Tag Archives: Spirit

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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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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