Ego and Human Nature

Anyone who is familiar with my blog will know that I’m not a great reader. I prefer reading articles and listening to speakers. As an introvert I am quite happy going over the same material several times, looking at it from different angles and making my own notes in the form of bullet points.

I had only read the first two chapters of “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle when I realised that this was something I wanted to study. After reading the third chapter I decided to consolidate my thoughts before reading any more. It wasn’t very long before I had this new awareness of a major connection between human nature and the ego. Bear in mind that formal education ended for me when I was 17 and it’s only in the last six years that I’ve developed an entirely new perspective of the place of Christianity.

I looked at ‘Human Nature’ in Wikipedia. I am familiar with some of the foundations of Greek philosophy. The reference to Christian theology highlighted some ‘basis assertions’ that I now find questionable. The description of ‘Fallen human nature’ sums up much of Orthodox Christian theology that I see as misguided. All in all a good starting point for any discussion?

Looking for a definition of ‘Ego’ was very interesting. Here are some of the definitions I found:

  • Our Ego is our conscious mind – the opinion we have about ourself – the part of our identity that we consider our “self”.
  • If we say that someone has a big ego we are saying that he is too full of himself.
  • People often feel a need to boost their ego.
  • Synonyms – self-esteem; self-importance; self-worth; self-respect ; self-conceit; self-image; self-confidence.
  • The ego as that part of the mind that senses and adapts to the ‘real’ (physical?) world – that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious – responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.
  • Our ego is our sense of self or self-sense – our self-esteem – our self-importance – our idea of ourselves that creates a bubble around us separating us from others.
  • The function of the ego is to always try to get approval, recognition and support for itself.

How well does this describe human nature?
What is the relationship between ego and our emotions?

*****

Eckhart Tolle refers to ‘Awakening your life’s purpose’ and asks ‘What have we lost?’
There is much to contemplate! Beauty as an essential part of our innermost being! But how many are unaware of their own essence and only identify with their own physical and psychological forms? Are the lotus flower of Buddhism or the dove of Christianity forerunners of a spiritual awakening that we are beginning to witness now? Could it be a transformation of consciousness, away from the pull of materialism – away from ego (imprisonment within our own personality)?

Eckhart refers to the unawakened you – the ego as it thinks, speaks and acts – a conditioned mental process that perpetuates the unawakened state – an inherited dysfunction – a collective mental illness (Maya – the veil of delusion in Hindu; Dukkha – suffering, unsatisfactoriness or just plain misery in Buddhism; Original Sin in Christianity).

The idea of original sin or total depravity has never made sense and I rejected the traditional teaching of hell at least 35 years ago. I have long argued that the most meaningful definition of sin is missing the mark of what we were created to be. Eckhart paints a picture of human beings separated from a meaningful purpose of life or missing the point of human existence (or as some would say, separated from God).

As a foundation for my own study, what follows are bullet points to some of Eckhart’s observations:

