Much of the spiritual literature I read condemns the ego. It seems close to the “Petty-man” that Confucius condemns. For example, on facebook someone quoted John Butler: self-willed but imaginary ego causes all our trouble, [and] ignoring it deprives it of its power. I am reading Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, who gives the ego a kicking:
Only great love and great suffering are strong enough to take away our imperial ego’s protections and open us to authentic experiences of transcendence.
To move beyond our small-minded uniformity, we have to extend ourselves outward, which our egos always find a threat, because it means giving up our separation, superiority, and control.
For Jung, wholeness was not to be confused with any kind of supposed moral perfection, because such moralism is too tied up with ego and denial of the inner weakness that all of us must accept.
So Ego, here, is illusion, possibly akin to the Self-concept of Carl Rogers. The self-concept is the illusory belief in who one is. One of my main drives is to preserve my illusion to myself. It matters less what others think as long as I can affirm it, and the cognitive dissonance from everything that contradicts it can be denied.
Yes, I have read the Analects, but at University. Possibly 2,500 year old Chinese wisdom is too far from my own concepts for me to usefully interpret it. The Superior Man is all-embracing and not partial. The inferior man is partial and not all-embracing. I bring together Rohr, Confucius and Rogers in confusion rather than synthesis.
I am interested to see the phrase ego-strength as a good thing: it promotes resilience. The challenge… for individuals in crisis is to figure out which parts of their identities are already functioning well and which parts are no longer working and need changing. The strong, valuable ego is well-attuned to the World, and flexible enough to stay so.
As far as I understand it, the spiritual path for Rohr is to strip away the illusions and be ones natural self. That is part of community and the biosphere. All that is is Christ’s body, and without ego-illusion we can all be our true part of that body. Ego is only illusion, only fraudulent separateness, the falsity which I cannot convince others of, or even myself, so my terror increases. But there may be people with positive beliefs about themselves, which are affirmed by others, where ego helps them navigate their world.
I was going to write “people whose beliefs about themselves are affirmed by others”, but that is the Law of Attraction, that everyone’s beliefs about themselves are read and believed by others, and affirmed. I have negative beliefs.
I read that one purpose of the beliefs was to help us to lie convincingly. “Of course I’ll help you,” I cry, warmly, and you believe me. Then I am surprised to find myself not helping, or that my “help” does not help- or perhaps I don’t notice.
I met a psychiatrist, and chatted socially of meditation. I talked of old people in care homes, sitting in a room, doing nothing. “They don’t seem unhappy,” he said. Possibly they are resigned. They are kept alive. They might have to dress themselves, or only to co-operate while they are dressed by others. I would rather do things, have greater aims than my continued subsistence. Here am I, writing and thinking. (Analects: To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.)
Would that we could know about these things. Wanting to know is part of my self-concept, perhaps; or it could be real self-
I want to bring the truth into consciousness, and observe what gives me pleasure, what repels me, how I cope with difficulty, how I relate to others, are not necessarily what I thought. On Deutschland 86 I have just seen Tina Fischer who left East Germany because she cannot bear the damage done by its illusions broken by arrest, interrogation, humiliation, false hope, and now being separated from her children at which she breaks down. I felt her break, and felt intense pleasure. The darkness is that dark.
That “consultant psychotherapist” said I had a “fragile sense of self” as if that were a bad thing. Perhaps he meant that my self-belief needed a lot of protection, because it was erroneous, perhaps he meant something I still cannot understand.
Ego as strength, and ego as what holds you back from Life in Christ. Beliefs useful, truthful, or even perhaps both! I may eventually understand, or I may eventually find beliefs I can live with. I find a rigid dichotomy between Consciousness and Awareness, which I may write about.