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When The Ego Dies...
2006 08 25

By Michael Goodspeed |

Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali

I wonder what it means when one mourns a loss before it has happened.

Is it prophetic grieving, or self-fulfilling prophecy? I think the question is terribly important, now more than ever. A lot of us are living with a terrible sense of foreboding doom. Is our collective psychic gut tensing itself for some terrible tribulation, or are we actively dooming ourselves with our glum thinking?

I don't mean to be a wise-ass, but the answer is clearly "both." We feel the momentum of the past -- all of our habitual thoughts and behaviors as a species -- nudging us toward self-annihilation, and yet we feel powerless to change. Of course, we find this terrifying. I suspect it is the same inner dread that addicts feel when they sense the need for a fix coming on. Yes, they COULD resist the impulse for that first snort, shot, drink, or hit, but they know they lack the necessary will and clarity of purpose to do so.

So it is with the entire human race. We know this game is going to end tragically, even though the tragedy will be avoidable right up until the last moment. A miracle is necessary to save us, and miracles DO happen, but only when you believe in them. And when all you believe in is darkness, miracles are downright scary.

Darkness can be comforting. It affords one a place to hide, even if the light he is hiding from is actually his salvation. Most often, human beings hide in their concepts of themselves. You wake up in the morning and only feel safe if you know who you are. You think, "I am safe because my name is blah blah. I am special because my girlfriend loves me, I have a good job, my body looks great, and I'm better than most people. Of course, if I lost all of this, I would have know IDEA who I am, and life would lose all meaning."

This is the story of human life, and we all know how it ends.

Everything that gives us a sense of who we are is destined to die -- usually long before the deaths of our physical bodies. When this happens suddenly and unexpectedly, it is the most painful and traumatizing event in all of human experience. When we lose our loved ones and most valued relationships, the feeling goes beyond "grief" and "sadness." It is more akin to the amputation of a vital and necessary part of one's inner core. The same can be said of anything that gives one a powerful sense of who one is -- career, wealth, goals, etc.

No matter how much comfort we take in these concepts of ourselves, underneath the comfort is fear. In fact, fear is the main motivator driving people to "succeed" at building bigger and stronger "selves" -- more money, more status, better relationships, a better body. The very word "driven" implies the impulsion to move forward. It is the impulsion to run, but not TOWARD anything -- it is the wish to not be caught by the boogeyman that is chasing you.

The real boogeyman from which we run is not physical death. In fact, when one listens to stories of average people who've confronted death, they almost universally say, "It is not nearly as scary I'd thought."

Far more horrific than the death of the body is the death of the concept of self. To not know who one is the shattering of the entire universe.

You probably know what I'm talking about, but if not, this is the best analogy I can think of: Imagine that you are an actor who has been performing a one-person show in front of an adoring audience. This has been your entire life for as long as you can remember. It's who you ARE, and all you want to be. Then one day, a little beam of light shines through a crack in the ceiling and catches your vision. You follow its ray, and you see something that you don't want to see. What you thought was an audience of people is actually nothing more than a cast of shadows distorted by your vision. There never was a crowd admiring your performance. You have been performing a delusional, one-person act all alone in a theater in your head. You are terrified, disoriented. You no longer have any idea who you are. You are abandoned and insane. You crumple to the stage and wish you were dead.

This is what the death of the ego feels like. It's not the death of something evil, sinful, or even in need of correction. It's the death of something that never existed anywhere but in the mind of its owner.

Nevertheless, it has all the appearance of tragedy, because the suffering caused by the ego's "life" and inevitable "death" is beyond the scope of human imagining.

The death of the ego is the "dark night of the soul" described by 16th century mystic St. John of the Cross. The laying down of the ego -- or the ability to simply recognize its non-existence -- is far more difficult than merely abdicating arrogance, selfishness, or other "egotistic" tendencies. The ego is a "necessary" defense mechanism for any mind that looks at the world and thinks, "I AM APART." And how could anyone in this world not feel apart? From the moment we are born, we are given a name, race, gender, and social status. We are told that we are "good" or "bad" because we are "fat" or "thin," "attractive" or "unattractive," "rich" or "poor," "smart" or "stupid," and we quickly learn to judge others on these same erroneous bases. It's the only language of thought we have ever spoken.

This delusional perspective is as pervasive collectively as it is individually. "Collective egotism" takes the form of nationalism, racism, and every form of religious and tribal warfare. In his book The Power of Now, author Eckhart Tolle addresses the threat posed by the collective ego to the future of mankind. Tolle writes, "If they do not free themselves from their mind in time, they will be destroyed by it.

They will experience confusion, conflict, violence, illness, despair, madness. Egoic mind has become like a sinking ship. If you don't get off you will go down with it. The collective egoic mind is the most dangerously insane and destructive entity to inhabit this planet. What do you think will happen on this planet if human consciousness remains unchanged?"

Death is not the worst thing that can happen to our species. The worst thing is for us to remain in this interminable state of separation, aloneness, animosity, and fear that drives every act of violence and madness reported on the evening news. Each and every one of us is the actor in the theater, completely isolated, contracted, and insane, performing a meaningless drama for no one and nothing. Again, a miracle is necessary to save us...but the miracle is already here, waiting to be followed.

We will each crumple to the stage in the ego's final death throes, believing ourselves to be abandoned and alone. The only real choice we will have -- the only choice we have EVER had -- is the length and depth of our agony. Remember what it was that showed the "actor" he was alone in the theater: a single ray of light cast on the shadowy darkness. The actor is lost, the actor is in pain, the actor does not want to forget his fine "performances" and adoring "audience." But eventually, he will become curious about that light. He will find that when he gazes at it fully, his memories of the shadow world become like wisps of smoke, flitting and quickly forgotten. Astonishing himself, he will find the strength to stand, and summoning all of his courage, give his whole heart to that light until it bathes and illuminates him. And he will remember something so obvious that he will not know how he had forgotten it: that he IS the light, and his whole life had been spent looking for its substance in the nothingness of shadows. This will bring a smile to his face, and his laughter will bellow with such force that the walls of the theater will begin to crumple.

He will realize he is free, and always has been. He will see the way out. He will take his final bow before the fictional world of shadows, and take his first steps into the light of the real world.

We are all light, we are all laughter, and none of us is doomed to live a fictional life forever.

Article from Michael Goodspeed

Related: Ego - The False Center

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