Ego: The Ghost In Your Machinery

Illustration

Ego: The Ghost In Your Machinery© 2018 by Louis D. Cox, Ph.D
 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the author except in critical articles and reviews. Contact the publisher for information.
 

Book layout and cover design by Colin Rolfe.
eISBN 9781948796026
 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2018936223
 

Epigraph Books

22 East Market Street, Suite 304

Rhinebeck, NY 12572

(845) 876-4861

EpigraphPS.com

“The relevance of Freud to our time is largely his insight…that the ordinary person is a shriveled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be.
“As adults…we hardly know of the existence of the inner world.…We respect the voyager, the explorer, the climber, the space man. It makes far more sense to me as a valid project—indeed, as a desperately and urgently required project for our time—to explore the inner space and time of consciousness. Perhaps this is one of the few things that still makes sense in our historical context. We are so out of touch with this realm that many people can now argue seriously that it does not exist.”
R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (1967)
 

 

“If you bring forth that which is within you, that which you bring forth will save you.
“If you do not bring forth that which is within you, that which you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Saint Thomas, “The Gnostic Gospels”
 

 

“We begin to hear the self we actually are emerging out of our shadow selves, our counterfeit selves, our pretended selves. We become aware of what is in us, the best and the worst. Our best parts, if left unlived, can be as poisonous as our worst, if left unhealed.”
Ann & Barry Ulanov, Primary Speech (1982)

Table of Contents
Title Page

Copyright Page

Introduction - Waking Up and Waking Down

Section One - My Ego and My Self

chapter one - What Do You Think An Ego Is ?

chapter two - A Job Description of the Ego

chapter three - Does This Map Of The Ego Fit Your Experience ?

chapter four - The Ego’s Reinforcement/Reward Team

chapter five - How Are You Doing In Your Ego’s Eyes?

chapter six - The Ego’s Enforcement and Punishment Team

chapter seven - Seeing the Fearsome Threesome At Work Within

Section Two - My Truthplace and My Self

chapter eight - Using Personal Awareness to Expand Beyond the Grip of the Ego

chapter nine - What Do I See Inside Me With My Personal Awareness?

chapter ten - The Truthplace

chapter eleven - Living From The Truthplace

chapter twelve - On Pain, Pleasure, Safety and Wellbeing

chapter thirteen - Can We Be With Each Other Safely and Courageously?

chapter fourteen - Resource Document

chapter fifteen - Living In a Two-Sided Inner World

appendix a - Resources

appendix b - The Ego: Classifications and Types

Acknowledgments


Introduction
Waking Up and Waking Down
For several decades now, discovering what I am unaware of about myself has been my ongoing challenge and passion. And, as I have come to see it, this is the ongoing challenge for any conscious person.
It always strikes me as funny, in a humbling kind of way, that being a conscious person means accepting that I am also an unconscious person! This means accepting as fact that in any given moment there will be more going on within me than I’m aware of—“more” than what I already know or “see.” For example, in a conversation with a friend, I may be speaking in an angry tone of voice that I am completely unaware of, while he is being impacted and reacting exactly to that tone. Or, in another moment, I may be feeling unnecessarily hopeless because of an unconscious belief I am powerless, when in fact there are several options for action on my part. Those options will remain “out of view” as long as I don’t notice that disempowering belief and step away from it. The specific “more” that is hidden from me may be something that I am delighted to find out about, or it may be something that horrifies me, even scares the bejesus out of me!
So, to me, a “conscious person” is not someone who has his or herself all figured out or abides in some “enlightened” state of mind. “Conscious,” in my use of the word, does not indicate a permanent mental or emotional state. For me, being a conscious person is a moment to moment evolving and emerging inner experience. Living as a conscious person means two things: First, I have given up the belief that I am ever fully aware of everything that is available inside of me; and, second, that I remain interested in focusing my attention inside of me, in a curious and friendly way, as a continuous practice. I do this in order to discover what the hidden “more” that exists inside of me may be— both in any given moment of my day-to-day experience, and also when I chose to sit down and give myself some dedicated time to look inward.
Of course, as with any person, there are certain things about me that I am more or less permanently aware of. For example, I may be consistently aware that I can count on my creativity to help me solve complicated problems, or I may have an abiding awareness of loving my wife and children. Being a conscious person in my definition just means that in a given moment there is always more going on inside of me, and inner capacities available to me, than I ever notice at first glance, even about that “known” love and creativity.
Waking Up and Waking Down
In what is considered “normal” moment-to-moment experience, awareness stays focused on whatever content is already “within” it. The normal, deeply held belief in our culture is that there are no inner experiences going on within us—and no inner capacities we might call on—that may lie outside the edges of the current focus of our attention. If you think of awareness as a spotlight, the belief would be that whatever the spotlight shines on includes everything there is to be seen or accessed. There is nothing that exists in the darkness outside of the spotlight.
I am aware that acting as a conscious person (in my definition) steps out of the norms for our culture. In our culture, normal is:


“I know who I am.”
“I have nothing to hide.”
“What you see is what you get.”
“What I’m giving is all I’ve got.”
“I already know everything I think, feel, and believe.”
“I have no inner capacities that I am not already accessing in this current moment.”


