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Defining Ego

Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited to bring clarification to certain points of the dialogue and for easier readability. For this reason, it does not match the corresponding audio mp3 word-for-word. However, the overall content and the expressed ideas remain unchanged.

Participant 1: I've had a terrific problem - in the very limited amount of reading I’ve done in the Course - with this concept that seems to be presented of the ego as a sort of an evil thing, as opposed to all my - also limited psychological reading - which says, 'We've got to have a strong ego, we must invent a personality' and all that. And it's a real conflict in my comprehension. So, you sound like your well prepared to deal with this.


Speaker: Well we'll talk about the ego. Let’s unveil the thing, let’s go right at it. The thing about the ego is [not attempting] to fight it or combat it because it loves a fight. The Course is just saying just look at it. Once you can really look directly at it… the only reason fears seem to be maintained is because we try to look away from them.

Have you ever had a dream where you're being chased by something? You're having the same dream all the time and you don't want to turn around and look at it. And basically Jesus is just saying, 'It's not fearful at all. We can look right at it and it'll be gone like a puff of [smoke].’ But to address your question about the ego strength and to integrate ... When I studied psychology and started going through that, that was pretty much a psycho- analysis, which is basically saying that, between the “id” (all these unconscious forces) and the “super ego” (the voice of morality), that the “ego” in that system is kind of like a mediator. And in that sense, if it's a mediator between these two combating forces that are in the mind, then that's where the idea of ‘ego strength’ comes in; of wanting to build up ego strength. But what Freudian psychology really never got at was that it was just describing the dark side of the mind. It says, 'Yes, there were these inter-psychic forces and there were these moralities and everything,' but that was all. All the pre-parts that were described; the “id“, the “ego” and the “super ego” were all part of ego.

And then there is another part of the mind which Freudian psychology really didn't get into ,which is spirit. That's one thing when I was in psychology, it was kind of like, I kept looking for 'Where's the spirit'? Or, 'How do we integrate religion or spirituality with psychology because they seem to be antithetical.'

Or science; a lot of times when I would go into science I would wonder 'Where does science fit into all of this?' Then I got into reading quantum physics and some of the quantum physicists started talking in terms that sounded awful psychological [about things such as] perception [and] that there's no reality in the world apart from what you think. And experiments with particles where they try to do double-blind experiments and they try to take the experimenter out of the experiment and they would find that the thoughts [in the mind] of the experimenter were moving the particles, and that they could [in] no way remove the mind of the experimenter from [the experiment]... So it's like… all these things start pointing to... It's subjective, that the mind is influenced…

That's what I really started to see, [that the] whole thing about psychology wasn't really helping. It was very pessimistic that there had to be another part of the mind… When I started reading… eastern philosophy… reading books about this “Higher Self“ [there was a sense that], “Yes, that resonates, there has to be a Higher Self as opposed to just this small self.” So that gave me a sense that there was something beyond that.

Participant 1: I figure you've been through the Jungian approach as well. How did your approach to ego compare with Jung?

Speaker: Jung seemed to really tap into... he took this idea that Freud came along with like the unconscious and then called it “collective unconscious” and he started to see that there was something, the Higher Self… beyond this unconscious. This Higher Self, Jung said, was able to communicate through dreams and through symbols with love-archetypes and so forth, and… there were 'ways' of awakening toward this Higher Self. So I feel Jung really started to articulate more that there was something beyond. And when you really get into the Course, it fits well with Jungian psychology in the sense that Jungian psychology said that there was this unconscious with all these beliefs that were kind of under the surface and that you had to get in touch with the belief.

And that's what the Course In Miracles is saying. Jesus is saying that there are a lot of unconscious beliefs and until you can look at them, until you can become aware of them, then they run you. You had asked about defining the ego and there's one point at the back of text where Jesus says that you can’t have a definition for something that is nothing, which is kind of interesting; kind of like, 'If I define it for you, that’s giving it a reality.' But he says we can point to the opposite, and the ego's opposite in every single way and shape is a miracle. Then after He talks about the ego as the nothingness that it is, He starts once again pointing to the positive or pointing to the divinity, the right-mind.

