A NEW EARTH E G O : T H E C U R R E N T STATE OF H U M A N I T Y
longer total. “I am the awareness that is aware that there is attachment.” That’s the beginning of the transformation of consciousness.
becomes transferred to the physical level and so turns into insatiable hunger. T h e sufferers of bulimia will often make themselves vomit so they can continue eating. Their mind 1 s hungry, not their body. This eating disorder would become healed if the sufferers, instead of being identified
W A N T I N G : T H E N E E D FOR M O R E
with their mind, could get in touch with their body and so feel the true needs of the body rather than tlie pseudoneeds of the egoic mind. Some egos know what they want and pursue their aim with grim and ruthless determination-Genghis Khan, Stalin, Hitler, to give just a few lnrger-than-life examples. The energy behind their wanting, however, creates an opposing energy of equal intensity that in the end leads t~ their downfall. In the meantime, they make themselves and many others unhappy, or, in the larger-than-life examples, create hell on earth. Most egos have conflicting wants. They want different things at different times or may not even know what they want except that they don’t want what is: the present moment. Unease, restlessness, boredom, anxiety, dissatisfaction, are the result of unfulfilled wanting. Wanting is structural, so no amount of content can provide lasting fulfillment as long as that mental structure remains in place. Intense wanting that has no specific object can ofien be found in the still-developing ego of teenagers, some of whom are in a permanent state of negativity and dissatisfaction. T h e physical needs for food. water, shelter, c l o t h i l ~and ~,
T h e ego identifies with having, but its satisfaction in having is a relatively shallow and short-lived one. Concealed within it remains a deep-seated sense of dissatisfaction, of incompleteness, of “not enough.” “I don’t have enough yet,” by which the ego really means, “I am not enough ~et.” As we have seen, having-the concept of ownership-is a fiction created by the ego to give itself solidity and permanency and make itself stand out, make itself special. Since you cannot find yourself through having, however, there is another more powerful drive underneath it that pertains to the structure of the ego: the need for more, which we could also call “wanting.” N o ego can last for long without the need for more. Therefore, wanting keeps the ego alive much more than having. T h e ego wants to want more than it wants to have. And so the shallow satisfaction of having is always replaced by more wanting. his is the psychological need for more, that is to say, more things to identify with. It is an addictive need, not an authentic one. In some cases, the psychological need for more or the feeling of not enough that ?s so characteristic of the ego
A NEW EARTH
E G O : T H E C U R R E N T STATE OF H U M A N I T Y
basic comforts could be easily met for all humans on the planet, were it not for the imbalance of resources created by the insane and rapacious need for more, the greed of the ego. It finds collective expression in the economic structures of this world, such as the huge corporations, which are egoic entities that compete with each other for more. Their only blind aim is profit. They pursue that aim with absolute ruthlessness. Nature, animals, people, even their own employees, are no more than digits on a balance sheet, lifeless objects to be used, then discarded. The thought forms of “me” and “mine,” of “more than,” of “I want,” “I need,” “I must have,” and of “not enough” pertain not to content but to the structure of the ego. The content is interchangeable. As long as you don’t recognize those thought forms within yourself, as long as they remain unconscious, you will believe in what they say; you will be condemned to acting out those unconscious thoughts, condemned to seeking and not finding-because when those thought forms operate, no possession, place, person, or condition will ever satisfjr you. N o content will satisfjr you, as long as the egoic structure remains in place. N o matter what you have or get, you won’t be happy. You will always be looking for something else that promises greater fulfillI
IDENTlFlCATlON WITH THE BODY
Apart from objects, another basic form of identification is with “my” body. Firstly, the body is male or female, and so the sense of being a man or woman takes up a significant part of most people’s sense of self. Gender becomes identity. Identification with gender is encouraged at an early age, and it forces you into a role, into conditioned patterns of behavior that affect all aspects of your life, not just sexuality. It is a role many people become completely trapped in, even more so in some of the traditional societies than in Western culture where identification with gender is beginning to lessen somewhat. In some traditional cultures, the worst fate a woman can have is to be unwed or barren, and for a man to lack sexual potency and not be able to produce children. Life’s fulfillment is perceived to be fulfillment of one’s gender identity. In the West, it is the physical appearance of the body that contributes greatly to the sense of who you think you are: its strength or weakness, its perceived beauty or ugliness relative to others. For many people, their sense of selfworth is intimately bound up with their physical strength, good looks, fitness, and external appearance. Many feel a diminished sense of self-worth because they perceive their body as ugly or imperfect. In some cases, the mental image or concept of “my body”
rnent, that promises to make your incomplete sense of self complete and fill that sense of lack you feel within.
