Monthly Archives: February 2016

Motivations of the Ego and the Spirit

galaxyContinuing on my Lenten theme of spiritual exploration, I would like to discuss some ideas I had on the ego and the spirit. This is just me thinking on paper and not any conscious attempt on my part to instruct or to judge anyone else. I certainly do not profess to have all the answers, I just like to think and write about what is on my mind. Anything I write should be taken in that spirit.

To being, it seems to me that the ego never sees above its own level. For example Jim might hate his neighbor Bill because Bill offended him in some way years ago. Bill, who was not aware he offended Jim all those years ago, has grown to hate Bill in return because he senses Bill’s hostility. In this example, both Jim and Bill are operating on the level of ego. They sense the hostility or threat from the other and have taken steps to protect themselves from this threat.

But there is a bigger picture that the ego always fails to see. This is the bigger picture (I believe) that the Second Great Commandment “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (MK 12:31) addresses. But in order to see this bigger picture one must step out of their ordinary existence and look beyond material things such as race, political affiliation or petty grievances (for example). It also should not make a difference that the other side does not adhere to the same rules. These are the rules of the spirit after all which are per se above the rules of the ego. Of course, on the level of ego it very much makes a difference that the other side does not play by the same rules.

The ego centered counter argument to the spiritual approach is to say that by following this logic Jim will leave himself venerable to Bill who does not follow this logic. To a certain extent this is true. When a person is physically attacked the ego takes over completely. The fight or flight response is very primitive, rooted in in materiality and self preservation. It is also very necessary, normal and appropriate for survival in emergency situations on the material plane of existence. However, most of life is not an emergency situation. In the modern American world, Bill and Jim have a choice during the majority of their days and weeks to listen to the paranoid call of the ego or to rise above it and listen to the call of the spirit. When people are constantly operating on the ego level of self defense their neighbors will sense this and react accordingly. As long as a person remains unaware of the ego and its motivations he will be governed by his ego. However, with awareness comes the ability to see the ego in action and the ability to chose to go along with the ego or to set aside the ego’s instructions.

To dismiss the ego in this manner implies that the self is in control and making a fully conscious decision. It is somewhat paradoxical that coming more into the self in this manner also means to act more in accordance with the will of God (at least in the context of the Christian world view). I say this because to act in accordance with the Second Great Commandment one must dismiss his ego and make a conscious decision even if the neighbor has not dismissed his ego. Logically there is no other way. It seems to me that to argue otherwise is to attempt to make the self autonomous from God which is ultimately an act of self-annihilation. This is another paradox of the ego in that the ego acts motivated by self preservation but the end result of ego based action is always an act of degradation and ultimately to the detriment of the self.

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Giving of My Self

binary starIn keeping with the theme of Lenten spirituality I would like to expand upon last week’s topic where I discussed the idea of surrendering myself to God’s plan rather than trying to come up with my own scheme. Essentially this amounts to a shift of attitude. I still make plans and guide my life but I am doing so with a sense of acceptance. I do not need to worry so much about the outcome because that is out of my hands.

This is a subtle dance, however. It seems to me that to give myself over authentically is not as simple as it might seem at first glance. This is true because to truly give myself, I must actually have a completely formed or emerged self to give. This seems to happen in three distinct stages.

The first stage in terms of being able to give of myself is what I call “shame based egotism.” In this state my true self is buried deep under layers of ego. Here, my prime motivation is to avoid shame and humiliation at all costs. In a sense this motivation is “self-centered” or egotistical because at its core this motivation is an instinctual, self-preservation strategy. At the same time, however, there is a strong denial of my true self and a sense of obligation to give away myself by giving in to the will of other people. This obligation comes from a feeling of a lack of entitlement to pleasurable or self enhancing experiences. In this stage there can be no giving of my self in a genuine way. My self is actually given away all the time but only grudgingly, with resentment and the feeling of being coerced into doing something I do not want to do..

I will graduate from the first stage of shame based egotism to the second stage of self based egotism when I learn (or muster the courage) to say “no” to other people. The power of shame will fight against this at first telling me that I am being selfish and disloyal. But with enough practice saying no to other people who ask me to do something I do not want to do my true self will begin to emerge. As I said, this stage is still egotism but it is a step in the right direction towards authentic action. By saying no to other people I am essentially declaring that I refuse to give of myself. This act of self preservation then creates the space for a genuine “yes” to be given down the road.

