Are you a self-inflator or a self-deflator? Do you tend to think you’re better or worst than other people? I know. The “appropriate” part of your brain says, “Oh, well, I’m neither inferior nor superior, because in our essence we’re all equal. In fact, we’re all one.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. I’m not talking to that part of your brain. I’m talking to your Cro-Magnon brain. Your drooling, uncouth “id.” So what do you think? As you walk around, in your day-to-day life, do you tend to feel superior or inferior to others? Are you Sterling Archer or Cyril Figgis?
I know it can be more convoluted than that. For example, deep down inside, self-inflating types feel soul-curdlingly inferior. Self-inflating is—notoriously—a compensation. Psych 101. Conversely, if you do a little excavating, you find that self-deflating types secretly feel superior to others, in weasley, furtive ways. Or something. I don’t know. It’s like the layers of an onion, but a deeply fucked up, MC Escher-ish onion. Like the Upanishads say, “This maya is epically FUBAR” (actually, if you want to get nitpicky, it says, “This maya cannot be comprehended”).
For most of us, some degree of inferiority and superiority phase chaotically in and out. When I was a teenager I heard the Zen priest Reb Anderson give a talk at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center about how everyone goes through cycles of “puffing up” and “leaking out.” He said that the more puffed up we get, the more likely we are to have a dramatic deflation, a sudden “popping” of our personal balloon of self-imagery.
Nevertheless, for most people, one of those tendencies—either inferiority or superiority—does seem to predominate. Sometimes these tendencies even manifest bodily. In Rolfing Structural Integration, they teach that the inflated character often has a broader, bigger chest, because their ribcage is “inspiration fixed,” puffed up, locked in the gesture of inhalation, shoulders molded into a pulled-back asana. They frequently have high, fixed arches in their feet, too. In Rolfing parlance, they, “can’t get down to earth.”
Conversely, deflated character-types tend to have more collapsed ribcages, fixed perpetually in the gesture of exhalation. They frequently have lower or non-existent arches. They “can’t get up off the earth.”
Adi Da says that it makes not the slightest difference which one you are. They’re both bullshit. They’re both—according not just to Adi Da but to many teachers and teachings—the gaudy ephemera of a subjective persona that in no way actually exists. They’re both the doofus somersaults of a self-enchanted mirage. The glorious-or-horrific “me” I parade around as all day just isn’t a thing.
“[Some have] an idealized sense of [themselves.] Others are chronically double-minded, or full of doubt, and obsessed with failure. In other words, some individuals feel superior, and others feel inferior, and some alternate between the two. Whatever your characteristic strategy of reluctance, it is not [the practice.] [The practice]…has nothing to do with an idealized self-image or with self-doubt. All of that is to be relinquished and not felt to be important by one who is given over to [the practice.]”
—Adi Da Samraj
Nevertheless, it is useful to know which one you tend toward. Not in hopes of fixing the damn thing. It’s just a homely piece of basic self-understanding. It simply gives you some basic discrimination and clarity about the distortions you tend to introduce into your practice. Having this bit of knowledge about yourself is like that phrase on your car’s side-view mirror that says, “objects are closer than they appear”—it helps you make adjustments and allowances for your silly antics. It supplies a bracing sense of suspicion toward your own perceptions and interpretations.
Knowing this about yourself is also deliciously humbling and that’s always excellent for spiritual practice because it makes you teachable. Lastly, your little dog-and-pony act—“I’m so lowly” or “I’m so amazing,” either one—becomes an endless source of amusement and hilarity at parties. You could turn it into an outstanding drinking game.
Here, in one 4-second clip, Kramer captures the essence of the inferior, self-deprecatory type.
On the other hand, the self-inflating, superior type can receive even the most humbling “reality feedback” in life and somehow still remain inflated and in denial. Just like the Black Knight.
Stuff To Do
As I suggested above, the game here is merely to get clear about which tendency you most embody. Here are some ways to do that.
1) Throw yourself into community. Or, if you already practice in community, engage with it more closely and energetically. I already wrote a post about this. Really observe how people interact with you and the effect you have on them. Notice if you feel better or worst than people.
2) Take this simple quiz: Is the whole topic of this post not that interesting to you? Does it kind of make you shrug? Can’t see the point? Not concerned about it? You, my friend, are the self-inflatey, superior type! No charge. You’re welcome.
Here’s what I’m getting at. The inferiority tendency hurts more, so it automatically inspires you to want to transcend it. Or integrate it. Or for fuck’s sake do something with it. On the other hand, walking around subtly (or even not-subtly) feeling better than everyone else feels (or sure seems to feel) pretty awesome. So neither is “better” than the other—they’re both just arbitrary plasticene shapes smooshed into the clay—but the self-deprecating tendency is in this sense “better:” self-inflating, superior-types have zero motivation to do anything about their pattern, or even to notice that they’re trapped in a pattern, because it feels (superficially) great.
3) Harkening back to my Rolfing descriptions, above, of how the superior, inflated type and the inferior, deflated character-types can manifest bodily, play with these breathing options:
If you’re the deflated, inferior, collapsed type, experiment with emphasizing the inhalation side of your breaths. Feel that more. “Get into” that more. Your type (my type, fyi), needs more inspiration. Literally.
If you’re the inflated, superior type (and you’ve miraculously realized that it’s a pattern that holds you back in your practice), explore emphasizing the exhalation side of your breathing. Really let yourself fully release and let go with each breath.
Do good things for Spirit Mojo!
Of course, both types will benefit exponentially by urgently heeding my usual calls of action, to wit: 1) Subscribe to this blog! Use the handy button at the top right of the page! Yay! 2) Connect to Spirit Mojo on Facebook. 3) Comment below! So many exclamation points…