In the beginning is the ego…
It hurts our ego to feel like a looser. But letting go is something different. It is losing what no longer serves. Sometimes, feeling like a loser is synonymous to feeling like a nobody. Feeling none of the things we thought of us to be, to represent, or at least to fake them before we make them. All of this didn’t happen. We are none of it. Nothing, rather no-thing, none of the mental constructions we were preprogramed to become. Who did the programming? I was part of it, at least in the sense of buying into what should be expected from me, to function normally. When this process gets bogged down and the expected concatenating fluidity stymied, then the mental equilibrium, run by the ego, daunts its annihilation. It strongly signals problems of health, of needing to stop cognitive dissonance, to get out of dystopia, to come back to the poise of what actually got lost on the bumpy way: my sovereign Self. Yes, it has always been fragile, as if frailty and vulnerability were its texture, the fabric of what we perceive of whom we are. Paradoxically. The hardcore, the identity, our authenticity being so unfortunately frail. Something went wrong, or is this our natural stance, the conditio humana per se? Isn’t this the reason we get educated early on to be strong? Strength and weakness are opposites and exclude each other. It seems we have to come to an understanding of these words. As we feel happy, we feel both elements in us: strength and vulnerability. And we perceive the transience, fluidity and elusiveness of this state that we want to perpetuate. Yes, happiness. May this instant never go away! (Verweile Augenblick, du bist so schön!). Our strength coincides with the knowledge of its instability that, if assumed, doesn’t carry us away into sadness and despair. To be realistic, pragmatic, is to know about this process as being the way we feel the risk of losing, by knowing that what makes us happy maintains itself beyond its apparent loss. Losing is temporary, the energy that makes us happy endures.
This being said, posited, as it were, the subject can be approached in a lighter manner. Because, yes, we are made up out of the stuff that construes our ego. The description of our mind, of our cognitive process, of psychology and philosophy is actual egology, a science of the functioning of the ego. And, as Aristotle said with respect of the term being, having multiple meanings (to on pollachos legetai), the ego is also predicated in multiple ways. German philosopher Edmund Husserl boiled the cognition process down to “egoic” (“ichlich” and “egologisch”), which has since become part of professional phenomenological parlance. Everything that we do with our mind is egological, has the ego as its identifying marker, the ego is the cognitive I and the verifying and supervising master in the mind. The ego masterminds us. The cognitive ego cognizes, interprets, allots the spot in the archives, flags items in our memory. It may create new problems and confusions by a lack of supervision and control. How can we get out of this mental jungle?
India’s message: No ego no problem. “Erase the ego” is Ramana Maharshi’s devise. Well, evidently enough there are different levels of the use we make of what we call the ego. Indeed, the ego is said in many ways. Vital ego, emotional ego, cognitive ego, spiritual ego (inclusively Freud’s super-ego) have become expressions to distinguish somehow what is often interwoven in real life and difficult to unravel. We cannot go in all these details, but it is good to mention them, at least.
In a way, all is said. Still, it is worthwhile to unfold the subtle structure of the functioning of our ego, always keen to remain undiscovered. Like in grammar, there are faux amis, false friends. The ego is our pet false friend.
Checking in with oneself…
Let’s have a closer look at what is at stake; what is at stake for all of us. It is true that at times we go through troubled waters, we happen to feel lost, having no clue anymore whether we can trust our own perception of reality, realizing how much we are being influenced or even brainwashed by media-tech, wrestling to get in key with some sort of consensus reality, so as to feel sure we are referring to the outside world in its supposed objectivity, something like the reality. That’s a crucial experience of losing safe ground and not easy to admit to oneself.
As we start mulling over it, we discern the limits of the ego, of a speculative egology that touches its edges, the brink of where there is not more to say, where the contours of what was conceived to be the stable ego are lost, hazy, notions gotten wooly, unclear to the extent that nothing is seen distinctly anymore… when the presupposed functioning instrumentality of the ego is now conspicuous by its absence. The fear of being ego-lessly lost opens the realm of feeling of becoming a fool, or what is supposed to be a fool, someone who has lost the connection with reality, with that representation the ego is presenting to our consciousness to be “real”, meaning that what can be communicated with others, be agreed upon as our world we live in. Some cognitive dissonance can be allowed in partial affairs, but to what extent? Our publicly recognized reality is worked out and supervised by the control of our societies, the political decisions of what is admissible to be declared real, which is then negotiated with the medical institutions to define its framework and its limits, to qualify how precisely to diagnose any disconnection and to what degree that state still coincides with established reality as maintained by the majority.