E G O : T H E C U R R E N T S T A T E OF H U M A N I T Y
think of herself as overweight and therefore starve herself when in fact she is quite thin. She cannot see her body anymore. All she “sees” is the mental concept of her body, which says “I am fat” or “I will become fat.” At the root of this condition lies identification with the mind. As people have become more and more mind-identified, which is the intensification of egoic dysfunction, there has also been a dramatic increase in the incidence of anorexia in recent decades. If the sufferer could look a t her body without the interfering judgments of her mind or even recognize those judgments for what they are instead of believing in themor better still, if she could feel her body from within-this would initiate her healing. Those who are identified with their good looks, physical strength, or abilities experience suffering when those attributes begin to fade and disappear, as of course they will. Their very identity that was based on them is then threatened with collapse. In either case, ugly or beautiful, people derive a significant part of their identity, be it negative or positive, from their body. To be more precise, they derive their identity from the I-thought that they erroneously attach to the mental image or concept of their body, which after all is no more than a physical form that shares the desU forms-impermanence tiny of a and ultimately decay. Equating the physical sense-perceived body that is destined to grow old, wither, and die with “I” always leads to suffering sooner or later. To refrain from identifying with
the body doesn’t mean that you neglect, despise, or no longer care for it. If it is stl-ong, beautiful, or vigorous, you can enjoy and appreciate those attributes-while they last. You can also improve the body’s condition through right nutrition and exercise. If you don’t equate the body with who you are, when beauty fades, vigor diminishes, or the body becomes incapacitated, this will not affect your sense of worth or identity in any way. In fact, as the body begins to weaken, the formless dimension, the light of consciousness, can shine more easily through the fading form. It is not just people with good or near-perfect bodies who are likely to equate it with who they are. You can just as easily identift with a “problematic” body and make the body’s imperfection, illness, or disability into your identity. You may then think and speak of yourself as a “sufferer” of this or that chronic illness or disability. You receive a great deal of attention from doctors and others who constantly confirm to you your conceptual identity as a sufferer or a patient. YOUthen unconsciously cling to the illness because it has become the most important part of who you perceive yourself to be. It has become another thought form with which the ego can identify. Once the ego has found an identity, it does not want to let go. Amazingly but not infrequently, the ego in search of a stronger identity can and does create illnesses in order to strengthen itself through
A NEW EARTH
E G O : T H E C U R R E N T S T A T E OF H U M A N I T Y
F E E L I N G T H E I N N E R BODY
Although body-identification is one of the most basic forms of ego, the good news is that it is also the one that you can most easily go beyond. This is done not by trying to convince yourself that you are not your body, but by shifting your attention from the external form of your body and fiom thoughts about your body-beautiful, strong, weak, too fat, too thin-to ugly, the feeling of aliveness
the same time. Then incorporate other parts of the bodylegs, arms, abdomen, chest, and so on-into that feeling until you are aware of the inner body as a global sense of aliveness. What I call the “inner body” isn’t really the body anymore but life energy, the bridge between form and formlessness. Make it a habit to feel the inner body as often as you can. After a while, you won’t need to close your eyes anymore to feel it. For example, see if you can feel the inner body whenever you listen to someone. It almost seems like a paradox: When you are in touch with the inner body, you are not identified with your body anymore, nor are you identified with your mind. This is to say, you are no longer identified with form but moving away from formidentification toward formlessness, which we may also call Being. It is your essence identity. Body awareness not only anchors you in the present moment, it is a doorway out of the prison that is the ego. It also strengthens the immune system and the body’s ability to heal itself.