  • What is enlightenment?
  • Creative endeavour comes out of stillness – a need to invite moments of stillness into life – a lack of noise – inspired by something deeper.
  • To what extent should we trust strong impulses?
  • Instead of asking, “What do I want from life?”, a much more powerful question is, “What does life, or the greater purpose, want from me?”
  • We are living unskilfully, blindly and therefore suffer and cause suffering.
  • Science and technology has magnified the destructive impact of our dysfunctional lives – and it’s getting worse.
  • Destructive and cruel wars motivated by fear, greed and the desire for power have been common throughout history – also slavery, torture and widespread violence inflicted for religious and ideological reasons.
  • Destructive human madness! Deforestationfactory farmspoisoning of rivers, oceans and the air! Leading to self-destruction?
  • Fear, greed and the desire for power bring about a distortion of our perception of self and others, leading to misguided action designed to rid us of the fear, and satisfy our need for more – a bottomless pit that can never be filled!
  • We do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness within us and allowing it to emerge. This for me is an important discussion topic.
    But it can only change if something changes in our fundamental state of consciousness.
    The road to hell is paved with good intentions but if we are still trapped in the EGO that will eventually take us into conflict – just thinking positively is not enough – something negative will come along to challenge the positive – deeper beyond the realm of opposites!
    Be still and know that I am God. Go to that place where the mind is no longer operating – conscious without thinking – the level where the eternal resides (that remains untouched?) – the grace of being here – more alert than when we are thinking! Stillness has to be invited into life – look at nature!
    Consider the sacredness of trees – we have lost the meaning of sacred – “until we feel it” – when we no longer need a definition – sacred is the essence of who we are – when we are still enough we sense it.
  • Ancient religions and spiritual traditions recognise that our normal state of mind is marred by a fundamental defect, but that there is the possibility of a radical transformation of human consciousness – Hindu enlightenment – Christian salvation – Buddhism and the end of suffering. Liberation and awakening are other common terms.
  • Buddha in India and Lao Tzu in China showed the way but the world wasn’t ready for them? Their simple and powerful teachings became distorted and misinterpreted. Much was added later, creating more divisions, even within the same religion – more violence and hatred – them and us!
  • There is a truth that seems to shine however dimly through the layers of distortion and misinterpretation. ‘Schools’ or movements developed within all major religions that represented not only a rediscovery, but in some cases an intensification of the light of the original teaching. Most of these schools were iconoclastic (criticising or attacking cherished beliefs or institutions). They did away with layer upon layer of deadening conceptualisation and mental belief structures, and for this reason most of them were viewed with suspicion and often hostility by the established religious hierarchies. Unlike mainstream religion, their teachings emphasized realisation and inner transformation.
  • Spirituality and Religion – A set of thoughts regarded as absolute truth (a belief system)  does not lead to spirituality.
    There have always been pockets of spirituality even in mind dominated religions – that threatened the hierarchy and were often suppressed. A large scale opening of spirituality outside of religious structures (as a result of the web?) is an entirely new development – especially in the West – the most mind dominated of all cultures where the Christian church had a virtual franchise on spirituality.
  • Partly as a result of the spiritual teachings that have arisen outside the established religions, but also due to an influx of the ancient Eastern wisdom teachings, a growing number of followers of traditional religions are able to let go of identification with form, dogma, and rigid belief systems and discover some of the original depth that may be hidden within their own spiritual tradition at the same time as they discover the depth within themselves. They realize that how “spiritual” you are has nothing to do with what you believe but everything to do with your state of consciousness. This, in turn, determines how you act in the world and interact with others.
  • Some people become even more deeply entrenched in their beliefs, that is to say, in their mind. We are witnessing not only an unprecedented influx of consciousness at this time but also an entrenchment and intensification of the ego.
  • Generally speaking transformations only occur as a result of crises! Humanity is now facing stark choices – but how many people are really aware of the position and experiencing within themselves the break up of the old egoic mind patterns and the emergence of a new dimension of consciousness – the end not only of mythologies but also of ideologies and belief systems – an awareness of perceptionfocusemotionthe place of the ego! The importance of a connectedness with the ‘whole’! What place original sin, suffering and delusion?
  • The emergence of a transformed state of human consciousness?
  • A new heaven and a new earth – heaven as the inner realm of consciousness – earth as the outer manifestation (a reflection of the inner)? An interesting thought?
  • The current state of humanity by using words such as bird, tree or stone we cover up a mystery with a label. All we perceive, experience, or think about, is the surface layer of reality – less than the tip of an iceberg!
    Everything is connected to everything else and with the source of all life out of which it came!
    When we look at or hold something without imposing a word or mental label on it, a sense of awe and wonder might arise – a freshness – something that was lost when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought? Where is the ability to think?
  • From the podcast – Looking at flowers differently – representatives of the spiritual realm – a way into inner stillness – more fleeting than a plant – a lack of density that allows the spirit to flow more freely?
    Look at the lilies – you really have to look – they are not anxious about tomorrow.
    Move into a garden without naming anything – learning from scratch – a new sense of connection?
    Being present with the perception.
    People invite labels – a different relationship with nature? Away from the grip of mental labels – seeing through a background of stillness? That is consciousness?
    A walk can become exciting even when it is the same path we have always taken!
    So many are trapped in this mental noise that absorbs their whole attention – they don’t see the world around them is vitally alive – as they get older the world around them becomes more lifeless and dead.
    Lost in thought and not seeing what is around us?
    Oprah took God out of the box when she was about 28. It was the idea that God was a jealous God that prompted her  search for something more than doctrine.
    Chapter 1 – “Man made God in his own image” – reduced to a mental idol that had to be worshipped as my God or our God.
    Oprah as a Christian does not believe that Jesus came to start Christianity – but to show us the way.
    Religion can be an open door into spirituality or it can be a closed door that prevents us from going deeper.
    There is a greater depth in what Jesus says than how the church interprets it.