If I am lost, have no hunch where real reality is to be found, how can I get hold of who I am? Is there something that can reassure me? That’s the situation a soldier found himself in, taking some rest and looking for a way to get clarity. René Descartes, the most modern rational thinker, in times of war (close to the city of Ulm in Germany), where all clear concepts of who, what and why were dissolving into existential angst and lostness, sitting by himself close to his fireplace, René said to himself: I am going to close my eyes and my ears and see what happens in me. After a while, he became aware that in his mind a certainty was popping up: I do think, there is unmistakably in me the activity of thinking…, so much so that his feeling of not being, or being nothing or being lost gave way to some reassurance through a mental process of self-verification, of self-assurance. This is the origin of the modern philosophical insight of the “I think, hence I am” (cogito ergo sum - je pense, donc je suis).
That’s a strong realization. The main focus, the meditative discovery of the observation of thought in me, giving me feedback of my existence, remains forever a poignant and cogent insight.
He was not the first to have seen this, as historians of ideas have been pointing out. Augustine of Hippo, a most influential thinker, probably better at philosophy than at theology, had described similar insights.
My mind is instrumental in helping me to get oriented. At the same time, how do I get reassured that my mind doesn’t betray me? Descartes resorted to God as ultimate and absolute guarantee (for us not to be in the clutches of a demon). Is God really needed at this state? That’s asking a lot.
I am ok, not mad... really?
Again, in the end, how can I trust my thoughts not to deceive me… as my experience shows me that my mind can go astray, may go nuts…? Which doesn’t mean that I am crazy. Salvador Dalí reacted to his detractors: “What distinguishes Dalí from being crazy is that Dalí is not crazy”. That was a healthy reaction to make his case, which is by the same token a (psychiatrically) convincing statement!
Madness becomes a way of subverting the limits of officially recognized reason. As the fool was allowed in front of the king. However, the mental logistics of our not really reason-oriented, but rather techno-oriented societies are bereaving us of the liberating quality that the fool employs making a fool of the oppressive societal mainstream opinions and the ensuing opinionatedess we find in brainwashed people. Leaving us in confounding states of confusion, of feeling lost, freaking out, being caught in a state of illusion, stuck in the web of misleading superficial opinions, in the mightily enmeshing world of illusion (maya), in a subtly deranging personal illusion (moha). It seems that only when struck by some stroke, when hit by an event, of a unique enlightening character, by an accident, by some illness, some grace converting the heart, we awaken from the state of an induced sleep of our consciousness.
Woody Allen playing the meme of a contemporary neurotic, as in Deconstructing Harry, avows the origin of his problems, saying that he is just spiritually bankrupt. He is of course referring to many of us. From there the fear to become a fool is just around the corner. Teaching as a visiting professor in Salamanca, I had the opportunity to visit the convent of San Esteban of the Dominican friars and was told that Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, author of The Tragic Sense of Life, (El sentimiento trágico de la vida, 1913), shouted: yo, yo... (I, I...) into the deep well, waiting for the echo to confirm him his ego-ness… (yoidad). Was he crazy? No, just obsessively anxious and concerned with being reassured of his identity. 1 The fear of one’s identity is widespread and justified, but meant to push us further and see what is happening. Is that cognitive dissonance expressive only of myself or of an ambient worldview, a whole society, an ideology I live in…?
Going beyond the normal, leaving our socially approved normalcy is a daring step forward and we do not know in beforehand where we arrive. It’s a healthy piece of advice to not embark alone on this journey, where we will be alone in the end; a helping hand is needed and, if possible, an advisory council of friends as it were. Humbly-realistically speaking, let’s arrange for a psy-baby-sitter as we will touch our deepest and developmentally most pristine layers. Maybe shockingly for some readers, there, we are, all of us, more or less grown-up babies, but, age-wise finding us in the role of an adult. That’s why we are treading on a terrain of unknown quality: is it firm to walk upon or does it yield? In that case, we need assistance; a temporary one. Not the therapist, my psychoanalyst, rather momentary and punctual assistance clearing the way for my own movement. Like a surgeon’s skills are 100 % needed as he is operating upon us, and to be thanked heartily for his life-saving intervention, to then be gratefully-healthily forgotten. On the contrary, whoever engaged in classical psychoanalysis knows about the encrypted entanglement created by binding transference, the attachment to the analyst, an essential part of the psychoanalytic technique, resulting in a mésaillance, a false alliance, as Sigmund (Schlomo) Freud himself observed.2
Some madness is said to be part of any genius. Why would there be an exception? Can madness lead to an opening for more receptivity? Sometimes a bubble has to explode for us to breathe more fully and get new energy from outside. A kind of psy-implosion unleashes a healthy explosion. Many impressions that could not be expressed, having thus been repressed, create a feeling of anger. This anger, a kind of rebel energy in favor of non-submission, is the trigger for this liberating opening. This anger can be healthy and life-saving, having a strong influence on our consciousness creating (or inducing) an altered state of consciousness to enhance one’s perception of oneself and of the world.
