Friday, April 18, 2014

The Ego is the Root of all Diseases...Give It Up

I came across the title of this blog post while surfing Facebook. I couldn't believe that it received over 1,000 "Likes" and was shared over 300 times. What is it about that sentence that moved so many people to respond? Whatever it was that responded it wasn't the ego. In fact, the ego is the price paid for what is actually given up. Reading this sentence I asked myself the question "how." How do I give up ego? It's a topic I have long pondered.

After reading great words of wisdom in books, I always come back to the how. As I write this, I am reminded of the old proverb: Give me a fish and I eat for a day; teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime. Spiritual writing affects me that way. The reading part is like being fed a fish. When I close the book, I am still hungry, still feeling the truth of becoming spiritually self-sufficient has eluded me. In the weeks leading up to my first experience of Kundalini, I was frustrated about not being able to find the tools for achieving the promised altered state of consciousness — whether it be awakening or enlightenment — in any of the writings I had come across.

In order to give something up it is necessary to understand how it is constructed in the first place. The ego is a construct, but just knowing that is not enough to enable one to give it up. Actually, it isn't giving it up as much as it is dismantling it and then realizing it is unreal. The process
demands rigorous and authentic self-observation, which is impossible to do on one's own. This is why the importance of the guru or the adept has been emphasised through the ages. The ego is always more cunning and clever than the soul. The ego is what Gurdjieff called the false self and it is constructed from life experiences. Not so much the experiences themselves, but the stories we manufacture around them and what we make these stories mean.

There are three ego development stages in life. The first comes around the age of 4-5 when the unconscious thought "there's something wrong here" appears and a way of being (pattern of behavior) is created to survive. This is the first construct of the false or ego self.

 The next stage happens during the teenage years when  thoughts like "I don't belong" arise and a second survival strategy is put in place, based largely on "fitting in." This ego layer is difficult to dislodge because it is a deeply ingrained protective mechanism.

The final stage happens sometime in the 20s when the thought "I'm on my own" surfaces and another survival mechanism is put in place. The sum total of the decisions and strategies adopted in consequence to these three events are what constitutes the ego. And the fact that they become so deeply buried in the persona is why the ego stays so well hidden, even after one finally goes looking for it.

It took an intense weekend of self-development training to enable me to see the who I thought I was wasn't the who I really am. Seeing those three events with perfect clarity allowed me to realize that what I had made them mean shaped the who I was. As a result of those insights and realizations something fell away and I experienced an unbounded peace and bliss. This happened in 2005.

I'm not saying that I am now ego-less; I'm not, but who I am for myself is now much more flexible and I am able to see the play of the manifested with that of the un-manifested. Dismantling the false or ego self is an absolutely essential step in the spiritual awakening process.


  1. I'm curious what kinds of differences you found between who you are and who you thought you were-- if you're willing to talk about that.

  2. Imagine that the ego has a slide control. At the high end is pride, and at the low end is humility. Turn it all the way down.

    'Course as Don Juan said, "There are two kinds of humility: The humility of a beggar, that bows and scrapes before others, but demands that others bow and scrape before him; and the humility of a warrior, who lowers his eyes to no man, and let's no man lowers his eyes to him."

    1. Hello Neil the distinction about the humility of the beggar vis a vis the warrior is very interesting and is one that I can relate to. I had the humility of the beggar when I was studying Buddhism on the one hand trying to get rid of my ego by making everyone and everything better than I was but on the other hand being secretly superior that I was doing something that not many other people were doing. Nobody was giving my ego as hard a time as I was! It took the first Kundalini experience together with the transformational self-development training I took to be honest about my covert superiority . Seeing this was shocking but also freeing and from it I can understand the other kind of humility that you speak about that of the warrior and I find my fingers hesitating on the keyboard as I ponder this for a minute. For some reason I am reminded of water in that it is very gentle and goes around everything and yet can errode rock. Maybe I am a pacifist and maybe it is selfish but I find that when life flows and everything and everyone is in harmony where is the warrior?

