The Ego Loves a Challenge
(companion article to The True Self Loves Presence)
By Wallace Huey
The Ego fundamentally experiences itself as not OK. It is never content. Especially with what is - the present moment. The Ego is always seeking something external to itself.
This means the Ego is perpetually restless and anxious.
The Ego expresses this restlessness in a drive to achieve. The Ego is especially interested in achieving something that it thinks will assist it survive in the physical environment in which it lives. It craves safety and security, and seeks to ensure such safety and security through mastering its physical environment. The Ego will work night and day to establish such mastery.
This means that the Ego is constantly on the lookout for a new exciting challenge in the physical world - something that allows it to master the physical world and to prove itself, over and over again. The Ego is driven to prove it can achieve by setting goals and meeting them. The Ego tells itself, if only I can reach this goal or achieve this purpose, then I will be OK.
It’s important to care for and build our Ego identity because it’s our ego and it’s drives, that motivates us to explore life, have new experiences and learn.
The Ego is governed by a myriad of beliefs that it has absorbed from its upbringing and from its family of origin, as well as from the culture in which it lives. These beliefs are used to justify the way the Ego lives and how it is constantly driving and challenging itself. “I need to earn a million Euros." "I must have three children.” “There is the perfect marriage partner/soulmate if only I can find them.” These goals and the beliefs that support them lead the Ego on a merry dance.
This allows the Ego to have a very strong identity. “I am the person with the MBA.” “I am an artist.” “I am the partner of a wealthy businessman.” and conversely… “I am a failed musician.” 'I am a liar.” “I am no good.” All these different and separate identities allow the Ego to thrive and to exist. These different identities are all sustained using a lot of conflicting mental energy. The identity as an MBA does not sit well with the identity as a failed musician. And the identity as a liar, does not sit comfortably with the identity as a person who is the partner of a wealthy businessman. These identities include altruistic ones that society recognises as worthy and even admirable. “I am the person to end homelessness in Dublin.” “I am the founder of the food co-op.”
In contrast, our true and authentic self, is always whole and complete in and of itself. It does not need to identify with a purpose or a cause. It does not set goals. It is delighted living utterly simply in the stress free present moment. But the Ego knows nothing of this - and doesn’t want to know either.
Sometimes the Ego will set itself unwise challenges. “I want to build a city on Mars”. The Ego is quite insane, seen from a spiritual perspective.
Each Ego is made up of hundreds of these identities none of which are real or true. It's not that these identities are wrong or bad in some way, its just that each person has to explore life through identification, to eventually discover their true and authentic self - the self that lies beyond all identification.
That is why learning from failures, and experiencing the subsequent disillusionments, are fundamental to the Spiritual Path. It’s by having a go, and sometimes failing, that the person drops their illusions about themselves and their life, learns to see things clearly and comes closer to who they really are, their true and authentic self. This is the purpose of life - to explore and live out our possibilities and in so doing give birth to our spiritual nature. That is why it is vitally important to live life full on.
A spiritual teacher accelerates your ability to learn from all your experiences while helping steer you away from the most harsh kinds of failure, so you get to discover who you really are in a sheltered and protected learning environment.
In this Before Awakening stage of the path these identities have to be seen and let go one at a time, so that the spiritual student realises who they are and how simple life is. This frees the seeker from these many Ego identities and their associated drives that are unconsciously running their life and causing them so much stress.
It is then that the ego transitions from unconscious thought that gives rise to our emotional reactions, to emotionally detached conscious thought. In so doing a fundamental disconnect is established between our thoughts and our emotional reactions. It is then that unshakable inner peace arises in the person and they draw close to the possibility of a spiritual awakening.
I was in my garden 10 years ago with Anne a good friend of mine - a retired teacher. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of her wisdom so I asked her what the most important thing in life was. She replied - “Are you growing?” I never forgot her wise words.
The birth of the Ego, its development and then transformation to the true self, is a wholly natural growth process and one which not just spiritual teachers but all educators need to be aware of and facilitate. That’s because the foundation of our mental health and wellbeing relies on the active participation of everyone in this human evolutionary process.
All the goals, purposes, beliefs and drives we live out, are hidden longings to be set free. We are hardwired to awaken spiritually.
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The True Self Loves Presence (Companion article to The Ego Loves a Challenge)
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