inside it. N o matter what your body’s appearance is on the outer level, beyond the outer form it is an intensely alive energy field. If you are not familiar with “inner body” awareness, close your eyes for a moment and find out if there is life inside your hands. Don’t ask your mind. I t will say, “1 can’t feel anything.” Probably it will also say, “Give me something more interesting to think about.” So instead of asking your mind, go to the hands directly. By this I mean become aware of the subtle feeling of aliveness inside them. It is there. You just have to go there with your attention to notice it. You may get a slight tingling sensation at first, then a feeling of energy or aliveness. If you hold your attention in your hands for a while, the sense of aliveness will intensify. Some people won’t even have to close their eyes. They will be able to feel their “inner hands” at the same time as they read this. Then go to your feet, keep your attention there for a minute or so, and begin to feel your hands and feet at
FORGETFULNESS O F BEING
Ego is always identification with form, seeking yourself and thereby losing yourself in some form. Forms are not just material objects and physical bodies. More hndamental than the external forms-things and bodies-are the thought forms that continuously arise in the field of consciousness.
A NEW EARTH
E G O : T H E C U R R E N T S T A T E OF H U M A N I ‘ T Y
They are energy formations, finer and less dense than physical matter, but they are forms nonetheless. What you may be aware of as a voice in your head that never stops speaking is the stream of incessant and compulsive thinking. When every thought absorbs your attention cornpleteIy, when you are so identified with the voice in your head and the emotions that accompany it that you lose in every thought and every emotion, then you are totally identified with form and therefore in the grip of ego. Ego is a conglomeration of recurring thought forms and conditioned mental-emotional patterns that are invested with a sense of I, a sense of self. Ego arises when your sense of Beingness, of “I Am,” which is formless consciousness, gets mixed up with form. This is the meaning of identification. This is forgethlness of Being, the primary error, the illusion of absolute separateness that turns reality into a nightmare.
that he was always thinking was beyond doubt, and so he equated thinking with Being, that is to say, identity-I am-with thinking. Instead of the ulti~natetruth, he had found the root of the ego, but he didn’t know that. It took almost three hundred years before another famous philosopher saw something in that statement that Descartes, as well as everybody else, had overlooked. His name was Jean-Paul Sartre. He looked at Descartes’s statement “I think, therefore I am” very deeply and suddenly realized, in his own words, “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks.” What did he mean by that? When you are aware that you are thinking, that awareness is not part of thinking. It is a different dimension of consciousness. And it is that awareness that says
“I am.” If there were nothing but thought in you, you
wouldn’t even know you are thinking. You would be like a dreamer who doesn’t know he is dreaming. You would be as identified with every thought as the dreamer is with every image in the dream. Many people still live like that, like sleepwalkers, trapped in old dysfunctional mind-sets that continuously re-create the same nightmarish reality. When you know you are dreaming, you are awake within the dream. Another dimension of consciousness has come in. The implication of Sartre’s insight is profound, but he himself was still too identified with thinking to realize the full significance of what he had discovered: an emerging new dimension of consciousness.
