Lower Self and Superimposed Conscience

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From lecture 116, STRUGGLE BETWEEN THE LOWER SELF AND THE SUPERIMPOSED CONSCIENCE:

One of the most tragically futile inner battles is the fight between what we have called the lower self and the superimposed conscience. So often an expression or a term used without truly understanding its deepest meaning finally loses its impact and one uses it like a parrot repeating a word. This mechanical usage is harmful. It has the very opposite effect to what we seek to attain — independent understanding, creative thinking. Therefore occasionally we need to redefine a term, to bring freshness to it, not only to avoid confusion, but also to give more of an impact to our approach and understanding. So let us briefly determine again what I mean by the lower self.

The lower self is not only that part of human nature where faults and character-defects lie. It also includes something more subtle and less definable. The best way to describe it is as an emotional climate of egocentricity. Regardless of good intentions, unselfish acts, considerate attitudes, this inner world of egocentricity continues to exist. The stronger the good intentions, the more difficult it is to find, acknowledge and accept the existence of the persisting negativity. The more the childish, one-sided egocentricity is hidden in guilt and shame, the less can it grow out of this one-sidedness. You must become acutely aware of its often preposterous self-concern to the exclusion of all else. In this area of your being you wish to rule supreme. You do not want to know another’s interests which you violate at any cost so that a small wish or a small gratification of your vanity overrules more important issues for other people. True, you do not often act by it, but in your half-conscious wishes and aims you do react from this lower self.

The problem is much less the existence of the lower self than the nature of your attitude toward it. Your shame and guilt are a result of one of those misunderstandings I mentioned which prohibit growth and unfoldment. The misunderstanding comes from the idea that you, of all people, really should have already completely overcome the lower self and no such childish, preposterous selfishness and self-concern should have a place in you. Thus you start an elaborate system of self-deception and pretense which brings you into vicious circles and inner conflicts destroying your happiness and self-respect. Very few people are reconciled to the existence of their own lower self. They may do so in theory, but are not reconciled to actually owning up to certain facets of it in themselves. Yet only by doing so can it gradually be outgrown. In denying its existence, you overlook its manifestations; how it is indirectly expressed in vague emotions, which are instantly covered up and pushed out of sight. How can you overcome something if you are not fully aware of its specific manifestation? Certainly not by a general theoretical knowledge of its existence!

Due to your shame and guilt about your lower self and the consequent hiding of it, you do everything to nourish its continuance with dire effects on your personality; you prohibit the very thing you most want: to grow out of it. What is more, due to the self-deception, more confusion sets in. Since all this is an unconscious process into which discrimination and reason cannot enter, along with the actual self-important and destructive impulses you also hide some of your most creative and inherently constructive impulses — out of mere misunderstanding. Impulses and instincts which are potentially productive and life-giving, if they are not allowed to grow in the sunlight of awareness remain thwarted and, in their current form, are actually destructive. They could grow into something beautiful, but are not allowed to unfold because you are unconscious of the fact that their present form is not the ultimate one. You then conclude that they must therefore be ousted by denial.

Now let us recapitulate so as to make this process quite clear. The repression of the lower self falls in three categories: (1) repression of the actual lower-self in its distinct and extreme manifestations and character trends, as well as of the subtle overall climate of egocentricity and self-concern to the exclusion of all other interests; (2) repression of creative and productive aspects and trends; (3) repression of instincts which are as yet unproductive and self-centered in their immature state, but are destined by nature to become creative and constructive if given a chance to grow.

It is important to make the distinction and realize that all three categories of inner negative trends need acceptance and awareness, each for its own reason. Then it will often be found that the most valuable prize a human being has to offer to life is held in check, denied, and hidden. Hence a vast confusion exists in you. You suppose the confusion regarding the actual lower-self trends will disappear when you deny their existence and pretend opposite intentions and wishes. In your confusion you deny the potentially vibrant life-force the opportunity to function in its own beautiful, healthy way. The healthy and unhealthy trends are intertwined and the personality is thrown into despair. All this happens in a vague vacuum, in a no man’s land between awareness and unawareness.