Many sages and mystics depart from there, from deep suffering, from that existential experience of lostness, of disorientation, of loss of normalcy, like a mystical depression of not understanding anything anymore and not feeling being understood by anybody anymore. As objectively exaggerated this may seem, as seen from outside, this is indeed the subjective experience. No doubt about that! It’s living a night of the soul (la noche oscura)!
How much do I have to do, how active do I have to be in midst of my passivity? Without receptivity, without that kind of openness we cannot resonate with what surpasses us. The mystic authors theorized that it is in our nature to have that quality of receptivity to what exceeds us (divina pati - pathein te ta theia, according to Dionysius Aeropagita), and this as a precondition to be able to connect with what is beyond our reach. Whilst feeling separation, whilst having been advised in the past by most of religious orthodoxies and their inquisitions that there is no direct contact with God bypassing institution and sacred scriptures, under their supervision, the mystics sternly affirmed their experience of touching the Divine in their heart of hearts (thinggein-to touch), (“tocar lo divino”, to touch the divine, John of the Cross. Joan of Arc was thus diagnosed as crazy and heretic by the pundit-theologians of the Sorbonne and condemned to death on the stake. She is a salient example of many. Those who are in control, are in control of defining normalcy, in religious or civil circumstances. Michel Foucault elaborated this topic academically in what have become classics.3 I am also fond of Michel de Certeau’s pioneering work.4
We have expressions insinuating that we are suddenly like beyond ourselves (fuera de si mismo, fuori di sé, hors de soi, ausser sich sein…), in a kind of rapture, ecstatic, in ecstasy, a divine madness says Plato (theia mania), something that in us is divine, as an inherent entity (theion ti), as the down-to-earth Aristotle and some of his interpreters acknowledged.
When we feel ourselves being in this state or, worst, are being seen in that state, so who are we? How will we be described, from outside…?
This theoretical approach was formerly called theologia negative or apophatic theology. The next step is to become silent (myein-mystic), not by way of cognitive capitulation, but rather out of the intense awareness of the overwhelming ununtterability of what is so far beyond… and we tend to feel powerlessly nil, all our faculties reduced to nothing, and whatever we might say, if ever it were betrayed to the public forum, would make of us a fool.
If of any interest for the body politic, the psychiatrists of a state institution will apply the diagnostic terms of their reference book for pathologies. Fortunately enough, in the leading diagnostic bible, in its fourth edition, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IC, American Psychiatric Association, 1994, integrating the proposal made by David Lukoff and colleagues), religious and spiritual problems are definitely qualified and recognized as such, and psychiatrist Stan Grof made them widely known as states of spiritual emergency.5
Meditation as a self-therapeutic tool
There are these moments when everything seems to fall apart. And the quest for identity is almost perceived as beyond the individual’s reach. As said, René Descartes resorted to his experience of thought, inferring the evidence of his existence. More generally speaking, is there any other or more pristine way to trusting myself through my own channels of perception? The poet Fernando Pessoa is trusting the evidence of his perception: “cuando sinto, penso”: when I feel, I think. But what happens when even my perception is suspicious to me…? It can be… The only way out then is through contemplative meditation. Meditation is the method to progressively come to uncontaminated self-perception. We do indeed need that radical detox through meditation.
All meditative states, of mindfulness, in whatever situations, at a bus station, at home, sitting with yoga asanas-positions, consciously choosing to do nothing but pay attention to one’s presence, to one’s breathing… are all conducive to this experience of interiority, where and when the Infinite comes to the mind, out of a sudden, out of the blue (exaiphnes, as Plotinus already described).
Meditation is not pure passivity, it is rather a form of concentration, a more refined way of inner dialogue intent to be a free flow, (tentatively comparable with the stream of consciousness techniques described by writers, or automatic writing…), yielding in to what shows up effortlessly in our consciousness, waking up to its highest purpose and mission. There is a kind of inner word that is not audible, that is the word said in our heart of hearts, the verbum cordis, according an old tradition of understanding the quality of inner communication, as distinguished from outer acoustically available speech. The modern Greek language says dialogismos for our word meditation.
