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Portraits of the imperious self (3): the imperious self is domineering

Portraits of the imperious self 2

This article is part of our series entitled “Portraits of the imperious self”:
► you may read the general presentation of the series here: Portraits of the imperious self (1): an ethics of transformation
► to view all the articles of the series, see: Portraits of the imperious self


As we have seen, the imperious self functions on the basis of the “terrestrial” values (ego and material interests). Its action on us could be summarized as follows: to focus our thoughts and aspirations solely toward terrestrial values and to make us forget celestial values; to put it in another way: to make us act solely according to our own material and selfish interests with no regard for others’ interests or for our spiritual dimension.

We may realize, through self-observation, that no matter our beliefs, and even if our outlook is based on faith in God and spiritual values, our emotions and thoughts are quite thoroughly permeated by terrestrial values. For the vast majority of us, and quite independently of our will, our attraction toward terrestrial values largely outweighs our attraction toward spiritual values. We have an excessive attachment to terrestrial values as they occupy a disproportionate share of our minds, causing us to forget about spiritual values; and that is precisely what enables our imperious self to ensure its domination over us.

The initial imbalance

Being dominated by the imperious self is normal, at least at the beginning (which does not mean we should put up with it). This is due to the immaturity of the celestial part of our psyche, which is yet unable to concretely perceive spiritual issues and the very real benefits that ethical action brings to the growth and development of our celestial soul. To put it more bluntly, we do not clearly realize what we actually gain from adopting an ethical behaviour—such behaviour often requiring much self-abnegation and renouncement. It is hard for us to grasp that acting ethically nourishes us from within and enables us to progress. On the other hand, we have no difficulty at all grasping the stakes of our material life (physical health, success, feeling of power, etc.) hence our natural attraction for material issues. This fundamental difference in our receptivity to material and spiritual values explains the initial imbalance in our nature and the natural domination of the imperious self. However, the more our soul progresses and matures, the more we become aware of how our positive and negative actions affect it, and the more the imperious self loses ground, until the imbalance becomes completely resolved.

The initial imbalance in favour of the imperious self is reinforced by the dominant values in our societies promoting purely materialistic models of success and happiness (money, fame, physical beauty, individualism, and the rejection of spiritual values as childish and obsolete…). Such a context is a boon for the imperious self as it is reinforced in its inner domination by these prevailing models. But this situation is also a boon for the celestial part if it has set out to fight against the imperious self—the stronger its adversary, the greater the merit of its battle and the faster its growth.

To reinforce its domination, the imperious self “takes over” and tends to stifle all receptivity to spiritual values by bombarding us with material thoughts and emotions. All it takes to notice it is to observe ourselves in our everyday lives. What is generally on our minds? How often for example do we ask ourselves questions such as:

“Why am I doing this? Is this the right thing to do? Am I having the right intention? Do I really have the right to do this? Where lies my duty in this matter? Isn’t my behaviour likely to harm someone? What can I do to help them? Is this a fair attitude, is it a fine thought? Is this on par with my dignity? What is the effect of such behaviour or thought on my spiritual development? …”

Honestly, most of us only occasionally think in such terms, while other questions and other emotions constantly occupy the flux of our thoughts and contribute much more to determining our day-to-day behaviour:

“Is this useful for me? What will I get out of this? How can I get more? I’m scared. Will I succeed? If I fail, it will be a disaster! What will they think of me? I am depressed. I will never make it. I am a loser. I did it, I am really the best! That answer of mine was just great! I’ll bring that into the conversation, get noticed, look good in their eyes. Does he/she like me? I don’t like him/her. What an idiot! I’m fed up! Why does this always happen to me? She should just figure it out, it’s not my problem. How dare he speak to me like that? Why did I bumble like that, making a fool of myself! I should have shut him up! She has got it all, some people have all the luck! What about me? Why don’t I get to have all that? I wish. I want. This is my right! …”

Our social image and material interests, our feelings of contempt, our desires, lusts, fears and jealousies, our vanity, our melancholy, our thirst for power… we are literally soaked up with such preoccupations, of which we are more or less conscious, even as they dwell and resonate within our mind quite naturally. These are not necessarily illegitimate preoccupations per se, but they take up the space of our consciousness. And if we pay no heed, if we allow them to take up all our mental space, they will form a background noise that enables our imperious self to dominate our inner self.

