Would you like to tap into that all-knowing powerful yet peaceful part of yourself? Do you tend instead at times to drop down into the smaller part of yourself that makes decisions perhaps out of fear, worry, shame or guilt?
I’d like to introduce an idea that you may or may not have heard about before. It is the notion that we, despite having many facets within us, sometimes have a bad habit of operating from our small-self. We do this usually because we have learned to respond to our life in this way. More on this in a minute…
Some Differences Between the Big and Little Selves
Let’s first look at the differences between the big-self and the small-self. (I could probably write a book on the many differences between these two concepts so forgive me if this seems a little vague).
I would describe the big-self as a place from which you can see yourself more objectively, vs the small-self, a place from which you tend you view yourself very subjectively.
The small-self is that part of you that quickly moves into feeling shameful, guilty, small, wrong, bad, disconnected from life and others, dark, little, unworthy, fearful, etc. The small-self could also be likened to an inner child who often caves at the mercy of the emotions, feelings, cravings or aversions, quickly reacting (or giving in) to these things rather than seeing the bigger picture. (More info on the concepts of cravings and aversions can be found in this article,or this article).
The big-self is more like a loving parent (or guide) who tends to see and know things from a higher plane, which is all wise, highly compassionate and loving. The big-self lives in the present moment, has no regrets, nor sees ‘failure’ as such (rather lessons learned). The big-self is kinda like your own built-in ‘Yoda’.
How we navigate our life depends upon which aspects we choose to highlite
How we navigate our life is largely based upon which aspects of our ourself that we decide to focus on, and allow to come forward. We can consciously choose to allow the big-self or the small-self to guide us, but because most of us have learned to listen mainly to the smaller-self, it can take some unlearning to begin to listen to the big-self on a more consistent basis.
We all embody both a big-self and a small-self and neither is necessarily superior to the other (we actually could not have one without the other). But if we want to navigate towards lighter, more joyful ways of living, we need to cultivate habits that bring forward the bigger-self (which will give the small-self less of a grip on us).
A story on how we can focus on the big or little self
I had a friend who was going through a difficult time recently. She wanted to move out of the country, but her family and friends were telling her she was crazy to make such a large change. They loved her and were genuinely afraid for her well-being.
She knew however that to be true to herself she needed to make this change, and she felt she needed to make it imminently. Her small-self however was greatly swayed by the opinions of friends and family, and by her own fear.
And after coming home from a long walk one day she said to me, ‘I can hardly stand to be inside myself right now. My mind is going round and round in circles thinking about the same fears and worst case scenarios.’
I looked at her and said ‘ok, perhaps that is what your small-self is saying, what about your big-self?’ She looked at me with big eyes as if to wonder ‘there can be another option here?’ Judging from the agony she was in, my guess is that the small-self was making itself heard. But when she sat quietly for a moment, she said to me ‘the bigger part of me knows that moving is the right thing to do, and I also know in my heart that I will be fine.’
As an observer I might say that her big-self knew she had to make a change (however crazy it might have seemed), but her small-self wanted to run the show (out of the old pattern of responding through fear and worry). She did end up moving across the world; in the end she knew she had to listen to that deep inner calling that her big-self showed her. Had she been so caught up in fear, she might have stayed in Canada, forever regretting her decision. (She did have good friends and a place to stay when she arrived at her destination).
Do not condemn the small self, it has a place
As I write this I am aware that it might be easy to condemn the small-self and tout the big-self as the part of us we should always follow, and although this might be true, I warn you to heed caution here too. It would be very easy to become so rigid with rules for ourselves (thinking we should live by a certain code of ethics…) that we suffocate any humanness that we have within us. This of course would be a misunderstanding of the big-self, but the ego likes to find ways to make it ‘right’, which can twist the truth of what might be best for us.
The big-self will usually make itself known via those quiet inner nudges. It is wise and loving (although it may not always feel that way), even when we act out the self-centred ways of the small-self. The big-self tends to want to connect with others, whereas the small-self can remain caught up in isolation.
The small-self tends to make decisions out of ‘shoulds’. It also does what others feel is the right thing (rather than connecting more deeply with our inner truth). The small-self has a very weak sense of self and is swayed easily, whereas the big-self sees itself beyond time and space, and is always strong, yet soft, calm and centred.
How does your big self talk to you?
So the question I would like to ask you then is how does your big-self speak to you? Do you take the time to listen to its nudges? How do those nudges tend to show themselves to you? Do they tend to come in the form of ideas, or feelings, or deep inner knowings, or?
I ask these important questions so that we can take a look inside and ask ourselves how we can create habits that bring out the qualities that build us up, help us to connect with ourselves and others, and generally support our own well-being. Listening to the big-self will help us to do this.
For me, having a morning meditation practice helps me to connect more readily with the big-self. This in turn helps me to cultivate more equanimity towards my feelings, emotions, cravings, and aversions. Wonderfully, this has the added bonus of helping to take the small-self less personally.
I guess you could say its like learning how to guide or parent yourself in the most loving and kind ways possible.
Lastly, I’d like to make it really clear that I am not trying to support the idea that there is a right and wrong way to be in life. My approach is a non-dual spiritual approach where I sincerely believe that there is room for many different approaches to life.
How we operate largely corresponds with our level of conscious awareness. When we begin to wake up and see our lives in more real ways, it can be difficult to see the ways that we have hurt ourselves and others. But condemning ourselves for our apparent mistakes does not help either. We can instead use this awareness to choose how we respond to challenges in more uplifting and life-affirming ways than we might have previously.
May you be inspired to know that you are much bigger, and wiser, and calmer than the small-self might have you believe, and that you always have options (outside of the small-self box). This simple practice of slowing down and tuning in to your bigger-self can transform your life if you allow it to. But it takes time and repeated practice, listening in to the subtleties of the big-self.
So the next time you find yourself in a pickle, ask yourself ‘what would my big-self do?’ You might just find yourself looking at life a little differently.