There is, say, a systemic doubt in us, and the ego is feeding on this archaic sentiment of incompleteness, of fragility, of brokenness and vulnerability, and the ego proposes itself to rescue us, like a 24/7 fireman ready to keep us alive from our self-made attack on ourselves. Why so? How come? Religions claim to know the reason: we are not in tune with God, we broke this link, we suffer from that separation and, to the extent that those who initiated this generationally hereditary process did this freely, disobediently, we do deserve this suffering. This logic, if ever there is, has been implanted into the minds of men. I do favor a different option: it is our human condition to be unaccomplished and incomplete, by definition, because life is about growing into adulthood, into maturity, into a new selfhood, always connected to the world of the others.
We hence need to work on this initial self-doubting, this uncertainty to be ourselves as not yet complete or "perfect" as we were told. Partly this difficulty has been programmed by the way we came into this world: desired, cherished, loved as a unique being or we just happened to be born somewhere and through somebody, starting as someone who might have felt himself a nobody. Still, in both cases, beyond the existential injustice, there is a way for both to tackle the sabotaging self-doubt: the favored one, also, at a certain moment in his life will feel this self-doubt and have to face it, whilst the less favored one, being confronted with vulnerability from the very beginning, was obliged from early on to handle the initial handicap. In the end, and in unfathomable ways, it is true to say that we all do have to wrestle with similar ego-problems.
The ego is the instrument to preserve us, to rescue us, to keep us tick in any event. Nobody lives without an ego. But the ego is fallaciously producing reasonings, explanations, cautions, justifications, hate and anger, accusations, resentments, feelings of vengeance. The ego is thereby obstructing the inner look, the inner view of connection with our higher purpose, our mission, our higher self, our essence, our soul... with "stuff". Ego-stuff. Starting as our friendly instrument to help us out of a place of impossibility... the ego turns into enemy number 1.
Again and again, meditation is the only way to get out of that box of self-torture. Too harsh a word? Hopefully. But he who has been sitting with clients in the role of therapist knows about what happens to us humans, without us wanting to air this in open conversations.
We are then going from one mental construction to the other artificial mental construction, the vikalpas as the great Indian master Shankara calls these mental states, because we need some kind of mental stability, to keep oriented, whilst all things are in flux, give in for the next mental construct to come, nothing in our reality remaining the same (panta rhei, chorei, ou menei), as in Heraclitus’ description. How to cope with this flux as we need to save us and to not disappear submerged and drifted away. Not an easy job.
Still, something somehow subsists in this flux and resists annihilation. Heraclitus was one of the first to put the logos in the center of his worldview. He holds that thought, reason and being and truth go together. The logos which means reason assists us in our need to be reassured of our being, of us really existing… If my ego doesn’t carry me… where do I stand? Does it mean that I am thinking myself into being, but actually I am not fully being? So who are we, what is left: nothing (nil, nada, rien, ayin, s(h)unya, nihil, ouden, tipota, nichts, niente...)? That’s a cruel mental-intellectual statement and an emotional psycho-cry of anxiety: where I wanted to see somebody, where I wanted to find and meet somebody, me: nothing?
A void space is breaching open, a split and it feels like going into a cave, an experience as a speleologist of not-yet uncovered interior spaces, unknown, unfathomable, eerie, scary. It takes courage to venture oneself into this unknown. Maybe some Rumi, Krishnamurti, Alan Watts or Eckhart Tolle readings are helpful and some reassuring guts feelings going back to early childhood when starting to manage to stay on one's legs... It is unsettling to advance into a space that we do not dominate, not handle beforehand, have to rely completely on ourselves! Self-reliance. Needs self-assertion. Needs self-confidence as the hard core psy-material to work with. To walk with.
Paradoxically enough, at moments when solitude is felt like moisture in the room, uncannily ubiquitous and omni-pervasive, ruthlessly spying on our every inner movement, on the gait of our psychic roaming, when loneliness is voraciously showing its cannibalistic teeth, when even narcissistic or altered states of consciousness’ exit-doors seem barred, we are then face to face with ourselves (facie ad faciem, panim al panim), here and now, we really encounter ourselves: that's me... that's all I am. That thou art, says the Upanishad. And this may feel unsettlingly like: nothing. I am nothing, reduced to nothingness, to no-thingness. I discover me not being the kind of me I imagined to be, I fancied to be, I conceived and constructed myself to be. Of all this, the sum of all these mental constructions is: nothing? I am no-thing, hence I am? Sounds preposterous. But there is some truth, a partial one. I feel my nothingness, because I got aware of myself not being what I thought I was... But I am still existing! So who or what is subsisting in me as I am not what I thought of myself to be?
