| Transcending Ego
Understanding The Psychological Path to Enlightenment
Alchemical Stage One - Ego And Persona
The Journey Begins - Lost and found
You know the feeling. You are doing everything right, like you have been taught to do, like everyone else is doing too, but somehow it all feels wrong. Even when you get the things you wanted, you don't feel much satisfaction for long. It all seems so useless. Where does this feeling come from?
Somehow, built into us all, is a self-corrective mechanism. When your outer life goes too far out of harmony with your inner spirit or soul, when your actions to get what you want do not fulfill your real needs, something within you arises to put you back into harmony. Since trying to get it all "out there" in life isn't fulfilling you, look within and discover what you do need. If you don't do this by yourself, and almost no one does, you will be periodically forced into a state of introspection. This is the invisible hand of destiny at work. Watch out now for opportunities disguised as loss.
It may well be that the trials and tribulations of your life have gradually worn you down until you feel that it is no longer worth the effort.
This is the beginning of the process of awakening. This process will repeat very many times before much progress is attained. Little by little, your false conceptions and unfulfilling behaviour will be brought to your attention for re-evaluation. Your old image of yourself will be destroyed to make room for something new and more fulfilling. The journey is underway
What's Going On? - Something is missing
Stage one usually begins as an awareness that something is missing; something is lacking in your life. Activities that used to be fun now seem meaningless. You feel empty. It seems useless to you to do anything. "Why bother?" may the phrase that best expresses how you feel about everything.
You realise that all your toys (possessions), your status, power, prestige and your achievements don't seem to mean a thing to you. You may "have it all" but still you feel miserable. It all seems so worthless, so empty. But what is missing?
Or you may have been still struggling to achieve "the good life". You may be wondering why you don't have it yet. Even worse, you may be wondering why you ever wanted it at all!
Some people, when in this stage, fight to keep things as they were. This is not a good idea! Resistance is futile. You have been incomplete. The structures of your life are breaking down and, though perhaps frightening to the personality, this is good for the soul.
When in this phase, you can feel like you have lost all orientation. It's like you have been thrown into a dark cave of confusion - into the subconscious where your forgotten memories of fear and pain reside. You may experience despair, depression or even nervous breakdown. To realise the scale of this problem, just look at global statistics of people taking anti-depressants. The numbers are vast. Prozac is the number one most taken drug in America . Surely this alerts you to the truth in what I'm telling you. Take heart. The seeming breakdown can lead to a very useful breakthrough. Use this book as a road map. This journey will be a great adventure and can be very rewarding. The journey unfolds.
The Lie - What went wrong? How did you fall asleep?
Your parents or other caretakers conditioned you. They domesticated and trained you to conform to the social norms of your time. Their intention was to influence you to believe and behave only in ways that they and the society found acceptable. And, for the most part, they were successful. Oh, during your teens and early twenties you revolted and had a few tries at being different. But for the most part, you became a product of the times and now behave just like everybody else you meet. Sometimes a Shirley Valentine-type impulse may surface. But generally, your conditioning teaches you to ignore any such liberating inclinations.
As you built up experiences, some of them brought you fear, pain, or fear of more pain. As you tried to make sense of these experiences, you made false interpretations and generalised them into beliefs. For example, if you were hurt a few times in love, you likely came to believe that love always brings pain. This false expectation became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Life does tend to bring you that which you are expecting.
It appears that we generate our experiences largely from our expectations. You make your poor or otherwise limited expectations come true. When they do come true, you believe that this confirms your false belief, which becomes more rigid than before. This is one way that people close themselves off from so many new possibilities. They come to have very limited beliefs as to what is possible for them. Popular phrases that embody this idea include: "I could never have (do or be) that." "We just have to accept our lot in life." "That's just the way things are."
Like everyone else in your culture, you were taught to give your power to others. The powers that be (governments, religious organisations, etc.) find it easier to rule if people have little will of their own. And so they arrange that people have little self-worth. Consider the meaning of sayings such as "Man is conceived in sin." "Man's righteousness is as dirty rags before God." If you believe these popular religions teachings, your self-worth is reduced to near nothing before you ever leave Sunday school.
