In 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.