The Bad Ego (not)

There’s an important point about ego that came up in correspondence. In many spiritual circles, people demonize the ego. Even if the teacher doesn’t, the tendency is still there. Seekers tend to feel bad about being identified with it and try to resist its machinations. However, this effort actually keeps one enslaved. The intellect does the right/wrong, yes/no part but it’s just an innocent decider. It’s the ego that makes things wrong to make itself right. That blame tendency is the giveaway that the self-protecting ego is at work.

When we’re identified with the ego, any effort we make to overcome it is the ego as well. As the ego can enjoy conflict (a way of making itself right), it’s happy to fight with itself. It’s often one of the doh! moments on the journey when we realize we’ve been trying to overcome the ego with the ego. It will use everything to play its “safety” game, even using memories of spiritual experiences to pretend to be  spirit. Again, the giveaway is that spirit doesn’t blame or make wrong.

If we want to let go of something, the first thing we have to do is to stop fighting it. Let it be.

We need to understand that ego development is a natural part of human development. Our perspective evolves as the brain physiology develops. The principle is simple: we identify with our dominant edge of development. With a newborn, sense perception dominates. Then as desires come more on-line, they come to dominate (the terrible 2’s). Then progressively mind, intellect, feelings, and the ego unfold. You can see these stages illustrated in children and teens. Note that at each stage, the identification shifts further within to the latest development edge. We are our thoughts, then our choices, our feelings and then Me-ness. Piaget (Cognitive stages), Loevinger (Ego), Kohlberg (Moral), Fowler (Faith), and others have mapped the consequences in different areas of life.

We can also note that as the identification shifts, our experience becomes inclusive of the prior stages. While identified with the mind, for example, it contains our desires and perceptions but we no longer are them. (although we can have normal setbacks – this is an organic process)

Thus, ego development is a natural part of our development. What Maslow called self-actualization is a natural step in evolution. In that sense, a healthy self-concept is good. But the trick is then knowing how to transcend the ego and continue our development. Otherwise our evolution gets stuck there. Then ego can become unhealthy and develop a protectionist attitude. Our quality of life suffers.

As we experience pure consciousness or samadhi, our edge of identification begins to shift to our new edge of development. If the ego has stagnated and become protectionist, it sees this as a threat to its well-being and can play the trickster. We may spend a little time in conceptual loops, attempting to outwit ourselves and succeeding. (laughs)

But with continued practice, at a certain point our identification shifts from the ego me into the cosmic Self or Atman. We surrender our association with the ego. This shift of identification is generally known as Self Realization or Cosmic Consciousness.

But that shift does not end the ego at all, although we can experience a sense of “ego death.” As the poem below illustrates, the stories (of the ego) continue. They just come to dominate less and less. There is a tendency for the ego to try to retake control after what Adyashanti calls the “honeymoon.” But eventually it surrenders its dominance completely just as we eventually learn not to be overshadowed by our desires. Well, mostly at least.  😉

The easiest and smoothest way for this transition to happen is if the bliss of flowing consciousness is prominent in awareness. How quickly that takes place is more a function of sattva or purity than Self awareness, hence the value of good diet and routine. (unforced) Joseph Campbell’s famous advice to “follow your bliss” is excellent on so many levels.

Your very life is born of happiness. That serves as one of the best clues to what deserves your attention.

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