It may be a valuable task for my friends to ponder over all this during the summer months in which there are no group activities. It may give you an excellent preparation for our work together next year when we all hope to make further progress on this path. Question yourself, first, not as to the actual nature of your lower self, or what you consider as such. Rather, begin by looking at your attitude toward its existence. Are you shocked about certain of its manifestations? Are you impatient with yourself because of it? Do you feel it should already be gone, thus rejecting your state of being human? Do you also deny something in yourself that could be very constructive if you were to view it afresh and not be influenced by standards you have assumed without ever questioning their validity? Begin to observe the subtle manifestations of the lower self in certain of your reactions and impulses. Observe how you tend to immediately push them away. Now look at the wishes and attitudes in such fleeting reactions. Pull them out into the open and calmly look at them. Determine your harsh, intolerant treatment of yourself in this respect, your rigid, uncompromising, self-destructive severity which is way out of proportion. All this is healthy preliminary work for the phases to come. This is one side of the battle.

Now what is the other? The concept of conscience is vastly misunderstood by humanity. Quite a few years ago, I explained that people have two kinds of conscience: one emanating from the real self, the other being superimposed. It will be useful to review briefly some characteristics of the superimposed conscience.

When religious people speak about conscience, they think of the inner conscience, coming from the divine center of the human spirit. But they usually ignore the vast difference between the inner and the superimposed conscience. In their eagerness to make the human being a better creature, the forces of society coerce the individual to follow and obey moral standards. Because of this pressure from the outside the superimposed conscience is strengthened and the inner, real conscience becomes more covered up.

Yet the superimposed conscience is not necessary to prevent a person from acting out primitive destructive instincts. For those whose inner conscience is not sufficiently developed to restrain them from committing destructive acts, the mere existence of social laws would serve as well, or better, than the superimposed conscience. The latter only does harm. As explained before, in the first phase of this inner struggle the superimposed conscience hides the lower self, instead of bringing it out into the open. Thereby it eliminates the possibility of the lower self’s growing out of the infantile state. But the superimposed conscience hides also the most constructive and creative life-force and the impulses that would free the life-force. It is an unnecessary artificial creation instilling an unrealistically distorted view of oneself as well as of the way one believes one would have to be. It creates self-punishment and imposes shackles which prohibit the manifestation of every divine quality inherent in the soul. It certainly never prevents crime or destructive actions. In fact, it causes the opposite to happen. By repressing and hiding them, the forces that could easily be dealt with on the surface of consciousness germinate and accumulate and create great inner tension and pressure. You are then often driven into acts you cannot help committing if only because you have too long used the superimposed conscience, instead of giving yourself the chance to finally contact the inner conscience which is part of the spiritual center. Last, but not least, whenever a person rebels against laws and all standards of ethics and morals, he or she does so because of the harsh superimposed conscience which knows no mercy; which is inflexible in its demands and is blind in its evaluation. Yet one never rebels against the real, inner conscience.

Understand, my friends, that what stands between you and your inner, real, self is not only your errors and misconceptions, your false images and distortions, your lower self, but also the superimposed conscience. It is the latter that creates so much confusion and often prevents you from reaching freedom and truth. It is the superimposed conscience that induces you to reject yourself as a human being. Between its demands and the demands of the primitive, self-centered child you still harbor within, you are torn apart in the storm raging inside of you. As long as this conflict is not out in the open, you cannot master it. You cannot possibly extricate yourself from both these unrealities. You cling to the superimposed conscience in the false belief that it alone can prevent you from acting upon your lower-self instincts. Therefore you can never come to a healthy, secure trust in yourself, because you do not give yourself the chance. Healthy self-respect can come only from your real self, from which you alienate yourself further by clinging to the superimposed conscience. You find yourself in one of those vicious circles we have so often mentioned. As long as one has not found the real self, one must cling to the superimposed conscience, obeying, conforming, appeasing, and blindly following it. Never developing the independent faculties of thinking and discriminating, one becomes weaker and more dependent, less able to stand on one’s own two feet.

