Wednesday, June 8, 2011

That Pesky Ego

There are constant debates in spiritual circles -- is awakening gradual or discontinuous, does the ego die, is enlightenment the end or the beginning, have I got it or lost it?  My own answer is yes to everything.  We are here to embody the spiritual in a new way and nobody really knows what that's going to look like eventually.  That's why it is so fascinating to watch people grow.

But there are some common troubles folks run into along the way.  One is ego inflation -- the Sufis call it ego saint -- where the human personality takes new wisdom or ecstatic experience personally.  As we all know, the vicissitudes of life take care of this problem nicely.  The whole pride goeth before a fall thing.  Another, trickier problem is a kind of inverted ego inflation.  It seems to be more common in women and it shows up particularly in spiritual paths that involve what Carol Flinders calls "naughting."  Many, if not most, paths use some form of spiritual austerity to abrade the ego.  If you've got a ripe, healthy ego to begin with, this is useful.  But many women don't and the constant suppression of egoic needs can cause them to flip into a painful inversion:  I am special because I am nothing.  Or worse:  I am special because I am pond scum.  Man or woman, the goal is to become ordinary.

It helps me to remember that Freud never intended that we think of the ego as a diabolical mini-me that we must conquer.  Freud said, the ego is first and foremost a body ego.  The ego is a function, an organizing process, at most a virtual entity.  This is easy to see if you are lucky enough to fall into your Big Mind sometimes.  The ego keeps us from psychosis so we should respect it, but not take its voice so seriously all the time.  The spiritual seeker needs courage and healthy ego function.

I don't know what an increasingly spiritualized Nature intends for our egos.  Sometimes I think we'll share an ego, like a hive, except that evolution seems to push for individuation and diversity.  My own observations say we'll become more unselfconscious, happier and therefore more altruistic.  Maybe not so left-brained.  I also believe we cannot grow unless we learn to love all of our human equipment, bodies and egos included.

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