I am reading Lift Up Your Heart by Bishop Fulton Sheen, and I was moved by his explanation of dis-ease. He taught about a soul sickness that arises when we try to live from both our egoic self, and our true self (the “I”). The two selves being lived out simultaneously leads to feelings of anxiety, remorse, and inner dissatisfaction. The sufferer must choose to live from the “I”, which is our true personality, made to the image and likeness of God. Once operating from a place of true identity, the person is freed from these disturbing feelings.
Bishop Sheen wrote about the effects of living from the ego, and for the first time after years of loosely studying and writing about the “shadow self”, I understood why every so often I am overcome by my lower-self that can emerge during moments of perceived extreme distress, and that lead to overwhelming existential crises that requires a ton of reflection and self-care after. Ultimately, it happens when I am desperately trying to be liked, seeking external validation; a façade that can’t possibly be maintained 24/7, hence the “shadow” slipping out time-to-time.
The revealing of my true self, coming from a place of the “I”, has been the bulk of my healing work the past year, and in so I have had maybe only a handful of shadow qualities come out and throw me off balance, but I have noticed more recently, most notably as I go back into a post-pandemic world, that I have been trying to manage feelings of anxiety and dissatisfaction through sheer self-will and discipline.
When I read Lift Up Your Heart‘s introductory chapter which lists a seemingly inexhaustible compilation of character shortcomings that manifest when trying to manage both the ego and the “I” simultaneously, I understood that checking all of my self-defined inventory boxes doesn’t necessarily mean I am mentally or even physically healthy.
Here are some of the discerning qualities that Bishop Sheen writes about, that denotes acting from the ego, and not engaging from our true self:
– Feelings of living dishonestly
– Having a different personality in moments of stress
– An externalized selfhood, so it’s difficult to find peace (needing validation)
– Constantly busied with appearances and surface emotions
– Avoiding silence and quiet so as to not have to look within
– Criticizing others unjustly
– Judging one’s own virtues by the absence of their vices
– Experiencing false joviality rather than true happiness
– Living neurotically rather than naturally
Reviewing this list, which for this post is non-exhaustive, I can see where I can improve in order to feel more secure and fulfilled. Reading the characteristics of living egoically, I felt convicted as I saw that I was living by human standards of health on the outside, but actually living contradictory to God’s will of basic physical health for me. I was consistent with certain mind and body health goals, but then binging on the more “acceptable” human deficiencies such as reality television depicting excess, and ingesting far above what is a safe level of sugar intake on a daily basis.
As someone who is coming up to 9 years of consistent sobriety with no seemingly glaring addictions remaining, reality tv and refined sugars might seem juvenile, but when put through incredible stress, which I have been the past 4 weeks with my employment, these toxic habits cross over that invisible line without warning, and rebel against me to the point it is frightening. Incurring diabetes is no trivial matter. I am utterly humbled when I am faced with the ugly reality that I have been so proud of certain healthy habits, while walking a dangerous path of being caught in the pharmaceutical treadmill by other gratuitous habits.
But God is good. To me this adage means that I can correct my errors whenever I decide to break the spell of my own mindless actions, and start again. I know what steps I must take in order to realign my will with an accurate and genuine the picture of health. I realize how triggering it can be for me to come from a place of mentorship, and how much pressure I put on myself to have the intellectual answers, even when I at times might not have the experiences to back it up. I’m learning to detach from that discrepancy.
Today I don’t want to have all of the answers. I can see now how much pressure I put on myself in my teaching roles to have all situations ready for an action plan, when sometimes I am just a normal confused person who is still learning how to connect with a higher power and my communities in meaningful ways. I don’t want perfect sobriety, and I don’t need perfect mental health 100% of the time, but I do need to ensure that I will remain independent and autonomous, as I believe I am fundamentally created to be.
I am all the more reminded to simply live authentically. To be honest about where I am at in a given day, and to remain humble at all times, even when in a leadership position. The “I” wants to serve, and when I am integrated, I love being of service. I have recently discovered that I also have to serve myself. That requires I have more honest check-ins: how I am really doing, not just how I am looking on the outside and giving myself a fictitious grade.