One of the most confusing things to people on a genuine spiritual path is the utter denial of specialness. You have an experience that you are special, but you are told by spiritual teachers and books that if you experience yourself as special, you are still stuck in ego. So you work really hard to get rid of the feeling of being special. But it is always there, lurking in the corner just beneath the surface of your spiritual posturing. This makes you feel like an impostor and fraud. On the one hand, you are having intense spiritual experiences during regular practice and living your compassion in the world.
On the other hand, the lurking feeling of specialness makes you feel like your realization is false and fraudulent. “Special” is often used interchangeably with “unique.” To think you are special is to think you are unique, which is radically rejected by most spiritual teachers on the contemporary scene.
One well-known spiritual teacher speaks of what she calls the illusion of uniqueness. She says time and again in her teaching of impersonal enlightenment that there is “no such thing as a unique spiritual experience.” This is precisely wrong. The deeper the spiritual experience, the more unique it becomes. Your enlightenment always has a perspective. The very essence of enlightenment is the liberation of your unique perspective from the prison of voices not your own.
A second example of this rejection of specialness as being antispiritual is A Course in Miracles. Below is a citation from one entry entitled “The Pursuit of specialness:”
The pursuit of Specialness
Is always at the cost of peace
You are not Special
If you think you are
And would defend your specialness
Against the truth of what you really are
How can you know the truth
Specialness always makes comparisons
It is established by a lack seen in another
The pursuit of Specialness
Must bring you pain
The conclusion of the section is that specialness is but an illusion that needs to be forgiven, and dispelled through forgiveness.
A Course in Miracles is a significant and profound teaching. And yet in both examples and in the larger teachings that they represent, the same two mistakes are made. First, there is a complete conflation of uniqueness or specialness on the one side, and separateness on the other. They are all taken to refer to the same thing.
Now, it is true that the assertion of specialness is one of the favorite tactics through which the consciousness of separate self attempts to ward off the terror of its own inevitable death and dissolution. From this perspective, specialness is indeed an illusion of ego to be overcome in order to gain the peace and joy that come from a realization of your true Nature, the realization that you are not separate or alone but an indivisible and eternal expression of the seamless coat of Universe.
However, from a perspective of Unique Self, of course you are special. That is precisely what it means to be a Unique Self. Your utter uniqueness is precisely what makes you special.
The second confusion in the teaching that blithely rejects specialness is the failure to distinguish between different stages on the spiritual path — what are often referred to as levels of consciousness. For example, as we pointed out in Chapter 2, ego and Unique Self represent two distinct levels of consciousness.
When you are operating from the level of ego, your feeling that “I am special” is the ego’s delusion. The ego’s feeling that “I am special” is based on something unreal. Seduced by the significance of this truth, enlightenment teachers who stress dis-identification with ego will often mistakenly conflate personal-specialness with ego-specialness, and therefore wrongly reject specialness and personal uniqueness altogether.
Eastern-influenced teachers of evolution beyond ego correctly point out that most of the experiences that you feel are special and personal are really, at their core, shockingly impersonal. You think, for example, that all of your sexing is intimate and personal to you, when in fact much of your sexing can be said to result from a vast, impersonal sexual current that courses through you and everyone else on the planet. Or, to take another example, you think that these details of your life are all very special, personal, and fascinating, when in fact they are very common, ordinary, and even banal. Ninety-five percent of your waking thoughts are dedicated to reviewing details of old stories and worrying about how new stories will play out. You get lost in personality, and miss essence. Much of what you thought was personal is actually impersonal.
This move beyond the obsession with the personal helps you to wake up. You evolve from separate self to true self. You begin to realize that you are in fact not an isolated or separate part, but rather you are part of the whole, of All-That-Is. Once, however, you have had that realization or even a glimmer of that realization, the personal will begin to come back online at a higher level.
At this point, your Unique Self, your feeling of specialness, reemerges, but this time in a far more clean, clear, and crystalline form. As my lineage master, Mordechai Lainer of Izbica, taught, when you evolve beyond ego, your uniqueness/specialness does not disappear; it becomes clarified. At the level of Unique Self, you reconnect to your specialness with the stunning realization: You are special! You are unique!
There are many differences between egoic specialness and Unique Self specialness, which emerges in moments of evolution beyond exclusive identification with ego. But one distinction stands out as a surefire litmus test that will always allow you to distinguish between egoic and Unique Self specialness: specialness at the level of ego is always at someone else’s expense. If I am special, that means that others are not. This is the level of ego that A Course in Miracles was referring to in saying that specialness exists only by comparison.
However, specialness at the level of Unique Self is of a different order of reality. Unique Self specialness is an authentic realization of overpowering joy. I am special, and so are you. Each of us has a Unique Self. We are not equally talented, wise, sensual, or compassionate. But paradoxically, we are all special, each in our own infinitely unique ways.
In the enlightened identification of your Uniqueness, you realize your specialness, which is a wondrous and gorgeous expression of your very enlightenment. It is paradoxically this very realization that opens you up to fully perceive and delight in the specialness of others.
Originally published at medium.com