or what has been called the conditioned psychological me.

Most of the other everyday emotions involve the ego, not the deeper ‘I am’ – for example ‘fed up, uncertain, hostile, humiliated, happy, proud and so on,’ and all these tend to strengthen my egoic sense of who I am. Nothing wrong with these feelings, which of course are important in knowing ourselves – the good, bad and indifferent.

The impersonal emotions are not experienced as strengthening the ego, but rather draw us out of ourselves. Jacob Needleman writes that these emotions bring a movement toward the real I, the Self – the intimate and powerful ‘I am’. Although called impersonal they are of course deeply and intimately personal as they carry the deeper reality. Such emotions link with a highly conscious energy, with a universal property of ‘I-am-ness’ and Needleman links this with the God who is hidden behind the image of God, and Meister Eckhart’s experience of pure Goodness. I think this is like an aspect of the Self with a capital ‘S’ – the idea of that of God within each person.

Needleman interestingly writes that despite all the Western and Eastern religious philosophy he taught and read, he remained in the hidden part of himself an atheist – a place he called that cave of absence. He wonders whether this is true for many that:

‘…down in the subconscious depths, the crisis of our civilisation is the absence of the divine, uncorrupted impulses of hope, love and faith … I think the soul of our whole civilisation is asleep in the same cave.’

However, he did experience the value of an on-going inner struggle to see himself as he was – describing the hope of consciousness and the hopelessness of self-delusion – this is the work – the work on oneself. The work involved three parts: the ideas and writings of others; being part of a community where teachings were shared – in his case the Gurdjieff community, and thirdly finding someone who could serve as a guide along the way to Self-knowledge.