Consider the effect of the common social attitude that it is incorrect to praise yourself. Did you ever notice that when you say, "That was so stupid of me. How could I have done something so awful?" your friends give your sympathy and the warmth of an arm around your shoulder. Contrast that with the response when you say, "Gee, I really did that well, didn't I. I'm so great!" When you say something like that, people pull back and look at you like you have the plague. This prevailing social response reinforces low self-worth and punishes high self-worth.
All too often, priests and politicians are like the mafia of the soul. By promoting beliefs and customs that reduce your self-worth, they make you easy to rule. Do you want to be easy to rule? Or would you rather have high self-worth and make your own decisions? Do you think someone like Sir Richard Branson is easy to rule? No way! Consider this well. If you have any aspirations for healing the environment or creating peace in this world, you will need high self-worth to have any success at all.
You have learned to desire that which you were trained to desire. It began with your parents and continues unabated, especially through advertising. Through advertising, you are taught what to long for and strive for. What does society, through advertising, teach us to value? Your appearance, your social position, your job, your status and especially your possessions - your clothes, your car, your home and all your toys. These superficial values are well expressed in the popular saying, "He who dies with the most toys, wins." You and I were told, "If you have these things, you will be happy, fulfilled and sought after." Over and over again, I have found that to be a lie.
Understanding The Ego - Who is to blame for the lie?
What is the ego?
The ego is who you think you are. The ego is how you have been taught to see yourself in your own eyes. It consists of the things others called you and said you were, and that you accepted as true. The ego is your definition of yourself.
Lost parts of the ego
There are other parts of you that you deny. All the other images and impulses that you have, those that are not socially acceptable, you deny. You may have repressed them so well that you don't even know that they still exist within you.
Your ignorance does not, however, protect you or others from their existence. They still live within you. These shadow qualities live a kind of subterranean, revolutionary life within your subconscious. Until you take the time to honestly look within yourself and become aware of your shadow, you will remain ignorant of and separated from some of the most powerful parts of your being. The shadow will be a main topic of stage and chapter two.
How and why ego is created
Let's now look more deeply into the role of the ego. When you were a child, you had to create an ego to survive. You had to learn what to eat and what not to eat. You had to learn basic rules of keeping your body alive and well. The ego was generated and trained through the use of words. A young child does not appear to know of itself as a separate being. A tiny baby does not even know that its mother's breast is separate from its hunger and the fulfillment of drinking. When it begins to understand that it is a separate being, the ego is born.
The function of the ego
The ego's job is to protect you and provide for your survival. It does so by establishing rules and defending boundaries. For survival, we need boundaries, but these boundaries need to reflect our current state of development. For you as an adult to be bound by the rules your parents taught you when you were three (such as "Don't cross the street.") is inappropriate and unnaturally limiting. Most everyone's personal rules and boundaries are still defined by experiences of their childhood and could well use some review and updating.
Your ego creates your world with the words you choose
The way you describe your world to yourself defines how your ego perceives the world to be. When you were a baby, you naturally went through a phase of focusing almost exclusively upon your body. You needed to learn how to co-ordinate it, feed it, and all the other activities required for survival. When you were a child, you didn't have the mental clarity to choose which rules were right and what things you should believe. You just accepted the rules and beliefs of your parents or caretakers. Later you created more beliefs based upon your personal experiences. The things you told yourself were true became the truth for you.
At first, others told you what was true and instructed you in how to behave. Much you learned by direct imitation of the behaviour you observed in others. However, a great amount of the formation and training of the ego occurs through the use of words. Many others told you about yourself. What your parents, teachers, friends and others said about you did not always coincide. You pieced together your image of yourself from all these observations and judgements about you made by others. The things they said about you and that you accepted as true formed your self-image, your ego. Later on, the words you yourself thought and said about yourself gave your ego even more definite form.
The power of words
There is real magic in the words you use to describe yourself and your experience. Remember in the Bible how God created? "And God said..." and it was. "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God." God spoke the universe into being. Words are very powerful, even human words. Especially potent are the words you say with deep feeling after saying, "I am..." These words are your definition of yourself, of your ego self. Be very conscious and choose the words you say to yourself after the words, "I am", for that you will become, indeed. For instance, if you habitually say "I'm afraid that...", you will become more afraid in general.
The amount of feeling you put into your words defines the suggestive or creative power that they have. Words spoken devoid of feeling have little effect.
Even so, they are not just empty words. Say precisely what you mean and what you intend to create. We will go further into these ideas later under the topic of sound-conscious languaging.
