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Excerpt from "Your Symphony of Selves: Discover and Understand More of Who We Are"

Chapter 1. What This Is About and What We Hope to Accomplish

by James Fadiman, Ph.D. & Jordan Gruber, J.D.


All human beings, including those who are healthiest and most successful, are composed of more than one self. When things are going well, each plays its rightful role as part of a harmonious symphony. We really are different people—or have different minds, parts, or personalities—in different moments and in different contexts.

This is not a new observation; it goes back thousands of years. And it is not difficult to understand, at least not in its basic form. Instead, it is extremely useful and beneficial. By appreciating this about ourselves and others, many things in our lives begin to make more sense.

Please consider the following questions:

• Have you ever argued with yourself? Who were you arguing with? Who was the other voice, or other voices? If you have ever argued with yourself and changed sides, who did that? Have you ever been by yourself or with your old friends and done something truly wild and crazy—something you would never do around your parents, children, co-workers, or boss? Who was it that acted that way? Was that same part of you embarrassed later on?

• Have you ever gotten so inebriated that you said or did things that you would normally never do, or caused physical or psychological damage to yourself or someone else? Who did that? Who got the hangover? And who eventually felt the shame or regret?

• Have you ever been so stressed that you did something you told yourself you would never do? Once you did it—or perhaps even while you were doing it—did another part of you already know you were making a big mistake?

Acknowledging these different parts of ourselves is what this book is all about. To say, for example that people merely have different “moods” at different times misses our main thrust: the selves that comprise us are actual, real, independent, and innately valuable parts of who we are.

In addition to addressing questions like these, we will offer many examples from ordinary day-to-day life, some of which will likely remind you of similar experiences in your own life. We will also make frequent reference to popular culture: books, movies, music, and cartoons. Finally, we will discuss the thoughts of a wide range of thinkers, writers, scientists, and artists who have grappled with this issue throughout history.

The collected and synthesized information we are providing here might at first puzzle you or disturb your equilibrium, or even up-end your theory of yourself and others. But it will likely change how you view and understand yourself (your selves) and others (their selves).

As you read, we are hopeful you will do at least two things:

• Begin to let go of the ways you tend to characterize who you are as a single, unitary, monolithic self; and

• Begin to accept and appreciate your own selves and the selves of others. These things—relatively easy to do—often provide immediate benefits (as will be described).

Most of our ideas are easy to understand, and may feel very familiar to you. They seem to make sense to most people once, based on their own life experiences, they bring them to awareness. For many, the prospect of living a better life—consciously noticing and working with what we are describing—proves an enticing possibility.

How the Single Self Assumption Limits Optimal Human Functioning

The difficult part—the problem we all face—is that this way of looking at things is so rarely discussed that most people simply are not aware of it. A veil seems to exist that prevents us from directly experiencing or considering the idea that we are—or can be—a collection of harmonious healthy selves. (Going forward, we will refer to the “healthy selves” or “healthy normal selves” idea, worldview, or perspective.) This barrier or veil follows directly from the unexamined pervasiveness of what we call the Single Self Assumption, which in its simplest form, is the idea that:

Each of us is a single unified self.

As a result of the pervasiveness of the Single Self Assumption, the reality of experiencing ourselves as a healthy multiplicity is seldom considered. If it is brought up, it may be laughed away or simply dismissed.

But, when we become aware of, question, and step beyond the Single Self Assumption, our worldview shifts. This alternative posits that greater health, functioning, and satisfaction comes to people who understand and make practical good use of the recognition that selves are real.

The new assumption is that it is normal to have more than one self. Perhaps more importantly, optimal functioning and well-being necessitates acknowledging and working with all of our selves. Those who do this demonstrate increasing congruence between their words, behavior, and plans. They are seen by others as being coherent in their interactions and communications. They are also kinder and more compassionate.

Acknowledging and working with selves thus enables us to be more congruent, coherent, and overall, what we describe as being more cohesive. Simply, they “hang together” in a well-integrated way. The more cohesive our selves are, the better our real-world functioning and our interactions and relationships (how we are felt, seen, and experienced).

To begin our discussion, here is an example of someone famous—literally a major rock star—who made effective use of his selves.

R.I.P. David Bowie, Master of Selves Changes

Following Bowie’s death in early 2016, Helen Green’s animated gif of his many looks—his many faces, perhaps his many selves—went viral. Did Bowie consciously make use of—deploy or even invent—different selves when necessary?

Bowie himself said: “Even though I was very shy, I found I could get onstage if I had a new identity.” After reviewing his troubled early years, British psychologist Oliver James wrote, “What seems to have been the trigger for his shift from distressed and tortured to emotionally healthy, was his adoption of personas in his musical career.”(3)

James Fadiman, Ph.D., with degrees from Harvard and Stanford, was the president of two companies, taught at four universities, is an international seminar leader, and has written textbooks, trade books, and novels. Consulting clients have included IBM, Hewlett-Packard, a Federal Reserve bank, and Foster's Freeze. He is one of the foremost researchers in microdosing studies and is a co-founder of Sophia University. He has been researching healthy multiplicity for more than 20 years and lives with his filmmaker wife in Menlo Park, California. Jordan Gruber, J.D., writer, collaborative writer, ghost writer, and editor, has forged and sculpted authoritative volumes in forensic law, financial services, and self-development. A graduate of Binghamton University and the University of Virginia School of Law, he founded the Enlightenment.com website and is now a leading advocate of rebound exercise through the SuperBound Project. He lives in Menlo Park, California, with his wife and family.


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Article Archives  This Month's Articles  Click Here for more articles by James Fadiman, Ph.D. & Jordan Gruber, J.D.
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