Feels like a place of annihilation, a realization of dying to what is fake, phony, inauthentic, superfluous, non-essential, unsubstantial in myself, discovered and finally unmasked as ego-made, as stuff produced by the fear-ridden ego, always keen on saving, on rescuing itself in front of an ill-perceived, scary and demanding world. This happens by a trick of the very ego, performing in tune with its inner logic, the ego’s intention: to conserve, to fatally preserve at any price what it erroneously invents and imagines to be the self...
“Erase the ego” as spiritual advisers admonish us to do, like Ramana Maharshi, sends us into that no man’s land, that no-ego’s-land, where our constructions get being shaken, where our world seems to fall apart, where we are losing the solid soil under our feet, and walking ahead becomes a scary exercise, no warranties for safe ground, all insurances might fail, only self-assurance can uphold our walk into the unknown. Whatever we utter, whatever we conjecture, whatever we say spontaneously, uncontrolled, just as felt in that very moment, might be perceived as deranged, foolish, nuts…
I realize I was my ego, I mean that what my ego made out of me. I was ego-made, made in ego-land, pure ego-stuff. I was my self-made ego-product. Just didn't know. The ego didn't tell me. The news had to come from outside. Or out of the cruel absence of my presence to myself. Out of my solitude. My loneliness opened me to what is beyond my ego. My solitude became the key to my deeper happiness. Beata solitudo, sola beatitude: blissful solitude is the sole bliss, reads an existential wisdom gleaned by hermits at a very high price. It proves to be true. A sweet but arduous truth, acquired at the sweat of one's inner front.
Inviting the ego to letting go and set us free from pain-creating ahamkara
Why roam so far afield? As we were talking about a simple subject. To analyze how our ego functions. Well, the problem is that our ego stands in our way. The ego doesn’t like to be seen. The ego pretends to stay in a no-man’s land and does by no means accept to be detected as being the boss in its own country, in the self-made ego-land! The ego just doesn’t want to be declared as what it is: the block, the usurping obstructer in the process of becoming oneself, since it signals and sells itself to our consciousness as being the Self that it is not. The Self is beyond the ego’s reach and the ego doesn’t want to accept this, being by inclination, structurally naturally narcissistic, by its very ego-nature. Hard to swallow. How come that what we use all the time is so much in our own way? Many theories can be adduced here, like our fallen nature and various versions of religious reasoning to find some explanation. We can rather call it our natural weakness (akrasia, with Aristotle). Let’s accept it as an experiential fact: the ego is the problem. In a nutshell, as some spiritual masters say, humorously and realistically: no ego no problem!
India has delved deep into our subtle spiritual texture and analyzed the ways how to get out of this state of bondage. The methods of yoga are meant to help us on the way to undo the deeds we have done, innocently or intentionally, arbitrarily, erroneously, maliciously…, which is our story. The man-made karma, from the Sanskrit verb kri, to make, is the ego-made. Ego: aham, the product made: kara, hence ahamkara. The self-made ego-stuff is our ahamkara. Whilst living with and in the logic of our ahamkara, we cannot feel true happiness, true liberation, true expansion into the limitless time that is ahead of us. Ahamkara disconnects us with our destiny of freedom. Michel Hulin dedicated an outstanding in-depth study to this term, delving deep into the Sanskrit texts: Le Principe de l'ego dans la pensée indienne classique : La notion d'ahamkara, Paris, 1978.
We are eager to be happy, making progress, working on ourselves. And here we are: feeling our limits. It does feel discouraging. And this happens, for all of us. Liberation from ahamkara, from ego-worked, ego-fabricated, ego-imagined, ego-fancied, ego-conceived convoluted stuff as jelled into permanent ego-conceit… pushing us to the brink of ourselves, in utter frustration of any self-delight, perceived in its sore absence. Liberation from that existential hell is the goal of freeing ourselves from ahamkara.
Focusing on getting freedom from ahamkara yields the enlightenment we strive for as a felt experience. Transformation, metamorphosis, changing into a living liberated one means becoming a person reconnected to the true Self, to the soul, her or his essence.
According to Vedanta spirituality, it is possible to be liberated from bondage in this life (moksha), to become a jivanmukti, alive and already free, as much as humanly possible. That’s an extreme and exceptional case for sure. Yoga as union is the way we all can walk to realize our talk, to become a true yogi-yogini. (Paul Deussen translated the word yogi into German, nicely-minutely, as der Hingegebene, he who yields his life in complete surrender). This tradition has been kept alive for us in India, for us all, for the world. You can have liberation here and now, said Maharishi Yogi, through total surrender.
