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The Neutralization of Self – A Rational Concept?

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The Gnostic teachings often speak about ‘self-neutralization’, ‘dying of the self’, ‘silencing of the I’, and similar processes, which can sound radical enough to provoke us to question, at least initially, the rationality of such an action. 

Even those who are familiar with these concepts and believe they understand them fairly well, can, in experiencing the difficulty of their implementation, entertain the thoughts such as ‘what if …’  In fact, there is no difficulty; but that is not our topic for now...

We can see an interesting historical consequence of misunderstanding this process, when we take the example of how the Roman Catholic Church interpreted the Cathars process of ‘endura’, as a ritual suicide. They could not, however, be further from the truth.  Understanding this is also related to our understanding of life in general, and the ways in which one can serve his or her universality.  Why for instance, do both the classical Christian and Chinese gnostic philosophies say in one voice: “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity"?[1]   

Much has been written on this matter in spiritual literature, but can we find any references to it in the modern “science of the soul”?

In psychoanalysis one of the most widely used definitions of a person’s character is that it “represents a set of certain psychological defense mechanisms, i.e. individual approaches to dealing with states of dissonance and anxiety.”[2] Indeed, dissonance and anxiety are present and accumulate from early childhood onwards, as a result of the collision between the instincts of authenticity and the personal need for validation.  This means on the one hand, the opportunity to freely express our reactions and emotions, while on the other, the need to be accepted and approved, firstly by our parents, and later by our extended social environment.

An actual consensus between these two opposing forces within the human psyche is impossible.  That is why, in trying to reconcile them, we accumulate psychic defences that over time build our character. Consequently, even the most sophisticated and intricate philosophical conception of man, life, and the world, in essence, carry and reflect the author’s character.  It is the rationalization of his personal attitude to things, to the results of what he has accumulated, the mechanisms that his psyche has built in order to feel protected.

We define this accumulation of experiences as ‘I’, or ‘self.’  These processes will normally continue throughout our lives, simply because they are a product of our instinct for self-preservation.  And because of that, we do not allow ourselves to look deeper into our own beliefs, and see the fear or desire that is the source of one or another of the resulting distortions in our life.

However, putting aside our psychic defence mechanisms would enable us to see a part of ourselves as mediocre, and give it up. And that does not happen with heartache, but with a joyful release. This is self-knowledge in its initial form.

It seems that even for the first steps of self-knowledge one must at least partially overcome the wall of one’s self-preservation. By letting go of some of our mental conditioning, a pure and empty space is freed in us, and the spiritual path may begin. And so it goes.

Nothing real can die. Only what is fake dies. What is artificial in us really needs to be neutralized, in order for the Truth to guide us to Itself. That is why the Apostle Paul says: "I die every day"[3], in fulfillment of John's call: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."[4]

Let us hope that we will learn to walk that path better and better!


[1] Excerpt from the well-known verse of John 12:25; this is also the meaning of the final part of chapter 55 of Tao Te Ching, at least in some translations.

[2] Nancy McWilliams, Psychoanalytic Diagnosis.

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:31.

[4] Luke 3:4.

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