Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Dissolving the Ego

I won't talk about this at great length because I think people can get a lot of detailed information elsewhere. Personally I'd recommend reading Ken Wilber's books on integral psychology or becoming familiar with information that is available on videos. You might wish to look up or following the free online seminar If your orientation is more New Age, there are plenty of supportive sites that come up when you search for "lightwork" or "ascension". There are some interesting points about personality and psychopathology here, not least for individual work. Anyway, here are some of my viewpoints in the form of an outline of this issue as I understand it. I don't expect others to.

People are often a bit confused as to the idea of dissolving the ego even though it's something that is at the forefront of all spiritual movements. This is no wonder since it's hard for the mind to grasp such profound and complex psychological truths. The integral approach is very clear on the fact that a person consists of many levels of reality and undergoes a natural and constant process of evolution. Only subconscious denial of the experiences we go through can be a hinderance. Of course, this approach would be of no significance unless one assumed that some form of reincarnation is a fact (if you don't believe this, there is no need to read further). The level of the ego simply represents one stage in this development, but apparently the hardest one to overcome. The ego is our sense of self as persona in the world, and it's implies a perception of the self as separate from everyone else. It's all about "me, myself and I". Altruism isn't really in place yet. On previous stages of evolution the personality is not clear; it's in the making. On its last evolutionary stop it comes into full bloom. Issues about identity become potent. At first the identification with external things such as material possessions or a job is automatic and constitutes the sense of self (in other words, one's identity equals various transient phenomena outside of oneself rather than who a person really is). As self-awareness increases as a result of evolution and introspection, a person starts to question automatic beliefs and not least, what the sense of self is based in. Seeking love outside of oneself is also a very important theme on this level, as the ego seeks confirmation by others on the one hand but connection and deep sentiments on the other. Some form of psychotherapy might be necessary in order to work out various denied aspects of one's identity in order to rectify all the things that have gone wrong. This is hard work and many people would rather avoid it. However it's necessary to do it so as to stop repeating subconscious psychopathological patterns.

The inner work of healing the self is the same as solidifying the ego. It's very important that it becomes strong and healthy. This includes being able to draw personal boundaries and having the discernment to say no to people and experiences that are not beneficial to one's persona and its growth. However, if a person wishes to aspire to a more spiritual level (and according to this way of thinking people eventually will), they will have to transcend the level of the simple self or ego. This is where the psychological tools such as the inner witness, discernment and detachment become important in one's life. If you try to dissolve an ego that isn't quite in place, you will most likely start to suffer from mental health issues such as psychosis. This is something that can also happen as a result of drug abuse as it forces the mind to reorganize too fast and too soon.

I will give an analogy from my own world. Some people love to create abstract paintings. However, it's not really possible to do good abstractions of the perceived reality if you're not very good at copying the reality you see first. In other words, you need to be good at drawing and painting what you see before you start to dissect and alter your vision. A really meaningful abstraction is one that maintains the most important elements, albeit you can continue to abstract ad infinitum until the traces of our normal reality are gone. This is the process that the painter Piet Mondrian and the sculptor Constantin Brancusi explored back in the early 20th Century. Other forms of abstract art may be nice to look at but their intrinsic meaning is not the same if you get my drift; they are simplifications but not real abstracted abstractions. (I may add that photography tends to be a bit different since the process involves being able to see and capture what is already there, however work on the shots can imply abstraction). In a similar way, spiritual people who appear to have transcended their egoistic needs without actually having done so may have an allure about them but looking up to them is intrinsically meaningless. They are not icons to follow, though in an indirect way people can learn from them too. It's important to understand that negative experiences are also helpful on the journey towards greater self-realization. Via negativa has a way of shaking people in the form of wake up calls to the realization of various truths.

People who enter a spiritual path will thus be faced with the ego and its various pathologies. The most obvious problem is egotism, in other words an excessive need to feel one's trivial desires at the expense of other people or by way of excluding others from one's realm of existence. Isolating oneself from the unity that the collective represents may serve a purpose for a while, as a person strengthens their sense of self. In the long run it becomes a pathological stance though. When working with the psyche, the unhealthy bits need patching up first. Then various ego traps need to be identified. These are habitual attitudes and other programmed ways of dealing with reality that lead people astray. The longer they last, the more ingrained the patterns become and thus more difficult to change.

The deeper truth about the ego is that it almost seems like an entity that hovers above a person and convinces a person that the person equals their ego. Seeing and witnessing this is the first step. The reality of the ego is an illusion, but a potent one. The ego is a conglomerate of beliefs that a person has about themselves. Now a healthy ego is one that contains healthy beliefs about the self and its identity in relation to the world. While that's all fine and dandy, this "little self" eventually needs to be transcended so that the perception of who a person is will include the "greater Self". The ego doesn't represent the greater truth about who we are. Now most psychotherapies out there think that the work is done once a person has been restored to a healthy self, and so the spiritual dimension is excluded. Of course, many people entertain forms of spirituality or religious practice alongside with their journey to become more complete individuals. Though there is nothing wrong with this, recognizing the more hidden but deeper truths about the religions out there is a step towards an even completer integration of the individual. Obviously atheists and agnostics will debate this but from an integral, transpersonal or mystical/spiritual viewpoint there is more to be discovered about life.

There are loads of ego traps that need to be identified. All one's needs and desires need to be scrutinized. While they first need to be rectified and "patched", their usefulness to one's life need to be scrutinized as well. The deconstruction of the little self and its ultimate disintegration goes from there. It's not a quick process, and in fact, it shouldn't be. Neither is it chronological and straightforward. If it is, it probably isn't real. Jack Kornfield wrote a book with the telling title "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry". You may have spiritual experiences but the work with the subconscious conditioning still needs to be done. The disintegration of the ego is simply a process of realizing that the ego served a transitory purpose but that it is not the true Self. The true Self transcends the petty self. But all that remains to be seen! Nobody can tell you exactly what it's like to transcend, only hint at it. It's not something you can put into simple words. Also, nobody can convince you to follow such a path. It comes from within, or it doesn't, and one sign is a longing to feel a deeper connection with the reality that surrounds you, "all that is". An experience of oneness defeats the ego's "mission" to create a sense of a separate self, and this is were the real dissolution of the boundaries of self comes in. The ego doesn't really "die", since nothing about consciousness can be "killed". It's not a matter of changing any facts about your being, only a matter of changing the perception of reality.

Artwork: Digital photograph by author, all rights reserved 2009


  1. Profound and moving for me. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    I GUESS THE EGO HAS TO BE FULLY ACCEPTED AND LOVED FOR IT TO BE DISSOLVED. Unconditional awareness was all that was required.


  3. Thank you so much, I'm very glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Enjoyed the article - I wouldnt have found it if I was not searching for it. Dissolving my personal ego is in conjunction with letting a longtime friend go because he/she is hurting your personal growth rather than supporting it. Ego's are selfish; consciousness is righteous. Love = egoless, fear = ego. Choice is ours. I'm slowly learning how to step outside the ego and explore consciousness. It's literally a life changing experience. There's no car or jewelry that can match the results of finding yourself. Just my personal opinion. Again, loved the article!.