Friday 22 December 2023

The Primal Self - what's in a name?

Last week I came up with a new name - the Primal Self - for a concept that I have been trying to grasp for about a decade. 

Ever since I discovered the writings of William Arkle, and Rudolf Steiner, I have wanted to be able to understand clearly that of ourselves which I have previously, variously, termed the Divine, True or Real Self - which is our permanent Self (or Ego or I); that is our essence in some way, and which is relevant to our relationship with God and Reality. 

The word Primal has connotations of old, original, most fundamental, and primary in importance - all of meanings which are intended to be a part of the understanding I am striving to clarify. 

The implicit contrast is with that mundane, "personality-level" self that is concerned with everyday and practical matters of life; of which we may spontaneously be aware-of as the stream of consciousness or inner voice; which is so changeable and easily manipulated... 

And which, pretty obviously, has nothing necessarily divine or true about it, and indeed typically (in the Modern West, at least) opposes God and divine creation. 

At one level, Primal Self is just a new name; but in fact it seems to have made an impression of being valuable and helpful - not only to myself (the new name felt like some kind of a breakthrough in my understanding) but also to some of my most valued commenters. 

I have since been puzzling why this should be; because I don't think it is merely an illusion of novelty.

Because it seems that a better name for an entity really can help! 

Perhaps this is obvious. Just as we observe in mundane mainstream life that a worse name - e.g. when propagated by the totalitarian leadership and their mass media - really can harm... Can really harm our capacity to understand, and harm our values. Conversely, a better name ought to be able to enhance our understanding of reality, and (if our motivations are Good) enhance thereby our apprehension of true values. 

My guess - at present - is that Primal is clarifying of the truth that there is in-us, as part-of-us, of all-of-us and always; a Self that has always-been and always shall-be.

And that this eternal Self can experience, learn, choose - and thereby be transformed (for better or worse). 

(This being my simple understanding of theosis, or its opposite: corruption into a chosen alliance with with the spiritual Beings of evil.) 

And it is that Self - i.e. the Primal Self - of which we need to become-aware, to acknowledge as real and vital; and from-which we need to work in our valid and Good spiritual strivings.     


Francis Berger said...

I agree.

Primal self works for me. It is more lucid and graspable than the other terms, many of which I have used myself. It also sounds more authentic -- that is, a clearer representation of what is being named and defined.

Divine self always felt a little distant and complete to me. The same goes for eternal self, which also seems to communicate a floating in the ether kind of disinterested stasis.

Though accurate, real self and true self always seem to emphasize the negative rather than the positive, i.e., - "There's a real you out there/in there, and guess what? Your not it. Not even close. You're nothing but false/unreal selves! So get to work!" Real/true self always feels like a complete package that you have to work toward rather than a self you are working with.

Primal self is clarifying because it denotes

- original (original can change, for better or worse)
-primary (not only first, but most important/meaningful without reducing the significance of secondary/tertiery selves, etc.)
- inherent (everyone has one, regardless of whether they accept it or not,
- central (it is to this self that everything connects and returns, so to speak)
- and vital (as being of the utmost importance, consequential, life-sustaining).

Romantic Christianity needs terms of its own. This one definitely works!

Colin said...

I too like the words primal self and personality and during your consideration have been surprised by the lack of mention of the word soul. It has never felt an especially resonant word to me but it has been integral to the Christian lexicon. It has always seemed an outside in sort of word. ‘Two hundred good Christian souls perished in the shipwreck etc’.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks Frank - that's helpful.

@Colin - I tend to use soul rather interchangeably with the spirit; despite being aware of a long tradition that distinguishes these. This usage of Primal Self actually re-integrates the soul and spirit, according to a tradition that derives from neo-Platonism.

But, as you say, it has a rather mushy present usage in the secular mainstream, New Age and also Christianity - or, at least, it seems imprecise to me.

William Wildblood said...

Something I was once told is that what you are calling Primal Self, which seems an excellent term as it expresses something true and real and is not encumbered by baggage like soul or Higher Self which I would say refer to the same thing but are used sometimes to mean different things, actually has a name and that name incorporates our own personal quality as a real name should do.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William "has a name and that name incorporates our own personal quality as a real name should do."

That seems like a way of describing the uniqueness of each person's ultimate being.

Inquisitor Benedictus said...

Zhuangzi calls it the Ancestor.

"But, you ask, where does holiness descend from, where does enlightenment emerge from? The sage gives them birth, the king completes them, and all have their source in the One. He who does not depart from the Ancestor is called the Heavenly Man; he who does not depart from the Pure is called the Holy Man; he who does not depart from the True is called the Perfect Man."
Zhuangzi chapter 33, Burton Watson translation.

agraves said...

The way I see it is the phenomenal self is like a hub on a wheel which is opaque admitting no light to pass thru it. On occasion there appears a break in the hub, a small sliver is removed and a bright light shines thru it to the other side which we recognize as our Primal self, that which is not conditioned by events. This light also illumines our experiences giving them a different quality from our normal interpretation/response. This break seems to occur on its' own with no prompting from the phenomenal self, but there must be a condition which allows this to happen, some desire in the self which works with the primal self, not always conscious.

Colin said...

While in the swing of refreshing names in pursuit of more resonance - Primal Self, I am curious about your feelings about God?
Like Soul, I notice it gives me a feeling of being burdened by much history and a closing defensive confused experience rather than inspiration.
My preference is Heavenly Father which feels light and open and wonderful. As a loving father myself, Heavenly Father invokes that feeling and so so much more, way beyond my conception. It is also founded in relationship. Rather than God seems more like a thing …

Bruce Charlton said...

@Colin, I certainly agree that we need to explain and define God when the word is used anywhere it may be understood differently from intended.

My usual practice here is to refer to something like: "God the Creator, our loving Heavenly Parents" (or Heavenly Father - where "Father" stands as an equivalent for the specific argument being pursued; because I cannot *always* be re-explaining the dyadic - Mother and father - nature of God, and whether God is one or two is not always relevant).

Colin said...

Yes your usage also aligns with 4th gospel where Jesus refers to him as God and addresses him as Father.

I am not there with the two parent thing but I get where you are coming from. I just don’t seem to have any resonance with it.

I recently spent 5 days in the company of a they/them. I was left with a lot of questions that it would not have been wise to ask such as: are you man or woman right now and how do I know? Would you like me to have a different relationship with each? Or are you both of them at once all the time? And if so, please tell me more because I have no personal experience …
Heavenly Mother and Father seem to be equally confusing to me.

I would be interested to hear your experience of Heavenly Parents.

Bruce Charlton said...