We have been sold a bill of goods around ego. One that creates internal division and conflict. One that creates internal dissonance. One that creates pain. One that, at its worst, can foster a certain degree of self-hatred. A dis-ownership of the self. A bill of goods that is 2,500 years old in terms of its story around ego, the nature of ego, and the "problem" of ego.
And there is a better way. One that can create the same intended result with a kinder, gentler more self-accepting approach that can accelerate the evolution of the ego through the radical acceptance of expanding the ego, rather than attempting the psychological and spiritual suicide of ego annihilation.
You can also see some similar themes around ego in the business context, read this article: Self-Esteem and the Solo-Preneur | Internal vs. External Locus of Responsibility for an even deeper cut, taken from an email I sent a client a couple years ago, read Your Self-Worth is a Settled Matter.
Ok...ready? ::: Heh.
A quote from Ken Wilber I posted spawned an in-depth, yet brief—discussion on the nature and evolution of ego, Spiral Dynamics, the Integral community, and related topics, including the difference between cognitive development and actual development ::: the difference being understanding vs emotional response and being, or stated differently ::: one’s “center of gravity”.
The style is conversational, as it was an actual conversation.
Below are excerpted comments in the thread that followed. The order of some of the comments have been changed for continuity of the discussion, and for flow. Some have been deleted for the sake of relevance. If you want to see the full, unedited thread for yourself, you can see that HERE. The edited and streamlined version is below for your reading enjoyment.
The quote that started it all :::
“The ego is not a thing but a subtle effort, and you cannot use effort to get rid of effort--you end up with two efforts instead of one. The ego itself is a perfect manifestation of the Divine, and it is best handled by resting in Freedom, not by trying to get rid of ego, which simply increases the effort of ego itself.” --Ken Wilber
Of course, I cannot speak for Ken Wilber—nor will I attempt to.
Simultaneously, I have read and listened to most of his stuff. As a result, I can certainly imagine—to varying degrees of accuracy—what he is speaking to, so I will attempt to translate him.
AND this will be based on my own experience after 19 years of conscious work, clearing, and self-examination and evolution—AND based on my work with over 200 clients one-on-one in my Personal Evolution Program, which lasted [when I used to do that work] about 7 months--designed to accelerate the evolution of their ego ::: to widen their embrace. To increase their ease. To reduce their fear. To eliminate most of their anger. To increase their esteem for the Self.
So I may be and will be projecting/hallucinating…and it will be accurate—to varying degrees. Your mileage may vary.
So…what is “ego”? Most in popular spiritual and psychological circles will say we must transcend our ego, or worse ::: “annihilate it”. Is this healthy? Is this ecological? Does it suit the ecology of the environment we exist in?
The ecology of the self?
Is “ego what motivates us” as Pi asserts? Perhaps sometimes, yes. perhaps always—sure.
And the question for me becomes, motivates HOW? From what stage? Because, you see, we will be motivated differently from different stages, for different reasons.
For me, ego is essentially the seat of our consciousness. Where it rests and comes from. Not its Source. Its Source is the very kosmos ::: consciousness with a capital C.
James Reidy suggested as a definition :::
Ego: n. a person's conscious and unconscious beliefs about their own identity.
To which I responded ::: think of it as a prism through which Spirit is shining. A prism the light of God Consciousness shines through [and is skewed to varying degrees]. To the degree the stuff you are talking about is clear and or conscious is the degree to which it is god/dess, spirit, the very cosmos. I would say the stuff you are talking about is the dirt on the glass.
Which is what I think Ken Wilber means when he says:
“The ego itself is a perfect manifestation of the Divine."
Everything is a perfect manifestation of the divine. That is the essence of non-dual reality. AND of course, even duality is held within non-duality. It must be. Spirit does not judge. We do.
And if we are careful to incorporate stages, the ever-increasing, ever-widening waves and stages and levels that one passes through, plateaus at, regresses and contracts to on occasion—where our emotional reactions come from and where our interpretations are filtered through—whether we use Kolberg, Gilligan, or Gravesian models to determine our “stage” ego can not be transcended.
It cannot be annihilated—with one exception. Blowing your brains will do it.
Death will do it.
And this is the problem I have with most “gurus” is they set up a massive internal conflict or increase internal dissonance/discordance with their idea about annihilating the ego. Their 2-dimensional, either/or relationship to ego. Which is what I think Ken Wilber is pointing to when he says :::
“The ego is not a thing but a subtle effort, and you cannot use effort to get rid of effort--you end up with two efforts instead of one."
AND it is only their ego that wants you to annihilate yours—to submit to them.
However, we can get the same intended results of openness, expansiveness, acceptance, with a more ecological and holistic understanding of ego. And with that understanding, what we CAN do is evolve it. Expand it. Have it occur as more diffuse. So wide and so diffuse it needs no protection. It needs no assertion. It has nothing to prove.
It will occur like a transcendent ego. It will look like “ego-less-ness”. What it actually looks like it the ever-expanding upward spiral. AN unfolding. A larger embrace.
Let me ask you what kind of ego can be “one with all things that are arising…moment to moment…even now”? I’ll tell you what kind of ego—a huge fucking ego. A wide and high ego. A diffuse ego. An ego so large that feedback or other’s attacks are accepted and absorbed into it like a still lake. it is also a subtle ego.
Unfortunately we are used to seeing very loud, pre-rational egos, and calling that “ego”. Yet it is an underdeveloped, uncertain ego than needs to be a gross [vs subtle], hard, reactive, ego. A defensive ego. Not a huge, well developed ego. A large, expanded ego is subtle and diffuse.
Simultaneously, their presence can be very powerful. When they look at you, their gaze often sees deeper into you than you have into yourself, which can be very uncomfortable for some. For others, habit forming.
Wilber again: "…and it is best handled by resting in Freedom, not by trying to get rid of ego"
AND as I am fond of saying ::: the biggest ego trip in the kosmos is thinking you can or will ever “transcend” your ego.
However, we can expand it, evolve it, and have it so developed and so diffuse that it occurs “transcendent” for most people—because there is little resistance. There is so much confidence that you do not need to prove yourself—even to yourself. It allows you to more easily look in the mirror. To accept where you are wrong and have wronged.
There is a true freedom there. The freedom that Wilber speaks to, I believe. And resting there…is fun in the quiet joy kind of way.
Derek Arckis said :::
Another example is: 'Awareness alone is curative'. Yes, this works well as well, if you don't have to come back into the world (Samara) and socially function via emotions and affect response / motive (seat of ego). Not so subtle if you ask me. Awareness of the great intensity of feeling through the burning off of karma is much more realistic and painful, yet truly evolutionary, rather than blowing (ungrounded) in the high winds of a brightly lit day (merely enlightenment).
But who wants to bypass the quick and dirty and do the actual work to truly evolve (in the egoic sense, rather than mere cognitive experience)?
Exactly … AND what it takes to get there—is work. Being vigilant in our awareness. The subtleties of our awareness. Subtle effort. And in that, is freedom. When re-relax into the Witness—our ever-present awareness—we are there in the atmosphere of enlightenment.
I understand this turns the popular idea of ego on its head. I get that. I also get that Wilber and Cohen [not Cowan] have both talked about this in passing—briefly. At least the idea that it is a big ego that is an enlightened ego—and the obviousness of the stages in all of their work.
Why they still talk about it in two-dimensional terms I am uncertain of. I have one major guess ::: They are speaking into the existent memes and tapping those associations, rather than attempting to undertake the effort to recode and reframe over 2,500 years of entrenched traditions.
Given they are some of the very few who understand this, that is my guess.
AND who knows?
They do. He does. Some part of you does … even now.