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Portraits of the imperious self (4): the imperious self is rebellious

portrait of the imperious self 4

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


The imperious self is an anti-self, i.e., a contrary force that is rebellious and systematically out to pull us away from where our real self—our soul—wants to lead us. If you want to meet with your imperious self, there is nothing simpler, all you need is to take a step towards some ethical or divine principle: help someone without expecting anything in return, hold your tongue when your impulse is to backbite or show off, try to rid your mind of negative thoughts, etc. The reaction will be immediate, and you will clearly witness the power of your imperious self in countering your attempts at such accomplishments.

My feelings were hurt when my boss expressed criticism over my professional skills. I can’t stop thinking about what he told me, what I replied, what I should have replied, about what I could do to improve his opinion of me, or better yet to get vindicated for the humiliation. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop rehashing negative thoughts about him: I think he’s unfair, rigid, obtuse, temperamental…

Like most of us, you have probably experienced such obsessive thoughts. They are usually negative thoughts about which you keep brooding over and over. Despite all the efforts to shake them off, to “think of something else”, they just keep coming back and won’t leave you in peace. Most of the time you just leave it at that and don’t try to fight it much longer. But should you try to get rid of these negative ideas and improve the ethical quality of your thoughts, you will realise that the effort is much greater than what you might have expected. Try it! Consider some similar situation of yours and analyse it objectively. You may for example wonder why someone criticised you so harshly and then realise that it was warranted. And even if it was not justified, you might try and consider the other party’s point of view with some forbearance and simply try to let go of your resentment and anger. You will find out that merely considering to adopt such a change of perspective will trigger in your mind the full-out resistance of your imperious self and a right-out emotional blockade. (What? You want me to consider his point of view? But did you hear how he spoke to me? There’s just no way this could be justified! etc.). To succeed in giving your thoughts an ethical spin—in other words to succeed in reversing the imperious self and, in this case, pride—it takes an effort of willpower that is generally impossible to produce in the heat of the moment. It is only later, once the negative emotions produced by the incident have cooled down a bit over time, that you can go back and reason with yourself and try to inject more positive thoughts into your mind. And even then, it will require a huge effort and an energy that can only come from a very strong ethical and spiritual motivation.

Here is another experiment that can help us realise the power of resistance of the imperious self; it can be carried out by all those who have set themselves a daily exercise of prayer practice: try to avoid praying mechanically and concentrate instead on the meaning of every word you pronounce, just as if you were speaking to someone in front of you. Be attentive to the thoughts that come into your mind as soon as you set out to make this effort. There will inevitably be a moment when you will be distracted; and it generally happens very quickly, after mere minutes, often even seconds. Instead of focusing on God, and while at the very same time your tongue continues with its recitation, your thoughts stray and fall back into the more familiar and painless grounds of your material life and preoccupations. The following inner dialogue is barely exaggerated:

O God praise be to You I pray You because I have to take out the laundry or it will never be dry by tonight You the Merciful, rats, my back is so itchy… most Merciful, I have to try to concentrate, it’s not easy, You so Good, it’s pretty chilly this morning, but the stars are so beautiful, I implore You to forgive my um…, what time is my appointment with Deborah? my misdeeds and my sins and I don’t like that word really it sounds so churchy Help me to accept Your will, preserve me from anything that is contrary to… so tired… take the kids to school… late… Your will… that car alarm’s getting on my nerves, and right in the middle of my prayer… OK, amen, gotta go.

The imperious self in its full swing manifests as this extraordinary inner resistance that you feel as soon as you want to turn your attention—for even a couple of minutes—toward God in order to remember the spiritual dimension of your life and somewhat detach yourself from material values.

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  1. Soudabeh Sep 24, 2021 11:21 pm 1

    It is all so true and hits home perfectly. I really have to turn my mind back around to my prayers every few seconds every time. My imperious self is relentless! I love these articles because they remind me what’s important in life and how hard I should fight against my imperious self on a daily basis.

    1. Eileen Sep 26, 2021 12:07 am 1.1

      Thanks to all those contributing their thoughts and experiences. When I am reciting my prayers, my imperious self interrupts me every few seconds. I pray for His support with his metacausal energy and this helps. However, my imperious self quickly intrudes upon my concentration and is back diverting my thoughts away from my prayers. I believe that we must keep trying to have perfect attention, and keep practicing over and over again with confidence that He will guide us to reach the goal that He has set for us to achieve.

  2. mahnaz Sep 25, 2021 12:35 am 2

    Thank you so much it was very helpful. I am trying very hard to fight against my imperious self.

  3. juliet Sep 25, 2021 4:03 am 3

    It was so true about me when praying, the exact same material thoughts in the middle of the prayers…

  4. H Sep 25, 2021 8:19 am 4

    Thank you so very much for this! So incredibly concise and to the point and relevant. The prayer, hilariously identifiable.

  5. A. Sep 25, 2021 8:34 am 5

    Thank you for this great article!!

    « … it takes an effort of willpower that is generally impossible to produce in the heat of the moment. It is only later, once the negative emotions produced by the incident have cooled down a bit over time, that you can go back and reason with yourself and try to inject more positive thoughts into your mind. »

    This paragraph summarizes well an experience of mine. Some time ago my son hurt himself and I had to take him to the hospital. Once back I insisted that he does his homework for a foreign language school that he attends on top of his normal school. Confronted with his stubborn refusal, I got upset (even though I did not show it) and I threatened him not to let him go to a birthday party the following weekend. Then I started brooding negative thoughts over and over and I complained about him to my wife.

