Ego-strength

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.

Using feelings

I was in a constricted grey corridor, with regular doors off it. I tried a door, and found overwhelming light and colour, so much that I could not make sense of it, so stayed in the corridor- but as I remained, the corridor grew darker and more constricting.

I thought the vision was about my retreat from the world, and now see it as my retreat from myself. I will not feel my feelings, they are too overwhelming. So I am stuck in the corridor, more and more constricted.

I have suffered so much pain and loss and rejection that I live in it. All that thwarted desire, all the bewilderment and lack of understanding, and always the critical voices berating me for failure. I need to see the detail in that overwhelming colour and light of my feelings, and that means paying attention to them as I pay attention to an art work, sitting with it, seeing it, noticing it.

What do I want, now?
What is possible, now?
What might I do, now?
What do I feel about that?

So many doors closed!

Richard Rohr today posted that Christ is, for each of us, our deepest and best and most naked self, and how could I believe that? I want ridiculous things, do not want what I ought to want, and as the Anglicans put it there is no health in me. And I flail about uselessly, and then give up.

Rohr shares a painting by Tintoretto of the Crucifixion, where we see Christ tortured and distorted, bearing the pain of our sin, as my soul bears the pain of my denial of it.

And the Tintoretto crucifixion which I found first shows a different Christ, Christ as the light of the world, shining from the cross.

Around him there is the tumult of the World, and for a moment it pauses, as people see the light of Christ.

The way to my true self which may or may not have any value but is at least me is through the feelings I have suppressed or distorted. There comes a time to lay down my past, which I see as mistakes, wrongdoing, stupidity, failure, and see what is around me, now. What is possible, now. Not a lot, perhaps, but not nothing at all.

Mindful anguish

Richard Rohr’s daily meditations suggested that entering a sense of mindfulness, or presence in the moment, produces a sense of gratitude. So I stopped reading them. Brené Brown says Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose, or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. That seems better to me.

I will go back to Rohr, though when he attacks the attitude of Christians who want rules-based religion, a fixed set of rules and judgment, rather than openness to what is paradoxically he is reinforcing my understanding of the world and its people- rules-based religion bad, so I’m one of the good people. “We preferred a stable notion of God as an old white man, sitting on a throne”- this is a caricature. Though even under Francis rather than Maledict, I sense his fear of the institutional church and his careful argument that he is orthodox really.

I sense my avoidance as I write.

Then I searched his archives and found no recent use of the word, so perhaps I misread, but what I took from one of these meditations is that moving into a sense of mindfulness feels good, where for me it feels intense. It is a plunge into icy water. I need to go there, out of petty feelgoods like facebook likes and record page-views into reality, but I did and felt anguish.

Don’t tell us what to avoid, but what to seek. The thing to avoid will become irrelevant and uninteresting, when we see clearly what to seek. This passage from Rohr’s meditations is positive: For a nanosecond, there’s no “you” and no God. No experience and no experiencer. There’s simply a direct, undivided, sensate awareness of a single, unified field of being perceived from a far deeper place of aliveness. And what is first tasted in a nanosecond can indeed become a stable and integrated state.

I felt anguish, intensity, ice. Vulnerability, as Dr Brown says.

I am still avoiding: I read in the Guardian of a man who cured his depression by cycling, or something- when cycling he is simply aware. And I used that article to judge myself, for judging myself when cycling. For I am not immediately responding to a situation or simply enjoying the World Perceived, but judging- I should be able to go up this hill in a higher gear. No, listen to your thighs. (Yes, I judge myself for judging).

Mindfulness is easier outside than inside, with nature and all strangeness rather than the familiar regular objects. I could really look at that sandal, and see its detail, but it is not the same as a living thing in the wind. I would like delight, gratitude, wonder, from mindfulness, they make it a state to seek out. I am writing! Analysing mindfulness! It is what I do. Not merely avoiding…

I felt anguish. I connected to my feelings and felt anguish, and I wanted it to stop. Far better to stick with ego reassuring itself that rationality and analysis gives it control. I feel anguish because I am denying and avoiding (judge me bad) or because I have suffered (judge me victim). I am in a particular situation I do not like, having to find a source of income and not liking the available options. Cycling, there is exhileration cycling very slightly downhill with the wind behind me- that road, there- and other sensations. Always there is the analysing mind, which makes progress as well as ruminating. Feelgoods, ways of avoiding with a brief dopamine hit, well, people do that.

Mindfulness is. It is everything. It is worthwhile. It is difficult and challenging. It is-

I sat in Meeting, wrestling, anguished, confused.