Everybody's Got One

An expression I have often used throughout these essays is "the inauthentic self". There is probably a better, more familiar term that could be used: Ego.

The Rise of Ego
"Ego" is a word which may be more readily understood. Without labouring over the various definitions that have been discussed and debated - the Freudian id/ego/super-ego, or the spiritual ego - let's just start by saying it is derived from the Latin, meaning "I" or "Me". We instinctively know what the ego is. In many ways it can be equated with pride. Someone who is headstrong or opinionated might be described as being egotistical, but this would be to limit the scope of the ego. It is our views and opinions - our world-view. We bristle when these are attacked or questioned. Bricks in our protective wall are glued together by our various fears, foibles, compulsions and inhibitions. We get defensive and angry when we feel threatened - even if this is quiet passive aggression when perceived foes get too close. Beliefs we hold on to and are afraid to let go of because we think these things define us, they make us who we really are, and if we were to lose them we would be losing ourselves. The ego cries out for justice, it demands retribution. It seeks first place, desires to conquer, doesn't mind stepping on others to get what it wants. It is well illustrated by the occasion in Genesis chapter 11 when the people said, “Come on! Let us build ourselves a city and also a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a celebrated name for ourselves." It is man's ego that has elevated himself at the expense of the majority. It is the bruised egos of the majority that have caused them to push back and seek retribution through crime and violence, or consume themselves by any other means of survival - be it drugs, or alcohol, or sexual promiscuity.

The mistake is in thinking that the ego is the real you. It is compiled of everything that makes up you. It is what defines us. The clue we should heed is that when any of these abstractions are attacked, we feel hurt, stung, wounded. We feel like our world is collapsing. That is the ego, and such a reaction is evidence that it is not the real you - it is the inauthentic self. It is the self we think we must be in order to survive this existence. It is tender and fragile. It is about having certain expectations and going all out to have these expectations met. Expectations are a world-view, an attitude toward life. They are about "should", and "ought to" and "must" and when these are unfulfilled we feel our world crumbling. When this happens it manifests itself as various forms of depression. This, again, is ego.

There is one Bible translation that has taken Proverbs 13:12 and rendered it this way: "Expectation postponed is making the heart sick, but the thing desired is a tree of life when it does come." Expectations are not desires. Desires are what we wish for, what we would like to see. Desires lay below our expectations. We discover them by digging below expectations and asking what we really want. Mention of the tree of life takes us back to the garden of Eden. In the garden there was also the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. The knowledge of good and bad is related to the ego. Man's eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad pictures his determination to decide what is right and wrong. In reality, there is no justice. There is no right and wrong. The legal system is a short-cut. It by-passes the need for love. It doesn't need to ask why someone acted the way they did. Justice does not care. Lady Justice wears a blind-fold. Right and wrong, good and bad, these things only create expectations. These are elements of ego. Laws and legalities, right and wrong, have put mankind outside the paradise, away from the tree of life. Man is driven by ego, and not by love.

The Fall of Ego
Here's fun: When I was at school there was a thing that the boys used to do. If anyone had something they didn't want, they would shout out, "Quiz?" and the first one to respond, "Eggo!" could have what was on offer. I'm sure in ancient Rome children would use the proper call and response, "Qui?" (Who?) and "Ego!" (Me), but by the time it had reached the halls of boarding schools it had been pulverised into "Quiz? Eggo!" However, this schoolboy's pronunciation of "ego" can be useful for our discussion.

The ego is our shell - our protective wall. We don't want it coming under attack, we don't want it cracked. We don't want to come out of our shell. We want to stay inside. We prefer the security of the darkness. But, the egg is not the bird. The egg is fine for a while as an incubation process, but eventually the bird must leave it behind. The ego being comprised of beliefs that we passionately defend, that we cling on to, that we are afraid to let go of reminds us that the solution lies in forgiveness. Primarily that we have not forgiven ourselves. Forgiveness is a happy by-product of understanding, primarily a by-product of understanding ourselves. You are in a unique position. You can deconstruct the ego from the inside out. You have lived your life. You can go back a re-examine your life, and see what experiences and events helped build the wall.

It is not easy, it takes courage. But, remember, you are not a chicken. The safety of a shell is an illusion, it is a prison. The irony is that once we break out of the protective shell, we will be more free than we have ever been. And (just to see if we can't exhaust the bird/egg analogy) once it breaks out of its shell, some birds eat the shell. Bird and shell become one. So it is with the ego (the inauthentic) and the authentic self. The real must consume the ego. They must become one. (Bird-brained idea - ed. See addendum)

Once we alter the terminology and swap out the "inauthentic self" with the word "ego", everything in the world around us begins to make sense. We begin to see everything as it really is. The light gets brighter and brighter. It is man's ego that has driven him to destruction. It is because of his ego that man has constructed the great edifices of this world: The police force, the legal system, military might, the medical profession, banking, schooling, capitalism, political parties, religious denominations - all forged out of his determination to declare what is right and wrong. He has built the prison walls of this system. Great constructs it will not see challenged, taking power away from the many and putting it into the hands of the few. We are twice enslaved, first by our own ego, and second by the collective ego of mankind. So thoroughly are we enslaved that those two egos become enmeshed until we believe that there can be no safety without a police force, there can be no justice without a legal system, you are not healthy unless approved by the medical profession, and you are not educated unless you are schooled. When any one of these monoliths is attacked, we jump to its defence. The world's collective ego nurtures competition and stokes the fires of fear.

We might not be able to do anything on a world scale, but we can address our own ego. If we do something about the one, it will certainly make it more tolerable to live with the other.

When we have left the confinement of the ego, we are free, we are not tethered to beliefs, we can soar like an eagle. We are naked and openly exposed and invincible because no attack can upset who we fundamentally are. The real you is a perfect fusion of the ego and the real - the inauthentic and the authentic in perfect balance. Combined, it is a formidable force. It is immortal. It is unafraid of uncertainty. It lives peacefully and easily with the realisation that "nothing is the way I think." While all around everything can sink into chaos, we can float effortlessly above.

This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us