Monday, May 25, 2015

Don't kill the ego, clean it up (Part 1)


(This is the 1st post of 3)
They say that an arrogant person drowns in a rainstorm because his nose fills up with water. Arrogance is not the ego, but it can be. Let me explain.
"Ego is the enemy of spiritual growth."
For many years, I believed this. For me and various others, I thought that one of the main aims of spiritual practice was to overcome it. In spite of concerted effort, I didn't seem to get anywhere. It was like whipping water to make butter. Then one fine day, I had one of those life-changing insights. I didn't have to annul it. I had to work out how to elevate it's function.
At its best, the ego is just a set of coordinates that help us navigate through life. Imagine if we had to recreate our names, forms, addresses, genders, ages, relationships and professions every day. These parameters within which the ego operates, are essential to everyday living. With understanding and spiritual power, the ego can be a great agent between our deeper selves and the reality that forms around us.
At its worst of course, the ego creates another story. Inflated or deflated by a distorted sense of importance or lack thereof, it can do a lot of damage to the self and others. When the consciousness "I am so-and-so" takes over and tries to call attention, other egos shuffle, grumble or mumble, reacting either actively or passively as they go about their own stuff.
If we pursue an egotistical objective, we may wonder why other egos don't cooperate with us. The answer is obvious. Each limited ego can only see as far as it projects itself. Selfishness is just the limited ego looking after its own little world, where no one else lives, only visits. Life becomes mostly egos visiting other egos - a constant flow of exchange between each one's little worlds and understandings. We populate our heads with others without realizing that our version of everyone else and probably ourselves, only exist as perceived by our own ego filters.
In Greek, the word ego just means I. It was probably Freud who bestowed on the ego it's wider connotations, in his structural model of the psyche. He described it as the mediator between the deep unorganized drives of the self (the id)  and the even deeper moralizing force he called the super-ego. There lies the rub. In its role of interfacing with reality, it often acts as a wolf in charge of the chickens. That's why it has become a synonym for arrogance.
If it knew its job and worked for the long-term benefit of the self and connected others, it would be praised by all. Guided by the influence of our innate spiritual qualities and wisdom, this sense of self would serve the whole instead of itself. Unfortunately it has been misunderstood and even vilified by purists and moralists alike. This was my big discovery. I didn't have to kill the ego. I had to break its limitations and 'purify' its function. For this I needed a more accurate sense of identity. Would the real 'me' stand up?
Through my study and practice of Raja Yoga I have experienced that there are basically two 'poles' in which we live and operate. One centers around the permanent spiritual entity called soul and the other around the temporary physical identity - our bodies, roles and individual 'stories'. 
The contrast between what we can call soul-consciousness and body-consciousness is shown in the following diagram:



Spiritual development means clean the filters of the sense of self we call ego. In doing so, we see the world and others as they really are and leave behind our distorted versions. This is the freedom we have been seeking. I am still working on it.