Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Meaning of Life and the Three Ways the Ego Folds in upon Itself

TreesWhat is the meaning of life?

It seems to me that this is a question the ego asks out of a desire to affix a label upon and categorize existence. This desire is rooted in the survival instinct. That is, in order to survive in the material world the ego must make sense of it. It makes sense of the world in part, by overlaying it with a complex system of labels and categories. In a sense the ego is putting creation in its place in order to tame it and survive within it. When the ego asks the question “what is the meaning of life?” it is categorizing life as something that must have a meaning. It then seeks for this illusive meaning with the goal of slaying the dragon by definitively labeling and categorizing life once and for all. This of course is probably an unattainable goal but this goes unrecognized by the ego.

The ego is obviously not comfortable with the notion that life might have no meaning. The fact that a meaning is not immediately forthcoming from life suggests that this is a possibility. But the ego is unwilling to consider this and so it wants put life in its place rather than letting life abide in the place it is already in. In truth, the ego has no power to put life in its place. All labels and categorizations are illusions in this sense. Because the ego is largely ignorant and unaware of its own motivations these labels are illusions it uses to trick itself. This is the first way in which the ego folds in upon itself.

I suspect that to ask the question “What is the meaning of life?” is really to ask “Am I meaningful?” By recognizing this I can see the desperate yearning of the ego to survive and reach immortality. I further suspect the ego (on some level) knows that it is mortal but does not want to admit this. The ego wants to survive above all things. Ultimately this is irrational because nothing of the material world survives in the material world forever. And the prospect of mortality brings with it the possibility of meaninglessness. But irrationality and dishonesty are the essence of the ego and so the ego goes on denying its own mortality and inventing meaning.

When I think about it I see two sides to the ego. There is the self-serving side and there is the judgmental side. When self-serving side acts through greed and indulgence it will inevitably feel shame. This is the work of the judgmental side of the ego. The judgmental side judges the self-serving side causing the feeling of shame. This shame must be then passed onto another person by judging them. In this way I can see that the ego and shame are intimately intertwined. This act of self-judgment is second way the ego folds in on itself.

The only way past the ego is through non-judgmental awareness. When one becomes aware of the ego he can observe it, separate from it and by doing so stop unconsciously doing its bidding. In this way when one feels the need to ask the question, “What is the meaning of life?” he can be aware that it is really his ego who is asking this question. He can then separate from his ego and no longer require an answer to this question. In this sense when one stops looking for the meaning in life he becomes liberated because he is abiding in his true self or spirit which is intimately intertwined with God.

There is, however, a trap here. When one starts to become aware of the ego he may then praise himself for avoiding the ego or judge himself when acts unconsciously and does the ego’s bidding. Both this praise and judgment are also the work of the ego. It is ironic that it serves the ego’s purpose to punish the self for following the will of the ego. This is the third way in which the ego folds in on itself. It makes sense when viewed through the lens of survival. The ego wants to survive and be in control. It wants to steer the ship of self. One way it takes control is through shame. Shame is punishment and atonement for breaking the rules of life. These rules of life are created by the ego through all the labels and categories it affixes to life. In a sense they are the illusory meaning of life the ego has given to life and for which it unconsciously seeks.

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The Prodigal Son: A Tale of Ego and Spirit

prodigalIt seems very clear to me that one way to interpret the parable of the prodigal son is as an allegory about the ego and spirit. The parable itself is found in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 15 verses 11 to 32. In this blog post I will analyze the parable line by line within this context.

11 … A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

The assertion “Give me what is mine” is obviously very ego oriented. The younger son in this parable represents this aspect of the ego who is always interested in self-advancement, self-aggrandizement and its position or status relative to others. Notice how the father in the parable (who represents the spirit or the true self) readily gives the ego dominated son what he asks for without question. This is the nature of the spirit who acts with compassion, whole heartedly and without ulterior motives.

13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

Another quality of the ego is that it seeks autonomy from the spirit. In verse 13 we see the ego as represented by the younger son setting out on his quest for autonomy by abandoning the spirit who is represented by his father in this parable. When the ego is free from the spirit it tends to engage in self-annihilating behavior be it addiction, over indulgence, recklessness and racism to name a few. This is what the son proceeds to do.

14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

But when the ego is free to follow this path it always leads to a negative place because to follow the ego is to abandon the spirit which is the true self. Truth cannot be ignored indefinitely and reality will always catch up with the ego eventually. In verse 17 the parable talks about the prodigal son “[coming] to himself” which is to say he momentarily freed himself from his ego domination and returned to his spirit or true self which gave him a clarity of mind and brought him back to reality.

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

By “coming to himself” he recognizes the error of his ways, repents and then feels shame. As is often the case, the ego will attempt to reassert itself once a person tries to shake it off. It does this through its most powerful and effective weapon; shame. Seeing that the son can no longer sustain the life of riotous living the ego hijacks his plan to make amends with his father. We see this in the way the ego makes plans and schemes and anticipates how his father will react.

