Is the Concept of the Higher Self an Illusion?

Maybe it’s just another layer of the ego

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I’ve wanted to hook up with my higher self ever since I can remember. Sometimes, I imagine I’m almost there. Wisdom streams, and I think “this is it! The smartest part of me is awake.”

Later, of course, I’m back at the start of my journey and just as unenlightened as ever. Still, I continue to study religion, philosophy, science, and gather New Age gleanings, and read ancient texts, and anything else I believe could hold the key to my inner spark.

Nonetheless, I concede that if you consider the higher self long enough, you might conclude it doesn’t even exist. Here’s why.

The witness of thoughts

When I first discovered I could step out of my thoughts and witness them, I thought I was a step closer to enlightenment. Perhaps the watcher of my thoughts was my higher self and had been patiently listening from the beginning of time.

Indeed, if you observe your thoughts often, your self-understanding will increase. You’ll spot patterns of behavior and adjust so you improve.

Witnessing your thoughts is a way to gain control of your emotions too. No longer swept along by a torrent of feelings, you are better able to steer your life in the direction you choose.

Still, there’s a problem with the idea the witness is your higher self after all. It’s possible, after many witnessing sessions, to step back not only from your thoughts but from the witness of your thoughts.

Who watches the watcher?

The question then arises who watches the watcher? Is that the higher self? Probably not, since self-observation is like the old analogy of peeling an onion; you keep stripping off layers only to find another below the last one, and you never find the center of the onion, your inner core, because the peeling doesn’t end.

In his lecture about tapping into the higher self, the philosopher Alan Watts describes the conundrum as similar to thieves climbing floors in a house when the police come looking for them. Up and up they go, yet they never escape or reach the top. Chasing your higher self is much the same since you are only ever a floor above what you imagine is your ego, and the enlightened part of you is always out of reach.

Watts suggests the witness of thoughts, the so-called wisest part of you, is just another layer of the ego anyway, and attempting to be enlightened could be pointless.

His argument is we probably wouldn’t enjoy being surrounded by people with their higher selves in operation. Can you imagine hordes of enlightened wisdom-spewing gurus flocking over the hills? It might be annoying, to say the least.

What’s more, we need a variety of people in the world. Someone absorbed in self-reflection, for example, might produce useful insights. If they dropped their ego flashes of inspiration may not arise.

Also, if everyone was enlightened, we wouldn’t need to learn and grow. So what then? The meaning of life might disappear.

Evidence of the higher self seems to exist. People said to be gurus, and those who work on self-improvement with yoga, tai chi, philosophy and so on display signs of potential enlightenment. But their egos are still evident. Even nuns, monks, and sages have grouchy moments and days when their egos are in full-flood.

So, maybe my journey to the higher self is an illusion, and I’m discarding layers of my ego only to uncover fresh ones. Nevertheless, I’ll always seek wisdom because there’s an obvious advantage to doing so. When you chip away at egoism, you find greater understanding beneath. My higher self might not emerge, but at least my lower self is in a consistent state of removal.

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