The recognition by a conscious person that none of the above “normal assumptions” are ever actually totally true takes that conscious person out of the tribe of “normals” and puts him or her in what the culture would consider some category of “abnormal,” “weird,” or unacceptable.
So besides the potential of being empowering and liberating, being a conscious person who expresses curiosity about his inner life can also be socially risky. Much of what is written in the body of this book is meant to generate respect and compassion for what it takes to live as a conscious person within groups (or tribes) that are deeply deluded about the reality of the following duality: the co-existence of our awareness in the moment, and of our unawareness in that same moment. There are great benefits to holding this duality consciously, but it often takes courage to be open to the co-existence of both, and to the personal truths that can arise into awareness as a result of this openness. It can take willingness to suffer interpersonal judgments and blows to our self-image when one encounters uncomfortable personal truths.
New Tribes
As so many of us have discovered, becoming a conscious person places us in a new tribe—a tribe of committed “awareness expanders.” Finding other members of this tribe can be a challenge, but, when we do, it can feel like finally finding a true home. This book is in part a call to create more of these conscious collectives. The members of this tribe have let go of being “normal.” They know that “normal” means “stay out of your insides.” Members of this tribe of awareness expanders have turned “normal” on its head. They know that a dedicated practice of looking within is believed by the general culture to be abnormal, dangerous, weird, or self-indulgent, but they have discovered that this cultural belief is inaccurate, that it is a distortion of our natural, felt connection to all of our inner experiences and to all of our inner capacities. We suffer profound losses as a result of this cultural aversion to turning our attention to the experience of our inner world, including disconnection from inner capacities such as insight, intuition, creativity, and emotional intelligence. The dominant cultural belief brings about the thievery of the essential guidance provided to us by these inner capacities.
“Awareness expanders” have discovered that the avoidance of looking within results in creating and maintaining an experience of endarkenment, rather than promoting the experience of expanding enlightenment. They are committed to continuously expanding the perimeter of that aforementioned “spotlight” into the darkness that lies beyond it in any given moment of personal experience. Those of us who have become lifetime members of this tribe know this means we will be consistently using our own awareness to look into our own unawareness, and we will be discovering what we are not aware of about ourselves for the rest of our lives!!
This book is dedicated to the many, many tribes of committed awareness expanders. If you are a member of such a tribe, whether a beginner or an elder, then you know we have all entered into a continuous process of “waking up” from learned illusions and delusions about who we are and who we are not, and (hopefully) a process of “waking down” into direct contact with the trustworthy guidance of our own inner knowing moment to moment. This is our ‘path.’ We know that ‘walking’ this path can be both liberating and harrowing. We know too that while walking this path we can find our way and lose it many times over. A double wish embedded in writing this book is to help shorten the time spent “lost” and to help lengthen the moments we live within the liberating times of being “found.”
Questions On My Path
After fifty years or so of using psychotherapy, meditation, and various other methods of expanding and deepening my own self-awareness, what has come to interest me most is captured in the following questions:
• What are the forces within me that “endarken” me rather than “enlighten” me?
• From where do they arise?
• Why do they want to control what I am aware of?
• Why do they want to keep me blind to certain self-truths?
• How do they control my self-awareness?
• Why are they so persistent?
• Do I have any control over their presence within me?
• Can I get rid of them … in a given moment? … or permanently?
• Why do they keep coming back after periods of feeling free of them?
• Is there a place inside of me that is free of their control?
• If it exists, how do I find and access that place?
• What can I do to preserve my contact with that place moment to moment?
This is not a book about our simple ignorance about ourselves—that kind of ignorance, or not knowing, can be cured by someone simply pointing out what you don’t know. That’s easy. This book will surely give you some additional help seeing what you don’t know about yourself. But, more crucially, this is a book that will help you see more clearly what it is within you that actively and continuously keeps you from seeing a great deal of what is true about yourself and is available to you for personal guidance. Yes, it is a book to assist you in waking up to how much more is available to you within, but, again more importantly, the book’s purpose is to help you to wake up to how much your awareness in each moment is in fact being determined by inner forces that operate automatically and outside your ordinary awareness. Let me give you an example of such a moment of my own waking up early in my life to the presence of these forces.
A Wake Up Moment
A twenty-seven-year-old psychology graduate student is standing, stunned and frozen, in front of the door to his first psychotherapist’s office. That student was me, fifty years ago. I was about to have my second session, and even though his office was only five blocks from the hospital where I worked, I almost didn’t make it there. Let me tell you what led to my standing in front of his office door in that stunned and frozen state of mind. It was one of my early experiences of what I am calling “waking up” to the forces of endarkenment.
My first session with my therapist had taken place a week earlier. In that session, I had revealed to him that I had a persistent feeling of not being ‘good enough,’ of some unknown thing being wrong with me. This was an embarrassing secret for me to reveal. He re-cast this revelation into the statement: “It sounds like you’re walking around with a measuring stick.” He made it sound like I was in some kind of competition. For reasons I didn’t understand at the time, I felt a surge of shame rise within me as a reaction to his interpretation. Without thinking about it, I automatically covered over the feeling of shame as quickly and effectively as I could, making light of the moment. I had no idea how powerful that moment was until it was time for my second session, scheduled a week away at noon.
On the appointed day, I didn’t remember my second appointment until a quarter past noon… already fifteen minutes late. I dashed out of the hospital to walk the five blocks to his office. I knew very well where his office was and how to get there, but I ended up walking a block past the street his building was on before I realized I had missed the turn. I made the correction and then proceeded to walk down his street, right past his office building for fifty yards or so again before realizing I had done so. After I finally made it into his building, I exited the elevator and headed down the hallway to his office. But again, without realizing it, I had turned the wrong way once more and was heading in the opposite direction of his office.
It was after correcting that final wrong turn that I ended up standing stunned in front of his office door before ringing to go in. It dawned on me in that moment: “Wow! Some part of me does not want to get to this session!” On top of almost “forgetting” my appointment, there were just too many wrong turns for me to miss the message from my interior. Some part of me, a part that I was not conscious of until that moment, was actively trying to prevent me from keeping that second appointment. How come? Apparently that part of me had a mind and will of its own!
That early experience of being run by inner forces I was not aware of, and that I was not in control of, was one of many such experiences to follow. In the fifty years since, my respect and appreciation has continued to grow for just how frequently my conscious feelings, choices, beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and reactions are actually being influenced, and often determined in limiting and harmful ways, by inner forces I am not conscious of. And so as well has my respect and appreciation for the persistence and tenacity of those endarkening forces’ efforts to keep me unconscious of their presence.
With time, help, and experience, I became more and more aware of how those forces had placed disabling limits on my capacities for loving, for intimacy with others, for standing up for myself, for knowing when a relationship is safe or not, for inner strength and calm, and for the development of my own personal authority, amongst other impacts. Those forces also kept me blind to my own hostility and hurtfulness, to my prejudices, to my coldness, to my arrogance, to my shame and self-doubt, as well as to my need for others and my vulnerability to their rejection and disapproval. Becoming aware of these forces has enabled me to step out of their grip and step into a continuing expansion of my authenticity, openness, compassion, connection to others, and empowerment.
My need to hide my feeling of shame from myself and from my therapist in that first session was an introduction to the power of shame within me, and to the desperate need to avoid feeling it myself, much less admitting its presence to someone else. A primary challenge I continue to meet at the leading edge of the growth of my own self-awareness and the evolution of my own authentic personhood is to find the courage and the compassion to tolerate the unique discomfort and fear of pushing past shame—the shame I have carried, and still carry, about acknowledging and expressing many core and natural aspects of myself.
