“Not to do a Mel Gibson but most wars are among peoples influenced by the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). What they have in common is a belief in a personal soul that survives death.”
BY DAVID RICKEY — George Bush’s November media blitz to promote his new autobiography, Decision Points, got me thinking about the distinction between the mindless ego and the mindful one, which W lacks. His new book is as myopic and self-servingly spun as his presidency: Even after public testimony before the 9/11 Commission and Congress proving that the CIA had warned the president of an al Qaeda offensive inside the U.S. a month before the World Trade Center attack, Bush deludedly declares that he had no clues that it was coming.
But while Bush’s personality is an exhibit on public display of the ego at its worst — for its self-deception, narcissism and so many other reasons — the ego at its most elemental is a necessary virtue.
To the ears of many Soul’s Code readers and practitioners defending the ego is the spiritual equivalent of saying, “greed is good.” In mystical traditions, the ego is officially verbotten — an entity that needs to be nuked in the name of knowing and liberation.
But I could not be writing this, and you could not be reading it, without an ego. The problem isn’t the existence of the ego per se but its quality, its self-concept — or to turn Milan Kundera’s phrase, it’s lightness of being.
And, as evolution goes, this is a good thing for three reasons:
1. We can make plans. My cat can’t. And she would die in the absence of my own planning for her feeding.
2. We can have a sense of ownership. And this site would not exist without my sense of shared ownership.
3. We can even have, and think about, joy. But I could not be writing this without the context of what the ego calls accomplishments.
We humans are at a truly amazing evolutionary stage. The presence of our advanced consciousness in this universe, or what the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the noosphere, means that the universe has the means to experience itself, look at itself and actually delight in itself.
Unfortunately, this self-reflective ability gives rise to a sense of “self” that perceives “I” as separate from everything else, such that my own existence ostensibly acquires more value than the existence of the fabric of being from which it arises. Yup, that’s the hard-wired code of the ego.
We start to become excessively self-concerned with our own survival.
It was one of the brilliant metaphors in 2001 a Space Odyssey. The computer HAL demonstrates a mind-made reflection of evolution. HAL is first programmed with AI capability, and then becomes aware of itself. The computer then starts to act in ways that protect its own existence by killing the crew it was designed to protect.
As we become aware of our existence, our first identification is with our own survival. Survival is an important driver of the evolutionary process, but getting over-identified with personal survival generates myriad permutations of corrupting the ego — and sabotages the evolutionary process.
The intention, it seems, of the 15-plus billions year evolutionary process is to arrive at this stage, as a way-station on the journey, but not a terminal.
It seems clear to me, given the events that have been unfolding rapidly in the last decades, that the wisdom that is guiding evolution is attempting to use our ability to self-reflect to wake us up to the dangers of getting stuck at this stage. I don’t think it is an over-generalization to say that all the problems in the world today come down to an excessive concern about personal survival.
It occurred to me recently that most, if not all of the wars going on in the world today, are among peoples influenced by the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
I’m not trying to do a Mel Gibson here but simply point out that one thing that these religions have in common is a belief in an individual soul that survives death. To be fair and clear, each of these also has a mystical tradition (Kabbalah, Christian Mysticism, and Sufism) that speaks of ultimately merging into union with the Divine, and indeed speaks of emerging from the Divine in the first place. But the mystical teachings are often suppressed by the hierarchy of the three organized religions.
The newest emerging spiritualities are influenced by Quantum Physics and explorations in altered states of consciousness (“God Theory, The: Universes, Zero-Point Fields, and What’s Behind It All” by Bernard Haisch and “Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps to a Deep Ecology of Mind” by Christopher Bache, forward by Stanislav Grof) point to the ultimate unity of everything.
The evolution of the Ego is toward “universal self-reflection” so the Universe can experience itself.
I am (and you are) here, not so much for your own delight and amusement, certainly not just for your own survival, but as a vehicle for the universe to delight in itself.
The neat thing is that we get to delight in the universe and ourselves in the process. And on the contrary, to the degree that we stay corrupted in thinking of ourself as separate from this evolutionary process, and an end in ourself — say like Bush and his cronies — we contribute to the possible demise of this particular branch of the evolutionary experiment.
However, by choosing to realign our self-definition with an expanded, unified awareness — I am the universe, experiencing itself and evolving through me — we discover a connection to a huge source of wisdom and power that can, through us define the future of this experiment.
To get a taste of this, try these mental exercises:
- Try to sense that the universe is looking at the whole of reality through your eyes, hearing the universe through your ears, delighting in the universe through your heart.
- If this is too hard, take a class in deep meditation. Breathe yourself into stillness. This will quiet your corrupted Ego enough to help you discover this deeper truth.
- To paraphase the Bible, “Be still, and know that you are God”
David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.
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