A Self to Give Away Blog #9
Having examined the four great illusions in life, it is fair to ask ourselves, “Who- or what- causes these illusions?” The answer is a simple one: the rational mind.
Our bodies never lie. Our emotions and feelings never lie. Only our rational minds, with our egos at the helm, cause such problems for ourselves and for planet earth.
It might be tempting, then, to think that our egos are the enemy. This posting will be the first of three to deal with the controversial question of the place of the ego in our lives and, in particular, the role of the ego on the spiritual path.
This question is no trivial matter. Because I am one of the few writers in transpersonal psychology to champion the legitimacy of the human ego, I have had to take a lot of heat in the past. In fact, a very well known psychologist was all set to endorse my latest book, Living An Authentic Life , until he read what I said about the ego. He then declined to endorse the book because I did not and do not see a healthy ego as the enemy of our spiritual life. So people have very strong ideas about this matter. That is why I am electing to dedicate three blogs to exploring this thorny question.
For the first year or so of life, babies do not have an ego at all. In fact, all of developmental psychology is in agreement that, initially, babies do not see or sense themselves as being distinct from their mothers. Coming to a sense that “I am not my mother” is not, then, seen as a mistake. It is crucial to our development.
If a child has unclear boundaries, the child could grow up to be overly dependent upon the mother or father in an unhealthy manner. A solid sense of “I”, then is an important stage in our growth.
When I look at all of the great figures that I admire, beginning with Jesus of Nazareth, and going all the way up to Mother Theresa of Calcutta, I see strong, courageous leaders, not afraid of criticism, not hesitant to take a stand, to risk all, and to endure the misunderstanding of others. Such a person has been given a good foundation, a strong basis upon which to engage the world.
But yet, but yet, these individuals were not ego-centered. They had undergone a spiritual transformation in which God was the very center of everything for which they lived their lives. Their real power came not from their ego, but from their essential selves, their Christ selves, their Buddha nature.
The plan, then, is to first of all develop a healthy ego as a foundation. It is then to go beyond ego as we surrender to the True Self. One should never, however, try to skip the step of developing a solid foundation first. Before Jesus was able to stand up to the Romans and to the religious authorities of his day, he had to be taught that he was different from his mother Mary. He had to learn how to crawl before he could toddle, eventually learning how to stand up and to walk on his own.
Submission of one’s will to a Higher Power will be an issue to work on soon enough in life. But, the great paradox is that, for a young person, the first order of business is to develop a healthy ego.
This work on one’s ego is normally the work of the first half of life. Richard Rohr thinks that this stage goes until about thirty years of age. As a developmental psychologist, I tend to agree with him. But what if an adult is sensing that they are called to transcend themselves and move onto a true religious conversion without having first of all developed a healthy ego? Is one supposed to just ignore a weak foundation and build the new dwelling anyway? No, go back and shore up the foundation. Before one can give away their self to God, first of all they must have a self to give away.
Next posting: Beyond Ego
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