Something like what happened to me has happened to many of you. Something woke us up, made us realize that indeed we were doing a version of sleepwalking; made us realize we were not aware of whole pieces of our native selves; realize that we had been selectively endarkened to those pieces. We realized there was more to us than meets the “I.” As part of this awakening, we have frequently been blessed with pleasant and enlightening discoveries about ourselves—for example, discoveries of unknown capacities for love, joy, creativity, self-assertion, courage, and inner peace. But we have also hated and feared what we’ve discovered because those hidden aspects of ourselves were dosed with shame and fearfulness (the “bad me”). Some examples of these types of wake-ups might include reconnecting to inner powers we have been terrorized or shamed out of using or trusting. Or they might include previously unfelt and forbidden feelings of anger, fear, hurt, and grief. Many of us have also discovered unresolved interpersonal traumas, often dosed with crippling shame.
The Power of Active Unconsciousness
I’ve joked around with colleagues and friends about my being more interested in “endarkenment” than I am in enlightenment. There is truth in the kidding, though, in the sense of my intense curiosity about what un-enlightens me, and others; about what keeps me blind to some things about myself that may be plainly visible to others, both inner strengths and inner flaws. My curiosity arises from a deep knowing that exposing the endarkening forces within me to the light of my own awareness is one of the essential keys to continuing my movement into greater personal freedom, power, and authenticity.
Like I said earlier, what is kept hidden from me by these forces could be something I would be glad to claim for myself, or alternatively could be something I am horrified to discover may be true of me. But I know my conscious self has little to do with the choice to keep something hidden in the first place. It has become my focus to uncover what the “something” is within me that decides for me what to let me see and what to keep hidden from me, what it is in me that, after the liberating experience of an emotional or spiritual breakthrough, manages to shut my experience down again. I have come to see this post-awakening experience of being shut down by the endarkening forces as virtually a predictable event.
Growing numbers of us “awareness expanders” have discovered the existence within us of a “something” that enforces our endarkenment, a “something” that tells us who we are and who we are not; who we’re supposed to be, and who we’re not supposed to be. This discovery is a bit like waking up from a hypnotic trance. This “something” had functioned in fact like a permanent “altered state of consciousness”—one that somehow became our second nature. We ended up identifying with this altered state. And this endarkened version of ourselves came to be simply “me.” This altered or adjusted version of ourselves is what we as a culture consider “normal.”
This altered, endarkened state was “permanent” until we were somehow “snapped out of it.” Of course we had no idea we were in some kind of trance. We had thought: “I’m just me; this is who I am.” As long as we were content with, even proud of, that ‘me,’ we just sailed along. And if we were unhappy and ashamed of that ‘me,’ well, we suffered and slogged along, endlessly trying to be more acceptable to ourselves and to those who mattered to us.
Initially we may have wandered along this bumpy path of waking up and self-recovery feeling more or less confused about what this new information about ourselves meant, and about what to do with it. If I am not who I thought I was, then who am I really? And is who I really am acceptable? And what do I do about the experiences of finding positive aspects of myself and then losing contact with them again? And what makes me fear certain aspects of myself, even abhor them? And what makes sustaining change in my relationship to myself such an iffy process?
Many of us now know that waking up is a process. We also know we can actively participate in the process of our own waking up, and in the release from the grip of our conditioned, self-destructive, socially-accepted altered states of consciousness, that we can make deliberate, conscious choices about healing the division in us into a “good me” and a “bad me,” and we can keep moving towards regaining our wholeness. So we have continued to meditate, practice self-inquiry, use psychotherapy, find teachers and coaches, do workshops and retreats, practice yoga, pray, chant, listen to our bodies, join groups of fellow travelers, and so on.
But still we suffer. We slip and slide. We seem to regress as we seek to progress. We bump into dark matter we didn’t know was within us. Old and familiar demons arise to push us backwards or hold us in some stagnant or self-defeating place. Disappointment, despair, resignation, or depression can take hold. The forces of endarkenment too often seem to regain control of our evolution.
The Ghost in the Machinery
This endarkening “something” became a major focus of my self-exploration. I have for many years been dedicated to making it more conscious. Its presence in every human being with whom I have ever had a deep relationship—be it my wife, friends, clients, colleagues, my siblings, or my own children—has become an undeniable fact for me. I have come to understand that its universal presence must be accepted and made conscious. If it is not, we will forever remain in its grip, individually and collectively. Its methods of keeping us endarkened in the first place, and then un-enlightening us when we do wake up, must be made visible. How it retakes inner ground we have gained, or robs us of what we have repossessed about ourselves, must be exposed. This “something” must be seen for the active, controlling, and independent inner force that it is. It has a mind of its own. It is the ghost in our inner machinery. If we don’t see it, we will be caught in the self-destructive trap of blaming ourselves for that within us that is automatically self-destructive, diminishing, and out of our control.
Being Seasoned On The Path
In spite of the efforts of this inner endarkening force to push us off the path of waking up, growing numbers of us have stuck it out. We have discovered that it ends up being much more painful to quit the path of waking up than to stay on it. I kid my clients when they realize they can’t quit. I tell them they are now “doomed to consciousness.” Recognition of that truth usually brings a rueful, knowing laugh.
I had a client who had for many years been on his own wake-up path from living in the grip of his bully mentality, which was devoted to power and intimidation. Painful losses of friendships and marriages had deepened this client’s realizations of how the early development of his super-autonomous, bully thinking and behavior had painfully distorted his life experience. His clarity also grew regarding how the old ways of operating still fought his current intention to develop kindness and compassion for himself and others.
Besides moving through the challenges he had met confronting his bully ways, he was also dealing with a life-threatening progressive physical illness. This physical illness was just one of several instances of life “intruding” and pushing him towards waking up to a need for greater self-compassion and honesty about his vulnerability. This awareness did not surface within him without a variety of inner “attacks.” For example, there was criticism for not waking up sooner, as well as a critical voice asking him, “Why bother so late in life?” He was seventy-seven years old. His bully belief that “neediness” was weak created feelings of shame when experiencing his own vulnerability. He called himself a “sissy.” This part of him saw his movement toward openheartedness and trust as setting him up for nothing but pain and victimhood.
At the same time, he had never felt happier or more intimately connected to himself and others. His more current experience of being loved and loving was new to him, and treasured. He was finding his own way of walking the line between being open to love and loving while also learning when and how to protect his heart from the insensitivity of others. Love and loving was new to him, but so were new ways to use his “power” to protect himself. For example, he now exercised his power not by dominating and frightening people, but by simply expressing to them the hurt or disappointment they had caused him.
When I would ask him how he was doing, he would often say, “Never better, never worse.” This expression fit the two-sided nature of his waking-up process—of opening and closing, of joy and pain, of remembering and forgetting, and of the back and forth between the grip of his conditioned inner shame and the freedom of living in accordance with his inner truth, moment to moment. His humor also reflected the “seasoning” of his awareness. He often started our sessions, half kiddingly, with, “Well listen, you know I don’t want to feel any sucky feelings, right? You know what I am here for, right? Permanent bliss! Can you give it to me?” I’d laughingly tell him “no,” and he would respond, “Well alright then, let’s get down to business.”
Many of us have been matured and seasoned while walking this path of expanding our awareness of our inner selves. The path has taken us deeper and deeper into the truth of our own inner experience. We know the benefits of this deepening but we also know the costs. We have discovered our path is not laid out before us. Our unique path cannot be known ahead of time, by us or anybody else. Our path is created and discovered as we walk it. It emerges with each conscious or unconscious foot we put in front of the other. Someone once described it as “building the bridge as you’re walking across it.” It emerges in our finding our own unique balance between our need to belong and our need for autonomy. This balance shifts from one moment to the next. We’ve learned that our steps will create a balanced and authentic path of waking up as long as we continuously remember to stop, look, and listen for our own deep inner knowing…and hopefully remember to do so sooner rather than later.
But How Come?
But how come we so easily and regularly “forget” to stop, look, and listen? How come we go back into what many call a “trance state?” How come we keep getting it and losing it; remembering who we really are and then forgetting? How come we abandon the voice of inner truth? How come waking up can be so difficult and tricky? We all may have experienced spontaneous moments of grace, revelation, and release. Still, in so many ways the path looks and feels like a battlefront—a battlefront with powerful, insidious, unseen forces determined to keep us endarkened, keep us lost, confused, or even put us back to sleep. These forces can fill us with fear, shame, and self-doubt, or do the opposite and fill us with new self-righteous convictions and blind psycho-spiritual arrogance—like the colleague who told me he was “fully psychoanalyzed” and was no longer unconscious of anything about himself!! These are forces that we cannot see clearly; like ghosts lying in ambush for us along the path, ready to pull us into the thickets of undeserved shame and/or false defensive pride.
