The Strange World of Emotion

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The Way of an Idealist

An idealist has to commit himself to a life of living his ideals if he is to achieve what he values. As he practises his ideals he becomes more sensitive to the various forces within his own mind and within the hidden spiritual world.

At the lower levels of idealism there are three forces operating on the seeker. There are three strands in the weaving of history, in the pageantry of mankind, considered within a perspective of reincarnation. [¹]

Sub - Headings
Three Goals
The Soul
Silent Watcher

1. Political economy (whether Liberal, Marxist, or any other variety) is the unconscious factor from the environment.

2. Transference and determinism are the subconscious factors from ‘heredity’ (or past incarnations) and the family and community.

3. Ideals are the conscious factors. I am primarily interested in ideals that go beyond materialism, such as a focus on ethics, political fairness, spirituality, new age.

Without ideals a person is dominated by unconscious and subconscious factors. Idealism is a greater force for mankind's ethical and spiritual development than either factor (1) or factor (2). Nevertheless, idealism needs factors (1) and (2) as the springboard of one's destiny, of one's quest. Mankind cannot drift into heaven on earth (whether socialist or religious) by non-conscious factors. Heaven on earth has to be achieved by the attainment of conscious ideals.

At some stage of an idealist's development he will begin to lose interest in the desire for power  and feel more keenly the arising of  the will to power. [²]. By this I mean that subjective attainments begin to be more important than objective attainments. Knowing oneself becomes more important than knowing other people. The idealist becomes drawn to the kind of life that is beyond materialism.

The degree of entrancement with his new dream will determine the amount of energy that he puts into its attainment. The indicator that materialism is losing its flavour is that asceticism begins to germinate. Asceticism means that the person is developing detachment in his attitudes to materialistic possessions and values, neither rejecting them nor desiring them. Then the person will find that the energy behind his new dream, his new quest, will correlate to the degree of asceticism that he practises. A person's internal drive has its limits: the more of it that is absorbed into materialistic pursuits the less is available for ethical and spiritual attainments. [³]

The journey to his new dream cannot be known in advance, since he is just responding to his inner feelings. As he follows his heart, his path is one of  trial and error as he explores what he really needs and what he doesn't. Gradually he will realise that some traditional ethical and spiritual beliefs will answer to his needs, but others will not. He will find that some of the answers he is seeking will be unique to him.

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A simple scenario of ethical development is:

4. A new idealism attaches me to a new dream, a new vision, a new future.

5. Then asceticism detaches me from materialism.

6. Then empiricism creates the pathway to that dream. 

My focus is on the idealist who is attempting to practise a way of life that is beyond materialism. Such a life produces internal conflict, that is, conflict within the mind of the person. The more noble his ideals are, whether individual or social, the more he finds that they generate confusion and emotional turmoil when the results are not what he expects. The ideals that he accepts are not valued by society, and so the more noble his ideals are the more out of touch with society he finds himself.

The practice of the spiritual life generates psychological confusion.
One traditional way of handling this conflict is to seek the protection of an authoritarian organisation, for example the mendicant preacher is supported by a religious church.

However, the seeker who travels alone into his own mind has a different understanding of such conflict, and it leads him to a different truth and to a different practice. 

The seeker in his aloneness is forced to develop a higher level of idealism in order to surmount the conflict. The seeker who separates himself from tradition has to find his own sign-posts as he attempts to understand spiritual reality. I represent my understanding in the concept of the ‘three goals’.

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Three Goals

Within a perspective of a spiritual ethics there are three main levels of confusion, which give rise to three radically different conceptions of spiritual reality. In order of progression these conceptions lead to three desirable goals.

7. The attainment of faith.
For the believer, god is personalised and needs to be perfect. Only a personalised and perfect god will reward the seeker. (see article on Faith).

8. The attainment of pure love, divine love.
Now god needs to be good. Only a good god will love the seeker.

9. The attainment of equanimity.
A more realistic idea of god is accepted. God is beyond perfection, goodness and personality. The seeker attempts to balance his will under the control of his intellectual understanding, instead of using emotion to direct his will. (see note on equanimity).

The seeker focuses on god, or a deified teacher, as the object of his ideals, and attributes his results to one or the other. But this is not always accurate. There is an intermediary between person and god, and this is the soul. It is the person's soul which is responsible for many of the inspiring (and even distressing) effects of the spiritual life. Therefore it is necessary to re-classify these three attainments in order to clarify what is actually happening with them. Once confusion is removed, then they appear in a different light.

