Exploring self and Self with Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette is most well-known for her autobiographical songwriting and passionate performances, as well as her evocative and engaging articles, interviews, and public speaking events. Her music has won seven Grammys. She is also a charitable activist who supports causes that focus on empowerment, art, recovery, psychological and spiritual healing, feminism, relationships, and environmental causes—earning her a Global Tolerance Award from the United Nations.
1440: The title of the program you’re teaching at 1440 is Exploring self and Self. What are those two selves?
Alanis Morissette: The smaller “s” self is the self in egoic terms—in psychological terms. I consider this the “earthly” self, the “human” self or the “identity” self. This umbrella term contains all the human experiences of “me” or “you.” It deals with perception and comes from a localized point of “me” looking out toward the world (with accurate perceptions or misperceptions, both). It also connotes the “me” that is looking in…toward the inner world.
Many spiritual teachings poo-poo this ego self, at a great cost, as I see it. Some teachings assert that this self is to be transcended and often discarded. As so many of us see through direct experience, however, when this ego self is ignored, neglected, traumatized, abused, and/or conditioned—and we are operating our day-to-day singularly from the lens of this ego self—it creates a life of profound suffering. And while pain is certainly a part of being alive in a body, suffering, I believe, is not.
For me, diving deeply into this egoic self and getting a general handle on how best to navigate life in our bodies is a way to create a sense of mastery in being here.
The suffering begins or continues, however, when we overly identify with this small “s” self.
The next part is consciousness or the spirit Self—the ALL Self with a capital S. This is the Self that does transcend and precede and envelop ALL of this earthly experience from a deep-felt sense of connection with source, with life. This Self is aware that we are a drop in an ocean of life.
We are one with source and we are comprised of innate goodness.
So many of us face challenges in accessing this consciousness, knowing this Self, or having a felt experience of it. During our time at 1440 we will delve into multiple ways of accessing this sense of deep connection with ALL, and come at it from different angles. Art, energy, sensation, philosophy, among many others.
In our three days together at 1440, we’ll be dismantling our conditioning. I try to offer people a very clear way of understanding our histories and understanding the constructed selves we’ve developed in order to survive.
I believe it is critical to have a lot of empathy toward the part of us that created a survival strategy.
I have found it to be incredibly empowering to see the light turn on in people’s eyes when they’re invited to really carve out how their self has come to be the way it is. It can alleviate so much suffering, build a lot of self-empathy, and lead to the cultivation of a mature, functional inner adult.
1440: How has fame impacted your sense of self?
Alanis Morissette: I think a lot of people who are drawn towards fame are led by a traumatic incentive. Of course, not all. Some of us are also, at least partly, driven by a calling—to serve in a public way (though being in the public eye might often be at odds with our more delicate temperaments). I have some theories around attachment and fame, and needs having not been met that we attempt to fulfill through being famous.
We are sold a bill of goods that, once famous, you will have ceaseless eye contact and attunement and attention and abundant resources and care and all of the things you needed when you were young.
We are searching for eudaemonic pleasure (a life of deep meaning) through hedonic pleasure pursuits. And why wouldn’t we? That is often what we are taught to pursue from the time we are born. So many of us are not taught about this big S self, so we charge full speed ahead into our lives trying to find the peace and bliss of the Self through egoic means.
And yet, fame itself is a traumatizing experience because the illusion melts, and we either keep chasing it like some people in the public eye have done, or we’re so disillusioned some of us even want to end our lives because there’s too much suffering that comes with not only the grief of this panacea not being true, but then with the isolation of being famous along with that. This isolation can lead to a deep depression as we discover the thing we thought would make it all better (fame) does the opposite.
My survival approach within fame for the last however many years was to not read comments, not read feedback, and not open myself up to peoples’ projections, vitriol or, frankly, the major egoic bow-down and pedestal element.
I remember thinking when the effect of my trauma compounded by fame got so intense, “God, I thought fame would lead to a more profound version of connection with people.” But the opposite was true. I’d never felt lonelier. I’d never felt more egregiously misperceived. It was profoundly disillusioning.
So many of us in the public eye chased fame because we had a weak sense of self. And I don’t mean ‘weak’ disparagingly. I mean an undeveloped sense of self. So, the irony is you chase fame to further create a sense of self, and it’s harder to do that because there’s so much more activity—so much more projection and misperception and emotional and psychological violence that comes along with being in the public eye.
So, would I change anything? No. I would do it all over again, but at the same time I’m happy for my orientation toward healing and trauma recovery because it has saved my life.
1440: How do you practice self-care? What does that look like?
Alanis Morissette: It shows up in many forms. I take both bottom-up approaches (body, felt-sense, somatic work, feelings, sensation, movement, mindfulness) and top-down approaches (the psychological or psychotherapeutic—caring for the intellectual mind, the brain— to the academic—theory, reading).
I also keep rituals alive that help keep me rooted in consciousness—prayer, meditation, reading deeply soulful material, writing, making art, stillness, nature, and a sense of bravery and communion in relationships. Other rituals of self-care have become increasingly important: working out, grooming, sleep, nutrition awareness, and being in nature among others.
The biggest suffering for me is when I feel cut off from a sense of connection to Self—when I don’t feel that sense of oneness, and when I have lost a sense of my own self, and when I feel disconnected from all others.
While I see these moments of suffering as part of the path, and as portals to deeper awareness and a crunching further toward wholeness, this suffering is so hilariously unpleasant—it helps me to remember that Self never goes away.
Clouds may get in front of the sun, but the sun doesn’t disappear.