    If we go deep enough into our own religion we all get to the same place?
    Religion must not become an ideology.
  • What place pre-history? There is a need to experience the essential self as prior to any words, thoughts, mental labels or images.
  • We have to disentangle our sense of ‘I’ from all the things it has become mixed up with!
  • The quicker we are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, people or situations, the more shallow and lifeless reality becomes – unaware of the miracle of life that continually unfolds around us!
  • What place wisdom, love, joy and creativity that are concealed in the gap between perception and interpretation?
  • Of course we use words and thoughts but let’s not be imprisoned by them, words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp!
  • The egothe illusory sense of self – seen by Einstein as an optical illusion of consciousness that becomes the basis for all future interpretations or misinterpretations of reality, all thought processes, interactions and relationships. Reality becomes a reflection of the original illusion. The illusion remains if we mistake it for reality!
  • In seeing who we are not, the reality of who we are emerges by itself!
  • A young child hearing its name begins to equate a word, which in the mind becomes a thought, with who he or she is.
    Then me and mine – a sense of self and identity. Toys for example become part of a child’s developing sense of ‘I’.
    The ‘I’ identifies with rolesaccumulated knowledge and opinions – likes and dislikes – memories that further define the sense of self – me and my story!
  • These are no more than thoughts held precariously together by the fact that they are all invested with a sense of self.
  • Most of the time when we speak, it is from some aspect of that mental construct, the egoic self. But as we awaken it begins to come from a much deeper place within ourselves.
  • Most people are still completely identified with the incessant stream of mind, of compulsive thinking, most of it repetitive and pointless. There is no “I” apart from their thought processes and the emotions that go with them. This is the meaning of being spiritually unconscious. When told that there is a voice in their head that never stops speaking, they say, “What voice?” or angrily deny it, which of course is the voice, is the thinker, is the unobserved mind. It could almost be looked upon as an entity that has taken possession of them.
    The need to stop thinking and learn to feel?
    The need to learn to detect our own thinking?
  • The egoic mind is completely conditioned by the past. It consists of content and structure.
    The unconscious compulsion to enhance ones identity through association with an object is built into the very structure of the egoic mind – it becomes part of our identity – car – house – clothes!
  • Identification with things – the perceived needs for material things through advertising – not so much a product as an identity enhancer – designer labels! What we identify with is all to do with content whereas the unconscious compulsion to identify is structural – one of the most basic ways in which the egoic mind operates.
  • Paradoxically what keeps the so called consumer society going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn’t work. Satisfaction is short lived and we keep looking for more!
  • Things are a necessary part of our lives – housing – clothes – furniture etc. We may value things because of their beauty or inherent quality. These must not be despised. Most people don’t inhabit a living reality but a conceptualised one.
  • We cannot really honour things if we use them as a means of self-enhancement, but that’s what ego does – a dysfunction and a disease!
    What is my relationship with the world of things? Is my self worth bound up with things I possess?
    The sick lady who lost her grandmother’s ring – “Has who you are been diminished by the loss?” This question led to peace!
  • The joy of being! You can only feel it when you get out of your head. Being must be felt – it can’t be thought! Whatever the ego seeks and gets attached to are substitutes for the ‘being’ that it cannot feel. You can value and care for things but whenever you get attached to them, you will know it’s the ego. Letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.
  • A sense of resentment or pride is neither right or wrong – it is the ego. The ego isn’t wrong – it’s just unconscious. If you consider the ego to be your personal problem, that’s just more ego.
  • The illusion of ownership – What does it mean to own something or make it mine? Ultimate ownership is meaningless. How many people spend their lives looking for a more complete sense of self when what they were really looking for, their ‘Being’, had always been there obscured by their identification with things, that ultimately means identification with the mind! Renunciation of possessions has long been a spiritual practice in both East and West, but will not automatically free us from the ego, and may create a superior ego! Making yourself right and others wrong is one of the principal egoic mind patterns – one of the main forms of unconsciousness.
    The content of the ego may change; the mind structure that keeps it alive does not!
  • In the days of white settlers the Native Americans found the ownership of land incomprehensible – and were tricked into signing contracts they didn’t understand. They felt they belonged to the land but the land didn’t belong to them. I have therefore I am – the ego lives through comparison!
  • How we are seen by others becomes the mirror – a collective delusion! Attachment to things drops away by itself when we no longer seek to find ourselves in them. “I am the awareness that is aware that there is attachment”. That’s the beginning of the transformation of consciousness.
  • Wanting – the need for more – an addictive need not an authentic one. Much always wants more! Unease, restlessness, boredom, anxiety, dissatisfaction are the result of unfulfilled wanting.
  • Some teens are in a permanent state of negativity and dissatisfaction.
  • The physical needs of all could be met were it not for the imbalance of resources created by the insane and rapacious need for more – the greed of the ego! The pursuit of profit with absolute ruthlessness – nature, animals, people and even their own employees are no more than digits on a balance sheet – lifeless objects to be used and then discarded. Always looking for something to fill that sense of lack that is felt within – unaware of that spirit within? Can I expand on this?
  • Identification with the body – gender for example forces into roles and conditioned patterns at an early age that affect all aspects of life. It is an absolute trap in many traditional societies. In the West the emphasis on physical appearance (strength, good looks and fitness). What happens when attributes or abilities begin to fade (sportsmen)? Enjoy it while it lasts, but accept that change happens and new doors open. Chronic illness or disability can become the most important part of who we perceive ourselves to be. The importance of feeling ‘alive within’ – spend time considering different parts of the body – feeling our hands or feet . . . a sense of the whole body being alive. The inner body as the bridge between form and formlessness. Body awareness anchors us in the present moment and is a doorway out of the prison that is the ego. It also strengthens the immune system and the body’s ability to heal itself.
  • Forgetfulness of Being (does this have something to do with the constant voices – always responding to music – news – phones . . . something that I have tended to avoid unintentionally? What about always reading newspapers?).

