Essence and Personality


With heart and soul, with soul and bliss, your soul’s destiny, being overjoyed… Just some expressions in which our soul is mentioned. But what is our soul, actually?
Apparently, we hold our soul in high regard and use it to describe something that is deeply present within us. Whether we are religious, spiritual or not, we always mention it with respect and a sense of truth. No one denies having a soul. Even the most hardened skeptic wouldn’t like to say about themselves that they are soulless.
It seems that the soul is what we more or less assume we truly are, deep down inside, seemingly hidden behind something that we aren’t truly.

P.D. Ouspensky never talked about the soul. He spoke of essence: about how we should live more from our essence and that our personality should serve this. And he always talked about personality and never about ego.

Personality and ego

What do we mean by personality?

Personality is an excellent word for what we have acquired and become during our lives. This encompasses a lot, such as language, cultural characteristics, and everything we have learned. The word “person” comes from the Latin word persona, which means mask. With this mask, this personality with all its acquisitions, we face the world, act and express ourselves. It’s a beautiful and utterly indispensable tool to “exist” in our lives. Everything in our personality is acquired. None of it is given at birth (or better: conception).

Much is said about the ego. However, the term ego has become fashionable and is perceived as unfavorable because it points to its qualities of unnatural attachment. Many believe that the ego should somehow be combated, as if it would be harmful. The ego is, upon closer inspection, merely our personality that identifies with everything. From this arise inner attitudes, views, opinions, conditioning, and painful experiences, all of which are expressed in our actions. The ego exists only due to the unconsciousness of these identifications. Identification is the inner process that makes something part of your identity, something that can’t possibly be your identity. Yet, nothing exists “just because” or shouldn’t exist. Everything that exists, even if it’s purely imaginary, has a cause and thus a reason for existence, even if it’s just to learn from it.

The ego (a collective term that means I) is not “one I” but a collection of ‘I’s that take turns being in control. Our ego, therefore, has no enduring I and will, as it is a diverse collection of interests, views, and ideas. These ‘I’s exist thanks to our identification with various things. They mostly don’t know each other. They don’t conflict with one another because they are separated by mental buffers. If a buffer disappears due to a particular situation, there is immediate imbalance, confusion, or shame. It is understandable that one sees a mind made up of a collection of changing ‘I’s as an undesirable situation during lucid moments. It is also understandable that one emphasizes the value and importance of the Essence / Soul, which lies behind the personality and the ego formed from identifications.

It is important to realize that we can “simply” rid ourselves of our ego by no longer identifying with things. However, this doesn’t mean that we would then live without a personality. Our personality also makes us the individual known by our family and friends. There is no second version of you. You are entirely unique. And that can be perfectly without ego. Then our personality is in unity: ‘individual’, which means undivided. The ego formed in unconsciousness keeps us ‘divided’, or inwardly divided.

Essence and soul

Our individualized essence, or our soul, is what is innate in us. No characteristic we have acquired in our life belongs to it. It is our own individual quality or blueprint that we received at our birth (conception). Our soul, further referred to here as essence, has certain qualities that characterize me. It could also be referred to as our disposition or nature.

An example: talents. Our ability to be good (or even masterful) at something. We didn’t have to do anything in our (current) life to possess these talents. They were given to us. By the way, we cannot add a single bit to our talents during our lives. Moreover, we might possess a talent and not notice it because it isn’t utilized. It doesn’t disappear if we don’t use it, though. Our mental abilities and talents were given to us and belong to our individualized essence.

Another example: limitations/boundaries. Not being good at something because our innate mind doesn’t allow it. Or: inherent talents also have set boundaries. Little can be changed about these. For instance, if someone is born with a trait that the medical world labels as autism, there might be certain limitations in social interactions that can only be mildly mitigated through personal training. On the other hand, there might be enormous abilities in another mental area that few others possess. Another example: being good at soccer might be someone’s talent, but its limitation might be that they never make it to the national team.
Our mental limitations, boundaries, and inclinations were given to us and belong to our individualized essence.