  3. Hello Peggy, thank you very much for your comment. I did post a reply but it was from Ireland where I was visiting my family and where the internet is not that reliable and so I see now following my return to England that my response was not posted. So I am sorry that you have had to wait so long. I like that you have asked me to be specific as that is both useful and a challenge because without wanting to sound like I am ducking out of your question it is not an easy one to answer. If I deal with who I thought I was and relate it to the three stages of ego-development that I have spoken about. Who I thought I was someone alone, a failure . Identifying those stages and seeing that what I had the events (on which I had constructed who I thought I was) had this constructed self-image fall away. Words are so inadequate but it was like the person 'me/the ego/me as a noun - something fixed and stable and reactive fell away and what replaced it was simple movement, an ease with life, it was like the noun changed to a verb, that fixity and reactivity and it was nervousness and reactivity that had been the hallmark of my life up to then just shifted and that is is the only way I can describe it. Suddenly life had an ease, I began responding instead of reacting and it began to flow with such ease and harmony. To give a specific example, tomorrow I am going to be taking my mother who is 83 to the airport having been with her for 8 continuous days and every one of those days had an ease and harmony. Buses were always waiting, the hotel I booked for the trip we took to London to celebrate her 83rd birthday at The Ritz in London was the perfect one. The staff at the The Ritz without me asking came out with a small birthday cake for my mum, I hadn't asked for any of this to be done. It's like the person (do-er) is gone and there is just 'do-ing' and it is this which is the most difficult to explain and in fact it really can't - it can only be experienced and lived. So I am sorry if this reply isn't as full as you would have liked but it truly is the best that I can do.

  4. I'm wondering how the claim in the title of the blog you refer to was substantiated? This is a pretty bold claim. How does the author know that the ego is at the root of all diseases? Why did everyone else believe the author so quickly? Hmmm....

    1. Hello Irene
      Thank you for taking the time to comment on the blog post. It’s interesting that like me you reacted to the title of the blog post. I can only think that those who ‘liked’ it and ‘shared’ it did so from a place of intuitive knowing and because the ego didn’t have time to realize the fundamental consequences to its survival of what was being proposed no challenge to it was forthcoming.
      The ego would never ‘like’ or ‘share’ such a sentence. It will fight against this kind of sentence tooth and nail. Why? A sentence like this poses a threat to its survival and to its existence. What I write I write not only from books I have read or teachers I have listened to but from my own experience. Having spent many years fighting with my ego through meditation when I studied and practiced Buddhism for almost 10 years I realize how futile it is. Buddha spoke a lot about the ego and the importance of transcending it to achieve nirvana or the cessation of suffering. So I spent many years fighting with my ego and guess what….it doesn’t work in fact all of the attention I was giving to it only made it stronger and the fact that I was doing it through a spiritual medium gave me a superior spiritual ego.
      In the past two years I have turned from the path of Jnana or Knowledge to that of Bhakti or devotion. I recognise now that the only way that the ego is going to be transcended is not by fighting with it but by turning my attention to something else. I have done what the ego most hates to do and that is to be devoted to a Guru. So now when my ego speaks instead of listening I turn it to the Guru I have chosen. This has been the ultimate test for my ego and it hasn’t been easy because I have realized that not only do I have an ego but I AM EGO and therefore no amount of me working on my own ego is going to transcend it – not one little bit. The only thing that is going to do this is turning towards my Guru whenever it shows itself and for me it shows itself in reactivity to things and events in life. If I can stay steady and instead of reacting turn my attention to Him then his response back to me means that I then respond and it is easy and calm without a fight.
      I think the same principle can apply to addictions where instead of fighting with the addiction – do something else! Take the attention away from that to something else. There is no fight when the attention is withdrawn. All the best

  5. The idea of "ego is the root of all...." whatever bad things (sometimes accompanied by "the mind is the enemy") is an invention of some esoteric schools which are unable to teach real teachings. I had followed 16 years yoga teachings and in some theoretical gatherings they thought things like that ... and after a while they also thought exactly the opposite of this idea, when Eckhart Tolle's books began to spread and disciples began very interested in their content. On my humble opinion, there is nothing wrong with the ego and our mind. They are powerful tools which can be used for our development.

    1. These comments actually express the same notions in different ways, but somehow work at cross purposes, due to the pitfalls of terminology. So, here goes...

      With its notions of primal and conscious spirits, The Secret of the Golden Flower puts the ego into proper perspective. Until birth, the conscious spirit (the ego) does not exist. It is formed by the constant flow of information acquired by the senses and then shaped by the interpretation given to this information through the individual's immediate influences — social, geographical, cultural, religious, educational, etc. Ultimately, this process creates a self-image, who’s main purpose is a defense mechanism, an element Margaret Dempsey noted in her essay.