The thing about death of the ego… Somebody asked me the other day, “So it [ego] has to die in the end?” And I said, “Well you can look at it that way but you have to believe that it ever lived before you can believe that it can die.” The more I study the ego… it just gets unveiled for what it is. I've seen people work with the Course and they say, “love your ego” and, “hate your ego” and a lot of times people will perceive when they're reading the book [that it] seems like [the ego] is up to no good. But in a sense Jesus says, 'You made the ego by believing in it and you can dispel the ego by withdrawing your belief in it. You made the ego by believing in it and you can dispel the ego by withdrawing your belief in it.' [The original audio recording repeated this phrase for emphasis.]

Participant 2: You see, that's what bothers me a little bit. I feel sometimes there is so much emotion put into trying to destroy this ego, like it's an entity, like it's replaced the devil.


Speaker: He actually describes it at the beginning; there's a point early in the text where he kind of goes through and really describes the ego pretty well. And then He says, 'I had to do that, so you wouldn't dismiss it too lightly.' And that's when He starts introducing, at that point, that it's obviously just a belief and you made it by believing in it and you can dispel it. But in the early part, the very early part [He says that] so that it's not just brushed away because that's part of the ego's defense mechanism, [to] just kind of brush fear under and kind of dismiss fear or repress it or deny it and then all of a sudden it comes up. And this is a Course in dispelling the ego not in trying to kill it.

Participant 2: Not in fighting it. That's what bothered me; it's this battle that seems to be being fought. I think it would be easier to withdraw your energy from that belief system than to try to fight it.

Speaker: In the end that's all dispelling the ego is; remembering to laugh at it. And then it's not like you kill it. At the end, you laugh at it.

Participant 2: Laugh it away…

Speaker: You laugh it away. It's a joke.

Now, when the mind is in the sleeping state then its like part of its mind is where the Holy Spirit lives and the Course calls it the right-mind, and this is sanity. This is the connection back to Christ and the Father. And then the dark side of the mind is where the ego resides. So to say, “love the ego” would be to say, “love nothing“. In order to truly love something, it has to exist. So the Course is definitely not saying, “love the ego” and it's definitely not saying, “hate the ego” because, as you were mentioning earlier, when you fight against it, it seems to “eeeerrrrooowww”…just roar even more. It is important to see that the ego is up to no good in a sense that the purpose of the ego is sickness, fragmentation, guilt, sin, death - and the Holy Spirit’s purpose is healing and waking up. And it's important to start to tell the difference between the two, because until we can tell the difference between the two then we still think that the ego has something to offer us. And as long as we believe it still has something to offer us then we'll still invest in it's way of thinking, and we'll still feel guilt, we'll still feel pain and separation.

Participant 3: So much of the Course talks about the ego not because it's real but because the sleeping mind believes it's real. And to the extent that it believes in it, it has a hold on it. So Jesus is just saying, 'This is how this works, this is what to look for this is what's going on for the mind that believes in the ego.' And when you can start to see what it is and recognize it for what it is, then that's the way out.

Participant 4: The ego doesn't know much. The ego doesn’t understand that. That's why it's almost impossible to love something that is not lovable and does not love you back.

Participant 1: Yeah, but isn't ego our personality?

Participant 4: No. Your personality is your personality, isn't it?

Speaker: The personality; all of our personalities are differences. Some people seem to be aggressive or out-going, some people seem to be shy and reserved. All the different skills; some people seem to have great mental skills and other people seem more feeling and sensitive. When you talk about personality there is enormous variation. And these personalities seem to conflict at times too. Sometimes people think of them as complimentary but a lot of the time in husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend or even [within] family there seems to be stark personality differences and, in a sense, whenever there's conflict it's not the Holy Spirit that's involved, it is the ego. I mean there is an ego basis.