The Ego
I am clear that what I will be calling the “ego” is the inner “ghost in the machinery” in charge of these ”endarkening forces.” I am clear that our egos are acting out interpersonal survival strategies we learned as youths. They are trying to keep us both safe within our tribes and self-respecting at the same time. Our egos use repression, believed beliefs, and certain rewards and punishments to keep us deluded about who we really are.
I am also clear that for most of us there is a great deal that remains unseen and confusing about what I am calling an ego. If we can’t see that our egos are both real and not who we really are, then we will be at their mercy. If we can’t see clearly the shadow forces the ego uses to keep us deluded, we will fight a losing battle, and we will continue to be plagued by the belief that our lack of progress or failures on the path of waking up to our real selves are our own fault —that we are doing it to ourselves; that somehow we prefer suffering and delusion to living in the truth of who we are; that there really is something wrong with us. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. We are deluded into assuming we are in control of our change process when we are not. And we are deluded into believing we can’t change when we can. This is why we need to make this ghost in our inner machinery and its tactics of deception and endarkenment more visible, to take off its cloak of invisibility.
The ghost, what I am calling the ego, wants to stay invisible. It wants to keep us deluded. A successful delusion is one you don’t see. The ego wants to keep us split and twisted within ourselves, but make us believe this state is our true nature. Its job is to keep us in its altered state of consciousness. and to keep us unconscious of our unconsciousness about ourselves. What a neat trick. And it is also dedicated to keeping us unaware of and disconnected from what I call our inner “Truthplace.” The Truthplace is the place within us where we access our true selves from moment to moment. The ego keeps us disconnected for what it believes to be our “best interest,” regarding both our need for acceptance by those who matter to us, as well as for the sake of maintaining some sense of acting from free choice. The ego’s success in doing its job effectively depends on it operating in stealth mode.
But if the ego is an actual internal reality, could we uncover its essential nature, structure, and purpose? I have called it “the ghost in the machinery” of our interpersonal operating systems. Could this ghost be uncovered in a way such that each of us could actually “see” it operating within us? Could we become clear not only that each of us has an ego, but also learn what our own personal ego is actually like? And if we do all have one, can we get clearer about why? What it is good for? What are its limits and downsides?
Equally important, if we are something more than what our egos tell us we are, what might that “something more” include ? If that “something more” is a more accurate, more expanded version of who we really are, how do we draw closer to that? If that “something more” is a positive asset, how do we nourish its emergence? And if the “more” is something we have learned to be afraid or ashamed of, how do we work through those conditioned reactions? These are the questions for which this book seeks to provide answers.
My Intention
My guiding intention for this book is this: I want to make a contribution to our process of self-recovery and self-realization that makes this process both more user-friendly and more potent. I have watched too many people, myself included, get caught by the forces of endarkenment; caught in nasty, self-destructive cycles of confusion, self-doubt, and self-hatred in the process of doing good, honest work on their inner lives. I have witnessed an almost universal blindness to the presence of the ghosts in our machinery—our egos—as they stealthily do their work.
What the ego is actually trying to accomplish for its host has remained unclear and confused, and shrouded in unhelpful negative judgments. We need to decriminalize having an ego. Everyone has one. The fact that its job is to find a way to preserve our safety and acceptability in our tribes, while simultaneously preserving our sense of self-respect and autonomy, has not heretofore been spelled out. And how the ego accomplishes this dual task—how it actually works within us; how it controls us—has remained mysterious, hidden from our view. Our egos have remained largely in stealth mode.
So the first part of my contribution will be to more clearly identify what the ego is and how it has been both friend and foe within us regarding our process of self-development, and how to more clearly identify the difference between what is me and what is my ego. It is meant to be an owner’s guide to the mechanics of the ego, as well as a guide to its disempowerment.
The “job description” of the ego that is laid out in the first half of this book, through a combination of documents and dialogues, is designed to help you “see” your own ego “in living color,” as it operates within you, to help you not only know that you do have one, but to know what yours is like and how it works. It is designed to make the ghost visible and palpable, to bring your ego out of stealth mode. Then you can decide how you want to relate to your own ego. Then you can move from being possessed by your ego to possessing it—from being mostly ego-possessed to being more and more self-possessed. And with more and more self-possession comes more and more authenticity and empowerment.
The second part of my contribution to our process of self-recovery and self-realization is this: to provide supports that insure the process of separating “me” from my “ego” is securely grounded in greater access to our potent inner resources of felt, trustable, direct knowing and self-discovery—more grounded in skillful access to what I will be calling our Truthplace. When I am connected to my Truthplace I experience being in the flow of a powerful “something” that opens, reveals, clears, clarifies, creates, appreciates, undoes what needs to be undone, and ties together what needs to be reunited within me.
To turn these intentions into the lived experience of individual and collective self-recovery and self-realization, I offer not just the “maps” describing the unique inner “territories” of both the ego and the Truthplace, but also the tools for navigating these territories. These tools or methods can be used both as an individual and within groups of like-minded fellow travelers. Over the past fifty plus years of my work as a psychotherapist, organizational consultant, and awareness trainer, I have found these maps and methods to be helpful to the hundreds of individuals and groups, and to the many organizations, I have been privileged to work with and learn from.
Using these practices accomplishes several outcomes: more conscious, more accurate visibility of the ego at work within us, and more clarity that my ego is not me and I am not my ego. This awareness and clarity then fosters a release from its constricting grip. Once the ego’s endarkening grip is weakened, our awareness is freed to be used to find deeper, more reliable access to the already present internal source of all the inner qualities which we seek: more compassion, authenticity, authority, personal power, open-mindedness, trustworthy inner self-guidance, and loving connection with ourselves and others. This ever-present inner source, our inner Truthplace, is where we find the clarity, compassion, capacity, and courage to live from one moment to the next in conscious awareness of both our deep need for each other’s embrace and our deep need to be true to ourselves—without denying or minimizing the power of either need.
Book Format
The book is divided into two sections with several chapters in each. The first section is named “My Ego And My Self.” This section is devoted to the description of what the ego does and how it does it, and to the differentiation between “me and my ego.” The second section is called “My Truthplace And My Self.” This section is devoted to the description of what the Truthplace is, what it contains, what it does, where it is, and how to consciously and deliberately access it.
The exploration and mapping of the ego and the Truthplace taken up in this book alternates between the didactic documents written by me, and dialogues in response to those documents between myself and several participants in a fictional workshop. The workshop, the participants, and the dialogues are fictionalized. The participants are composite characterizations of some of the many real people I have known and worked with as individuals and in groups over my fifty plus years as a professional. The dialogues, while not real, are meant to capture the substance and feel of the thousands of real dialogues that have occurred between myself and my individual clients, and with those clients who have participated in the many workshops I have led. Chapter One introduces the workshop participants through their dialogues with me about their current understanding of what an ego is. The following chapters alternate between descriptive documents written by me, followed by dialogues between myself and the members of the workshop in response to those documents.
I have chosen this format for the book to provide the reader not only with the verbal maps of the ego and the inner Truthplace, but also with the experience of those maps being translated into living experiences by people sharing how those maps either fit or don’t fit as descriptions of their own inner territories—and how they illuminate their inner experience or fail to do so. Maps are helpful, even necessary, for the guidance they provide. But they are not the actual territory they depict. The map may help you find your way into and around the territory, but it will never reveal what you will discover when actually traversing the territory. You can learn a lot from a map about a physical landscape you are about to hike through, but you will not know the landscape until you actually walk it. I believe you, the reader, will find much to identify with within the experiences of the different workshop participants. You will also find that what is described within the documents is clarified and fleshed out through the participants entering and traversing the different actual inner terrains of experience while using my maps of both the ego and the Truthplace. I view my descriptive documents as the equivalent of mapping one’s DNA, and the dialogues as an expression of that DNA in embodied experience.