Words can put you into bondage. Words, well chosen, can also free you.
Do you remember your parents telling you that you have to fight to get your share; that there is not enough for everyone? Did you accept that? Do you tell yourself such stories? If so, your ego has, through incorrect use of language, locked yourself into believing such lies. Your ego is the part of you that listens, thinks and speaks. Here you see how the ego creates a world based upon the false belief of lack (poverty consciousness). In this way, your abundance is typically blocked by the ego.
Ego perpetuates the lie of separation
The basic error that most of you learned is the belief that you are separate from others and from all life. It does seem like this is true. After all, you do have a separate physical body. However, those who have peered "behind the veil" have all returned with the same message: We are all the same One Self. It may seem like this just can't be true. For now, just allow the thought to simmer in your mind and sink into your subconscious. Perhaps imagine a tree and relate to all people being individual leaves on the same tree. All humans are part of one great being just as all your cells are part of your body, your one self.
How ego is to blame for dysfunction on the planet
For a start, realise that we are all living on the same planet and that what we do has an effect upon one another. A few words that you may say at a special moment can change the life of another person and have widespread effects that you can't even imagine. What we, as a culture do, will have an effect upon the rest of human history. We are all in the same lifeboat, this planet earth, together.
Einstein on ego
In this light, Albert Einstein made a profound remark. He had been asked by a reporter something like "Dr. Einstein, you are known to be one of the great geniuses of all time. You have explored our world from the tiny insides of the atom to the cosmos as a whole. Your discoveries have both enriched and destroyed human life and the environment. What do you feel is the most important question for humanity to ask itself today?"
As he often did, Einstein stared off into space for a moment. Then he looked back to the reporter and replied, "I think the most important question facing humanity is, 'Is the universe a friendly place?' This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.
"For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly-and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.
"If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially 'playing dice with the universe', then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.
"But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives."
Einstein suggests that we retrain the ego
Another time, Einstein spoke about the nature of our ego, of how we experience ourselves. He said, "A human being is a part of the whole called by us 'universe'. a part limited in time and space. He experiences his thoughts and feelings as separated from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
Here you see how your ego creates the illusion of separation and the "I'm alright, Jack" attitude. This attitude tells us that it's OK to chop down trees, pollute our rivers and air - all because we need somewhere to live and a car to drive. However, the selfish ego attitude doesn't take into account how we are destroying our environment and our relationships. Rather than co-operating for the greatest good of the whole, we are competing and focusing upon "What's in this for me?" This ego gone berserk attitude is destroying our lives.
Yes, your ego is a kind of prison that distorts and limits your idea of your world and of who you are, and also limits how you relate to others. One goal of this book is to assist you to overcome the limitations of the ego. Another goal is to retrain the ego to be a responsive and useful tool to serve you in a more effective way in harmony with spirit.
The biggest lie of all
Perhaps the most destructive popular lie of the ego is "I've got to make lots of money now so that later on I will be able to do what I want." As the Beatles said in their song, A Girl, "Did she understand it when they said that a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure. Will she still believe it when he's dead?"
If you wait until you have enough money before focusing fully upon your awakening, you will likely never wake up. Start now. Whoever you think you are, begin now wherever you are with whatever you have. Get involved in the quest to evolve yourself beyond what your ego conditioning has made of you.
Understanding The Persona - Who you pretend to be
The persona is who you pretend to be, your "Sunday-best" self that you show to others. Like the ego, the persona is a conscious part of yourself that, when not consciously understood and positively used, causes havoc in your life. Even your ego, which denies the dark shadow qualities, has parts that you do know about but don't choose to show others. We all create a "perfect" image of ourselves, the way we want others to see us. This part is the persona, the social mask. The word persona in Greek means "mask" and refers to the mask that actors wore in ancient Greek plays. Your persona is the basis of your personality, the version of yourself that you show to others.
Why we create the persona
You've seen the persona in action. For example, when you go out on a date, you "put on your best side" and act like you think your date would like you to act. You do this to gain acceptance. Another example: You (your ego) may think to yourself, "I hate this person." However, your personality may act friendly in order to get what it wants and to avoid what it doesn't want. The personality does help social interaction to go smoothly. It does so by not telling or revealing any truth that would possibly be upsetting to others. It is basically a social lubricant and a lie. It is the pretence you all present as "you" at work, especially with your superiors and often with your colleagues as well. You present yourself that way in order to fit in and succeed.
