Sunday, 10 April 2011

Ego bashing

Today's card from the Rumi Tarot (link takes you to a video of some of the images from the deck - lovely) by Nigel Jackson is the Five of Staves (Wands).

Here we see a brave warrior attacking a large, devil-like creature.  White of skin, with horns, long, dog-like ears, a tail and bird's feet, this monster falls beneath the Stave of the warrior.

Is the ego really such a bad thing?  Freud argued that we should, if anything, be trying to strengthen the ego against the assaults of the id and super-ego.  While I'm not a proponent of his model of the mind, there is something to be said for that.  And, as Bettelheim points out in his short and very readable book "Freud and Man's Soul", it was only the English translators who associated Freud's depiction of the self with the "ego"tistical - Freud actually just spoke of the "I", the self that lives life.

Nevertheless, I also agree that our ego gets in the way of our connection to the divine.  However, unless we are planning to live in a monastery, the realities of life mean that we have to be able to interact with others in the mundane world.  And our "I", our ego, is the part of us that does this.

Bizarrely, perhaps, I therefore suggest that we need to have a stable sense of ego, but also that it is good to develop the capacity to turn it off, or let go of it and of our sense of self, when we commune with spirit.  I don't think this is as daft as it may at first sound.  As existential philosophers and psychotherapists (amongst others) say, we are not aware of ourselves as such during any peak experience.  For example, when exalted in prayer, ecstatic through sex or song or drugs, when thoroughly engrossed in what we are doing, whatever it may be, we are not "thinking" but "doing" or even just "being".  This is the lack, or letting go, of ego, that I feel we also strive for in yoga and meditation.  It is easy when it is for a "perfect" moment in one of these peak experiences, but somewhat harder when we intentionally try to capture this state of being for more than a minute or two.

Still, this warrior's active stance echoes this idea - it is when we passionately pursue some course of action that it is easiest to unseat the ego and touch this ego-less state of being.  Be it in walking on a beach, gardening, practising yoga, communing with tarot cards, or making love, these activities can be a wonderful form of meditation.  Also, in deconstructing our thought processes - in seeing our thoughts and separating ourselves from them - we "smash" our egos, dividing ourselves from them, dissecting them so that we no longer associate ourselves with this ego that thinks and judges.

I am grateful for the moments when I can separate my "being" from my ego. 

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