MetaSelf as a Psychological and Spiritual Tool
We have already noted how the MetaSelf model helps us
to summarize the ways we conceptualize important virtues, including
courage, justice and compassion. (See What We Need, the long
article listed in Tools and Resources. We can see how easy it
is to recognize terms like "centered" and "balanced" as members of a
large, meaningful family of spatial terms that turn up in discussions
of health, whether physical, psychological or spiritual. "Inner child"
now leaps out at us as a spatial way to talk about natural feelings,
needs and potentials we may have hidden. "My innermost being"
evokes the essential self, perhaps even the spirit or soul. It is now
time to go further in applying these ideas and the model that
The Z Axis: Inventory and Unity Exercise
The MetaSelf model provides a natural way to structure an inventory
of important aspects of experience. The model's z axis (from the front
to the back of the body) runs through a series of positions, each of
which represents an aspect of experience. A step by step assessment
of these positions and of our ability to unify them, affords us an
excellent overview. Moreover, at each position the model suggests
appropriate metaphors in which to phrase questions about that kind
Start by imagining yourself standing with your back near a wall,
close enough to cast a shadow there. This will place you in the typical
position of a box-frame facing into a room, enabling you to structure
the exercise in your imagination. There are three different versions
of the exercise.
- Imagine that you are interacting with a person (a viewer)
within a system (the room).
- Look at your general experience of a particular situation or
system (room), exclusive of particular people in it.
- Examine how you experience your place in the world in a very
broad, existential way.
Whichever version you choose to try, it may be useful to read
through all the numbered steps, doing the ones that seem evocative
Of course this exercise does not involve actually imagining that you
have been reduced to a box-frame hung on the wall. Rather, you are
using the space in and around a box-frame as a way to structure and
analyze the figurative space in and around your self. The box-frame
and room are visual aids for examining the contents of your own
particular life, your own inner parts and the things you are a part of.
In addition, they are also a way to structure your perception of
another person, simply by viewing their space as structured by the
This method will yield an overall picture that can include: another
person's position; your relationship; the way you present and express
yourself to them; the way you feel inside; your deeply hidden
feelings, needs and potentials; your dependence on the systems that
encompass you and the other person(s); and the ultimate context
within which you place your life and theirs.
- The Immediate Social Interaction. The first step is to ask yourself,
"What is going on between me and other people right now?" Describe
it simply. The model embodies this interaction in the space between
the viewer and the box-frame, the figurative space where relationships evolve.
- Closeness in this Interaction. Can I get as close as I want in this
relationship, or am I perhaps too close? Can I get close support without losing
my boundaries and independence? The model reminds us that viewers in art galleries
go up to an artwork to examine the details and step back to see the
whole picture. We do the same kind of thing when we check our appearance in
- Facing or Not Facing each other. Can we face each other directly
(front to front), or do we need to be indirect? Do we even turn away from
each other? Why? Does the situation require courage and confrontation or delicacy
and circuitous action? These questions are embodied in the angle of
the interaction. Note that being side by side also has a positive connotation:
similarity, comradeship, etc.
- Fairness, Power and Mutual Respect. Am I on a level playing field
with this person? Is there a hierarchy? Do I use put-downs or build myself
up at their expense? Do I put myself down? Is the situation/system fair? These
questions are embodied by the tilt or levelness of the line of sight
between viewer and box-frame.
- Boundaries. The front plane of the box-frame's acrylic cover prompts
(a) Do I feel that my boundaries are safe from attack? If not, how do
I assure my safety?
(b) The other side of this boundary question is, Do I restrain or contain
my feelings and impulses so that others are safe? If not, what do I need
(c) If either of us has weak boundaries, it is likely that one or both
of us is projecting ideas and feelings onto the other. This will often
manifest itself as blaming and judging them for one's own problems. In
the MetaSelf model, projecting is represented by the loss of the front
acrylic plane of the box-frame.
- The Rational, Scientific aspect. Can I prove that my picture of the
world reflects reality outside myself? The right-angled organization of the
box-frame's front space reminds us of graphs, which use right angles to present
the correlations of variables we use to prove scientific hypotheses. Are the
- The Expressive, Artistic aspect. How do I express my inner world
of feelings and merge that world with the outer world? In the MetaSelf model,
feelings are seen as coming forth into the box-frame's front volume from its
wooden backboard (the backboard representing the body and face where we experience
- The Mask or Persona. The paint that covers the backboard represents
the public self that we put on for other people. Is there often a big difference
between how I feel inside and what I show outside? In my relationships, do
I feel the special trust I need to be transparent (honest, revealing) about
what I feel?
- My Body. Do I give due attention to my body's health? Do I see it
(and the backboard that represents it) as the meeting of literal space and
metaphorical space? Do I sense my vertical axis as both grounded in practical
reality and stretching up toward my values with dignity, individuality and
- My Feelings and Needs. What feelings am I aware of now in my body
and face? Are they the same, or different from, what I reveal outwardly? Is
there a congruence (similar shape) between them and my persona? If not, What
need am am I trying to meet that might explain this?
- The Shadow. What do I sense about the feelings, needs and potentials
hidden in the back of my mind (the shadowy space behind the backboard)? Am
I allowing this material to come forward in dreams, intuitions, hunches, artwork
and play? Or do I try to exclude it from my mind and any system I operate
- Membership in Systems. What part do I play in, for example, my family,
workplace, government, the Earth's ecosystem, and the natural universe? How
do I help support each system, and how am I supported by it? The walls support
the box-frames. Nesting rooms, adjusted for scale, represent the range of
- The Largest Context. What do I believe is the largest framework within
which everything exists? What is "beyond space and time," represented by the
space outside the room? Is it God, and if so, how does this god view us? Or
is it meaninglessness or nothingness? The unknown? Alternative realities?
An ultimate reality of which the room and its contents are but a passing manifestation?
- Some questions about unifying the z axis running through all these positions:
(a) To which parts of this front/back axis do I give the most attention?
The least? Do the several parts feel connected, or widely separated?
(b) Can I shift my perspective from one part of the axis to another?
For instance, can I, in addition to seeing things from my own perspective,
imagine being in other people's places in the room, feeling what they
feel, seeing what they see from their point of view?
(c) Can I, indeed, go beyond simply empathizing with their view as well
as my own and imagine stepping outside the system to which we belong
to ask compassionately "What is the common good that meets both our needs?"
Or are some or all our realities irreconcilable or mutually unknowable?
Once these introductory questions have been asked, the next question is
What procedures are suitable for working with each of these steps, 1 - 13?