Section One
My Ego and My Self

chapter one
What Do You Think An Ego Is ?
The Workshop Begins
 

 

 

Lou: You have all chosen to be a part of this workshop out of both a curiosity about the notion of an “ego” and from a desire to find a way out of some way you are feeling stuck in your own personal development. Thank you for being here and for your curiosity. Let’s first see about collecting some descriptions of your experiences that might relate to the concept of “ego.” There is much confusion around the word “ego” and what it points at. There is also much confusion about whether one has an ego or not, and whether there is any difference between my “me” and my ego. Let’s explore some of that confusion. What does the word “ego” conjure up for you?
 

Matt: I’m pretty clear that I have an ego. But I am confused about whether an ego is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, having an ego seems to mean having self-confidence and self-esteem. On the other hand, it seems to mean being arrogant, self-righteous, and a bully. Are there good and bad egos?
 

Lou: This is part of the confusion. If having an ego, meaning having self-confidence and self-esteem, is a good thing, can there be too much of a good thing? And your question about “good and bad” egos raises the notion of types of egos. Maybe all egos are not the same?
 

Mary: Where I come from the ego is nothing but a problem. The ego is a bad thing, and it just gets in the way of my being helpful to others. In my world getting rid of the ego is the goal.
 

Lou: This is another point of view, especially in many religions and spiritual practices. In these systems of thinking the ego is a very real internal force and is seen as “private enemy number one.” This perspective is held in many team situations too, isn’t it? That expression, “Leave your ego at the door,” captures this same belief. The ego is seen as self-centered in a negative and destructive way to good teamwork.
 

Willa: Several years ago I had what I will call a spiritual experience. It was profound and is hard to describe without sounding crazy. I had been a meditator for many years and had many experiences of the benefits of my practice. A few years ago I began studying with a meditation master, an Indian from a Hindu tradition. In one group session this incredibly beautiful blue light appeared inside me and filled me with a deep sense of peace, vast spaciousness, ecstasy, and love. It was amazing and yet felt natural at the same time. I knew this experience was an expression of my true nature, that this was my real being expressing itself, and that this was not just some nice idea but a real, live experience.
I was a different person after that meditation. I was happy, at ease with myself. I found joy and pleasure in the simplest of things, like just sitting in the sun or watching kids play. I carried that experience with me for at least a year—until I fell in love with someone. At first that was all bliss all the time too. But then we started having fights and pretty quickly I crashed and the relationship blew up and I felt worse and worse. I couldn’t get back to what I thought was my true nature and those wonderful feelings. I thought I had finally been freed from all my negative thinking and feeling. I don’t know if those thoughts and feelings were my ego. Now I wonder whether those good feelings were even real. I wonder what is real. Nothing good seems reliable to me. And I feel like I screwed up a beautiful gift, like somehow I may not be meditating the right way or with enough devotion or something. I feel lost and depressed about it.
 

Lou: A huge disappointment.
 

Willa: For sure.
 

Lou: And lots of confusion about what’s going on inside you, whether or not it has anything to do with ego. As well as some sense you’re to blame for losing that state of bliss and getting caught in negativity again. If this is the ego at work, why would it come back again? And how could it make you forget what you felt you knew so clearly? Right?
 

Willa: Right.
 

Lou: So if it is the ego, your experience of the ego would certainly be a painful, negative one.
 

Willa: Absolutely!
 

Lucas: I just want to piggyback onto what Willa just shared. My experience feels similar, but different too. I have been to shrinks on and off over the years for panic attacks and dips in my self-confidence, and it has been helpful. Well, at the beginning of last year I had a real crash in confidence after being thrown out of a partnership in a hedge fund. A friend of mine had gone to an intensive therapy workshop, and some time after my being kicked to the curb he was telling me about how it changed him. I decided it might be the right thing for me at the right time. I didn’t know what else to do. I was feeling pretty desperate.
The workshop was five days and evenings of group therapy, role playing, psychodrama, and lectures. I was very skeptical at first. We all went back into our family histories and got to re-experience what it was like to be a kid in our families. To my surprise, it got so much clearer both that I’ve always had trouble really feeling alright inside of myself and about why I have had so much trouble feeling okay. It was like a dam broke inside me. I discovered feelings I didn’t know I had. I didn’t know how much rage I had pent up inside me, or how much buried shame I was carrying. I won’t go into the whole story. Well, by the end of the workshop I was flying. I felt free. I felt all right, really all right as a person, for the first time in my life, without having to perform. It was really different. I couldn’t wait to get home and share my new found self with my wife. I wanted to connect with her with my new self and recover some of the love we felt for each other in the beginning of our relationship. She couldn’t feel what I was feeling, couldn’t connect with me. Truth is she’s been pretty pissed at me for quite a while. I felt that disconnection and it pissed me off. With that I closed down.
I felt so crushed to go from that high to so closed down. They warned us at the end of the workshop that we were probably in for a rollercoaster ride of feelings. But wow! I didn’t expect to be slammed that way. That’s a year ago. I think I’m different from the workshop, but I never got that really free feeling back again. Like Willa, I don’t really know what happened and whether or not that was my ego coming back. I know what came back was really familiar, just a hell of lot more painful now that I had been free of it for a moment. At least Willa got a year. I got about twenty-four hours of freedom post-workshop.
 