F R O M DESCARTES’S E R R O R T O SARTRE’S INSIGHT
T h e seventeenth-century philosopher Descartes, regarded as the founder of modern philosophy, gave expression to this primary error with his famous dictum (which he saw as primary truth): “I think, therefore I am.” This was the answer he found to the question “Is there anything I can know with absolute certainty?” H e realized that the fact
A N E W EARTH
E G O : THE C U R R E N T STATE OF H U M A N I T Y
T H E P E A C E T H A T PASSES
or death approaches, your sense of Beingness, of I Am, is freed from its entanglement with form: Spirit is released fiom its imprisonment in matter. You realize your essential identity as formless, as an all-pervasive Presence, of Being prior to all forms, all identifications. You realize your true identity as consciousness itself, rather than what consciousness had identified with. That’s the peace of God. The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but
There are many accounts of people who experienced that emerging new dimension of consciousness as a result of tragic loss at some point in their lives. Some lost all of their possessions, others their children or spouse, their social position, reputation, or physical abilities. In some cases, through disaster or war, they lost all of these simultaneously and found themselves with “nothing.” We may call this a limit-situation. Whatever they had identified with, whatever gave them their sense of self, had been taken away. Then suddenly and inexplicably, the anguish or intense fear they initially felt gave way to a sacred sense of Presence, a deep peace and serenity and complete freedom from fear. This phenomenon must have been familiar to St. Paul, who used the expression “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”Z It is indeed a peace that doesn’t seem to make sense, and the people w h o experienced it asked themselves: In the face of this, how can it be that I feel such peace? The answer is simple, once you realize what the ego is and how it works. When forms that you had identified
Not everybody who experiences great loss also experiences this awakening, this disidentification from form. Some immediately create a strong mental image or thought form in which they see themselves as a victim, whether it be of circumstances, other people, an unjust fate, or God. This thought form and the emotions it creates, such as anger, resentment, self-pity, and so on, they strongly identi@ with, and it immediately takes the place of all the other identifications that have collapsed through the loss. In other words, the ego quickly finds a new form. The fact that this new form is a deeply unhappy one doesn’t concern the ego too much, as long as it has an identity, good or bad. In fact, this new ego will be more contracted, more rigid and impenetrable than the old one. Whenever tragic loss occurs, you either resist or you yield. Some people become bitter or deeply resentful; others become compassionate, wise, and loving. Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life.
with, that gave you your sense of self, collapse or are taken away, it can lead to a collapse of the ego, since ego i s identification with form. When there is nothing to identifjr with anymore, who are you? When forms around you die
A N E W EARTH
Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego. You are closed. Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side; life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary, your action will be in alignment with the whole and supported by creative intelligence, the unconditioned consciousness which in a state of inner openness you become one with. Circumstances and people then become helpful, cooperative. Coincidences happen. If no action is possible, you rest in the peace and inner stillness that come with surrender. You rest in God.
The Core of Ego
Most people are so completely identified with the voice in the head-the incessant stream of involuntary and compulwe sive thinking and the emotions that accompany it-that
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may describe them as being possessed by their mind. As long as you are completely unaware of this, you take the thinker to be who you are. This is the egoic mind. We call it egoic because there is a sense of self, of I (ego), in every thought-every memory, every interpretation, opinion, viewpoint, reaction, emotion. This is unconsciousness, spiritually speaking. Your thinking, the content of your mind, is of course conditioned by the past: your upbringing, culture, family background, and so on. The central
A NEW EARTH ROLE-PLAYING: T H E MANY FACES O F T H E EGO
over, and feel sorry for myself, and so have an identity as someone who is being treated unfairly by life or other people, fate or God. It gives definition to my self-image, makes
you.” The other e x p r e y for “I love you,” te amo, which does not have this ambiguity, is rarely used-perhaps cause true love is just as rare. be-
G E T T I N G G o O F SELF-DEFINITIONS
keep whoever is perceived by the ego as my needs.” “I’ll play who you play who I want you to be.” the unspoken and unsustained indefinitely, espe-
As tribal cultures developed into the ancient civilizations, certain functions began to be allotted to certain people: ruler, priest or priestess, warrior, farmer, merchant, craftsman, laborer, and so on. A class system developed. Your function, which in most cases you were born into, determined your identity, determined who you were in the eyes of others, as well as in your own eyes. Your function became a role, but it wasn’t recognized as a role: It was who you were, or thought you were. Only rare beings at the time, such as the Buddha or Jesus, saw the ultimate irrelevance of caste or social class, recognized it as identification with form and saw that such identification with the conditioned and the temporal obscured the light of the ilnconditioned and eternal that shines in each human being. In our contemporary world, the social structures are less rigid, less clearly defined than they used to be. Although most people are, of course, still conditioned by their environment, they are no longer automatically assigned a function and with it an identity. In fact, in the modern world, more and more people are confused as to where they fit in,
A NEW EARTH
R O L E – P L A Y I N G : T H E M A N Y F A C E S OF T H E E G O
I usually congratulate people when they tell me, “I don’t
know who I am anymore.” Then they look perplexed and ask, “Are you saying it is a good thing to be confused?” I ask them to investigate. What does it mean to be confused?