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The Soul

In the evolution of each person, over many lifetimes, there are three levels of relationships, each of which produces a distinctive orientation towards reality (or the person's concept of reality).

Within traditional religious and ethical literatures, in phrases like ‘body, soul and spirit’, the concepts ‘body’ and ‘soul’ are surrounded by confusion, since they are not adequately separated from the concept of  ‘ego’. The problem of definition arises because it can be hard to separate conscious desires and needs from subconscious ones. There is always dynamic interaction between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. In addition, the soul sometimes influences the thinking of the ego, but this is not likely to be a common practice. So the person mistakenly attributes noble aspirations to the soul when, in fact, these desires usually originate from the ego. Therefore the boundary of the ego seems to be confused and fuzzy.

The concept of ‘ego’ changes depending on whether the thinker likes it or dislikes it. When the ego is repudiated, the bad aspects of it are assigned to the body, and the good aspects to the soul. Whence: ‘ body’ equals body plus bad ego, and ‘soul ’ equals soul plus good ego.

My use of ‘soul’ is equivalent to the term ‘higher self ’. The ego uses the body as a vehicle for the expression of emotion, desire and intellect within the physical world. This enables it to learn through experience. At a higher octave of experience, the soul uses the ego as a vehicle for the pursuit of suitable spiritual idealisms.

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People have different ideas about the soul. In my understanding, the soul exerts a subtle influence on the immature ego, and this influence gets stronger as the ego matures and becomes more sensitive. At times the soul can be a martinet towards the ego (this means that it can be very unpleasant to the ego). Another way of looking at this influence is that the soul acts like a moralistic parent, using both love and hate to produce the effects on the ego that the soul desires. [4]

Unfortunately, I believe that the soul can also make mistakes in its relationship to the ego, since the soul's degree of wisdom is little more than that attained by the ego in the present and past incarnations. One way of looking at wisdom is that it is primarily the ability to conceptualise a framework for applying goodness in life. Wisdom can be considered to be just the ability to understand the ways that virtues (or the lack of them) affect one's life.

In life, goodness has to be learned ; it has to be differentiated and concretised (put into practice) as the response to particular situations. By using the ego the soul learns to translate undifferentiated and nebulous feelings and attitudes about goodness into determinate concepts having clear boundaries. In this manner knowledge transposes into wisdom. Goodness is personal power. Total goodness is rarely the best response to all situations. Power, both of goodness and of evil, can overwhelm people that it is directed to. A person has to learn to handle goodness in the same way that he learns to handle power.

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The Silent Watcher

How is the reality of the soul verified?
High states of consciousness cannot be seen in their nature from the outside. Everything is understood only from within. God cannot be seen, except as a symbol (for example, as a shining white light). The soul cannot be seen either (except its causal body, which is just a form or shape), but the individual may so attune to the soul that he can look out at the world through its eyes. This is an experience familiar to many people in times of extreme personal crisis, when it is usually accompanied by psychological distortions such as de-realisation.

My experience of my soul's perception was independent of any crisis situation and therefore I had exceptional clarity of vision. I relate this event, which happened in June 1984. An alternative description often given is that the ego is observed by a Silent Watcher.

At the time I was reading books by, or about, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. What did Ouspensky mean by the phrase ‘self-remembering’?   Did he mean that the ego could detect the presence of the higher self ?   This idea of self-remembering puzzled me. There was nothing in my experience to which I could relate the concept. So my soul gave me that experience.

One day, on my way to work, I gradually became aware of another part of myself. There was part of me, the ego, walking to work, and another part silently watching that ego from what seemed to be a visually higher viewpoint. I could alternate between either viewpoint whenever I chose. The phenomenon lasted about three hours. At work I talked to people, did my work and all my usual routine ; yet I could be in either of these viewpoints at any time. If  I switched to the ego, then as I carried on my work I was aware of the Silent Watcher observing me. If  I switched to the Silent Watcher then I could share its perception of the ego (that is, myself ) and how that ego related to its social situations. At no time did this dual viewpoint cause any inconvenience to the ego. The Silent Watcher was neutral and did not judge whatever I did or thought, nor did it advise me in any way. A most curious phenomenon.

