An Insider's Guide to the
Perceptual Revolution

 
Deposing the Tyrant

   The ego is defined here as an amalgamation of qualities in each person that seek pleasure and comfort while following an overriding instinct to avoid threats to one's safety. The ego is like an iceberg: you can see a bit of it in how people consciously behave, but most of it lies far below the the conscious level of the psyche. This sublimation means that ego never rules us completely, but it also has an immense power to direct our conscious awareness from behind the scenes. 

In its neverending quest for security and comfort, the ego archetype often fights evolution toward higher ideals. This is not a product of any kind of perverse, evil or self-hating tendency, but rather, reflects the ego's visceral fear of the unknown. There's a certain logic to the ego's fear of change: dealing with something new and unknown carries an implicit risk, whereas you can definitely count on what is most familiar and certain in your life. Thus, whenever you begin to find a pathway out of your current situation or state of mind, the ego cries out "Wait! We have such a good thing going right here, and you're going to throw it all away for something that just might be safer and more comfortable?" If you refuse to heed the ego's warnings, it may become desperate and bar your path through more duplicitous internal maneuvers. This inner conflict, in which one side of a person's psyche works against the will of another, accounts for many of the neurotic habits in people's lives.

   The ego’s fear of losing the comfort of the known is closely connected to the innate fear of death.  The preconscious level of the ego is the part of each of us which endlessly holds on to the conviction that certain conflicts are actually the true self, even though other levels of ourselves know that this is a delusion.  This perspective gives it an interesting take on personal change; it believes that every time a conflict in the psyche is fundamentally resolved, a part of our true identity is destroyed.

Whenever we expand too far beyond our usual limits, the ego will worry that our security is threatened and kick into gear, taking actions to retard our personal growth. The main way that ego sabotages learning is to stir up habitual feelings or thoughts designed to limit our perspective.  The only way to get around this cycle of self-sabotage is to become intimately familiar with the ego’s tricks and expose them for what they are, in the full light of the psyche. This inner illumination allows qualities which had become separate to realize that they are part of the same core identity as the Higher Self and other archetypes within us.

One of the ego’s most successful tactics for avoiding change is the "Decoy Strategy," in which it convinces you that you're pursuing a more fulfilling outlook or behavior pattern when you are actually just getting entrenched in the same old habits. The ego only resorts to this kind of strategy when we have come too close to overcoming limitations which it regards as a source of safety, or when we are about to make deep personal changes which threaten its dominance over the psyche (since it assumes that the only way to keep you safe is to maintain this control).

Pride and self-pity

The ego’s two most effective tools for preventing us from changing our awareness are pride and self-pity.  Pride maintains the illusion of the real self aggressively, through feelings such as anger and defensiveness, while self-pity upholds that image by causing us to regard ourselves as hopeless victims.  In either state, we perceive ourselves as limited in our capacity to change, which allows the ego to not feel responsible for our true ideals.  In order to shatter the illusory limitations which the ego would impose upon us, we must learn to recognize devices such as pride and self-pity, and then we must cease to submit to the biased awareness which these states of mind induce.

Although the realization that our limitations are illusions can be painful, most of the self-pity and that we experience is another manipulation on the ego’s part.  That pesky little archetype knows from experience that self-pity is one of its most effective tricks to corral us back into the familiar boundaries of the known self, and has a massive arsenal of psychological devices that can throw us into a "poor me" mentality if we are not mindful. 

Most people have a strong sense of pride about who they are.  In our culture, pride is often considered an admirable quality.  Speaking in terms of consciousness, pride is the force which maintains the known self and prevents the higher self from becoming conscious.  Pride is a kind of self-infatuation which causes us constantly justify and validate who we seem to be, to the point where we forget who we can be.  Pride whispers in our ear to forget about everything else we could choose to be; it tells us that we are already our ideal.

Doubt is the antithesis of pride.  Only when people are willing to doubt themselves can they overcome the wall of pride which prevents them from seeing beyond their personal biases.  The window of doubt opens our minds to knowledge which lies outside the boundaries of our personal reality.

Opening negotiations

   In many ways, the ego regards itself as superior to the conscious self.  Aspects of the conscious self which do not fit its ideals are regarded as irrational or "less aware," and the ego childishly resents the fact that these aspects of our identity compete with its own wishes for dominance over the conscious self.  This is one reason that the ego usually operates on a covert basis; it believes that, since we are not consciously "responsible" enough to follow its every order, it is its duty to direct us from an unconscious vantage point.

Approaching the ego is a tricky affair.  If we give the it too much slack, it will run rampant; on the other hand, if we try to "beat it to death," it will feel threatened and retreat back to an unconscious level of the psyche.  We must keep in mind that the ego actually means well, but is also deluded.  This attitude allows us to approach the ego with a proper combination of sympathy and caution.