20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

Notice how the son’s father (his spirit and true self) saw him from a far way off. The spirit is always watching because it is always there. This points out the fact that even though the ego can abandon the spirit, the spirit is not capable of abandoning the ego or the aspect of the self that has been misguided by the ego. Notice also how the son begins to recite his premeditated speech but his father cuts him off displaying how the spirit sees through the works of the ego and has no use for them. All that matters is that the once ego dominated persona is now reunited with its true self and this is a cause for celebration.

25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

The elder son represents another aspect of the ego. This is the judgmental, self righteous aspect that takes pleasure in judging others and takes personal offense when the rules of the broader civilization are violated. This self righteous ego takes cover in these “rules of civilization” because they give it license to judge other people without shame. Notice also how the elder brother complains that he has “slaved” for his father. In other words he did not work for his father freely but did so under protest and begrudgingly. This once more demonstrates how the ego never acts whole heartedly but always with ulterior motives and under false pretense. It is fundamentally dishonest which makes sense because it is not aligned with the true self.

31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

The ego creates a false world which may work for a time but always runs afoul of reality because it can only exist in reality because reality is all there is in which to exist. This is why the ego can abandon the spirit but the spirit can never abandon the ego. In actuality the abandonment of the spirit is a self-delusion of the ego. It has to be a delusion because it is not in accordance with reality. But as the father in the parable is ready to give and forgive so is the spirit and the true self. As in the parable when we come to ourselves and reunite with the father it is always a cause for celebration.

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Why I Blog

starRecently an angry “neighbor” accused me of blogging for “validation.” Implicit in this accusation (I think) is the idea that seeking validation from other people is somehow a bad quality. I am guessing this angry individual sees it as a form of weakness which is deserving of shame. As is the nature of my relationship with this angry person, his attacks are annoying at first but ultimately serve as a view into his mindset which is both unaware and shame based. This view then gives me material to write about in this blog.

All this interplay has raised the question, why do I blog in the first place? Inspired by the writings of James Altucher, I wrote down a list of ten reasons why I blog:

  1. I like to think that the first and most important reason why I blog is to exercise my writing muscle. That is, the more I write the better I get at writing much the same way that the more a body builder lifts weights the more muscle mass he will develop. From one perspective this motivation could be seen as ego based if the desire to improve is really a desire to look good in the eyes of others as opposed to a love of the craft. I think, however, awareness of this possibility is enough to counteract this ego based tendency for the most part.
  2. I must admit that my angry neighbor’s “validation” accusation is at least partly correct in that I blog because I do other enjoy people reading and reacting to my work. This is a form of validation and to an extent is a form of ego gratification. However, validation and ego gratification are not per se bad things. I do, however, think that they need to be kept in check through awareness and not be allowed to become the primary motivation because that becomes an impediment to spiritual growth.
  3. Practically speaking I blog because my blog can then be used as a resume when people want to see a sample of my writing. I have landed a few paid writing gigs using my blog and e-books as examples of my work.
  4. I blog because I simply enjoy the act of being creative. In my estimation, to enjoy doing something (with the exception of indulging in addictive behavior) for its own sake is an expression of the true self. By definition this is not the work of the ego.
  5. I blog because it has become a habit. I have a goal of writing one blog post every weekend. It has gotten to the point where I just naturally sit down at my keyboard on Saturday or Sunday mornings. At this point if I do not do this I feel like I have something important left undone.
  6. I blog because I feel I have something to say that I think would be helpful to other people who are experiencing situations similar to situations I have experienced. Readers of my blog will know that I write a lot about the topic of shame. In my life I have experienced and to some degree continue to experience an epic journey through this issue. I feel that I have accumulated some insight along the way and I find it meaningful to teach people what I have learned.
  7. I blog because a part of me enjoys baiting people. I am not particularly proud of this motivation. Obviously this part of me that enjoys baiting (i.e., making other people angry) is my ego. The last few months I have spent quite a bit of time writing blog posts at least partially intended to get a response out of my angry neighbor. Again, I am not proud of this motivation but it would be dishonest for me to deny its existence.
  8. By contrast, I blog also because I also enjoy honest and civil discussion with people where topics can be thoroughly explored and developed. I would say that the interactions with my angry neighbor although heated at times also served to explore why he believed the things he believed. I found that aspect of our interaction to be informative and interesting.
  9. I blog because I enjoy being a part of the community of bloggers that exists on the internet. Truthfully, I have not really gotten too deep into this world but I do find it interesting to explore it and to be involved in it from time to time.
  10. Finally, I blog because I experience a pleasant sense of accomplishment when I publish a completed piece of work. I suppose this is related to the “validation” my angry neighbor accused me of being motivated by. I would point out, however, that although some of this accomplishment is ego gratifying, much of it has to do with the fact that the work itself has become a new thing that did not exist before. True, I feel satisfaction that I had a role to play in this process. But I also feel satisfaction for the created thing itself. It is good to create as God himself acknowledged in Genesis.

That (in a nutshell) is why I blog.

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