Basically the personality self is what the Course calls the “self concept” with a small 's' instead of a big capital 'S' for Christ. [The “self concept”] is part of a construction that [was made] when the separation seemed to happen - the mind was so afraid of this light that it tried to run away from it into the darkness as far as it could… so it started to stack beliefs. It was so dark and horrifying; the thought that you could separate from your Creator, disconnect from your Source - it was the most horrifying thought conceivable. It wasn't true in the ultimate sense but the mind believed it; it was horrifying. [But] instantly the Holy Spirit was given as an answer. So now we have a mind that's used to Wholeness and Completion in the Kingdom. It's used to Wholeness all the time and now it's got two completely irreconcilable thought systems - the Holy Spirit’s and the ego’s, in it. But the mind was used to Wholeness, and it's intolerable to try to hold onto both of these at the same time. So what the mind did is… the world was made up as like a movie screen. You know when you go to the movies and you see the screen and all the different images… the world was made up as a screen and the ego said, “Project the split out there onto the screen and then you can forget about the split in the mind, and you can see the duality out there on the world instead of the duality between the thought systems.” So basically once the mind falls asleep, it sees a world of duality: male, female, good, bad, right, wrong, hot, cold, fast, slow, wide, skinny... Gosh!

Participant 3: Victim, victimizer.

Speaker: Victim, victimizer. That's part of the big, giant optical illusion. Instead of looking in my mind and seeing I have a split in my mind that has to be healed , the trick is, ‘the split is out there in the world.' And [now] there are good people and there are bad people - like the old cowboy movies; the good guys and the bad guys. And therefore as soon as I split the Sonship, or my brothers, into camps and see the world of duality out there then I can project and blame and be angry at the victimizers and I can pity the victim. The Course is saying it's a trick, it's a scam. Whenever you blame your brother when you blame the IRS or blame your parents or blame your spouse or blame your daughter or blame the weather or blame your boss or whatever, you’re trying to hurl the guilt, you’re trying to hurl the feeling of unworthiness that you feel away, onto them. But really it doesn't solve anything, it doesn't get rid of the problem, because when you do that the mind also believes that somehow [projections] are going to creep back, and then it starts getting real defensive. Kind of like if you've ever felt guilty or angry at somebody and attacked them and then have feared that they were going to call back or tell your friends or whatever. As soon as the attack goes out then it's like, 'Oh my gosh. What have I done?' [Then you have] got to be real defensive.

Participant 2: Is pride [of the] ego?

Speaker: That's a good question because a lot of the messages I got when I was growing up was like 'take pride in it, take pride in it, take pride in it.' It's like well, wait a minute - is pride good or bad? Or sometimes good and sometimes bad?’ And on page ninety-seven Jesus talks about the ego and it's uses for the world and the body and [pride is] one of the three main things that the ego uses the body for. And in a real subtle way, the way it maintains the guilt is because pride is always based on form. There's a body identification; 'I'm proud of my ethnic heritage. I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud of my 'Cincinnati Reds. I'm proud to have so many degree's. Status. I'm proud of my wealth.' You know you can see where it's all form based. And the reason that pride is so sneaky is because, like you said it says in The Bible. That's what the ways of the world are; bigger, better, more, fame, wealth, recognition, the acceptance from peers, etc… It's world-based because it's all external-based. And Jesus comes along and says, "Your worth is established by God. Nothing that you think or say or do is needed to establish your worth." It's all Heavenly Father that is the sole basis for our work, and pride is always what the ego could stick in there, “You can make a bigger better smaller-self. Where's the enjoyment in reaching to Heaven? Just make a better and better and better smaller self and somehow you'll make a big enough one that will be worthy”. And it's really a trap. And then you get the possessions that you thought would make you happy and then you get the relationships that you thought would make you happy and you see it's like, 'I'll be happy when…' And the ego says, “Keep playing the game. Seek but do not find. Just keep pursuing.” And pride is one of those things, it's so sneaky that you can kind of go round and round and round and round in a circle, like a cat chasing it's tale, until you finally stop.

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