   We cannot end the ego's tyrannical rule by attempting to fight it.  Since the ego, collectively,  has access to almost all of the psyche, our limited conscious focus puts us at an incredible disadvantage.  The key to achieving reconciliation with one's ego is not to try to destroy it, but to learn to communicate with it.  The ego, after all, is a fragment of our total identity, so to simply "kill it" is not an option.  We can, however, break down the barriers which make the ego isolated in its perspectives and agendas.  Since the ego is an aspect of ourselves, we have the power to guide it toward building a rapport with the wisest aspects of our conscious identity. 

   We must keep in mind that the ego is deadly afraid of being dominated by what seems different from itself.  The only way that it will ever resolve this fear is to engage other aspects of the psyche on equal ground.  It is of crucial importance that one not approach the ego with competitiveness or ill intent; since it is essentially "you," it will know exactly what you are up to and withdraw even further into its elitism and self-isolation.  The aspects of our identity from which we approach the ego must be imbued with feelings of sincere love and understanding.

When the ego develops a greater trust for different aspects of the psyche, its protective walls begin to dissolve.  This is the beginning of a process in which the ego ceases to be an isolated entity, and becomes connected to the rest of one's psyche in a cooperative relationship.  The most important and integral qualities of the ego remain intact, but it no longer views itself as eternally removed from the rest of who we are.

The known self

   It is fully within each person's power to become aware of unconscious layers of the psyche.  Before we can achieve this more expansive perspective, however, we must be willing to release our attachment to the boundaries which define our personal known.  The ego is human beings' main obstacle to understanding the unknown.  Each level of the ego represents a certain aspect of the denial which keeps our existence cozily confined to the same old boundaries.

The personal known consists of everything which we take for granted.  When people think of their conscious identity as a constant, they become oblivious to the fact that the boundaries of what they know are always changing.  Our awareness can take very complex forms within the boundaries of the known, but as long as we submit to these walls, we will never know all that we are capable of knowing.

Overcoming the ego’s restrictions begins with learning to recognize its influence.  As we come to a sense of the ego's presence in our consciousness, we can begin to perceive and understand with the barriers which the ego attempts to bolster within us.  As we become intimately familiar with these internal boundaries, we can explore perspectives and insights which serve as pathways beyond the walls that the ego has erected.

Self-definition

   The ego rules the focus and direction of our awareness like a dictator.  It keeps us under its spell by attempting to suppress any thoughts or feelings which are at odds with the self-image from which it draws its security. 

When the ego dominates our perceptions, we continually seek to reaffirm what is most familiar in our lives.  We habitually define our identity by repeating an internal inventory of what we like or don't like, what makes us happy or sad or angry, and everything else we usually take for granted about our identity.  This compulsive need to pigeonhole ourselves arises from the preconscious ego’s desire to feel that the world and one's identity are "known," and therefore safe.  From this mindset, one sees anything that is unfamiliar or unknown as something separate from oneself.

All people play a conscious part in the ego's machinations.  One of the main psychological motivations for submitting to the ego’s control is a fear of being wrong.  In Western society, it often seems imperative to our survival that we be ready to defend our image of who we are, but it is often this very image that is our worst enemy.

Knowing the tyrant

The ego was not meant to be a tyrant.  Ideally, the ego would work in a symbiotic relationship with the rest of our consciousness, helping us to achieve greater fulfillment and self-realization in our lives.  

Most of the ego’s control arises from the fact that people believe its programs to be part of “who they are,” an essential component of the True Self.  There is a glimmer of truth to this feeling, but for the most part, it is just rationalization: there is little of the higher qualities of human consciousness in the ego's framework, so it is usually an impediment to self-realization. 

This archetype of human identity is something like a computer: once we can understand how it is programmed and how it functions, we can take a more direct command over it. The ego is made up mostly of endlessly "looping" algorithms of thought, emotion and behavior, so it can be de-programmed and re-programmed once you realize that you have this power.  Before we can tackle our deepest conditioning, however, we must come to recognize the ego it for what it is: a survival computer that has donned the idea of the True Self as a costume. Once the ego has convinced itself that it is "you," it spends most of its time shutting out all the other ways of being that you could potentially embody.

Most people’s greatest weakness in allowing the ego to control them is regarding it as real—as an inherent part of the self.  In fact, the ego is a transitory phenomenon; its conflicts can eventually be resolved, at which point the only remnant of their existence will be the lessons which we have learned from the experience.

Resisting the resistance

The ego wholeheartedly resists any shift toward a less dualistic perception of ourselves or other people.  One reason for this is that it believes that a dualistic sense of righteousness is the truest, most secure form of happiness that we can ever achieve.