    My wife instead showed leniency and encouraged him to do his homework with a lot of kindness 3-4 times. After that, she gave up since it had been a difficult day for him.

    The following day, after my prayer, I realized how absurd my behavior had been. I also clearly saw how my behavior contrasted my wife’s: on one side what one should not have done (=my behavior) and on the other side what one should have done (my wife’s behavior).

    It is crazy to think how my imperious self engenders such confusion and easily puts me to my knees even in the context of simple events of daily life.

  6. BZ Oct 10, 2021 8:59 am 6

    Thank you! This is such a relatable article, from negative thoughts that rush in after an interaction with someone, to being distracted during prayer.

    A technique that helps me is to be stubborn with my ego during my prayer. If I’m reciting a prayer and notice that I haven’t been attentive to my words, then I rewind to the part where I was last attentive and recite from there. It is not pleasing to my imperious self, but over time it has trained me to maintain more attention.

  7. Elka Oct 11, 2021 12:21 am 7

    This article was so useful to know my imperious self and fight against it more and more, in order to become more human. Thank you so much.

  8. Naghme Oct 14, 2021 2:49 am 8

    Thank you for this wonderful article! I have experienced that, as soon as I sit down to pray I’m distracted and can’t keep my mind from wandering and stay focus, for example thinking about the movie from the night before, and what is my schedule for tomorrow or Wednesday? What should I wear?

    I catch my mind wandering several times during prayer, then return to my dialogue with Him, but again notice I should text my daughter to confirm Saturday lunch…

    How do I keep my thoughts from wandering during prayer? I have found some clues in books and articles. I coach myself to fight against my imperious self, try to find my way back to my prayer. I Try to declutter my mind before I begin. My mind has limits to what it can hold at one time. If I start praying while thinking about other things, it’ll be difficult to focus. I try to take a few moments to clear my mind. Another thing is to create a consistent routine. Our brain is wired to focus on what’s new and different, so if I need to focus on Him and His presence, I should create consistency. If I need to listen to music while praying, I pick music that I am familiar with and I try to pray at the same time every day. Routine things require less energy.

    The other thing is usually I move around during my prayer. This activates my brain’s motor cortex and prevents me from overloading certain parts of my brain. Our minds like to diverge, so nearly anything can set us off. A ping on my phone can be an avalanche of distraction. An email notification can set my mind in a spin. So I’m trying to remove distractions and power down my laptop and shut off the screen and turn my phone to silent.

  9. VA Oct 24, 2021 5:36 am 9

    Thanks so much for this article. It describes me exactly. When I am under attack, I loose my mind and I can’t even think why I should listen to it. But, when it cools down I can go back and write what happened in my diary.

  10. A. Jan 16, 2022 9:54 am 10

    Thank you, Naghme, for your tips, which are all very useful. What I found works the best for me is to think the One is in front of me and I am really talking to Him. That really captures my attention. However, this is very difficult to do if – like you said – I do not power down my computer, turn off my phone etc…

  11. yan May 12, 2022 9:54 pm 11

    One night when I was about to watch my favourite show on Netflix, I would keep getting connection errors. I attempted various troubleshooting such as logging off/on Netflix, resetting my wifi, powering off/on my router, and so far so on. It took a while until I could re-establish the connection. During all this time I was so persistent and I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I even thought of using my cellular data by creating a hotspot, in case I couldn’t fix the wifi! I eventually fixed the wifi and watched my show!

    I was reflecting on this experience asking myself; have I ever been this persistent and diligent concerning my prayer? Have I ever cared this much to establish/re-establish my connection with the One, at times of my prayer? Unfortunately and humbly, no!
    Even though, at times of distraction, I attempt to re-establish the connection a few times in a row; however, most of the time, after several unsuccessful attempts, I would “call it a night”, sufficing on the verbal aspect of my prayer. On the contrary, I would act much more diligently concerning my material life, when my material and/or my psychological benefit/pleasure is at stake!

    In one of her essays “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies in View of the Love of God”, Simone Weil discusses the indirect and important impacts of school studies on spiritual life. She also outlines that “attention” is not a “muscular effort”. The first time, I read an excerpt of this essay in the “Connecting with the Divine” lab on Ostadelahi-Inpractice.com

    “Most often, we confuse attention with a kind of muscular effort. If we say to the students, ‘You must pay attention,’ we can see them frown with their eyebrows, hold their breath and contract their muscles. If after two minutes we ask them what they are paying attention to, they cannot respond. They are paying attention to nothing. They are not paying attention. They are contracting their muscles. We can expend this type of muscular effort in studies. Because it ends in fatigue, we get the impression of having worked. This is an illusion. Fatigue has no relationship to work. Work is useful effort, whether there is fatigue or not. This kind of muscular effort in studies is completely sterile, even when performed with good intentions.” Weil, Simone. Waiting On God Kindle Edition.

    “The role of desire in our studies allows them to be preparation for the spiritual life. For desire, oriented toward God, is the only force capable of raising the soul. Or rather, God alone comes to possess and lift the soul, but only desire obliges God to descend. God only comes to those who ask God to come—those who ask often, for a long time and ardently. God cannot prevent Himself from coming to them. Attention is an effort, perhaps the greatest of all efforts, but it is a negative effort. By itself, it does not involve fatigue. When we feel fatigue, attention is nearly impossible, unless we have already had good practice.” Weil, Simone. Waiting On God Kindle Edition.

  12. HSH May 15, 2022 6:25 pm 12

    I absolutely agree with your comment. Most of the time, when I ask myself why I am doing such unreasonable things and losing my precious time, the answer is my imperious self. I feel sorry for myself. Thanks dear Yan.

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