Lou: Again, horribly disappointing.
 

Lucas: And scary…like I’m doomed or maybe have depression.
 

Lou: Yes. And again, if this is the ego at work, what is it doing? Why shut you down? You didn’t sit down with yourself and consciously choose to shut down. It happened to you. It was automatic. If this “something” we are calling the ego shut you down, it would appear it has a mind of its own, wouldn’t it?
 

Lucas: Sounds a little schizophrenic.
 

Lou: Or like multiple personalities, I know!
 

Gabe: I think the ego is necessary for functioning in life. I wouldn’t have called it my ego. For me, my ego was my sense of self, my sense of belonging here, of my right to take care of myself. If I didn’t have a good sense of self I’d be at the mercy of others’ agendas and I wouldn’t have any self-motivation or self-respect. If that’s my ego, then my ego was an ally, a strength. That strength has helped me be successful in my life and protected me from being taken advantage of. The only reason I’m curious now about the notion of ego is because I’ve lost a sense of meaning in my life. Actually, I don’t know if I ever had it. I just did what I was supposed to do as a man, and did it well. That’s all good. I’ve been very successful as an entrepreneur. I’m proud of all that. But in this part of my life—I’m forty-eight now—I seem to be coming up empty on the inside and I don’t like the feeling. I have a hunch this somehow relates to this notion of an ego.
 

Lou: This is another way the word is used…to point to something that gives us a strong sense of self and that motivates us to take care of ourselves, to respect ourselves. In this sense of the word, the ego is an ally, a part of our survival equipment. It can give us a sense of entitlement and worth. And most importantly, it creates a sense of acceptability and safety within the groups that matter to us, our tribes.
I think your hunch is accurate. I think when we see more clearly how the ego operates inside us, we will see that it twists our experience of meaning and purpose to accommodate its own purpose. It seems that for whatever our egos give us that may have value, it demands that we give up something else of value about ourselves in exchange.
 

Gabe: Being a man, I find I am often getting some kind of feedback about my “male ego.” From my guy friends, that feedback is my male ego is a good thing and I should be more that way. From women, it’s that my male ego is getting in the way of our relationship. But then the women don’t seem to like it if I am not masculine enough. Very confusing.
 

Lou: So here “ego” points to a certain admired way of being for membership in a particular group: the male community. There are certain qualities you are supposed to have and behaviors you are supposed to exhibit if you are a man. And those qualities get you accepted by your male tribe, but may get you rejected by others. I would also assume that when you are amongst your guy friends and you are feeling you’re meeting those expectations of maleness that you feel pretty good inside.
 

Gabe: Sure. I feel like I belong. Sometimes I feel superior to some of the other guys who are not so sure of themselves. “Who’s up and who’s down” goes on a lot in our circle. Mostly it’s friendly, but it feels good when you’re more on top of your game than the others.
 

Lou: So there is some internal reward for succeeding at the demands of having a male ego: Good feelings inside, confidence, maybe even superiority, invincibility, and pride. And as well there are some external rewards too: You are looked up to, admired, envied?
 

Gabe: Yes, that’s true. But I’m starting to feel “so what?” It’s lost its juice to be the big guy. And on top of that it’s gotten confusing around women
 

Lou: Yes. And to add to the confusion, we also know that the social expectations of how males and females are supposed to be and to act have been changing in recent decades.
 

Liz: I’ve known forever that my ego is a perfectionist. It demands I do everything right…no mistakes allowed!
 

Lou: Makes you strive but probably also tortures you?
 

Liz: Yes!
 

Lou: So when you do something perfectly, how do you feel?
 

Liz: I feel great! I’ve been super successful in my work life. I feel in control and competent. I like the compliments I get. I like it when people are amazed at how much I get done, and how well I do it. I like it when people look to me as the “go to” person. I guess there is a bit of superiority that goes with that. I am better than other people at getting certain things done.
 

Lou: Sounds like it is a fact that you are better at some stuff than other people. The good feelings and the facts are linked up, but they are different realities, aren’t they? But at any rate, when you get it done perfectly, or close thereto, you get some good rewards, both in terms of how you feel inside and how others feel about you, how they see you. What happens if whatever you’re doing doesn’t get done perfectly?
 

Liz: I am merciless with myself. I really give myself a beating. I kind of yell at myself internally…sometimes out loud too. I’ve always felt this was how to stay on top of things. But I can also get real depressed and end up nonfunctional for stretches of time.
 

Lou: So there is a serious upside and a serious downside to the perfectionism you think your ego demands.
 

Liz: I don’t know if it is me or my ego doing the demanding. I don’t know if I can tell the difference. I guess I don’t know if there is a difference. I do know that I’d like to find a way to perform really well without the downside. It takes the joy out of it all. And I find I am losing some friends along the way too.
 

Lou: Well that’s precisely what we’re up to here, isn’t it? Asking and seeking to answer these questions: Is there a difference between me and my ego? If there is, what is it? And, is there a way to keep the upsides and lose the downsides of how we are currently operating?
 

Mary: As I said before, I was raised to believe that having an ego is bad. It meant you were prideful—one of the seven deadly sins, an offense to God. Being humble was good, being self-effacing, putting other people’s needs ahead of mine was being good. This has often backfired in real life. But I still feel bad when I feel good about myself, or when my own needs jump up inside me.
 

Lou: So for you, having an ego, in the sense of feeling proud about yourself, is a bad thing. This dilemma is more common than we may realize. And yet we could still see it as a type of ego; that is, an ego that thinks having an ego is bad! So when you are acting in accordance with your belief, and not having an ego, what happens? How do you feel?
 

Mary: Well, I feel quietly good, maybe secretly good. I feel safe, too. Hmm. I hadn’t noticed that feeling before until just now. Some people like it when I am focusing on them, making them feel okay, and that feels good and safe to me. But some people take advantage of me and then I get resentful. And when someone is obviously blowing his or her own horn I also feel angry and judgmental. And then I get on myself for being judgmental. Come to think of it, I feel best when I’m by myself.
 

Lou: So having an ego has some benefits, but living with the rule that feeling good about yourself is bad makes it really tough to ever feel all right with yourself.
 

Mary: That’s for sure.
 