Poet and philosopher Sri Aurobindo put all his wisdom in one sentence: the first word of integral yoga is surrender, and the last word of integral yoga is surrender. All this wisdom can be translated, as it is universal in its intention. No Sanskrit needed, no travelling through Mother India…, always inspiring and enchanting, of course. But this wisdom is available everywhere at any time, here and now, as we recollect our distracted vibrations and come home to ourselves.
There is a way out of the trap of our self-made ahamkara and it can be envisioned as if we were breaking with a DNA, supposedly determining us for life, which means letting go of a kind of defeatism, from false belief systems insinuating that we are definitely trapped.
Paradoxically enough, one of these traps is loyalty… To be true to oneself is more than a kind of loyalty, as loyalty is possibly too prone to a sort of subjugation to alienating wills. As we read Étienne de La Boétie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, (Discours de la servitude volontaire, 1576), one might feel concerned or taken aback, as this fine thinker highlights how a subservient bent in us maintains us in a self-deceptive and self-victimizing relationship not only to others, but first and foremost to ourselves.
In the political realm, to differentiate loyal submissiveness from diplomatic delicacy is a fine line to be always freshly revised. Language can serve as a skillful linguistic tool for diplomacy or be employed as a subservient instrument and be misused to create a sheer submissive attitude, to only receive orders, to be mandated, to be informed to function. Heinrich Mann, Thomas’s brother, authored a novel describing typical subservient submissiveness, Der Untertan (1918, an untranslatable title rendered as The Loyal Subject), where loyalty ends up in being loyalty to the other’s ideas and ideology.6
Being polite, nice, kind and decent is different from submissiveness, which again is substantially distinct from consideration, respect and humility. How to handle true humility as opposed to submissiveness is a delicate issue. As a Thomas Aquinas reader in my doctoral years, always impressed afresh by his energizing clarity, I remember reading in his writings: truth precedes humility (veritas se habet ad humilitatem antecedenter). This is true on the level of worldly affairs and human relations. From a purely mystical perspective, Theresa of Avila holds the opposite: “humility is truth”, that is, the only true attitude towards the Divine (La humildad es la verdad). They are both right in their respective domain.
It seems as if our ego wanted to be nicely treated, and delicately invited to leave the throne of its self-claimed sovereignty, at least for a while. To leave step by step, bit by bit. Under conditions… because the ego, by its very nature, tends to inflate. This inflation works through a mechanism of not wanting to see the limits of its intents, a structure that we call illusion. The ego keeps up its intention, although illusionary, living a fiction, attached to a false infinity of a fancied superiority over others, of power and the material success to wield power over reality, over the world. But illusion means I am being played upon (ludere, to play, illudere, to fool, to dupe), misguided, victim of a fantasy, living in phantasmagoria…, names for what I refer to as ego-land. This illusion, akin to what may be seen as delirium, is as strong as the ego itself and is not ready to capitulate easily, nor to be fought too directly. Nietzsche saw this will to power clearly (der Wille zur Macht).
Combatting our ego, being in continuous strife with ourselves doesn’t lead to a solution. The solution is our resolve to dissolve its limiting, dominating and alienating power that in the end leaves us in a state of spiritual bankruptcy, in spiritual asphyxia… We have to go like nomads to a no man's-land, to a desert where the plane nothingness of all that opulent abundance of ego-made psy-junk is finally obvious, all what encumbered our lives, and where, if for an instant, the space is all ours..., a vast overwhelming space for the spirit to expand... Meditation can guide us into this space, available everywhere, 24/7. This inner desert is needed and this vast expansion to be felt, experienced, savored.
Because there are moments that shake us hard, making us lose our footing. It's a fact. And as much as the ego protects its stronghold, there is no way to anesthetize ourselves into the complete absence of our higher self or soul. If not diagnosed and recognized as an inhabitable barren land, the ego-land can impose itself as a permanent nightmare. The ego-land turns into a hell-land…, wielding its reign of anxiety, with personal identity trapped in permanent chaos.
With some wisdom, life itself puts us on the spot, each one of us, onto a unique spot, that one allotted to our existence. By whom, why and what? Maybe we can't know. Karma? God putting us on trial?