Although this is the only way out of shame based egotism, this second stage carries with it some degree of danger. Many people never make it out of this stage because they feel a sense of liberation and autonomy they have never felt before. In this stage there is the tendency to fall into an “us versus them” type of mindset. There is the sense of having escaped from an oppressive world and the desire to remain free of this oppression. Along with this sense comes the compulsion to make ego based comparisons with “other” people seen as threatening. I believe this is the source of racism and other similar autonomous mindsets.

But once I can say no to other people I am then in a position to say yes authentically. This is the third stage where I am finally able to give of myself and truly live a life according to God’s plan willingly. God’s plan will always be in accord with the will of my true self which had been formerly obscured by the ego. In this way it becomes clear that I must have an ego before I can discard my ego.

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My Life is Not About Me

galaxyI have heard several times lately from several different sources the message that my life is not about me. When I hear a message repeated over and over I tend to think I am hearing it for a reason. Maybe the universe is sending me a message because I am ready to hear it. Or perhaps the message is constantly out there but because I am ready to hear it, I am more open to it and so I do hear it. Both are possible but the common theme between the two is that I am ready to hear it.

This message that my life is not about me is usually conveyed in a religious context and I take it to mean that rather than my life not being about me, that my life is about God. But what does it mean to live a life not about the self but about God? I think it is clear that a person who lives a self centered life does so because he is motivated by his ego. The ego desires comfort, safety, wealth, power for its own aggrandizement and protection. It is distrustful of others, jealous, racist and acts from a place of fear ultimately. By contrast, a person who lives his life according to God’s plan will discard these egocentric qualities and motivations. This is where faith comes in because to do this requires a faith that ultimately all will be well and taken care of despite not keeping a constant fixation upon things being well.

It seems clear to me that God is not ego. What is a little difficult to pin down is a more positive definition of God. But this makes sense in that God is infinite, eternal and beyond comprehension. Naturally an entity fitting this description is beyond definitions and labels. Faith comes in here too in that it takes faith to relate to something that is so intellectually un-relatable. At the same time God is love (1 John 4:8) and thus God is completely relatable because love is relation itself. Clearly Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians is the opposite of ego:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor.13:4-7).

It also seems to me that God is both an “other” and at the same time intimately connected to me. God is an “other” in the sense that He is beyond all comprehension and I am not. Therefore the two of us are different and separate. However, there is also the sense that I came from God and have a connection with Him. In this sense living a life according to God’s plan might be the same thing as living a life in accordance to the will of my true self, which is the part of me that is not ego.

This Lent the message that my life is not about me has been made abundantly clear. I was all set to begin Lent when the sudden death of a family member disrupted everything. This event told me my life is not about myself because I cannot control or predict it. Because I cannot control or predict my life there is someone or something else in control that is not me. To the extent that I try to control or believe I can control my life I am acting in a manner that is contrary to reality which is always destined to end in failure.

God is eternal and as such, God’s plan is eternal. By contrast, my mortal existence is definitely not eternal (as was powerfully demonstrated by the death I just experienced). Accordingly, any plan that I come up with for myself is finite and not like God’s plan. Anything material (e.g. wealth, possessions, health, racial identity) is likewise not eternal. It seems to me that any sort of desperate clutching to these things would be contrary to God’s plan.

It also seems to me that if one adopts an attitude of surrender to God’s plan that a tremendous burden will be lifted. Jesus himself said that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light.” (Matt 11:30). But the question naturally arises, how can one know what is God’s plan? I think the approach to this question is to avoid those things that are definitely not God, like ego. Moreover, it seems logical that if one is acting in accordance with his true self that he will experience a lightness of spirit and an ease of action. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he describes the fruits of the spirit as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23). Clearly these are not the fruits of the ego. And I suppose faith must again come in to play in determining what is and is not in accordance with God’s plan.

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Advice to the Next Blogger Stalked by Thordaddy

ScroogeEver since September of 2015 I have “enjoyed” a playful back and forth in the comment section of my blog with an individual who goes by the name of Thordaddy. Our conversation began after I wrote a comment to a post on another blog entitled “The Orthosphere” to which he apparently took offence. Soon after he started posting comments on almost every blog post I have made ever since. These comments sometimes number in the hundreds. I have run across other instances where he has harassed other bloggers in a similar fashion. Accordingly, I have no doubt that I will not be the last “flavor of the month” on his menu (so to speak). The following is intended to be a primer for the use of the next blogger he seeks to attach himself to. My hope is to pass on the wisdom I have obtained as to how to interact with Thordaddy once he sets he sets his sights on you.

