14 March 2012

Fraility of the Ego

In some of today's modern spiritual practices, to even to admit you have an ego tend to register gasps of horror, followed by a tutting sound.  This is because it is often considered that in order for one to progress spiritually, the first thing that needs to be achieved is to get rid of the ego.  Considering that the ego is in fact a vital part of our own personality, ie it that part that makes us an individuality, I often wonder how this is possibly achieved.  Yet at my local "spiritual" bookshop there are brochures proudly advising me that some spiritual teachers have "overcome" their ego in order to "ascend to the higher realms of consciousness", and it I need to share in their grand teachings is to part with a week's wage.  Such a statement simply conjures up a whole range of ego-centric ideas in my own mind .. but is this necessarily wrong?

According to the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939), the ego was one of the three constructs in his structural model of the psyche.  First there was the "id" which was the unorganized part of the personality structure which contained basic drives, which sought to avoid pain or displeasure aroused by increasing what was termed the "pleasure principle".  Then there was the "ego" which, according to Freud, acts according to a "reality principle", that it seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic ways.  Finally, there was the super-ego aimed for perfection, and which comprised of that organised part of the personality structure (mainly but not entirely unconscious) that includes the individual's ego ideals, spiritual goals, and the psychic agency (commonly called "conscience") that criticises and prohibits his or her drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions.

In spiritual contexts however the ego tends to be primarily associated with the mind (which it is) but it has the sense of "individual existence" in that it is that part of us which "believes it is the human being, and believes it must fight for itself in the world".  Whilst there may not appear to be anything wrong with such a description, the ego is also believed to be "ultimately unaware and unconscious of its own true nature" in that it is very much "earth based".  Further, it is the goal in some spiritual traditions to actually "dissolve the ego" - meaning that one's own true spiritual nature is brought to the forefront and enacted in the world.  In many Eastern philosophies, this is referred to as "Enlightenment" and something that takes many, many years (or even life times) to actually achieve.

I am the first to admit that I am far from being an "enlightened" being, and I am fully aware of my own ego.  Unlike others, I do not consider this to be a necessarily "evil" - my ego is very much an integral part of who I am.  However, every now and then I find the need to bring it "into line", more so with respect to how I react to the actions of others.  Today provided a prime example of this when I passed someone in the street I used to know and who I hadn't seen for a number of years due to various reasons.  I must have either finally mastered Aleister Crowley's "invisibility spell" or they hold on to grudges, as they walked right passed me, ignoring my presence despite my greeting.  Regardless of their reason, what I found interesting is how my ego reacted, initially taking their unacknowledgment personally than just leaving it as it is - their issue and not mine.

Likewise, at times I find my ego getting upset on social media sites such as Facebook if people don't respond to postings made.  All this brings to mind is the saying that we cannot always change situations that we find ourselves in (especially if these are projected by other people or circumstances outside of our control), but what we CAN change is how we react to such situations.

I know that realising that it is not always "all about me" is a constant lesson for me to learn in this life, and that regardless of the fragility my ego shows at times, it is still a very important part of "me" as a whole being.  Learning that it is also okay to actually have an ego, and to acknowledging its existence is equally as important as learning how to manage it. 

Source: Wikipedia

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