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Ego Development

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Ego Development?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Ego Development

Being Emerging as a Person, a Human Being

The understanding that is arising here is that ego development is part of the process of embodiment of Being. It is part of the process of Being finally learning to manifest and live in embodied existence. At birth the infant lives as Being, in a state of undifferentiation that is not linked to the body. A process then starts, of consciousness gradually cathecting the body and physical reality. This process of embodiment of Being is a process of personalization, of Being finally emerging as a person, a Human Being. This process of embodiment includes the process we have described, the personalization of Essence, in which the various essential aspects become integrated in the presence of the Personal Essence. Now we see that this process also involves embodiment of these essential aspects; for the Personal Essence is the embodiment of Being. In embodiment one is both Being and a person, a human being. One is the fullness and richness of Being, manifest as a unique person, living a human life in the world. One is both Being and the expression of the love of Being. Being is transcendent, and ultimately nondifferentiated. It is possible to see that the person is a result of Being differentiating into the various aspects, which then become integrated again in a process of embodiment, forming a new synthesis, the Personal Essence. When this process is complete then the human being has attained maturity. This maturity includes the capacity for transcendence; for the Personal Essence is in actuality a cell in the oneness of Being. In other words, transcendence and oneness, the concerns of the man of spirit, are part of the maturity of the Personal Essence, which is the truth behind the hopes of the man of the world.

Distrust is Part of the Basis of Ego Development

The less holding there is in the environment, the more the child’s development will be based on this reactivity, which is essentially an attempt to deal with an undependable environment. The child will develop mechanisms for dealing with an environment that is not trustworthy, and these mechanisms form the basis of the developing sense of self, or ego. This development of the child’s consciousness is then founded on distrust, and so distrust is part of the basis of ego development. The child’s consciousness—her soul—internalizes the environment it is growing up in and then projects that environment back into the world.

Facets of Unity, pg. 44

Ego Development Dissociates the Soul from Her Essential Ground

Thus the nature of the ground of the soul and the nature of ego development combine, with great redundancy, to exclude essential presence from the identity of the ego-self. Thus the dissociation is not only contingent on environmental deficiencies, but it is unavoidable, since ego development is a natural stage for the evolution of the soul. (We discuss this point in exhaustive detail in The Point of Existence, chapter 12.) Ego development dissociates the soul from her essential ground in a still more complete way, not only constructing a sense of identity that excludes presence, but also patterning the soul such that her experience of herself is always through the self-representation. The self-representation does not simply remain in the mind as a mental content. Its various images and object relations with their associated feelings and attitudes become relatively fixed structures in the soul. To begin with, they are impressions in the soul because any experience is a form that impresses her field with various degrees of fixation. But when they are incorporated into the self-representation, the soul identifies with them and they become fairly permanent forms that structure the soul’s experience.

Ego Development is the Process of Bounding Space

Given our understanding of mind as space, we can see then that the separation-individuation process that Mahler speaks of not only builds the psychic structure and gives the individual his sense of identity, but more fundamentally, it accomplishes this by erecting boundaries and fixing them in space. In other words, the process of ego development is a process of bounding space, of building static boundaries in the openness of the mind. It is the carving of structure out of space, and the resulting psychic structure then is simply a structuralized space. This explains very clearly why when self-boundaries are dissolved, space appears. What happens is that the structuralization is dissolved, the boundaries are “melted.” When the structure is melted, the nature of the mind with no structure is revealed, and this is space.

The Void, pg. 35

Ego Development Seen to be Guided by the Personal Essence

One can see the whole process of ego development as determined and guided by the personal essence, or even as the unfolding of an already existing topography or design. We cannot, however, say the same thing about ego. Ego does not exist in its final form in the potential of human beings. It exists, at birth, only in its functions, which we have already discussed as reflecting more the personal essence itself. Seeing realization from different but equally valid points of view, is a reflection of the truth of Being: it is the original, eternally existing Reality. Being is where we come from, and how we go back to it can be understood from many perspectives, because perspectives are conceptual constructs, while Being precedes concepts.

Progression of Ego Development

Ego development progresses through integrating impressions accumulated from the soul’s early experiences, primarily those with her primary caregivers. These impressions are basically memory traces of her interactions with her parents, first and primarily the mother. These memory traces are retained as images of the parent, of oneself, and the quality of interaction. The three constitute what is called an internalized object relation. The various object relations become integrated by the mind into larger and larger units until there finally results a super-ordinate self-image and object image. The overarching self-image, which contains all the memory traces of oneself (mostly vis-à-vis the mothering person), is a mental representation of the self that patterns the soul by impressing her with its content. In other words, the soul’s field of consciousness becomes gradually structured in a semi-permanent way by the development of this self-representation. The self-representation contains two primary ego structures: individual boundaries that separate the self from others, and identity by which the self knows itself. (See The Point of Existence, chapter 9, about the development of the self-representation, the two primary structures, and their relationship and differences.)

Separation of the Infant from His Sense of Being

At birth the human infant has no sense of self. He is Being. He is his being without knowledge or self-consciousness. There is no mental functioning yet. Slowly, through experiences of pleasure and pain, memory traces are retained, forming the first self-impressions (self-representations). As the infant starts taking himself to be this or that (this or that self-image) he separates from his sense of Being, because an image is not his being. As the ego-identity and sense of self develop and become stable, the contact with Being in its various aspects and qualities is mostly lost. The extent of the loss also depends on the adequacy of the environment and the infant's relation to it. The process of loss of contact with Being leaves a sense of deficiency, a state of deficient emptiness, as if the Being is left with many holes in it. The deficient emptiness is the state of the absence of contact with or awareness of Being. Space, which is the open dimension of Being, is lost in the formation of the self-image. This self-image includes the unconscious body image of having a genital hole. For the normal individual, the development of the personality happens relatively smoothly. The self is highly integrated and stays stable throughout most of one's life. In those with mental disorders, for reasons already known in depth psychology, the development of the personality and its sense of self is incomplete, or happens with various distortions, malformations, or inadequacies.

