When I look in the mirror I see ‘myself’. Or do I? What is it that I actually see? I see my physical form. But is this really ‘me’? My physical body is so impermanent. Can it really be all there is of me? When I talk to other people about what ‘I’ have been doing, it is easy to associate that ‘I’ solely with my identity in this corporeal body. But is that the real me?
According to the Ageless Wisdom, for every human being, there exists not one self, but three. In its densest, most material form, the first of these ‘selves’ is what we mean when we use phrases like, I went to the theatre or I just finished a great book. This is called the Personal Self. It is a surface identity, the sum of the characteristics and predilections each of us carries over from one life to the next. Also described as the lower self, it is what we all recognise when we catch sight of ourselves in the mirror. It is easy to think, ‘Yes, that’s me. This is who I am.’ But it is not, it is simply one aspect of a greater whole. It is an agglomeration of past experiences, actions and influences. In his book, The Esoteric Tradition, Gottfried de Purucker observes, ‘Every tree, plant, beast, indeed every atom or molecule has its own character precisely as man has his own character which distinguishes him from other men. In all these cases this character is the karma of the entity’s past, so that in very truth a man is his own karma.’
Beyond the Personal Self there is the Individual Self. This is a deeper, more essential consciousness within of each of us. It is the aspect of our being that molds and shapes our destiny through higher thoughts and actions. It is the part of us which can break free of the compulsions and fixations of the Personal Self. It is the part of us that can tap into divine wisdom. The Individual Self is guided by an an altruistic consciousness which recognises the unity of all life. The Individual Self is able to choose a path which brings harmony and balance to the reincarnating soul.
Beyond the Individual Self is the third and highest form of consciousness, known as the Universal Self. Described in the Ageless Wisdom as the Atma, it is the true, cosmic consciousness of all beings, untouched by emotions or desires. It has no individuality, no ‘I’ or ‘me’, but is instead part of the One or Universal All. It is limitless and unchanging, a conscious part of a greater consciousness.
When looking at my physical form in the mirror, what I see is simply a sheath of consciousness. The sum of flesh and bones, feelings and impulses. It is me in this moment, in this incarnation. It is my own ‘aliveness’ in the material world but that is all. If I stop to take a longer, closer look at myself, I become aware of something which lies beyond corporeal existence, something greater and deeper. Something which is concealed behind the eyes, a ‘be-ness’ beyond my ‘being’. Just at that instant, I feel a spark, a connection, an elucidating moment beyond fear and isolation where realisation of who I really am begins.