Yet another example: character. We were also born with this, and it doesn’t change quickly. It is a given – hence it was given to us – that doesn’t change by itself but is more influenceable than inherent talents and limitations/boundaries. It can be – through our consciousness and using the instrument of our personality – tamed or optimized, thus transformed. Through transformations, our character becomes increasingly transparent, and our individualized essence becomes more purified.

The individualized essence is our own individual entity, and we feel it, precisely because it’s relatively stable, as our real ‘self’. We feel it as our most valuable inner possession. However, it can be overshadowed by the personality built up in our life, thus losing its influence and sense of being. Our personality (with built ego) seems to take over in terms of control. This happens because of various mental misconceptions and disturbances that often begin in the first years of life due to poor upbringing and many unconscious influences. Mind-burdening influences become inner beliefs and conditioning, often clashing with our much purer essence.

Our personality can occupy so much space that our essence becomes less noticeable to ourselves (and to others) and gets forgotten. The personality then becomes so dominant that the valuable essence is ‘wrapped up’. You could also say ‘entangled’. Thus, we become increasingly complicated and less simple and drift away from our inner knowledge and feeling. Therefore, we must develop internally by shedding these ‘wraps’ to experience and follow our own essence again. Then we follow what we are ‘meant for’. The term ‘shed’ literally tells us that we shouldn’t do something and that we should refrain from something. What we need to refrain from is just one thing: identification in unconsciousness.

When we look behind our personality, what do we see?

An Incorrect Dominance

Thus, it’s not surprising that personality is often perceived as restrictive because it’s confused with the concept of ego. The ego is also frequently overestimated as many fail to recognize that it merely consists of a diverse group of acquired identities we align ourselves with, referring to them as ‘I’, which sometimes is even glorified. Rejecting or glorifying these identities is, of course, also done by different ego parts, sometimes even alternating within a single person.

However, without our acquired personality, we cannot live; we can’t ‘do’ anything or express ourselves. It’s our magnificent spiritual instrument that makes a lot possible for us. This includes deep expression of ourselves. For instance, an inherent talent for music only becomes apparent through a learned playing technique on a piano or another instrument. Our personality is, or should be, extremely serviceable to our essence (soul). If our personality begins to identify with our talent and our playing skills, it thus creates an ego. This is something you often see happen with young musicians: their love and talent for music suddenly turn into a desire for fame. A personality that has “forgotten” its servitude to our essence and begins to dominate and dictate for its own sake is like a butler who has taken over and locked up his employer.

But what causes our personality to dominate?
Here are some examples we’ll delve into: identifying with things we aren’t, with feelings and sentiments, with a craving for status, power, and money, with the roles we occupy, with our gender, with trends, fads, and religions. Also, rejecting ‘what is’ and ‘what is needed’, self-satisfaction, addiction, and maintaining lies and pretensions stem from identification. All these “layers” make us forget ourselves, that we don’t follow (or even know) our essence, and most of the time, we’re in a kind of sleep or daze, which we call waking sleep. This makes us forget what we once knew and which our conscience still knows. It, in a way, makes us conscienceless…

Brief Unity

Being detached from our own essence (soul) makes us feel detached from others. But if we have a moment of complete perception, of self-remembrance in self-awareness, we have a unifying experience and feel momentarily who we really are. This immediately evokes a sense and feeling of connection with others and everything else. At the moment we remember ourselves, meaning when we perceptively feel our situation, including ourselves and our current internal state, our world expands and everything perceived naturally falls within it. In this awakened state, we notice much more. We feel more. We don’t identify with a notion about the situation. We feel that certain loving connection between everything. We no longer lie, and pretensions fall away. We act according to what the situation requires of us. We aren’t selfish but serve ‘what is’.

In such (often brief) moments, everything is exactly as it should be. We are then less inclined to want or demand things for ourselves or from others. We recognize others as equally important, and the beautiful greeting used by the Mayans, “I am another you” (In Lak’ech Ala K’in), feels very appropriate. Then a lot of chronic, conditioned, and taken-for-granted duality disappears. We then momentarily see a possible horizon of unity, of non-duality, of non-two (A-dvaita). We might even experience a moment of “I am” without needing to add anything. That’s the destination of our essence, that’s essential!

© Michiel Koperdraat