Lou: I believe as we continue our exploration you will see that creating the sense of safety you just spotted is one of the ego’s major purposes. It desperately wants to create a sense of safety within groups of people who matter to us.
But let’s take a moment and summarize the many different ways those of you who have spoken have used the word “ego” in describing your own personal experiences. I recognize that several of you are not sure there is any difference between you and an ego. But you all described some internal attitudes and beliefs that affect your behavior and feelings about yourself. For the sake of our discussion, I am going to put those descriptions all under the heading “ego.” So far our examples hit on what egos do or demand or give you. We do not yet have a description of what an ego is. Let’s see for now if there are any unifying themes in our examples.
We certainly have some divided points of view. Some of you see your egos as good and necessary—necessary for a sense of self, for motivation, and for self-esteem and respect. Others see the ego as both helpful and harmful. Others see your egos strictly as a problem. The ego is seen as blocking genuine self-realization, as getting in the way of being a good, or humble, or open, or authentic person. It is also seen as getting in the way of being a good team member. You see your egos as something that gets in the way.
There also remains the confusion around whether or not the ego is something separate and different from “me.” After all, there’s nobody else in my head, is there? It’s just me in here doing this thinking and feeling…unless I have multiple personalities! Sometimes it feels like that, doesn’t it?
One thing that seems to be common to your different views is the sense that whatever the word “ego” may point to, there always seems to be a self-evaluation involved—some sense of how it’s good to be and how it’s bad to be. This is true in my use of the word also. It seems to be in the nature of whatever an ego is that it is always concerned with judging and evaluating, pointing out what it considers good ways of being and what it considers bad ways of being. In fact, egos seem to me to be compulsive evaluators. And they appear equally dedicated to motivating us to do and be what gains our own and others’ approval and acceptance, and to stopping us from doing or being what will bring disapproval and rejection.
This version of the ego could be described as our own personal public relations manager. This role seems to flow out of our deep need to belong and be valued by those people whose acceptance and approval matters to us. We could call these groups our “dependency groups” or our “tribes.” Our first dependency group or tribe is of course our family. Later tribes might include peer, religious, social, business, sports, gender, and professional groups, amongst others. Each of these groups or tribes have their own conditions for maintaining membership and approval, don’t they? You must be certain ways and do certain things to belong, and not do or be other things, right? Even amongst people who are into self-improvement or who are spiritual seekers. Good and bad ways of being seem to always exist, like Gabe was talking about the male tribe. You are a successful member of the male tribe if you…what?
 

Gabe: Don’t show fear or need.
 

Stew: Don’t ask for help…or directions!
 

Frank: Don’t cry; don’t be vulnerable.
 

Gabe: Dominate and have power; be competitive.
 

Lou: So those are some of the dos and don’ts of the male ego. What about the female ego?
 

Mary: Take care of everybody.
 

Liz: Don’t be too aggressive.
 

Tina: Be good-looking.
 

Liz: Be the mom and be the professional…perfectly.
 

Willa: Make men feel good about themselves.
 

Lou: These are very different types of demands for each gender. What do they have in common? It’s the “good/bad” thing again, isn’t it? Each group has different “goods” and “bads,” but always some acceptable and some unacceptable ways of being. And they also have in common the fact that how successful you are in meeting the expectations of the ego has consequences regarding how others feel about you and how you feel about yourself.
It turns out there are lots of types of egos, each with their own particular set of dos and don’ts. Just to point to a few of the many ego types, here is a partial list: saint, rebel, conformist, star, hermit, tough guy/gal, people pleaser, cynic, bully, know-it-all, martyr, entertainer, lover, hero, and dramatist.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Some of these will get fleshed out as we go along. But for the moment, let’s stick with the male and female ego types. Here’s a question for you: All of the qualities and behaviors that each of these egos finds acceptable are perfectly fine and useful in and of themselves, aren’t they? Being fearless, stoic, independent, tough, dominant, competitive, powerful, or, on the other side, taking care of others, looking pretty, being an effective parent and professional, and making a man feel good—these are all useful and valuable traits or ways of being. So what’s the problem? What makes the ego’s favoring these traits problematical?
If you examine your experience closely, I think you will see that the problem is that the ego makes these ways of being and acting compulsory, mandatory, and good or bad. You must be this way…and you must never be the opposite. It is this rigidity and absoluteness of the ego, this black and whiteness, that makes it problematic. The male must always be tough and not need others or he will be rejected by his tribe (and probably hers). The female must always take care of others and not be concerned with her needs or she will be rejected by her tribe (and his). The ego says you can’t have it both ways and remain acceptable.
Like I said before, the ego gives one thing but takes away another. It’s always enforcing and reinforcing an inner split—”you can have this but you can’t have that.” The capacity to be tough is useful in certain challenging and threatening circumstances, but not at the cost of never being allowed to seek the comfort and protection of others. Likewise, caring for others is a blessing for those being cared for, and fulfilling for the caregiver. But the cost of not being allowed to be equally caring for oneself sabotages the benefits for all concerned in the long run. Is this discussion of ego types, of the ego’s compulsive black and white demands, and its rewards and punishments, ringing some bells?
 

Mary: Wow! That list of ego types is an eye opener. I never thought of a saint as an ego type, but it can be, I can see that. Wow. If being a saint means you always have to be kind and gentle and loving and never angry, critical, or self-interested, then that’s an ego at work, isn’t it?
 

Lou: Yes. Compulsivity again. Rigidity. Black and white again.
 

Mary: So I may be really “good” to people, whatever “good” means, and still be seeking acceptance and approval, even though consciously I am telling myself I am just serving others. I do feel superior to people who are selfish and self-centered. I get off on judging them. Damn. I think I just told on myself.
 

Lou: Told on your ego, yes. But maybe not your “self.” We’ll see.
 

Mary: So there is a difference?
 

Lou: In my experience, yes. I think your self is showing up right now in being aware of how your ego operates. What I call the ego is not self-aware, self-reflective. It does not question its assumptions or motivations. And notice too that by being good you are not only seeking approval and acceptance, you are also avoiding disapproval and rejection. You are seeking safety, like you noticed before.
But first let’s see if there are more questions about types.
 

Matt: I don’t get the “hermit” as an ego type. If the ego is about being acceptable to your tribe or dependency group as you put it, the hermit seems to be saying, “I have no tribe”; “I am giving up seeking membership in any tribe.”
 

Lou: Well remember, if it is an ego at work, there is a compulsive or compulsory quality to it. So you have to be a hermit. And contrariwise, it is bad, forbidden, dangerous to be social with other humans, and it must be avoided.
 

Matt: So my hermit ego feels good when it rejects membership in the human race. I am safe from rejection in my isolation, maybe even superior to everybody. I get it now. Hermits by definition don’t hang out with a tribe of hermits, but if they did they’d all agree that all the other humans don’t get it, that they’re dangerous, or something like that! A hermit tribe would be like the self-help meeting for procrastinators, only worse. Procrastinators would all show up late. For the hermits, nobody would show up.
 

Lou: Precisely. And there is that experience of interpersonal safety and danger again being a part of the ego’s function.
 

