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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Ego?

 If the ego is who we take ourselves to be, we will inevitably feel shaky because we do not perceive that there is a ground—the ground of Being.

— A. H. Almaas

The ego is nothing but the perspective of the surface of the soul, which is the true being. Many spiritual traditions go on about slaying the ego. But you can’t kill the ego. There is no separate thing that is ego. The ego is action, simply an activity that fastens your being, your soul, your psyche, and your self in a particular way.

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Ego

All of Your Ego is Twisted in a Certain Way that Affects All the Structures Within It

The Holy Ideas, then, are nine different facets of the enlightened view of reality, nine different explicit perceptions that can be discriminated when basic trust is predominant. The fixations described in the Enneagram of Personality are nine different facets of the distorted view of the ego. When we are working with the Enneagram, it is not a matter of seeing what’s missing in our consciousness, as we do in the theory of holes, but of seeing how our consciousness is twisted such that reality appears a particular way. One’s fixation is not one’s ego structure, so we are not looking at a particular psychic structure. Rather, we are focusing on a particular twist that the whole of the ego has, a particular distortion that affects all of its parts. All of your ego is twisted in a certain way that affects all the structures within it, giving them all a particular feel, a particular flavor, a particular style, which colors and filters the totality of your experience. The distorted view of the ego twists the state of consciousness of the soul in a way that gives it a certain posture, a certain outlook that affects the totality of the consciousness, giving the identity of the ego its particular support and flavor. In studying each Holy Idea and its accompanying fixation, we will expose the central twist, the primary distorted view of reality that makes one’s soul continue to be structured by the ego rather than abiding in its natural condition. The ego has affected the soul such that it has strayed so far from its natural condition that it has created a whole outlook, a whole life, a whole universe which is illusory.

Facets of Unity, pg. 60

Confusion About the Term "Ego"

Here we digress to point out a source of confusion about the term “ego.” Readers who know both the spiritual and psychological literatures will find the term freely used in both, but with no general agreement on what the term refers to. This ambiguity often leads to confusion. The literature on spiritual development, on essential or inner development, on all matters of religious concern, generally uses the term “ego” to mean something which is seen as the barrier to spiritual realization. The literature on depth psychology, however, uses the term with a very different meaning. The ego referred to by Freud, and which ego psychology studies, is not the ego which is the barrier to spiritual development. They are two different concepts. The psychoanalytic term “ego” refers, rather, to the functional self, which is the site, organizer, and coordinator of the functions of perception, memory, mobility, and so on. There is, however, a concept in depth psychology and ego psychology that coincides with the ego of spiritual literature: it is called the “ego-identity,” and is sometimes referred to as the sense of self, or the sense of identity. This sense of self or separate identity is the main concern of ego developmental theory. This identity is, in fact, the acme, the most important outcome of ego development. It is ultimately the organizing center of the psychic apparatus. This psychic apparatus includes as one of its units the Freudian ego. In other words, the Freudian ego is part of the mind, is a structure or a structured process in it, while the self is a sense of identity and a center of action. The exact sense in which the ego identity is a barrier to spiritual development will become clear in later chapters.

The Void, pg. 9

Dynamic Core of the Ego-Self

One way of envisioning the situation of the ego-self is that its dynamic core, ego activity, is an incomplete and distorted manifestation of the dynamism of Being. From this perspective, we can appreciate the fundamental truth that it is the dynamism of Being which underlies all activity and creativity.

Ego is Never Devoid of Unconscious, Undifferentiated Representations

This indicates that the deepest layers in both self and object images are composed of undifferentiated self-object representations. So the deepest and most basic layers of the “good” mother image are primarily those of the “good” undifferentiated self-object representations. So when an individual feels the loss, or possibility of loss, of the mother’s image, he might be feeling the loss of these deep layers. The deepest experiences of losing mother must be those of the loss of these undifferentiated representations. Object relations theory indicates that these undifferentiated representations become differentiated at some point in the process of ego development. Our observations indicate that either the process of differentiation does not happen completely or all individuals tend to regress to such undifferentiated representations when there is a possibility of a complete loss of the mother’s image. The evidence suggests that the ego is never devoid of unconscious undifferentiated representations. Our view is that the loss of the “good” undifferentiated representation leads to the activation of the Merging Essence.