The outer action in question may or may not be the same. But there is a tremendous difference between acting out of bondage and fear — in other words by following the superimposed conscience — and following the voice of your real conscience in a spirit of freedom, derived out of your own inner struggle, your intuition, your reason, even if the result be the same. If you rebel against the superimposed conscience, you are no more free than if you obey it. If you obey the superimposed conscience, and the result of such a decision is not to your liking, the corroding effects will be rebellion, self-pity, and putting the blame on life and the world. If you obey your real conscience, you will take all the responsibility upon yourself and even a negative outcome will not throw you into despair. You will soon see that the pleasant or unpleasant result is not as vital as you may believe it to be, because in either alternative you have equal possibility for growth if your actions and decisions are derived from yourself and your own standards.

The fight between the superimposed conscience and the primitive, self-centered, destructive child is a tragic one — tragic only because of your lack of awareness of it. For it is so superfluous.

Of course, education has a great deal to do with it. When humanity becomes aware of these things and guides young people into the right direction, much harm will be eliminated. It is important to know, however, that not only ignorance and poor guidance are responsible for the struggle within yourself, for you are not enmeshed in this struggle in every aspect of your being. In some areas of your psyche you are quite free and function without clinging to superimposed demands, standards, or rules as they may actually exist or are believed to exist. It is noteworthy that you adhere to the superimposed conscience and do not accept your shortcomings or your lower-self aspects — whether real or imaginary — only in the realms where your personal, specific inner problems hold sway. When you consider these problems in the light of this specific struggle, you will understand how your inner problems and this particular struggle are connected.

Personality problems and deviations come, as you know, from childhood hurts and frustrations — real or imaginary. When you do not feel secure in the affection of and acceptance by one or both of your parents, you elaborately build a defense against this hurt, trying later to correct it. You have found it to be true that this actual childhood hurt need not burden you for life, but your defense against it, which you continue to use, destroys for you the possibility of fulfillment. All of that you know very well by now, not as mere theory, but from personal discovery. The parent one feels uncertain of, in awe or fear of, usually stands for the superimposed conscience, because one so desperately tries to win his or her affection. Not only social rules are incorporated in one’s superimposed conscience, but also particular rules of the superimposed conscience of the parent in question. It may often be the case that you merely believed these standards were expected of you by this parent. In this investigation, the emotional atmosphere and climate is important, not the actuality.

You cannot possibly recognize the superimposed conscience in its full significance unless you view it in relationship to the attitude that you have had toward your parents; the specific emotions, their attitude toward you, as well as the resultant images, behavior patterns, and defense-mechanisms you developed. Only by seeing the whole picture will your struggle between your superimposed conscience and your actual and/or imagined lower self take on a new meaning for you and furnish you with the necessary insight to resolve the struggle. The general knowledge of the existence of this inner condition can never alleviate it, even if you have actually come to observe it. It is essential that you see it in relationship to your personal problems. The fight between your lower self and your superimposed conscience may be completely different from the fight of another person in this respect, even though many of its aspects and manifestations may indeed be the same.

As I have said before, in this struggle you treat yourself with merciless harshness. You inflict iron rules upon yourself as exercised by the cruelest ruler and far beyond the unreasonable standards which may be exerted by society. Your blind, excessive standards make it impossible to reach the inner center from which you could be nourished with constantly renewed vigor. Then there would be realistic hopefulness, as opposed to wishful thinking; foresight; the ability to make mature decisions; self-confidence; the ability to love and be loved; the ability to receive and to give; the ability to relate harmoniously and to create a life which is useful not only in one direction, but in all important areas of living.

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Thanks:

To my teacher Marieke Mars who taught me self-honesty. To my courageous and loving pathwork helper Dottie Titus.

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