The Void, pg. 127

Signs of the Maturity of Ego Development

As we discussed in Chapter Two, the accomplishment of separation-individuation is understood to be the acquiring of independence from the mothering person in the process of forming a stable self-image and sense of self. Its final outcome is indeed the achievement of individuality, the capacity to be a person in one’s own right and to function autonomously. Thus, in terms of ego development, acquiring autonomy is the same as the achievement of the intrapsychic task of the separation-individuation process, the attainment of identity, separateness and individuality. We can see then that society’s idealization of autonomy points to the deeper significance of the desire of the man of the world for autonomy: it means to him becoming “his own person.” It means individuation, growth and maturity. Independence and autonomy within society, “making it,” achieving the capacity to support oneself and one’s family, the ability to make free choices about one’s life, are the adult’s expression of individuation, signs of the maturity of his ego development, and the fruition of the solidification of his individuality.

Stages of Ego Development

Mahler calls this process of the development of ego structures the separation-individuation process, and assigned to it several stages, according to her experimental-observational studies of children with their mothers. The first stage is the autistic, in the first few weeks of life, in which the neonate does not yet have any relationship with a significant other. The second is that of symbiosis, characterized by the neonate experiencing itself within a common boundary with the mother, where it is not separate from her, but in a dual unity with her. The next phase is that of differentiation, starting around seven months of age, where the baby starts experiencing itself as separate from the mother. This phase is the time when the self starts establishing representations of a separate self and other. The next is the practicing period, from twelve to eighteen months, when the child begins discovering and exercising its unique capacities and functions. The next is that of rapprochement, between eighteen and thirty-six months, where the toddler vacillates between moving towards autonomy and returning to closeness to mother and dependence on her. In the last phase, which begins at three years, but lasts throughout the life cycle, the sense of autonomous individuality develops with its twin achievement of object constancy. The latter is the capacity to experience another human being, originally the mother, as an autonomous individual in his or her own right, with unique qualities and functions. (See Mahler et al., 1975.)

The Deeper Development in the Realm of Being

Our question is, can one truly assume one’s own individual characteristics and move towards maturity by merely developing a unified self-image and the structures supporting it? Our exploration, so far, of the Personal Essence indicates that a far deeper development, in the realm of Being, constitutes the true maturity. One might argue that there is not much difference experientially between the experience of the individuality of ego and that of the Personal Essence, and that the latter is the result of ego development. However, the case presentations and reports in this book strongly establish that the sense of individuation of the Personal Essence is quite different from that of normal ego development. The depth, profundity, definiteness and sense of reality are always experienced as unusual. Our students are relatively well-integrated. Psychologists would be likely to regard them as dealing with neuroses and some structural issues. The students are always astonished by the depth and reality of individuation in the experience of the Personal Essence. The sense of Being is very clearly not within the experience of ego.

The Difficulty With Ego Development

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.

The Personal Essence Can be Seen as the Ultimate Product of Ego Development

The Personal Essence can be seen as the integration or absorption of personality into Being, as the synthesis of the man of the world and the man of spirit. However, it is more accurate to see it as the ultimate product of ego development. In other words, ego development and spiritual enlightenment are not two disjoint processes but parts of the same process. The understanding of the Personal Essence shows how they are linked. This point is a radical departure from the understanding of both traditional spiritual teachings and modern psychology. It unifies these two fields into one field, that of human nature and development.

The Proverbial Ego of Spiritual Terminology

One important thing we see here is that there is no ego separate from the soul. The proverbial ego of spiritual terminology is nothing but the ego-self the soul structured through ego development. There is no ego as an entity; there is only the soul that can become ego by becoming structured with mental forms. Therefore, the idea of ego death is a misnomer. There is no entity that dies, for the soul does not die. All that happens in such experiences is that an ego structure dissolves, and the soul field is liberated from its influence. More accurately, the soul ceases to structure her experience through these mental forms. This can bring about the dissolution or transcendence of one’s identity, but this identity is a feeling that arises from the soul being structured by a particular self-representation. A representation dies, but no entity.

“Ego Autonomy” Puts One in Bondage to One’s Past in the Form of Self-Images

Not only does this process of developing “ego autonomy” put one in bondage to one’s past in the form of self-images, it also leaves one relating to the object images of one’s early primary caretakers, and therefore under their coercive influence, which functions as what the analytic model calls the “superego.” Thus even though the ego might be relatively independent emotionally from the love object, its sense of identity is definitely not. The sense of self of the ego, and its individuality, are fundamentally dependent on the traits of the objects in the inner world, and on the particulars of the childhood interactions with it. We will discuss in some detail later how the development of the Personal Essence is related to the ego development which occurs through identification. When one is the Personal Essence, one does become free of these identifications and of the influence of the early caretakers which has lived on in the ego’s object images. The Personal Essence is an ongoing sense of Beingness, completely independent of mind and memory, and hence completely free. It is the true autonomous individuation. Not being based on the past, the inner state and the external behavior that functions in the manifestation of the Personal Essence are completely objective and appropriate responses to the present situation.

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