Ego Seen as the Belief in a Self

Other perspectives see ego as the belief in a self or entity. The activity of ego is taken to be the activity of a person -- an entity -- who has desires and hopes. So here ego is seen as taking oneself to be a person, separate from the rest of the universe, who was born to a set of parents, who was a child, who grew up, in time, to his present status of an adult who has his hopes, desires and goals. The belief that this separate individuality is one's identity, one's self, is seen by some teachings as the main barrier to the ultimate reality which is an impersonal and universal Being, or alternately, the Void. Enlightenment then is the insight that one is not really this separate individual, a realization which is equivalent to the state of unqualified Being, or nonconceptual Reality.

Ego's Identification with Its Achievement of Individuality

Individuation is the primary achievement of ego development. We can say that the soul who is at the beginning an organism of consciousness becomes through ego development a person. The soul develops into an individual with unique characteristics and skills, a human being able to relate to others as autonomous human beings with their own characteristics and skills. This unfolds many of the potentials of the soul, but also makes it possible for her to individuate further, on deeper levels. We have discussed how this development leads to the dissociation of the soul from her essential ground, but we need to remember that this is a stage in development, getting the soul ready to progress to a further stage. The difficulty with ego development lies not in its basis on mental representations and fixed impressions, but in the identification with its achievement of individuality as if it were our final truth and identity. In other words, the problem is not with ego development, but in believing it is the terminus of the possible development of the soul, rather than seeing it as a stage that the soul needs to transcend. In fact it is our observation, and the observation of many researchers in the field, that the less successful is the ego development the more rigid is this identification. Healthier ego development results in a more flexible and permeable structure.

For What is Ego Structure as a Whole a Substitute?

The separation-individuation process leads ultimately to the development of the ego as a structure. Its final phase is that of object constancy, when the ego is formed and established as a permanent existence, separate from the environment (mother), and other people are seen to have separate existences. Finally, the ego is structured and developed, and the child permanently experiences himself as having a separate identity. The ego is seen here in a central position because everything else is really part of its structure. The ego is the product of the child's development. Something similar happens in essential development. We should recall here that each part of the personality is an imitation of and a substitute for an aspect of essence. The ego structure as a whole is a substitute for a central aspect of essence, which has a central position similar to that of the ego. This central aspect of essence is what we call the personal essence; in Work literature it is usually called “the pearl beyond price.” Some authors, such as the Sufi Alaoddawleh Semnani, have called it the “True Ego”

Gradual Dissolution of Ego Structures

It would seem in the process described above that a particular ego structure dissolves and is replaced by space and a quality of presence. This is true, but this does not mean that the particular structure has dissolved completely and will never arise again in the soul’s experience. Ego structures do not simply finally dissolve, as the experience seems to indicate. They dissolve during the experience, but when the right situation evokes the related ego structure, that structure will probably arise. If the individual has worked through the structure the way we described it above, when it comes back it will be different. It will have lost some, or most, of its charge, and will have less power to structure the soul. The soul will recognize it more easily, and disidentify from it with greater ease. This will give the soul the opportunity to work through it further, to see something about it she missed the first time around, and to also understand it from a larger and more fundamental perspective, depending on the new stage of her overall development. This process tends to repeat itself at the various stages of the soul’s inner journey, especially when she is working through the major ego structures. The result is that the impression on the soul constituting any particular ego structure becomes steadily shallower and less powerful, more flexible and transparent, and less able to structure the soul in a fixed way. This is like sanding out a depression in a piece of wood. The more sanding, the less deep is the impression and the less important it is as a structure.