      The ego is not the mind. The mind is a computer, free of emotion that processes information logically. In most humans, however, the mind is greatly influenced by emotion (a product of the ego and its agent, the self-image). I like to use Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis as a rule of thumb for understanding the persona, namely his notion of parent, adult and child as the components of personality, roughly equivalent to Freud's Id, Super Ego, and Ego. The child is the creative impulse, the parent represents conventional wisdom (environmental and social influences that give voice to the ego), the adult is the rational component, not influenced by emotion. These elements exist in every individual and form a kind of pie chart of personality. Depending on the person, the three elements (the slices) vary in dominance from person to person. This is easy to see: some people are creators, some are bossy, some are very self-controlled and analytical. So, given that we are the sum total of these three elements, can we do anything to make the self more creative and less reactive.

      Gurdjieff thought so. He believed all humans were “unconscious or brain-washed” and needed to recognize that they had to unlearn most of what they thought they knew before they could be come conscious. He spoke about the need to recognize the role of the self-image and the need to control it. He wasn’t talking about the mind (Eric Berne’s adult); he was talking about the ego. To tame the self-image and the ego, Gurdjieff taught a system of self-remembering, which used the mind (among other faculties) to control reactive, excessive emotions. He taught that by mastering self-remembering techniques, the individual could overcome the effects of the ego and become truly conscious. That doesn’t mean he advised destroying every element of the persona, only gaining control over social and emotional conditioning, which, as Margaret Dempsey suggests in her essay, means responding instead of reacting. Self-remembering exercises allow the individual to control the ego. Gurdjieff taught that mastering self-remembering would ultimately induce a Kundalini awakening, thereby enlisting the power of the primal spirit, the mystical, metaphysical element all traditions say becomes re-awakened after Kundalini activation.

    2. The following passage from the Wilhelm/Jung translation of The Secret of the Golden Flower explains these notions. They've been around for a long time. The parentheses are mine as, once again, we struggle with terminology:

      "If one wants to maintain the primal spirit (right brained, super-consciousness) one must, without fail, first subjugate the perceiving spirit (ego, conscious spirit). The way to subjugate it is through the circulation of the light (meditation). If one practices the circulation of the light, one must forget both body and heart. The heart must die, the spirit live. When the spirit lives, the breath will begin to circulate in a wonderful way (the backward-flowing method). This is what the Master called the very best. Then the spirit must be allowed to dive down into the abdomen (solar plexus). The energy then has intercourse with spirit, and spirit unites with the energy (sexual sublimation) and crystallizes itself."

      I experienced this process first hand; the re-awakening of the primal spirit. Had you asked me one year before it happened if I could relate to notions like primal or conscious spirits, sexual sublimation, backward-flowing method I would have thought you were crazy. Yet, something (the evolutionary impulse?) pushed me to make these discoveries, verify them, vet them in light of various traditions, and ultimately practice on of them, not as part of an intellectual exercise, but because the process (meditation) is real and it involves the total Being: mind, body, psyche, spirit, ego, breath, sex energy — and the purpose of this process is to help the individual become aware of the primal spirit and conscious spirits and how they determine our nature and our Beings. And the steps we have too take to make sure it all comes out right in the end. The process Carl Jung called individuation, the process of activating Kundalini.

      Again, with so much terminology, it’s easy to work at cross purposes, even when individuals are headed in the same direction.

  6. Think of the egocentric person. The ego includes the illusion of separation from the rest of the world. Think of someone you know who has an inflated ego. Now think of someone who is very humble, not in an obsequious way, but as as a truly calm and spiritual person. The spiritual problem of the ego that I can see, and from my own experience, is that the ego as a carrier of the idea of the separation of the self from the rest of the world is a barrier to surrender. Surrender to the deeper level of spiritual power is the doorway to nirvana, as testified by numerous spiritual leaders. The Dark Night of the Soul is the surrender of the ego. The great spiritual awakening that is the activation of the kundalini climaxes in a sense of unity with all, with no separation between self and other. How can the ego be present for such an experience? Not everyone has to go this way. It is not for everyone. It also has certain dangers. Just read Gopi Krishna's biography to see that. But if you want to go down this path, yes, the ego needs to completely surrender.

    In the I Ching is written, " Let go of the weak so you can embrace the great"