catch yourself playing a role, that recognition creates a space between you and the role. It is the beginning of freedom from the role. When you are completely identified with a role, you confuse a pattern of behavior with who you are, and you take yourself very seriously. You also automatically assign roles to others that correspond to yours. For example, when you visit doctors who are totally identified with their role, to them you will not be a human being but a patient or a case history. Although the social structures in the contemporary world are less rigid than in ancient cultures, there are still many pre-established functions or roles that people readily identifjl with and which thus become part of the ego. This causes human interactions to become inauthentic, dehumanized, alienating. Those pre-established roles may give you a somewhat comforting sense of identity, but ultimately, you lose yourself in them. The functions people have in hierarchical organizations, such as the military, the
“1 don’t know” is not confusion. Confusion is: “1 don’t
know, but I should know” or “I don’t know, but I need to know.” Is it possible to let go of the belief that you should or need to know who you are? In other words, can you cease looking to conceptual definitions to give you a sense of self? Can you cease looking to thought for an identity? When you let go of the belief that you should or need to know who you are, what happens to confusion? Suddenly it is gone. When you fully accept that you don’t know, you actually enter a state of peace and clarity that is closer to who you truly are than thought could ever be. Defining yourself through thought is limiting yourself.
church, a government institution, or large corporation, easily lend themselves to becoming role identities. Authentic human interactions become impossible when you lose yourself in a role. Some pre-established roles we could call social archetypes. To mention just a few: the middle-class housewife (not as prevalent as it used to be, but still widespread); the tough macho male; the female seductress; the “nonconformist” artist or performer; a person of “culture” (a role
O f course different people fulfill different bnctions in this world. It cannot be otherwise. As far as intellectual or physical abilities are concerned-knowledge, and energy levels-human skills, talents, beings differ widely. What really
matters is not what bnction you fulfill in this world, but whether you identify with your function to such an extent that it takes you over and becomes a role that you play. When you play roles, you are unconscious. When you
A NEW EARTH
R O L E – P L A Y I N G : T H E M A N Y FACES OF T H E EGO
quite common in Europe) who displays a knowledge of literature, fine art, and music in the same way as others might display an expensive dress or car. And then there is the universal role of adult. When you play that role, you take yourself and life very seriously. Spontaneity, lightheartedness, and joy are not part of that role. The hippie movement that originated on the West Coast of the United States in the 1960s and then spread throughout the Western world came out of many young people’s rejection of social archetypes, of roles, of
move west and play an essential part in the awakerlirig of global consciousness.
T E M P O R A R Y ROLES
pending on the person you are interacting with. At first, it may be easier to observe this ers; then, you may also
patterns of behavior as well as egoically based social and economic structures. They refused to play the roles their parents and society wanted to impose on them. Significantly, it coincided with the horrors of the Vietnam War, in which more than 57,000 young Americans and 3 million Vietnamese died and through which the insanity of the sysU to see. tem and the underlying mind-set was exposed for a Whereas in the rgsos, most Americans were still extremely conformist in thought and behavior, in the 1960s, millions of people began to withdraw their identification with a collective conceptual identity because the insanity of the collective was so obvious. The hippie movement represented a loosening of the hitherto rigid egoic structures in the psyche of humanity. The movement itself degenerated and came to an end, but it left behind an opening, and not just in those who were part of the movement. This made it possible for ancient Eastern wisdom and spirituality to roles, the more inauthentic the relationships become.
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