Throughout all of the judgments which we have endured, the ego level of our identity has come to believe that the only way to remain confident and in control of our lives is to think of self-worth in relation to others.  This reflects the ego’s instinctive belief that personal security is synonymous with "being at the top of the food chain.”

The ego powerfully resists any consideration that we are truly equal to everybody else.  The source of this opposition is a fear that if we cease to judge others, we will lose one of our most reliable ways of feeling confident.

The ego fears the loss of dualistic perspectives because they are the foundation of most psychological defense mechanisms.  The mental math behind this is quite simple: "Resolving dualistic viewpoints = loss of defenses = heightened risk to self." In other words, ego fears that if we were left without our most tightly guarded defenses, we would not be able to protect ourselves from people and other things which seem to threaten our safety.

For example, reacting to certain kinds of behavior with anger accomplishes little or nothing in the way of personal growth, not to mention burning bridges and other rash moves which actually undermine our success in life.  Anger may allow us to feel righteous and powerful, but the mood of anger invariably turns any effort we make into an attempt to achieve a goal of dominance.   Most of the time, acting out in anger perpetuates a conflict rather than resolving it.

The ego is partly correct on this point, for human beings clearly need defenses to protect themselves from the various things which could harm them.  The flaw in the ego’s reasoning lies in its assumption that our current defenses are the best ones that we could ever choose. The ego is quite right in thinking that it makes no sense for us to have no defenses at all. There are, however, ways that each person can substitute one defense for another, incrementally infusing the ego with more adequate programs which engender a more holistic and rewarding way of dealing with life.  The trick is convincing this benevolent tyrant that "you," as your far more insightful core self, actually know what's best for you.

Indulging ourselves

   One of the ego's main agendas for shaping our consciousness involves keeping us grounded in the known self, and preventing us from exploring beyond.  Part of this dynamic involves the draining effect of emotional conflicts such as fear, shame, contempt, and rage.  These emotions drain us of the creative energy which is required to change our awareness. 

When we feel pride about our emotional conflicts, we waste creative energy justifying those conflicts.  This impedes our ability to change our perspectives so that we achieve freedom from those restrictive perspectives. 

When we resolve emotional conflicts at a fundamental level, we free creative energy that had been invested on entropy-based patterns.  Releasing this energy expands our focus; it also gives us an additional energy which we can rechannel toward enriching our awareness.

The conflict quota

   The ego craves the comfort of limitations.  One implication of this is that when we resolve a major internal conflict, the ego tries to replace it with a new conflict.  It is as if the ego has a certain quota to fill, a baseline level of dissatisfaction and strife; it seems to believe that something bad would happen if our consciousness became too harmonious and expansive.  Many of these implicit assumptions can be traced back to the preconscious ego.

Laughing in the face of tyranny

The ego loves to keep us from going too deep within ourselves; it constantly tries to curb our understanding so that our thoughts stay within comfortable boundaries.  Many widely practiced forms of meditation aim to calm the ego's constant nervous activity, which naturally makes it easier to cease self-defeating habits like denying our true possibilities. I have developed one such meditation technique, which I call "Laughing at the Tyrant."

It is important to always be able to view the ego with humor.  If we take it too seriously, we will become morose and self-deprecating, which is, in fact, only another of the ego’s tricks to keep us from resolving our deepest conflicts.  In order to overcome the ego's domination, we must come to regard its adherence to conflict as absurdly comical. The ideal way to do this is a maneuver in which we actually bring ourselves into the “ego zone” of ourselves while maintaining the perspective of joking irreverence. 

Humor is one of the only forces that can permanently dispel ego qualities, but in order to accomplish this, you must permeate it with the wisdom that you have gained throughout your life.  The ego tends to shy from critical emotions; the slightest trace of condemnation, and it withdraws past the point where we could integrate it with higher qualities of self.  Convincing the ego to let its guard down is a bit like taming a wild animal that keeps running back into the forest: it can tell whether you're really trying to feed it, or just throwing out poisoned bait. However, it identifies humor largely as a positive force because of its importance in coping with stress. Because of this, egoistic aspects of yourself can often be persuaded to come closer to consciousness if you are able to lovingly poke fun at them without making fun of them.

As long as your heart is open and you remain centered in the wisdom that the ego secretly craves, your Inner Protector will let go of even its most guarded illusions. Like all aspects of the psyche which have become marginalized, the ego knows that the only way forward is to bask in the light of your core knowledge. Learning to take yourself less seriously, as your ego, is a major step toward integrating this wayward archetype into a more harmonious whole.  


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© 1999, 2003 by Lucius R.  Ringwald.  All rights reserved.