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This experience illustrates the concept of  ‘absorption’ perfectly. [5]. The soul is absorbed in a perpetual contemplation of the ego. The soul is usually in a state of complete equanimity. At the time my experience reminded me of the ancient Indian parable of the two birds on a tree. One bird was continuously active, hopping from branch to branch and tasting all the various fruits, seeking pleasures and avoiding pains. The second bird, perched on the topmost branch, remained passive, absorbed in the silent observation of the other bird.

When in a crisis situation this event happens, then any perception of unreality (such as the perception of weird changes in appearance of the body or the world) occurs as a response to negative value judgements by the frightened ego.

However, the soul can deliberately interact with the ego. The soul's influence on the ego gets stronger as the ego matures ; eventually this influence becomes intense enough to motivate the ego to attain spiritual goals. By this time, the influence has become an internal drive, meaning that the person has become passionate in the pursuit of his ideals. [6]

The soul can put pressure on the ego by stimulating and intensifying the moods of the ego ; this is done by directing the internal drive into the conscious mood or into any subconscious ones. Such stimulation can maintain moods for days or weeks at a time. If the soul intensifies moods of guilt and self-pity this action can have the effect of causing much distress to the ego. In addition, the intensity of abreaction can be controlled by the soul, so that negative states of mind can be minimised or magnified, as the soul desires. [7]

The stimulation of negative states of mind causes internal conflict for the ego, and can lead to it questioning traditional ideas about spirituality. This stimulation usually indicates trials of sorrow that destiny puts the ego through ; the major trials of the spiritual life have been given names such as ‘the dark night of the soul’ and ‘the trial by fire’. [8]

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In traditional views of spirituality, the seeker begins his spiritual journey in a state of confusion and uncertainty. He is not sure of the truth of whatever knowledge he has already acquired, and does not know what is the goal of his journey. He travels from one teacher to another, hears different versions of the meaning of life, and realises that reality is interpreted differently by different traditions. He may find that different teachers have achieved different measures of spiritual ‘success’, but who is there to tell how to evaluate and compare these achievements ?

In the majority of cases the seeker eventually adheres to a teacher and a tradition that offers help for his own particular psychological problems. That is, the seeker may form an emotional attachment to the teacher (or, if the teacher is no longer living, to a traditional portrayal of him). The emotional attachment generates psychological support for the seeker, which is what he needs.

As I understand it, this spiritual journey has three separate stages, or levels, to it.
These stages are represented by the dominance of faith, love, and equanimity respectively.

The first stage represents the journey to faith
This journey is the usual realm of religion, and it is as far as religions can go, since faith is the achievement of the ego (aided by the soul), and is often a product of communal and social striving.

The second stage represents the journey to mystical love
This is often called the ‘soul-search’, because the seeker has to make contact with his own soul. This contact is solely the work of the soul, since nothing that the ego can do can speed up the process. The seeker, although he does not know it, is searching for love, and the love that is sought is given from his soul. The attainment of this level is sometimes called an ‘awakening’.

The third stage is the journey to equanimity, which is the journey to god.
The attainment of this level is sometimes called the state of enlightenment. This journey begins when the soul switches off the love to the seeker. If the soul maintained its love to the seeker, then that person's evolution would cease, since he /she would be under no pressure to continue it. Hence the magic state of divine love evaporates sooner or later, in order to force the seeker onward towards god.

Each of these three stages is likely to follow the same pattern of effect. The initial awe of attainment generates positive states of mind like excitement and enthusiasm. The excitement leads to intense abreaction, so that once the excitement fades away, negative states of mind like guilt,  resentment and bitterness are felt. The person wonders what has happened to him. Eventually a more mature and steady state of mind is developed. Enthusiasm and seriousness are always the beginnings of any process, and sobriety and calmness are the end results of it. [9]

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The spiritual journey, whether focused on ego, soul, or god, is sometimes accompanied by another journey – the inquiry into some aspect of reality. These are quite separate journeys or quests.

The spiritual journey focuses on the experience of emotion and desire. During this journey, the seeker may have to plough his way through sorrows, rejections, punishments, degradations and disappointments of all kinds. If he is successful, he finds happiness and contentment.

The spiritual inquiry focuses on aspects of truth, and so is independent of emotion and desire ; the seeker tries to remove confusion and self-deception from his mind, and to surmount the glamour of power.

This is an ideal separation of the two journeys. In actuality, the inquiry is hindered and limited by subconscious prejudices and emotional needs. Ideally, to follow an inquiry, the seeker has to step aside from pain, sorrow, and happiness, and this is rarely possible.

