Essence represents all that is most real in us, our most essential being qualities. Like a seed, it is full of potential but unrealized and largely inactive. The Work says that essence comes down from the stars through the receptive apparatus of our parents, but it develops only up to a point through the normal life circumstances of our first education – the usual acquired programming of parents, education and cultural influences. In the Book of Genesis, essence is akin to being created in the image and likeness of God. Personality – defined in the Work as all that is acquired – forms round essence. Personality provides a necessary source of energy for the growth and development of essence once we begin our second education in awakening.
As this process of awakening unfolds, a reversal of energy begins, where personality becomes more passive and essence becomes more active. This doesn’t mean the personality goes away; it just stops being in charge. In actual expression, there is no distinct line between essence and personality; they are a mix of levels and origins and represent a spectrum of energies and manifestations, which can become increasingly unified and spiritually oriented. These ideas very much relate to the Work understanding that Man is a self-developing organism.
So essence is a divine seed planted into fertile ground. Our parents, our place and time of birth, our bodies and personalities with their unique traits and generational influences, dispositions and ways of being – all comprise just the right circumstances for the growth and development of essence. Essence might be described as what is uniquely ours in the divine/human alchemy gifted to us. Essence is also universal, meaning that everyone is born with it. When the second education is engaged, the gift of essence is brought to its fullness. In many ways, the spiritual journey is what we do with the gift of our essence.
Note that the Work does not typically use the words “soul” or “spirit.”
“[Essence is what] is real in a person, having existed since (and theoretically before) birth. Its growth, particularly in highly artificial environments, is held in abeyance in a person’s early years while personality is formed around it, entailing a risk that this synthetic protective shell may assume unwarranted importance. Essence, the only vehicle for habitation of Real I, understands when developed that laws are the primary reality by which events and things are manifested. …
“‘Essence has to grow wings in order to ascend,’ Mrs. Pogson said. … ‘All seeds are perfect,’ she said. ‘They are made to show us something. Dr. Nicoll loved to talk about this. The tree is in the seed. In us, the New Man is in essence and the wings are there, only what is in us has to learn to use them. That is why so much is said about Self-remembering, which in a way is using our wings, remembering that we have wings. The more you use these wings the stronger they will be. But if people don’t believe they have wings, they can hardly do it at all. … [E]very essence is unique. Always there is this truth that you don’t know from seeing the seed what it will develop into.'”
-Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks