I started this watercolor by tracing a plate on watercolor paper and beginning to fill it in with an image that was in my mind. It didn’t take long to realize what I was painting; a representation of something I’ve been thinking a lot about and trying to capture in a symbol. I will call it “our family of selves.”
In the center, the golden center—with sparks of green, dots of blue and splashes of orange—represents the core of our being; the true self. The true self is our core essence; the substance of our personhood; the unique, particular person whom God created us to be. We are not alone in this center of being, for it is where the Spirit dwells and we are stamped with the Divine image.
The next layer of vibrant orange is the body self. The body self represents our ability to think, feel and do. Each of those functions is rooted in the body, specifically in the brain, limbic system and nervous system. The body self is central to our spiritual formation and how we live out our authentic calling in the world.
The outer layer of blue represents our false self, the self we and others experience as our personality. The false self is a mask we wear, the self we want others to see us as. We begin to develop this false self in childhood in order to survive the *failure of human love and get what we believe we need most. We construct the false self by taking hold of certain traits within our true essence, exaggerating some while diminishing others. The false self is an unreal self, illustrated by the hollow center, and its purpose is to protect us from the shame of exposure, the fear of harm, or the loss of control.
The body self is the key to living authentically from our true self. When our thinking, feeling and doing are grounded in the true self, engaged in the service of our true self-in-Christ, we live out of the essence of who God created us to be. To “descend with the mind into the heart,” to tap into the rich, inner life of the true self is prayer; it is how we abide in Christ and the only way we can bear good fruit that will satisfy the needs of the world.
The body self is also the demise to living authentically when we use it as a means through which we fortify the false self. When our thinking, feeling, and doing is “ungrounded,” untethered to the true self, our thoughts, feelings and actions are either unconscious or consciously compulsive. We either disconnect from conscious awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions or we add commentary to our thoughts, feelings and actions and whip them up into a frenzy. The result is a reinforcement of our false self, the mask we use to hide and self-protect.
This has become an important realization to me after several months of paying attention to how I engage my thoughts, feelings and actions. When I don’t slow things down, don’t ground them in my deeper self, I often regret what I think, say and do. When I do slow my thinking/feeling/doing down, my thoughts are more discerning, my feelings genuine and compassionate, and my actions more productive and life giving. It is a much more gratifying way to live. And not only for myself, for everyone in my life.
*This does not imply that we all had unloving parents or care givers, but simply to say that even in the best of circumstances, our parents didn’t always provide what we truly needed and sometimes gave us what we didn’t need.