The Second Nafs

 The Sufis see The Journey of the Soul on earth as a progression through a series of seven stages that they call Nafs. Each successive Nafs involves a refinement of the soul. Each is, in effect, a different kind of soul as a result of its previous learnings. As we move through the Nafs, we are progressively less self absorbed, more awake and aware, and more focused on Ultimate Reality, which is Being.

The First Nafs is the most primitive soul, characterized by blaming others for our problems. It is a state of victimhood, undeveloped and unrefined, totally self-referential, and fixated on the material level of existence. It rarely or never raises its head to perceive the splendor of the Cosmos or the miracles happening all around us. Living in the First Nafs is a kind of superficial, spiritual bardo.

The Second Nafs is a little improvement on the First Nafs, but not much. It is also characterized by blame. However, at this stage one ceases to blame others and starts to blame oneself. The soul at this stage of development is in a mode of self-attack. The Second Nafs is still pretty primitive and undeveloped. It still sees only a tiny, limited  portion of reality.

With the Second Nafs, we are in the territory of what psychology calls the Super-ego. Modern depth psychology, arising out of the work of Freud and Jung, defines the Super-ego as the internalized parents. As a child, we are corrected and disciplined by our parents. Their attention to us in this regard is a socializing influence. They attempt to teach us who and how to be, in order to fit into the culture. They exercise a controlling, molding influence on us, a teaching function.

Later, after leaving the parents, the adult child retains their voices and instructions in his/her head. It is the job of the Super-ego to keep us in line. When we consider straying beyond the bounds of the normal and healthy, the Super-ego will raise objections and resistance, and struggle with us to keep us virtuous. If necessary, it will inflict shame on us to warn us away from unhealthy avenues. If we persist in our plans and carry out the unwise plans, it will plant shame so firmly around the subject that we feel it for the rest of our lives. This basic job of the Super-ego is healthy and necessary. If we were not held back by its socializing messages, there might be a great many more sociopaths in the world.

However, in some people the Super-ego gets out of control and begins to launch attacks on the psyche. It becomes a cruel inner critic, with messages that can range from mild self-criticism to vicious, devastating, self-esteem-destroying, all-out vilification. With its continuous messages of deficiency, it can destroy peace of mind, will, satisfaction in life and self-esteem. It can make life totally miserable. It has no dearth of subject matter. Its messages can run the gamut: “You’re fat and unattractive.” “You’re old and washed up.” “No-one wants you.” “You’re stupid.”

With its continuous stream of invective, it can turn life into a veritable hell. It is made more difficult by the fact that its messages are usually accepted without question as truth. It appears as a whisper in the mind, and seems to confirm one’s worst fears. And, it usually seizes on a subject that has a kernel of truth in it. However, the deficiency or inadequacy that is the heart of its message is greatly amped up, so that it becomes devastating, especially if the message comes several times a day.

The key to dealing with a super-ego attack is to recognize the attack and fight back in our mind. The Super-ego must be regarded as an entity in our psyche that is inimical to our welfare. We must train ourselves to register the attack the moment the Super-ego launches it, then swing into a counter-attack. We must come back at the Super-ego with energy equal to the energy of its attack. We must defend ourselves with statements such as: “Get out of my head.” “Take a powder.” “Buzz off.” It is no good to get into an argument with the Super-ego about whether its message is true. It must be energetically dismissed. A little profanity helps add energy to the defense. We must try to defend consistently, every time the Super-ego launches an attack. In time, the attacks will come less frequently and less viciously. Using this method of defending, some people are able finally, with great relief, to silence the Super-ego completely.

The Super-ego cannot thrive in the daylight. It is powerful only as a whisper from deep in the mind, accepted without question as truth. Once it is identified, objectified, and pulled out into the open, it loses its power. It loses its ability to devastate. It is reduced to a simple voice in the mind, coming from an enemy who is not out for your welfare, and without any ultimate truth. It does not hook us, and we can dismiss it.

The Second Nafs, centered on wrestling with the Super-ego, is an uncomfortable place to live. By understanding and moving past the Super-ego’s attacks and messages of deficiency and inadequacy, we open the way to the Third Nafs, where real refinement of the soul begins to take place.



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