When we first start learning about the Higher Self, many of us have the same question… “If we all have a Higher Self, does that mean we have a ‘Lower Self’ as well?”
Well, the answer is both yes and no. There is no foil to the Higher Self like the devil and angel we often see on the shoulders of cartoon characters. There is no lower self that intentionally pulls out away from our Higher Selves purely out of maliciousness and a conscious desire to harm us.
However, we do have negative elements of ourselves that prevent us from moving forward on our path and reaching our true potential. To avoid confusion with the characteristics of the Higher Self, we call these parts of ourselves our “lower natures”.
What is our lower nature?
Our lower natures can present themselves in different ways depending on our personality, but there are plenty of common themes: it can drive us towards anger, keep us stuck in negative thought patterns, and close off our hearts to the world, robbing us of kind thoughts, speech, and actions.
Discovering and overcoming our lower nature is a key part of our spiritual path, and is an integral part of any number of world religions and philosophies. It goes by many names… a Christian might call it “the dark night of the soul,” while the more spiritually inclined may call it “shadow work”.
But before we can begin the important task of overcoming our lower nature, we must first understand where it comes from.
How do we spot our lower nature?
Our lower nature manifests itself in ways that we are all familiar with… Anger, selfishness, fear or hatred of the other. Sounds simple enough, right?
While it may be easy enough to spot these manifestations of our lower nature in times of deep contemplation and reflection, it can be hard to keep ourselves from getting swept away in a current of intense emotion in the heat of the moment. We all know that we shouldn’t respond to conflict with anger, but actually keeping yourself from getting angry during a tense confrontation is a completely different story.
Our ability to observe our thoughts and emotions is something we can train during meditation. Calmly watching our thoughts come and go without becoming attached to any of them is an invaluable skill that can help us become aware of our lower natures even during times of stress. Still, meditation alone is not enough to overcome our lower nature.
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What can we do to overcome our lower nature?
Just like the first step in therapy is admitting to yourself that you need therapy, the first step in overcoming your lower nature is simply admitting to yourself that you have a lower nature. If you’re just starting out, this will likely come much easier to you than someone who has been on the spiritual path for many years. Spiritual arrogance leads many people to believe that their years of meditation and spiritual seeking have put them beyond base emotions like greed and jealousy, and as a result, they continue on their path totally unaware of this internal blindspot slowing their progress.
Remember these three things:
1. Simply having a lower nature is not a negative reflection on you. It is not something that you did wrong, and doesn’t mean that you have somehow “failed” in your spiritual studies thus far.
2. Acknowledging and overcoming our lower natures is not a detour or a side-quest from our spiritual path that we must “get out of the way” in order to resume our true path. Rather, working with and overcoming our lower natures is our true path.
3. Changing ourselves is the only way we can change the world. We cannot truly improve the world around us until we understand ourselves. Changing ourselves first gives us the chance to spread kindness and positivity in the world, and remembering how hard it was to overcome our own imperfections gives us empathy for others.
How can we overcome the characteristics of our lower nature?
When you’re ready to start working on your lower nature, try these exercises from the founder of Higher Self Yoga, Nanette V. Hucknall:
Take the negative characteristic that you have that is part of your lower nature. Something you want to change. Try to see a recent scene in which you are demonstrating that characteristic. If there are people in the scene, notice how they are responding to you.
Then, try doing the scene by replacing the negative characteristic with a positive one and relive the scene again and notice the difference in the people’s reactions. For example, you manipulate someone in order to get what you want. See how you do that, then relive the scene, and instead of manipulating the person you are more directive. You simply ask for what you need upfront.
Make a list of your negative characteristics that are part of your lower nature. Check the list with your HS and ask the HS if there is something missing from your list.
When you have the final list, prioritize them putting the one you feel you want to change the most at the top.
Then, ask your Higher Self the following questions:
Is this a characteristic that I developed in my childhood? If the answer is yes, ask yourself, what made me do this? Then ask, is there a reason I am still holding on to it? (People sometimes hold on to a negative characteristic because it gives them something.) Finally, ask yourself “How can I change this?”
The work to overcome our lower nature is ongoing, and will not be completed in a matter of days, weeks, or even months. The most important thing to watch out for is that you do not fall into patterns of guilt or shame as you confront aspects of who you are that may be difficult to face. Harsh self-judgment and the urge to punish yourself for past wrongdoings that can arise during this process are ironically also a part of your lower nature, and gently forgiving yourself for these faults is the only way to move past them. Remember, as we learn to forgive ourselves, we also learn to forgive others, and it is in this way that the process of internal healing becomes a way of healing the world.