Frank: What I am getting is that each of these ego types is just a selection of certain human qualities, behaviors, and abilities that a particular person thinks are better or more acceptable than others, or safer. I don’t see why we have to turn that into something called an “ego” or an ego type. To me it seems like just using your ability to discriminate between what behaviors you think are good or useful and what behaviors you think are bad or dangerous.
 

Lou: That ability to discriminate and select what behavior or ability to call on in any real life situation or challenge is critical to our being effective, safe, and wise, isn’t it?
 

Frank: Obviously.
 

Lou: But what we are discovering is that this “thing” we are calling an “ego” loses that very ability to discriminate. What we are calling an ego is an internal “something” that compels us to select from a limited set of acceptable responses whether or not those responses are the ones that would best serve our needs, or the needs of others, in a given situation. The ego, it seems, is like the hammer that sees everything as a nail.
 

Frank: For example?
 

Lou: Let me respond in the form of some questions: Is it always good or useful to try to please people? Should we try to please those who are treating us badly? Is it always good or useful to dominate people? What about in a marriage or in teamwork? Is it always good or useful to be helpful? What about when someone needs to learn to do it for themselves? Likewise, is it always good to rebel, or always conform, or always seek attention, or always hide from it? Is it always good to be tough, or always be vulnerable?
 

Frank: Ah. It’s the “always” that’s the problem, not the behavior itself. It’s what you call this “compulsory” quality that sets the workings of the ego against simple good judgment.
 

Lou: Yes; always this way, and never that way. Jamming our choices into categories that are “compulsory,” “either/or,” and “good or bad,” seems to be the hallmark of a certain force or dynamism within us that I’m naming the “ego.”
 

Frank: Would you say these are habits, like habitual ways of thinking and behaving?
 

Lou: I would say they are habitual in the sense that we automatically repeat them without thinking about them. But simple habits are not compulsory or compulsive in nature. We can choose to do something different from the simply habitual. I can change the route I habitually take to work, or go to bed earlier than has been my habit. “Compulsive” implies driven, out of control. It implies some kind of imperative, a feeling that “I must be or behave this way, ”that “I don’t have a choice” to respond differently. Have any of you had this experience? When you knew that the way you characteristically responded was not working but you couldn’t stop yourself ?
 

Matt: I am not a fighter, and I just lost an opportunity for a promotion because I didn’t speak up for myself. I saw I needed to, but I didn’t or couldn’t speak up. I was afraid I’d sound too pushy or arrogant. But then I felt really bad about myself for being afraid and not pushing.
 

Frank: And I am a fighter and just lost a relationship with a good friend because I couldn’t stop fighting with him over his religious beliefs. I knew he had a right to believe whatever he believed, but I wanted to save him from himself. I couldn’t believe he couldn’t see the errors in his thinking. I’m that way around politics too.
 

Liz: I’m coming back from a physical collapse because I couldn’t take a break from working all the time. I’m also a compulsive exerciser. I don’t like how I feel when I am not doing something productive. I was running in the park one evening a year ago and saw a light flash just behind one of my eyes. I ignored it and kept running. The next day I passed out in the office. The ER doctor said my blood pressure was acting like a roller coaster. There was nothing physically wrong, just stress.
 

Mack: I am a recovering addict/alcoholic. Eighteen years sober. What you’re calling the ego we call “the disease talking to us” or “stinking thinking.” So I relate to this. What I don’t get is this: My drinking and drugging was compulsive for sure. Some of that was physical—my body craved my substances. But there was a mental, emotional part to it, too. My life is so much better now than it ever was. But I still don’t know how to feel all right with myself, at least not in any steady way. I am never really comfortable in my own company. Alcohol and drugs took my uncomfortable feelings away, but eventually it all backfired, and my substances, or how they made me behave, made me feel worse about myself, not better. But I could not admit that to myself. I didn’t know what I would do without the relief of alcohol and drugs, and yet they were killing me.
I really didn’t know what to do until I crashed and burned and finally got some help. I remember how ashamed I felt for needing help and for not being able to handle drugs and alcohol. But I am not clear how all this relates to the description of the ego we are developing here. Oh, and also, in AA the ego is definitely seen as an enemy to getting and staying sober.
 

Lou: Thank you all for describing these experiences of compulsivity, of being out of control. Each of our egos is all about keeping us under its control, compulsively. For us to be out of the control of the ego, or for the ego to be out of control of us, if it results in damage to our self-image or to our standing in our tribe, is the worst failure possible from our ego’s point of view.
In my experience we are an ego-driven society, and we are judged harshly as “failures” for any signs that the maintenance of our image and standing is not in our control. It is risky, socially and interpersonally, to admit to being out of control of whatever threatens our self-image, our standing, and our membership in our tribes. So I appreciate the risks being taken here and your courage in describing these experiences.
Let me say to Mack, who just spoke about his recovery from addiction, that I am also aware in AA that alcoholics self-describe as “egomaniacs with low self-esteem,” right?
 

Mack: Yes.
 

Lou: Now that sounds on the face of it like a contradiction, right? How can you be an “egomaniac” and simultaneously have low self-esteem? In our simplistic, popular thinking about the ego we assume that the ego has nothing to do with low self-esteem. “Low self-esteem” is the opposite of “ego.” Like someone said earlier, if we have an ego, it is our ego that gives us our self-esteem. I love that term, “egomaniacs with low self-esteem.” I think it describes the human condition and the ego very accurately. Here’s why:
The kind of self-esteem our egos demand that we generate (compulsively) flows out of the need to counter a deep and opposing belief that we are not all right to begin with—that we are unacceptable to begin with! This belief of a basic insufficiency and unacceptability makes it necessary for us to constantly compensate and counter this belief with proofs of our all-rightness and acceptability. No matter how hard or successfully we compensate, the secret feeling remains that our basic unacceptability is always in danger of being discovered or exposed. Thus, our compulsiveness, our reoccurring bouts of unease with ourselves, our getting and then losing our experiences of personal freedom and power, our feelings of being fraudulent, and our inability to rest and relax comfortably and consistently inside our own skins. I see all of us as egomaniacs with low self-esteem, at least to some degree.
At this time, I want to focus our attention on why the creation of an ego becomes necessary, and on how it is formed out of a split of our native selves into “acceptable” and “unacceptable” aspects. I want to describe how the ego then makes maintaining this split compulsory and compulsive. I want to clarify that the words “compulsive” and “compulsory” are pointing to felt, internal experiences and forces. They are not just concepts. This conditioned, rigid splitting is a major cause of being stuck in or sliding in and out of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that continue to cause us suffering.
I want to describe that experience of splitting our selves and talk about how it comes about. I think the best way to do this is to give you a document to read that lays out my understanding of what generates this need to split our selves, and then rigidly maintain that split. The document is a “job description” of the ego—of why it arises, where it comes from, what it does, and a first look at how it does it. You can read the document, formulate your thoughts and questions about it, and then we can continue our discussion about how this compulsive splitting shows up in your own experience when we meet again.
*