 

From Descartes’s Error to Satre’s Insight
The seventeenth century philosopher Descartes, regarded as the founder of modern philosophy, gave expression to this primary error with his famous dictum (which he saw as primary truth):
“I think, therefore I am
This was the answer he found to the question “Is there anything I can know with absolute certainty?” He realized that the fact that he was always thinking was beyond doubt, and so he equated thinking with Being, that is to say, identity – I am – with thinking. Instead of the ultimate truth, he had found the root of the ego, but he didn’t know that. It took almost three hundred years before another famous philosopher saw something in that statement that Descartes, as well as everybody else, had overlooked. His name was JeanPaul Sartre. He looked at Descartes’s statement “I think, therefore I am” very deeply and suddenly realized, in his own words, “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks” What did he mean by that? When you are aware that you are thinking, that awareness is not part of thinking. It is a different dimension of consciousness. And it is that awareness that says “I am”. If there were nothing but thought in you, you wouldn’t even know you are thinking. You would be like a dreamer who doesn’t know he is dreaming. You would be as identified with every thought as the dreamer is with every image in the dream. Many people still live like that, like sleepwalkers, trapped in old dysfunctional mindsets that continuously recreate the same nightmarish reality. When you know you are dreaming, you are awake within the dream. Another dimension of consciousness has come in. The implication of Sartre’s insight is profound, but he himself was still too identified with thinking to realize the full significance of what he had discovered: an emerging new dimension of consciousness.

What is that peace that passes all understanding?
There are many accounts of people who experienced that emerging new dimension of consciousness as a result of tragic loss at some point in their lives. Some lost all of their possessions, others their children or spouse, their social position, reputation, or physical abilities. In some cases, through disaster or war, they lost all of these simultaneously and found themselves with “nothing.”
Whatever they had identified with, whatever gave them their sense of self, had been taken away.
Then suddenly and inexplicably, the anguish or intense fear they initially felt gave way to a sacred sense of Presence, a deep peace and serenity and complete freedom from fear – a peace that doesn’t seem to make sense, and the people who experienced it asked themselves: In the face of this, how can it be that I feel such peace?

How does this compare to 1995 and my awareness in 1998 of that freedom and liberation from the slavery of legalism?

The answer is said to be simple once you realize what the ego is and how it works. When forms that you had identified with, that gave you your sense of self, collapse or are taken away, it can lead to a collapse of the ego, since ego is identification with form. When there is nothing to identify with anymore, who are you? When forms around you die or death approaches, your sense of Beingness, of I Am, is freed from its entanglement with form: Spirit is released from its imprisonment in matter. You realize your essential identity as formless, as an all pervasive Presence, of Being prior to all forms, all identifications. You realize your true identity as consciousness itself, rather than what consciousness had identified with. That’s the peace of God. The ultimate truth of who you are is not in I am this or I am that, but I Am. I haven’t  really experienced this!

Not everybody who experiences great loss also experiences this awakening. Some immediately create a strong mental image or thought form in which they see themselves as a victim, whether it be of circumstances, other people, an unjust fate, or God.
This thought form and the emotions it creates, such as anger, resentment, self-pity, and so on, they strongly identify with, and it immediately takes the place of all the other identifications that have collapsed through the loss. In other words, the ego quickly finds a new form. The fact that this new form is a deeply unhappy one doesn’t concern the ego too much, as long as it has an identity, good or bad. In fact, this new ego will be more contracted, more rigid and impenetrable than the old one.

Whenever tragic loss occurs, you either resist or you yield. Some people become bitter or deeply resentful; others become compassionate, wise, and loving. Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life. Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego.
You are closed. Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side; life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary, your action will be in alignment with the whole and supported by creative intelligence, the unconditioned consciousness which in a state of inner openness you become one with. Circumstances and people then become helpful, cooperative. Coincidences happen. If no action is possible, you rest in the peace and inner stillness that come with surrender. You rest in God.

I have read chapter 3 but it was at this point that I decided that I wanted to share more of my own thoughts that had brought me to where I am now – and catch up with some of the blogs I had previously been following.

 

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