Interdependence Between Ego and Being

To know that one is Being, which is not within the realm of images, is such a subtle understanding that it seems impossible for a child to have this knowledge. Enlightenment must wait for the maturity of perception, discrimination and understanding, since it depends on self knowledge. These capacities depend upon concepts. We can say then that ego is needed for enlightenment, since the beginning of conceptualization in childhood is inextricably linked with the development of the ego. So first the ego, which is needed for knowledge and functioning, develops; then the capacity for discriminating knowledge, among other things, leads to the dissolution of the ego. The final result is the life of Being, including the development of functioning within the realm of Being. This interdependence between ego and Being can also be seen in the process of inner metabolism. Ego on its own cannot complete the metabolism of experience and hence cannot bring about complete human development; Being is needed for this process to take place. On the other hand, Being cannot accomplish on its own the whole process of metabolism; it cannot dislodge ego when ego is defensive. From the perspective of the mind, Being can be resisted easily with a slight movement of ego; thus ego must first cooperate by relinquishing its defensive posture.

Object Relations Theory

Object relations theory has become the dominant psychoanalytic theory of ego development. Its main insight is that the ego develops, primarily through the integration of early experiences, into organized mental structures. These mental structures, termed ego structures, are systems of memories that have become organized through the processes of assimilation or introjection, identification, integration, synthesis, and so on, into an overall schema patterning the self.

Penetrating the Structures of the Central Ego

When we explore the structures of the central ego—our usual self-images and object relations—what we discover is that they are empty and devoid of reality. They lose their capacity to support our identity. Therefore, as we penetrate these surface structures, which are representational and cognitive, we usually revert to deeper ones to maintain a sense of self. We begin to encounter structures with less definition, ones that are less formed and more amorphous. Unlike in the representational structures, in these primitive structures, the living presence of the soul is more apparent. These structures are less rigid than cognitive structures, more partial and elemental and fluid. As we explore these primitive structures, we begin to experience elements that were repressed or split off from the central ego. Our libidinal soul—its animal aggression and hunger for pleasure—is revealed at this stage of our work. This is the realm of drives and instincts, which is an earlier stage of development than cognitive representation.

Resisting Being Yourself

When you are resisting, you are basically resisting yourself. It is a kind of self-resistance. Instead of being with yourself, you are resisting being with yourself. Instead of being yourself, you are resisting being yourself. That is what it means to resist our True Nature. The ego experience, which is by its nature not an experience of simply being ourselves, implies resistance to being. The moment we take the posture of ego, of identification with our history, it implies resistance. There is no such thing as ego with no resistance, and the ultimate resistance is the resistance to simply being, the resistance to our True Nature. And that’s because ego is always trying to do one thing or another, and True Nature isn’t doing anything. It just is. It is nature. It is luminous presence. The nature of ego itself is an ongoing resistance to what is. Even just manifesting as ego implies that we are resisting our nature, because if we didn’t resist our nature we would instantly be our nature. So, the fact that we are not experiencing ourselves as our True Nature, the fact that we are not this spacious presence, implies resistance.

Sense of Orientation of the Self

The center of the ego-self, the center of its initiative, action and perception, is a psychic structure characterized by a specific pattern and by incessant psychological activity. The pattern, or the particular psychic organization, provides the direction of action, while the activity provides the drive to act. This gives the self a sense of orientation, center, and meaning. The psychological activity includes hope, the self is hoping consciously or unconsciously to achieve its aim or ideal.