In these journeys, there are two golden rules:

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In the spiritual journey there are three levels to traverse, those of ego, soul, and god. What is the primary purpose of each level ? – it is that of causing a re-orientation of the seeker.

The person of little interest in spiritual affairs is orientated towards a materialistic life. The production of faith re-orientates the person towards the spiritual life, but he is still ego-centred. The process of ‘awakening’ re-orientates the person to the soul ; and the process of enlightenment re-orientates the person to god. What the person believes has happened to him is not very important – it is the effect that is important.

In my view, the first two levels are the responsibility of the soul, so god is rarely directly involved. The person attributes to god what the soul facilitates.

The first level focuses on faith. The person re-orientates his beliefs about reality.
In effect, he creates a new model of reality. This level is the ego level. This re-orientation of belief is all that faith achieves. Everything else that the person feels, such as joy, happiness, enthusiasm, etc, is not derived from faith, but from using projection and introjection upon a new model of reality. The new model allows him to express all his emotions and attitudes that he thinks are part of the good life. [10]

The second level focuses on love. The person re-orientates his attitudes about reality.
Once more, a new model of reality is created, superseding that generated by belief. This is the soul level, and the soul bathes the person in love. This level is that of the ‘awakening’ and represents the goal of the soul-search. As with faith, the happiness and enthusiasm that are felt are not derived from love but from the new model of reality, using projection and introjection.

The third level focuses on detachment and equanimity. The person re-orientates his motivation.
The difficulty here is that it is the subconscious motivation that has to change. This level is that of god and enlightenment.

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At each level there are grades of achievement, depending on how permanent and stable each achievement is. I use a simple classification into beginners, mature seekers and advanced seekers. The basis of my classification is how easy or hard life is felt to be. Beginners often find the new life of faith to be joyous and enthusiastic, especially if they are part of a religious congregation. Mature seekers find that it can be quite difficult to practise their spiritual ethics in the outside world. For advanced seekers, life can be extremely hard and difficult ( hence the almost universal desire to stay in solitude, or only relate to other spiritual seekers).

In religious and New Age literature there is often a great deal of confusion between the levels of soul-attainment and god-attainment. I have read biographical accounts where the seeker has thought that he /she had attained an enlightenment experience, but which, in my view, was only a soul-experience. It can be very difficult to know whether a high spiritual experience is the result of soul activity or god activity on the seeker.


The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it.  For the addresses of my websites, see the Links page.

[¹]. The higher levels of idealism are described in the article Utopian Idealism. [1]

[²]. In my usage of terms, the desire for power represents the use of will power to attain materialist goals, whilst the will to power represents the use of will to attain non-material goals (such as ethical development, artistic development, spiritual development). These terms are explained in the article Power. [2]

[³]. A new dream, a new vision, arises when a person follows a new quest. This process is described in the article Confusion, sub-section A New Quest. [3]

[4]. There are more ideas about soul and ego in the article Ego and Soul on my website Patterns of Spirituality[4]

[5]. The state of absorption is described in the article Aspects of Personal Identity. [5]

[6]. A short description of my internal drive is given in the article Spiritual Power on my website Patterns of Spirituality.
For a description of higher motivations, see the article Utopian Idealism. [6]

[7]. My analysis of the process of abreaction is given in the five articles on Abreaction. See home page. [7]

[8]. The ‘dark night of the soul’ and the ‘trial by fire’ are mentioned in the article Conflict within Idealism - the Three Stages. [8]

[9]. The excitement is just catharsis. See the third article on  Abreaction : Catharsis and Suggestion.
A quest always starts from enthusiasm and ends in sobriety : see the article Confusion, sub-section A New Quest. [9]

[10]. Projection and introjection are described in the article Projection and Introjection. [10]

Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

The articles in this section are :

Dialectics and Human Evolution - the way of spiritual teachers.

Orientations - the three goals of the spiritual life ; the soul.

Conflict within Idealism 1 - overview of three levels of confusion in the spiritual life.

Conflict within Idealism 2 - the three stages in detail.

Conflict within Idealism 3 - three forms of ethics and three ideals.

Utopian Idealism - spirituality as personal choice.

The Conversion Experience - abreactions of jealousy and narcissism.

The copyright is mine, and the articles are free to use. They can be reproduced anywhere, so long as the source is acknowledged.

Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
All Rights Reserved

Ian Heath
London, UK

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