Chuck’s Place: The Tripartite Self

All begin as the Child... - Detail from artwork by Jan Ketchel
All begin as the Child…
– Detail from artwork by Jan Ketchel

If we examine the inner workings of our everyday mind, we will likely discover three distinct characters: the Child, the Adult, and the Wise One.

The Child may be observed as the one who immediately reacts with fear as the day begins or when the day ends. The Morning Child may fear what bad things await in the day, whereas the Evening Child may fear what may pop out and surprise it in the darkness of the night.

The Child might constantly feel it has done something wrong; it’s in trouble; it’s not as good as everyone else; it’s simply inadequate and flawed. Perhaps the Child holds a secret belief that it truly is unlovable, that it must hide and cover up for fear of being exposed as simply a fraud—deep shame indeed.

The Child might lodge itself in the throat or the jaw or the heart, its tension shutting down the deeply opening and releasing breath of abdominal breathing. Or the Child might pressure for constant physical activity—running, spinning, climbing—racing in some form to release its fear in constant activity. Or, in contrast, the Child might remain sluggish and hidden, seeking never to attract the attention of interaction that threatens exposure, failure, and disappointment.

The Adult is the ego self. In one form or another the Adult is formed to manage the needs, feelings, and beliefs of the Child self. Donald Winnicott, pediatrician and psychoanalyst, proposed the term “false self” to capture the compensatory nature of the adult ego that tries to cover up the felt deficiencies of the now subterranean child self. This falseness is a kind of inflation where the Adult wears a mask that suggests talent or competency, when the truth is that it’s really covering areas of deep doubt within. For example: a man who is terrified of woman might don the mask of Don Juan and become a conqueror of women, or a woman might play the role of seductress to secure a babysitter for her frightened child self, afraid to be alone in the night.

Beyond its falseness, the Adult ego is the legitimate heir or chief navigator of this life in the body. The ego ate the apple in the Garden, it is the center of consciousness and decision making. It is a powerhouse in its own right and for better or worse must steer the ship of our choices.

Our Adult self seeks balance of masculine and feminine... - Photo of art by Jan Ketchel
Our Adult self seeks balance of masculine and feminine…
– Photo of art by Jan Ketchel

Appropriately, the Adult must turn its attention toward securing its place in the world. A living must be made, basic needs must be met. The Adult must become the hero that charts the course to survival and perhaps thrives in the daily adventures of life. Depending on a host of factors, such as DNA, family of origin, finances, and relationships, the Adult ego might find itself confident and solidly grounded, adventurous and daring, or it might be barely holding on in the most basic of life’s challenges.

Regardless, however, of the degree of ego success, the truth is that all egos are equally confronted with the truth that life in this world will end, and that a far more comprehensive world awaits in death, where particles are waves—where everything is energy—and there is nothing solid to hold onto.

Fortunately, in the background of the self is the Wise One, the quiet voice in the depths of ourselves that reconnects us with the fruits of the Garden. The Wise One tells us the truth when we ask it what to do. Often there’s a moment of calm, of clarity, when we’re told, see, or know the truth—what is right action. Should we continue in this relationship? Should we eat this food, take this drink? Should we take this job? Should we speak the truth?

The Wise One generally does not press us. It realizes the futility of teacher approaching student. And so, often the Wise One sits back and let’s life with all its consequences be the elementary school teacher. When we’ve accrued enough knowledge through willful failures we become ready to ask and acquiesce to the guidance of the Wise One within and begin to choose right action as our life’s modus operandi.

Our Wise One is always in  balance... - Detail of cover painting from KRSNA: The Supreme Personality of Godhead
Our Wise One is always in balance…
– Detail of cover painting from KRSNA: The Supreme Personality of Godhead

Much of life is spirit developing a homogenous whole between the heterogenous entities of these tripartite selves of Child, Adult, and Wise One. The Child is the channel to our deepest needs and innocence. The Adult is our greatest hope for reconciliation and karmic advance in the sea of oppositions we must confront within and without in this life. The Wise One is our truest guide who holds the wisdom of countless generations and past lives, as well as access to life beyond space and time. But the Wise One will only come to us in a meaningful way if we assume full responsibility for life in this world and preparation for life beyond this world as well, or at the very least are humbly ready to listen. Such is the mystery and magic of the tripartite, holy trinity of self.


Note: Although no reference is given to the illustrator of the work pictured above that we have chosen to represent the Wise One within us all, the painting is from the cover of KRSNA: The Supreme Personality of Godhead by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. With thanks and gratitude!

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