The Delusion of the Ego View

The habitual way that human beings participate in the dynamism of Being is known as the conventional view. We usually participate in the revelation of reality by being a self that exists on its own, among other selves and other objects in a world of linear time and space. This is commonly known as the ego, or dualistic, perspective. As a view, the ego perspective is neither bad nor a problem. Most nondual teachings consider the ego view delusional; they think that the dual experience of reality is false. But reality does appear as ego experience and, as such, it is only delusional if viewed from the perspective of the nondual. The view of totality recognizes it as simply one of many ways that reality manifests. The real difficulty with the ego view is that it obstructs and closes us to other possibilities of Being. The ego perspective limits the freedom of our nature to respond appropriately to the situations in which we find ourselves. At the center of this conventional view or ordinary philosophy is what we think of as our self. The sense of self is the center or foundation of the ego view—“I am here, and I am in the world, and I perceive things from here, and I act according to my preferences.” Many traditions consider this position to be ignorance or delusion. The delusion of the ego view is in its sense of finality—“This is what reality is and that’s that.” If the ego understood that its view is only one of many ways that reality manifests, then its position would not be a delusion. It’s true that the dual view is one way that reality happens. But believing this one way to be definitive is the delusion of the ego view.

The Experience of Ego Cannot be Devoid of Narcissism

As has been amply demonstrated by object relations theory, since all ego structures are based on identifications with impressions from the past, it is clear that the experience of ego cannot be devoid of narcissism. Thus the conventional dimension of experience, which is deeply patterned by these structures (whether healthy or pathological), includes an intrinsic narcissism. Everyone knows that he has some measure of selfishness, self-reference, a need to be seen and appreciated, a deep wish for esteem and admiration from others, and some distortion in his self-concepts. Although we are accustomed to thinking of these traits as normal, they are in fact narcissistic phenomena. They are universal to all nonrealized individuals, reflecting the fundamental narcissism that is the result of not knowing oneself on a deep level. This is what we call the “narcissism of everyday life” or “fundamental narcissism."

The Libidinal Ego

If we inquire into our various relationships, especially the object relationships we enact in the world, we find many varieties, but underneath them, much more hidden than most forms of relationships, is the libidinal relationship. This is the powerful part of the ego-self that embodies the animal soul and all her tendencies, which becomes constellated around the infantile desire, hope, and wish for the wonderful object, the libidinal object that will gratify all of the soul’s needs and desires. The libidinal ego is the instinctual and infantile source of attachments and desires, and typically is split off from our conscious experience. Under normal circumstances, when we experience this deep, hidden part of our soul, it does not feel negative. We actually feel full of life and full of vigor when we experience ourselves as the libidinal soul. We are strong, full of passion, full of energy, brimming with a zest for life. But we are not going to let go of what we want and what we believe we have. We passionately hold on, wanting the riches of life and all the objects that promise gratification. If you become aware of the deepest image that this libidinal ego is holding on to, you see the image of a luscious breast. This is the initial image, the core image that the libidinal ego doesn’t want to let go of. It is a wonderful golden image, which we see full of all the essential qualities. At this early age, the spiritual and the animal forms of experience are not yet differentiated; they are interpenetrating.

The Mysterious Unity of Being and the Individual

In other words, the delusion of the ego perspective is that Being identifies itself with the organ of its experience. That is to say that Being, in its mystery and vastness and magic and indefinable and immeasurable qualities, constrains itself by taking itself to be the organ through which it experiences and perceives. Being mistakes the individual consciousness to be all of what it is, to be its only identity. So the problem is not that there is an organ of perception, that there is individual consciousness. What causes all the trouble—the suffering and discontent and incompleteness and meaninglessness and dissociation and headaches and heartaches—is that we take the individual consciousness to be all of what we are, now and forever. But in reality, we are Being in its vastness at the same time as we are the individual with its uniqueness. This mysterious unity of Being and the individual manifests in infinite kinds of experience and realization, which signal the freedom that is possible for human beings.

