Working with your False Self
We have been exploring the false self as it has been described in Scripture for six posts now. You may be asking at this point, “What should I do about this false self?” This is a great question in many ways. It comes from a heart that has accepted a difficult truth, and it reflects a real desire for change. However, we must be on guard because as we will see the ego (false self) likes to hide within this basically good question. Let’s begin by outlining a few basic steps.
First, we have to name the compulsions of our own unique false self. You see, to name something is to have power over it, or perhaps more realistically in this case, we can rob our false self of some of the power it has over us by learning the terrain of our internal and external lives in search of our subtle, most self-serving desires. Until we can name the unhealthy compulsions of our personality it will be in control and we will merely be along for the ride.
This is where the Enneagram becomes so important and this is why I believe it is crucial for everyone to know his or her number. I know of no other tool that exposes the topography of our subtle darkness. If you do not know your number then try to discern it with an understanding that this is your false self. If you already know your number then internalize that knowledge so you can catch yourself behaving as your number out of the corner of your eye as you go about your day. This is the important work of non-judgmental observation that is the essential first step in Enneagram work. It is important to withhold judgment because the moment you judge yourself you will begin to defend yourself and ultimately rationalize your egoic compulsions. The result will be an even deeper entrenchment of your destructive habits.
Finally, ALLOW your personality to fall away. I use the word “allow” very intentionally. I am not sure where you are in your Enneagram journey. Maybe you love to hear about your number because it sounds familiar and comfortable. If this describes you then I would say that this is normal, but I would also recommend that you explore the ways in which your number is limiting you and hurting the people closest to you. For you, I would recommend that you thoughtfully and seriously spend some times grieving your number (more on this another day).
Maybe you are disgusted by your number and can hardly stand to hear about it, but there you are staring at your false self like some terrible car accident. And maybe you are so determined to change and you are out there reading this blog and some books and going to workshops and working really hard, determined that all this would really transform you. If this describes you then I’d venture to guess that you have really stared into the abyss that is your brokenness and that this has been difficult, but perhaps comforting in a way as you intuited on some level that as you were naming this false self it was loosing its power over you. Through this process, your false self has lost some ground and now it wants to make up that ground by seeking power and control through the very reasonable and good question: “what should I DO about this?” You see the ego is so crafty that it may have attached itself to your honest desire to change and is now seeking to control your behavior and MAKE transformation happen.
And suppose it did one day and all of your hard work really paid off and you woke really different. I suppose you would say to yourself as you dusted some miniscule piece of lint from your sweater “I did pretty good work out there.” And just like that the ego is back in charge. This is why real change doesn’t happen through our hard work. Instead, real spiritual transformation happens in more passive ways, when we observe ourselves and allow God to work in our lives by looking at our brokenness in the eye and offering this to God.
Am I saying that there is no hope? That whatever we attempt will merely be coopted by my ego-self? No, not entirely, but many of the practices that you take on will involve passive behavior. When we make ourselves a passive vessel for God our ego cannot feel significant. Contemplative prayer is a prime example. This practice involves ALLOWING thoughts to pass through your mind rather than hanging onto them; entertaining them; feeling the emotions connected to your thoughts; or accomplishing the tasks connected to thoughts. Instead, you are literally being passive before God.
Have you ever tried contemplative prayer? If so, you probably didn’t like it on some level. Maybe you thought it was boring and that in itself is a sign that you were on the right track because the false self does not like the lack of stimulation. Instead, the false self prefers to take every thought and use it to make you feel significant. So as boring as it is, I recommend contemplative prayer. When we stop and pray this way we are combatting the false self in the same way that Jesus did when he was fasting in the wilderness. When you pray this way you are in your own desert of sorts, where you are thirsty for the thoughts that nourish your ego, the insecure self that wants to be significant. And as these thoughts come by they tempt you, saying “Manipulate your reality through your thoughts and make a new one where you are god… Make a reality where the last time you were shamed has become a moment of triumph… Envision a future where you have accomplished something worthy of esteem/affection… ‘Turn stone into bread...’ Construct a to do list that will make you safe or put you in the driver’s seat... ‘Throw yourself down and you will be safe...’ Meditate on how you controlled your last meeting at work... ‘Control the world.’” But you will respond in silence… as you sit there passively relying not on yourself, but on the God who holds you.