“I am not my thoughts. I am not my emotions.”

How can this be, I once thought. They arise from within me. However, once I learnt to observe the activities within me as if I was an outsider looking within, I understood.

I began by sorting through thoughts as they arose, filtering them into containers relating to the past, present and future. As I did so, I realised there are different voice thoughts from different sub-personalities within me.  Mrs Worried about whether she can make ends meet in the future. Ms Resentful about being taken for granted.  Ms Happy go Lucky never mind the risk, let’s just do it and deal with the consequences later. Mrs Teacher almost obsessively wanted to share my learning and information with everyone else. On the other hand, Ms Rebel is against anyone trying to tell me what to do. It’s complicated… Essence vs. Personalityessence within

There are more aspects to me than that of course, but I think you get the point. So with this huge team of subpersonalities within me, it makes one begin to wonder, who am I,     underneath all that? Throw all the personalities into one basket, step away, and what remains?

Gurdjieff, the man who brought the philosophy of the Enneagram to the West, gives us an answer. Gurdjieff distinguishes the forces within us between what he terms Essence vs. Personality. Our essence is who we are – before we assume personalities.  To tap into essence think of how it is when you are with a baby. They are so pure and fairly unpredictable.  They have no concept of being hot or cold, of dislike or like, or judgement. They have no concept of what is appropriate or inappropriate.  They simply are. Raw and unfiltered, it is the state of “I AM.”

So where do the thoughts and reactions come from?  They come from our personality, which is formed in the first seven years in transition from “I Am” in response to whatever the feedback of parents, siblings, friends, school and society offers to us as acceptable roles of behaviour.  As children, we are moulded into concepts of what boys and girls should be like, what makes up heroes and heroines, and what constitutes roles that are unacceptable to adults, our peers and to our teachers. Out of self-preservation, we adjust ourselves accordingly.  In order to differentiate ourselves, to express ourselves,  to get attention, validation and recognition, we assume certain roles.  If you don’t believe me, talk to a schoolteacher. They are able to identify easily which children in their class are the first child, second, third or only one, purely based on the behaviour they display in the classroom.

So our personality is formed in response to the external world, and how we wish to position ourselves within that.  It is therefore relative.  Notice how easily we switch roles depending on the situation we find ourselves in and who we are with.  The cues are automatic and unconscious.  For example, when we are with strangers we put on a front, or a mask, while at home we can let our hair down.  Men act differently around other men than around women.   One incident a few years ago made me do a doubletake regarding my assumptions about who I am.  After years of playing the successful professional and breadwinner, I came back to Australia and hung out with my parents. Others would have described me as capable, and responsible, but a tad too serious and repressed. A mother of two little girls.

That changed when my little brother came back from Europe and joined us. When he was around I surprised both myself and my family with sudden outbreaks of spontaneous and goofy behaviour. On one notable evening I even jumped up from the dinner I was hosting to chase him around the table waving a tea towel at him in a mock bullfight.  Of course, he humoured me and pretended to be the raging bull. I had a great time.  It might be normal for some but it was very uncharacteristic for me.  You see until then, even I did not know that girlish spontaneity still lived inside me. Thank God for little brothers.

Scroll forward to where you and I are contemplating the source of our thoughts and reactions. We must realise that the seasoned actor within us can forget it is just a role we took on to fit in, or to get on, or to achieve a purpose.  The personality has become second nature, deeply ingrained and entrenched within us. It is almost like a strangler fig.  strangler fig, Essence vs. Personality

So we end up reacting. Resisting anything that threatens our personality and loving anything that shores up our personality. Letting the voices within run us. And when our kids or partner or colleagues challenge that role, watch out, if we are taking ourselves seriously. If we have forgotten it was just a role we were trying out, to experience whether we could play it, whether it would work.

So it is good to step back occasionally, breathe deeply,  and    …. detach.  Are you the fig that was your framework and protection, or are you the pure essence within? Essence vs. Personality –  As you remember that the voice within is simply an assumed role, you come into a position of being choice – whether you continue feeding that role, or whether you are ready to release it.  You can return to your true nature, which is the pure, sacred essence within.  Undefined and unlimited.



Warring factions within? Julia works with people to unpack the internal conflict and pressures in the subconscious space and return to a place of unity and harmony within. For more information call Julia on 3878 4947.