Alchemy has a famous expression: solve et coagula. The phrase is Latin for ‘dissolve and coagulate’, which can also be understood as ‘breakdown and rebuild’, or more poetically, ‘die in order to be reborn’.
The process of waking up to our deeper potentials in life is very much along the lines of the alchemical expression solve et coagula. There is something that must get out of the way, that must be worked on, in order for us to experience more fully our greater possibilities in life. That ‘something’ is the personality, and in specific, the part of the personality that is generally defined as the ego.
It should be stressed from the beginning that the ego is not bad, and is not to be regarded as some problem that is merely to be banished (or demonized). To do that is to revert to a kind of spiritual fundamentalism. Doing so usually turns us into phony holies, preaching things that we’re not really living—pretending to be beyond our ego when we are really just as egocentric as the person who has never shown the slightest interest in conscious principles.
The ego is mainly a survival mechanism. In that regard it is ancient, rooted in the long evolutionary history of the human being, stretching back to our time on the African continent millions of years ago. It has its job to do, and that is to take care of our boundaries. However, it gets in the way of higher development, mainly because it doesn’t trust the idea of getting too close to others.
The True Self is the idea that all of us have an essence (or ‘soul’, if you will) that lies under the outer personality and ego. Inner Work is all about seeing the darker elements of our personality and ego (accomplished via ‘shadow-work’) so that we can begin the process of deconstructing the parts of ego that we no longer need—so the finer qualities of our True Self can begin to be revealed.