We are part of a plan. Are we? A plan seems to be rolled out, way over my head. Still, I have to define that part I want to be in that bigger plan, that big play, as old India named it (lila). We want to discern a sense, for us to ascertain that it all makes sense. Philosophically, we use to stay in anthropomorphic patterns (God’s initial self-contraction, tsimtsum, to give us space to exist, Isaac Luria; God's self-realization through history, Hegel; transitioning from the unconscious to consciousness, Hartmann; the involution descending into evolution, Sri Aurobindo…). Many images have been employed. Writers have talked about our existence as happening in a cosmic dream. Scary... Pedro Calderón de la Barca says that our life is a dream (la vida es sueño), and as you ask what is a dream, his square answer reads: and dreams are dreams (y los sueños sueños son)! Saying: don't go there..., it's beyond understanding. Fernando Pessoa holds that we are God's dream... (o sono de Deus)! Interesting, inspiring, yet puzzling.
Disconcertingly, the all-encompassing total answer that our intellect claims, is only given in small parts, in partial truths, in nano-elements to be assembled. The postmodern subject, eager to free him/herself from religious indoctrinations, now has to deal with this wide space open for individual inquiry and reflection. I am convinced that, again, meditation, prolonged meditation, has personalized answers in store for each of us, to experience, from inside, the unique sense that the world makes to us, individually.
And there are many ways to start self-helping ourselves. Meditation being number one (vipassana, the Buddha-the-Awakened-One’s way of meditating being recommended). There are different sound healings, having an impact on our cells and our unconscious mind.
It’s worth highlighting Dr. Bruce Lipton's enlightening insights on epigenetics as our chance to have a personal power over our DNA, by interfering with our environment, by changing our life circumstances and thus creating an impact on the evolution of our health. We do have a creative influence on the way we - erroneously - think we are doomed to be.7 We can rebel against what we at times cull as our most private fate, based on ill-conceived belief systems. Private meaning here we deprive ourselves of an alternative, a chance of being different, of giving us that chance by choosing to be a new being, by inventing, yes, a renewed identity. Well, how can we? By conceding us a larger space in which we can move with more inner liberty. By getting out of that box that the ego is jealously confining ourselves into. By saying no to that limitation, disidentifying ourselves with that limited old ego-self and reaching out to the broader and more authentic self we can already project us into. A kind of self-creation by self-approval, an autopoiesis, a healthy Yes to whom we want to be, like the best or even ideal edition of the script we now choose to realize.8
There are people who feel that this approach reeks of too much ego efforts; it may be, and would then end in a circular motion... because this process of radical change does indeed need a separation from the ego-logic, it does have to open up to the possibility of help that I can get from outside, although this being an inner process. Outside stands here for the acceptance of what I cannot bring about by my own efforts alone. We call this pure grace; we call this a radical letting go, in a mode of effortlessness (anupaya as in Indian tantric terms). These are words for the maximum of inner openness to receive that kind of inner gift, that gives (gift) that larger space to breathe and realize myself, as liberated from the bondage that my ego-stuff, unwillingly and without my conscious consent, meant to be gluing me onto and perpetrating a self-imprisonment in ego-land and for a whole lifetime.
There are these special moments in life when the borders of the ego-land are breaking and fall down, through events that happen to us, health crises, deaths of loved ones, accidents, or on the brighter side of life the great openings we feel when we meet true love, when a child is born... when life is manifesting its light might and momentum and we feel being part of our One Humanity.9
These great existential moments happen also in nano-sized forms, as we are sitting with ourselves, just doing "nothing", when the connection to the deep self or higher self manifests as an evidence, without words or mental constructs. Here I am... much more than I could even think about ten minutes ago. What happened? How come that I feel less of that bondage that made me suffer all my life? Can more suffering be undone...? Can I let go of the rest of this leaden heaviness that glued me to something I never could get track of? What religious traditions term as fallen or sinful nature, can I secularize this into a language that allows me to finally get grip of it, localize it in me and dissolve it, disarm it and deactivate its usurped power? Could I let go of that hurt ego in me, ultra-conservative by its very nature, and that nails me down to my past, relentlessly blocking my way to a new future? Could I let go of my most private property, that one I hide most to the public eye, that one I cherish so meticulously? Could I take definite leave of my sufferings?
Paradoxically enough, letting go of suffering is what manifests as the most difficult task. It’s a feat! Willed deliverance from suffering opens the door to paradise, here and now. To realize this is the most heroic performance of the free self.
There is a simple method to have a try: Could I let go of this suffering (x)? Yes or no? Would I let go of this suffering (x)? Yes or No? - When? Now! That’s a powerful exercise. Self-therapy. Free of charge.