Ask Questions

My first piece of advice is that you should always end your comment by asking a question. This will allow you to frame the debate and it will keep him perpetually on the defense. The idea here is partly to exhaust him by keeping your question in the back of his mind until he answers it. Because Thordaddy is both obsessive compulsive and shame-based he will always feel the need to respond because an unanswered question wounds his pride.

Asking questions also yields fruit beyond its strategic value. He has an interesting philosophy combining Christianity and racism. Some of his philosophy contains a logical consistency. Much of it, however, makes no sense at all. But the fact that it makes sense in his mind makes it is an interesting game to pull more and more information out of him. Because he lacks the ability to coherently and concisely articulate his philosophy the process of reconstructing it based on his utterances is akin to constructing a jigsaw puzzle.

He has a hard time believing that his convoluted (verging on schizophrenic) writing does not make sense to other people. Accordingly, he may lash out accusing you of willfully feigning ignorance. Do not let this throw you. Simply lob the ball back in his court by asking him why he feels this way.

One Point at a Time

If he makes several points in one comment or posts several comments in response to one of yours it is always better to pick one and respond to it rather than trying to respond to everything. The obvious advantage to this approach is that it makes the conversation easier to follow. One ancillary benefit to this method is the fact that he will ultimately expend more energy than you do and become more frustrated. Another benefit is that you are free to pick his weakest argument and attack that. Again, you always want to frame the debate and keep him on the defensive.

Demand He Define His Terms

Thordaddy employs a unique vocabulary where he takes common words and then redefines them to his liking. For example, he has redefined the word “perfection” to mean “objective supremacy” but refuses to explain what “objective supremacy” means. He then expects you to understand his redefinitions and when you become confused he will accuse you of feigning ignorance. Interestingly, he will consistently weasel out of all attempts on your part to get him to define his terms in any coherent way. As such, demanding him to define his terms is an effective way to keep him on the defensive. It is a trap he could easily escape if he only defined his terms but for some reason he does not want to which makes his whole philosophy suspect in my opinion.

Do Not Accept His Attempts to Label You

If you argue with Thordaddy he will attempt to label you as a liberal, radical autonomist, liberationist, anti-supremacist etc. Every week he seems to come up with a new label. This is his attempt to place you in a defined box and to put you on the defensive. But of course, his definitions are wildly suspect as discussed above. Do not accept his labels by turning the conversation around on him. Ask him what he means by these labels and get him to define his terms.

“Radical Autonomy”

One of his favorite labels is “Radical Autonomy” or “Radical Autonomist.” Much like all the other redefined words in his lexicon this one is also hard to pin down. As best I can tell, he believes this term to mean a breaking away from God or defying God’s will. Now Thordaddy claims to be a Christian. He further claims that Christianity demands one to be a racist despite all the scripture instructing the exact opposite. Interestingly, he will never cite scripture to buttress his arguments. Rather, he will only come up with convoluted arguments to weasel out of the scripture’s plain meaning. As far as I can tell, he is the only one who currently believes or has ever believed what he believes in the whole history of Christianity. He belongs to no community of faith and has admitted he is separated from his family. It seems to me this accusation of “radical autonomy” is merely a projection of his own shame onto other people. So always remember that he is all by himself and his mind is dominated by his ego. This is why he compares himself to others, judges others and hates other races despite his attempts to cloak his philosophy in Christianity.

Hitler

He always becomes a bit flustered when compared to Hitler. He denies any association or affinity for Hitler because he claims Hilter’s actions actually damaged the supremacy of the White Race. Accordingly to him, Hitler is an anti-white Supremacist. However, I suspect he would be just fine with Hitler if he had been successful in World War II. As such, I see this tact as Thordaddy trying to have it both ways. Regardless, playing the Hilter card can be effective to trip him up as he will always respond angrily calling you “stupid” or “pavlovian” etc. This response only displays how close to home this jab strikes him. All that being said, I would suggest only using this tactic sparingly to preserve its rhetorical power.

How to Win

There is no point trying to get Thordaddy to admit he is wrong. Such is the nature of all anonymous message board and comment section debates. Because he will never admit being wrong, the way you win is by getting him frustrated and by always getting in the last word. If you get the last word in and he does not respond (especially after making hundreds of previous comments) count this as a victory. Of course if you run your own blog you can always delete any comment he has posted. I have done this from time to time when he has babbled on nonsensically, repeated himself ad nauseam or was otherwise being offensive.

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