By acknowledging that the imperious self dominates our mind we can take a decisive step in its identification within us: we must rid ourselves from the persistent illusion that the issue does not concern us and that we are ethically above board. We need to feel for our celestial soul as we would feel for our body if, after decades of indulging in unhealthy food pleasures, we realized that we are overweight, often out-of-breath and suffering from backache, and that we had better do something now, if we do not want to lose our health prematurely. We need to do something about it, without shame nor despair as we should know that the domination of the imperious self is only natural in immature souls. Acknowledge this fact but do not be submissive: acknowledging the domination of our imperious self is not accepting it, it is assessing the strength of our adversary before entering the arena. In fact, by identifying the imperious self within us and earnestly engaging it, we have already undermined its domination. Even if the power balance still remains in its favour, the imperious self is nevertheless no longer the only one in charge.

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  1. A. May 02, 2021 7:48 pm 1

    >we can take a decisive step in its identification within us
    A couple of evenings ago, in the Parisian underground, I bumped into a family of Syrian refugees begging for money. I had a 100 euros banknote (120 $) in my wallet and no coins or smaller banknotes, and not ATM close by.

    A dialogue immediately started between my imperious self and inner guide. The former would say: that is quite a bit of money, these people may be scoundrels instead of refugees; you have already given a lot of alms as of late, that is enough; 100 euros is really too much. My inner guide would retort – look at how much you spend on your apartment or things you care about; 100 euros for a family of 4 is appropriate, think for a moment if you were in their shoes, do it for your father’s soul (since he passed away) etc…

    Identifying the dialogue as such, and also identifying the voices as belonging to the imperious self and inner guide, helped me take what the right decision was for me (to give the money).

    1. Leonie May 07, 2021 11:18 am 1.1

      I must say, I am not sure I agree with your analysis. You make it sound obvious that the “voice” that pushed you to give the money came from your inner guide, but is it really that obvious? Could it not be that the first voice that pushed you to be more discerning was actually the one you should have listened to in this situation? It is all very contextual and perhaps some details are missing from your story, but I tend to think it is at least not as clear cut as you present it to be.

      1. B May 09, 2021 6:45 pm 1.1.1

        @Leonie: Well I don’t think the imperious self was trying to decieve A by giving away 100 € to some people who most probably needed it. If he had given away A LOT more and say he could not pay his bills afterwards, then one could argue against the action… I think it was a very good example of the dialogue between the ego and inner guide.

      2. Mini Dec 11, 2021 2:14 pm 1.1.2

        I think these types of decisions can be right or wrong based on the person and the situation. This decision could be wrong for a different person and could be right for another. I think what is important is the fact that we should have a dialogue with our inner guide and hear the voice of our imperious self. As our sound reason develops we can distinguish these two voices better.

      3. A. Jan 11, 2022 8:54 am 1.1.3

        Hello Leonie, sorry for my very late answer. In hindsight I think that giving the money was the right decision to take for the following reasons:

        a) Given my current level of salary – 120$ will not make a huge difference at the end of the month.

        b) When in doubt about which decision to take, choose the most difficult course of action. In this case, it was impossible to know whether these people were scoundrels or not. So, I simply chose the path of greatest resistance against my imperious self

  2. Linda May 04, 2021 4:04 pm 2

    What you call the voice of imperious self, I call the voice of reason.

  3. HSH Jul 30, 2021 7:45 pm 3

    I agree with B in this regard. I think in such circumstances, we’d better follow our humanity, even if it is mingled with imperious self desires. At least we are not a cold hearted person. But I am not entirely sure.

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