In popular language, you refer to your persona as your personality. Although you may pretend to be your personality, and may even fool yourself into thinking that you really are it, your personality is not the true you. Your personality consists of the characteristics expected of you and accepted by you. It is the identity that you show to other people. As you perfect your personality, it may assist you to achieve success and recognition in your field of work. But personality is not enough. If you live from personality alone, eventually you will be hounded by feelings of emptiness and alienation.
Your personality has been generated and conditioned to be nice and especially to be obedient. The vested interests of society want people who are like sheep - obedient and easy to manage. When someone pollutes their water and ruins their land, sheep just stay in the group and move on with nothing to say. A true individual is like a lion - independent, decisive, powerful, self-determining. A lion defends its territory and does not allow others to make decisions for it. Society wants sheep, not lions. Which do you prefer to be?
Here is a simple definition of these three parts of you:
- The ego is your personal identity. It's who you believe yourself to be.
- The persona is the mask that you show to others. It's what you want others to think that you are.
- The shadow consists of all the denied, repressed, or just as yet unknown (to you) parts of yourself. It is who you don't know yourself to be, but nevertheless you are. We will deeply explore the nature of the shadow in PSA 3.
Get to know these parts of yourself very well. It's important that you understand how inauthentic you've been conditioned to act. Only then can you awaken and become authentic. Transform and get real!
Seeker, Be Aware! - Pitfalls to avoid
When you begin to feel like your life lacks meaning, you may be tempted to try to do something, anything, to get rid of this bewildering feeling. However, what you resist persists. Denial or resistance block your progress of spiritual unfoldment. Denial may take the form of anything that increases the level of excitement, creating temporary escape or distraction and thereby allowing you to ignore the situation. Buying new possessions, taking drugs or excess alcohol, having a fling, over-eating, compulsive shopping, over-working or just watching TV are typical ways to resist or deny the process.
Alchemical stage one is essentially destructive. We have all been conditioned to think of destruction as something bad. However, before you can build a house, trees must be destroyed and cut into lumber. Remember the age-old saying, "Every cloud has a silver lining." Every problem or challenge also brings us a gift. The old, outworn ego defence structures and beliefs that no longer serve your highest interest must be destroyed before new, more accurate and supportive ones can be discovered and instituted. Although it may feel horrid, this destruction is a great gift. You need to disintegrate before you can integrate higher purer aspects of self.
The ego struggles to stay in control
The main challenge to this process is that the ego wants, more than anything else, to survive unchanged and remain in control. Resistance to change is a necessary quality of the ego. The ego creates order out of chaos. Without this ability, you would have no order and no sense of stability in your life. Without this ability, you would have likely not survived past your childhood. However, when the order in your life becomes too structured and will not allow for natural growth, the ego becomes an insecure tyrant instead of the useful servant it is meant to be. The tyrant ego says in effect, "You can only do things in the socially accepted manner. New behaviour is dangerous." This attitude can stifle further growth and dilute the positive effect of this stage.
What happens when the ego's structures are questioned? When the ego feels that its boundaries are threatened, it may make quite a scene. Shock, anger, hatred, the making of wild accusations, and generally issuing guilt to others are typical ways the ego reacts to protect the status quo. The inflexible ego tells you that it is unsafe to open the heart too far or trust too much. In fact, when the tyrant ego is in control, what you consider appropriate behaviour is extremely limited. Any behaviour that is outside of your rigid definitions of that which is correct is considered dangerous.
How to overcome the ego's stranglehold
A typical way the ego maintains its stranglehold of control is through taking offense at the behaviour of others. The personality may then imagine great damage has been received and imagine (or carry out) plans for revenge. The error here is in taking the behaviour of others personally.
The immature ego is like a "control freak". It tries to control everything, including other people. When your ego's control dramas are being destroyed, which does begin to occur in this stage, you may feel very insecure and may cling to old behaviour like a drowning man to a life raft. Clinging to the old will delay the creation and emergence of the new. People who know you may worry about your condition. They will likely try to get you out of your state by inviting you to go out and do something with them. Their basic intention may be good, but by distracting you from your own process, they are not doing you a service.