The Pure Presence of Being is the Underlying Ground for Aspects of Essence and for Structures of the Ego-Self

At this juncture, we understand that believing that we are separate individuals, or autonomous entities, rather than recognizing ourselves as the oneness of all existence, creates alienation from pure Being. To take oneself as ultimately a separate and autonomous person creates the supreme wound, which appears as an abyss, an abysmal chasm, that alienates us not only from our true nature, but also from everybody and everything. This is the supreme betrayal, and the beginning of endless suffering. We also understand, here, the cosmic shell as the experience of the world devoid of its true nature, the infinite pure Being. Looking through the representational world, we see only a world devoid of Being. The quality of infinity and omnipresence of the identity at this level of experience eliminates duality. We experience Being not only as our true nature, but as the nature of everything. This means it is also the true nature of the ego-self. The pure presence of Being is the underlying ground both for aspects of Essence, and for structures of the ego-self. Both become seen as particular formations within the presence of pure Being. At this level, the movement from the duality between Essence and personality is different from that involved in realizing the Essential Identity. In the realization of the Essential Identity, the student experiences the personality in the third person, as if from the outside, as the totality of the suffering individual. She experiences herself as a center of awareness and presence separate from the individual person, relating to that person with compassion, love, and understanding. Or she experiences herself as a personality aware of the Essential Identity as an essential presence, characterized by the feeling of identity. There is duality in this experience. In the process of realization of pure Being, the alternation is not between the personality and presence, but rather, between duality and unity. In duality, the student experiences herself as the totality of the ego-self, the personality, separate from the presence and resistant to it. She also experiences and understands it by being it. She experiences the movement of her ego-self directly, in all its details. She experiences it from within, in its totality, with a specific understanding of the nature of its functioning. This is in contrast to the experience of the personality in the dimension of the Essential Identity, where she experiences it from the outside, as the other who is struggling and suffering. In the dimension of pure Being, her understanding of the nature of suffering becomes more specific and complete. The result is that the personality is not necessarily transformed in the self-realization of the Essential Identity; there is only the shift of its identity. The complete realization of pure Being involves a process of purification and clarification of the personality, until there is no difference between it and the purity of Being. The final outcome is the condition of unity in which we experience the personality (the ego-self) as an inseparable manifestation of pure Being.

What is the Delusion of the Ego Perspective?

In other words, the delusion of the ego perspective is that Being identifies itself with the organ of its experience. That is to say that Being, in its mystery and vastness and magic and indefinable and immeasurable qualities, constrains itself by taking itself to be the organ through which it experiences and perceives. Being mistakes the individual consciousness to be all of what it is, to be its only identity. So the problem is not that there is an organ of perception, that there is individual consciousness. What causes all the trouble —the suffering and discontent and incompleteness and meaninglessness and dissociation and headaches and heartaches—is that we take the individual consciousness to be all of what we are, now and forever. But in reality, we are Being in its vastness at the same time as we are the individual with its uniqueness. This mysterious unity of Being and the individual manifests in infinite kinds of experience and realization, which signal the freedom that is possible for human beings.



What is the Main Difference Between Being and Ego?

To identify with the reaction that is the ego is to be cut off from Being, one’s true nature and identity. This is what the man of spirit means when he says the ego “is not,” it has no true existence. Now, we can understand in a deeper way the autonomy of Being. From the perspective of Being, what we are is not determined by either the past or the present situation. We are not a reaction; we simply are, an essential existence, totally free from the past. Our nature, our identity, cannot be influenced by situations. The main difference between Being and ego—which is that Being is just being-as-such and ego a reaction from the past—makes Being the true autonomy, and ego autonomy a delusion. It is ironic that object relations theory first describes so competently the way in which ego is structured from past object relations between inner images and, therefore, is compulsively reacting to situations in conditioned patterns, and then goes on to describe this same entity as autonomous! How can this set of reactions from the past be said to be autonomous, when true autonomy can be recognized to be the fullness of the presence of Being in the present? Again this understanding will be difficult for those who have no direct experience of what Being is; but actually almost everyone has had some experience of some deeper aspects of experience which are not completely dominated by ego activity. Here it is a matter of seeing these experiences for what they are, for their great significance.

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