Or starting with a therapist practicing EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, which helps to undo the conflictive mental knots archived in our traumatized memory. After some sessions, one gets the logic of it and can do it on one’s own, no toxic side effects reported.
Pure hubris, pride, say many religious, formerly keeping us stuck by referring to an intervention by a godhead they are commissioned to administrate upon us. Let them be... Sages and mystics (and transpersonal psychologists) dare start from where we really are and show the way described: our real effort is to face our personal fear, to expose ourselves to this inner awareness of the bondage, the powerlessness and helplessness we find ourselves in, enmeshed in the self-made karma-deeds of our ego, to go into that opaque dark space full of our ego-stuff, to dissolve it from inside, to finally pulverize all the ahamkara, all the ego-stuff.
This works by first admitting the ego-stuff as existing, as really being the hotbed of all our moral and psychic sufferings, exiling us in an alienating land, the ego-land which has the qualities of bitterness, heaviness, sufferings, like a slow steady descent into dying, an ego-land that, once identified as such, stirs the desire to leave it, by an instant decision, uplifting ourselves to the new land of the true self, into authenticity, integrity, into I-amness. "That thou art", yes, now to my true self I am true!
All spiritual traditions of Humanity promote love, pure love as a time gainer in this process. Unconditional love, the widespread term for what was worded as amour pur, is a powerful yet delicate expression for a highly idealized state, sublime in its essence, that can we willed, but that somehow happens to us, like pure grace. Love is stronger than death… and can be felt so intensely that, yes, I am sick with love (ki cholat ahava ani…, in the Song of Songs). The medieval authors disserted on this, endlessly. Is love or knowledge first, and one superior to the other? Love seeks seeing (ubi amor ibi oculus), writes Hughes of Saint Victor. According to some mystic authors, love itself has a cognitive function, as love stirs the desire to know and become one with the known, now as being loved.10
Pure grace, pure love, total surrender… express the triggering force, the igniting power that is, paradoxically and in unfathomable ways, also the response, the consequence of all our efforts, of a free initiative: the will to undo the ego-stuff, the ahamkara, and to leave that ego-land to join forever the human-land, where what is called the Divine is present in multiple human ways, in as many ways as there are ex-ego-landers to inhabit it. Paradise on earth? Let's be realistic and pragmatic: living way beyond our ego-stuff, now pulverized, and turning our spiritual back to that alienating ego-land, yes, there is much more paradise on this planet earth, which is our world we are walking through, steadily, now much more conscious-conscientiously - with freedom, wisdom and joy - on our never ending journey to Life.
1 Rudolf Schmitz-Perrin, Un mouvement de divinisation sans fin. Essai en marge d'un leitmotif dans l'existentialisme religieux de Miguel de Unamuno, Studies in Spirituality (Nijmegen), 5(1995), 178-207.
2 Rudolf Schmitz-Perrin, Au-delà du transfert : La parole créatrice, Revista de Filosofia Portuguesa (Braga), LIX/2(2003), 403-429.
3 Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique, 1961, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, 1965.
4 La Fable mystique : XVI et XVII siècles, t 1 : 1982, t 2 : 2013 ; The Mystic Fable, Volume One: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Vol.1:1995, Vol 2, 2015; Le Lieu de l'autre : histoire religieuse et mystique, 2005.
5 Rudolf Schmitz-Perrin, Mysticism of a Normally Difficult Life.
6 Rainer Hanke, Die Loyalitätsfalle: Warum wir dem Ruf der Horde widerstehen müssen, 2021.
7 The Biology of Belief – Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles, 2005, 2015.
8 Rudolf Schmitz-Perrin, Phänomenologie der Autopoiesis. Die Person im schöpferischen Verhältnis zu sich selber, Phänomenologische Forschungen/Phenomenological Studies/Recherches phénoménologiques (Freiburg), 1(1998), 61-84.
9 Rudolf Schmitz-Perrin, We are One Humanity. More Suffering Needed?.
10 Rudolf Schmitz-Perrin, Conocer el Amor. La autonomía del amor cognoscitivo en la reflexión de Hugo de Balma (1240-1320), Analecta Cartusiana, 173, (Austria, Salzburg), 2000, 43-55; Éxtasis del amor y conocimiento. Reflexiones aleteiológicas en el marco de una antropología integral, Revista Augustiana (Madrid), 34(1993), 893-918; «Mas solo el amor rompe el ser». Fenomenología de un saber más allá para nacer a sí mismo, Actas del Congreso internacional del Centenario de María Zambrano: II Crisis Cultural y Compromiso civil en María Zambrano, Madrid 2004, Vélez Málaga, 2005, 411-426.