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Ego Self

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Ego Self?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Ego Self

Any Movement of Rejection, Choice, Desire, Motive, Hope Preference, Holding, Grasping, Trying or Effort will Separate the Self from the Simplicity of Being

More than all the discourses in the world, the clarity of this pure being illuminates the barriers against realizing it, gross and subtle. We begin to see that locating ourselves anywhere within the self-structure separates us from this simplicity. Any motive, any hope, any desire, any ego movement means identifying with the structured self, with the ego-self. Thus, any movement of rejection, choice, desire, motive, hope, preference, holding, grasping, trying or effort will separate the self from this simplicity of being. The ego-self is always trying to approach the simplicity of realizing the Essential Identity (the point), but the more it tries, the farther it moves away from it. However, as the point, the student is aware of the ego self as if from the outside. It becomes possible for the first time to see and experience the normal self, the ego-self, from a vantage point totally outside of it. The student begins to have glimpses of the person he has been experiencing himself as, seen throughout his life, trying to free himself. He sees his virtues and vices, and understands—maybe for the first time—that this person has been doing all he could. He sees his purity, his effort, his confusion, his frustration, his dedication and his laziness, his sincerity and his blindness, his anger and his pain, his fear and his anxiety. As the pure presence of awareness and light, he perceives his ego-self as if in the third person. He recognizes himself as a compassionate and loving center, while the person who is the ego-self is doing everything in his power to approach and be this center. He sees how these attempts are inherently frustrating because they take him away from the true center.

Emptiness Felt as the Poverty of the Sense of Self

The student realizes that in identifying with the ego-self she truly has nothing, for everything comes from Being. As the ego-self, she is fundamentally poor, totally indigent, devoid of all possessions and qualities. This state is very profound; by this point, too, the student is coming to the insight that this is the intrinsic condition of the ego-self, and is not particular only to her personal situation. The state has a sense of having nothing, feeling nothing, being nothing, and perceiving nothing. It can easily shift to the state of cessation (the disappearing), but it can go further. The state of poverty, which some traditions call “mystical poverty,” is the expression of the transformation of narcissistic emptiness into true inner spaciousness, a profound void now penetrating the shell due to the shell’s almost complete denudement. As the self is letting go of its representations of itself, which feels like the surrendering of everything she believed she possessed, she becomes increasingly transparent to the presentations of Being. She experiences a new profundity of true emptiness—black space—but it is reflected through a slight vestige of psychic structure, the concept of entity. So she feels this emptiness as the poverty of her sense of self. 

Envisioning the Situation 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. However, this dynamism can be functioning naturally according to its own intrinsic design, recognizable as an optimizing force, or it can function in an errant, distorted, or incomplete manner, recognizable as ego activity. Ego activity is not always led by ideals or driven by ambitions; it is a more general, ongoing motion of defending against pain or seeking pleasure. Also, the ego is always acting directly or indirectly to preserve the self-representation. It preserves ego structures, including the “nuclear” structures of the center of the self. When this activity becomes organized and channeled according to ideals and ambitions through the establishment of higher level psychic structures (as Kohut conceptualized them), it becomes the tension arc of the bipolar self. Thus, the tension arc of the bipolar self is a particular manifestation of ego activity, one central to the narcissistic sector of the self. 

In Normal Personal Experience the Ego-Self is What We Experience as Ourselves

What are the main psychological patterns, the primary structures? We can look at this question from the perspective of our lived experience as well as from the perspective of developmental psychology. In normal personal experience the ego-self is what we experience as ourselves. We experience the self as an entity among other entities. We do not experience ourselves as part of something else, but as an entity in our own right. We experience our existence as our own, fundamentally separate and autonomous from other entities or phenomena. It is possible for us to experience ourselves not as an entity, but this is unusual. There are basically three situations in which this is possible. The first is in early infancy before the development of a separate sense of self. Most developmental theories hold that the neonate is not aware of itself as a separate self, that at the beginning experience is not referred to a self differentiated from the rest of the perceptual field. The second situation is severe psychopathology in which the normal sense of self did not develop or developed inadequately. In some unusual circumstances this condition can arise transiently in the normal self. The third situation is the state of self-realization, when we experience presence as boundless. In this case, the experience of the self is the oneness of the universe, or awareness of the soul as part of the fabric of this oneness. In general, however, normal experience definitely includes a sense of being an entity. In fact, “entitihood” constitutes the barest minimum of the sense of self for a human being.

Psychic Structure at the Center of the Ego-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. This implies that we project on the future the possibility of accomplishing a certain objective. The content of this objective is dependent upon previous experiences. We can hope only for something we have already had a taste of. The objective does not have to be identical to something we have experienced, but is shaped by many experiences from the past.

Selective Identification of the Ego-Self

The ego self cannot allow the experience of being alive, joyful, compassionate, strong, peaceful, and so on, all at the same time. This is because in the process of its development the ego identity is solidified through the process of selective identification, which occurs after some integration of this identity; thus there is a selection of identifications that do not contradict its already established feeling of self, but rather go along with and support this identity.

Self-Centeredness is a Basic Property of the Ego-Self

This process of becoming aware of and disidentifying from ego identifications begins to shed light on the nature of the personality as a substitute for true Being. For instance, a typical development in students going through this process is a tendency towards increased selfishness and self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is a basic quality of the ego self, which becomes increasingly obvious as the ego identifications, which are the building blocks of the self, begin to dissolve. But this dissolution threatens the stability of the ego self, and hence there results the reaction of holding on more tightly to this self. The desperate clinging to this identity exposes the basic quality of self-centeredness, the attitude of perceiving and relating to everything and everyone in the world from the perspective of oneself, considering what is for me and what is against me. What will I get from this and what will I lose from that? As the ego identifications dissolve, one can see more clearly how pervasive, invisible, deceptive and convincing is this attitude, pervading almost everything in one’s life. Everything is considered from the perspective of whether it will support one’s ego or not, without much regard for others or for the truth.

The Ego-Self Constantly Recites to Itself: “Truth is Whatever I Happen to be Thinking”

The primary insight in the logos of the Diamond Approach is that our true nature is the truth. Second, that true nature is self-revealing; it automatically, spontaneously, and naturally has a tendency to reveal its truth. And it reveals this truth in all situations, at all times, in all ways, in everything we experience. Since our nature is self-revealing truth, then if we are not seeing or being our true nature, it is because we are stuck in what we think we know. We believe that we understand when we don’t. We believe that we see the truth when we are not seeing the truth. This not seeing the truth and believing we see it is the unconscious unclarity, the unconscious obscuration, the omnipresent dullness of the ego-personality. The ego-self constantly recites to itself: “Truth is whatever I happen to be thinking.” Inquiry is a way of actively challenging this smug comfort of believing that what we experience and know is the truth. In doing so, it opens up a space for Being to naturally reveal its truth. We can try to see the truth by doing a yogic practice, such as a concentration technique, because sharp concentration can penetrate to the truth. But that method is not based on the understanding that the truth is revealing itself in whatever is happening in our experience. We don’t need to do anything special in order to reach the ultimate truth; it’s not necessary to practice any particular technique that removes us from or transcends our daily life. We just need to recognize the truth in our ongoing experience. Inquiry is the path of discerning the truth already present in any perception or experience.

The Personality Can’t Help but Perpetuate the Way Things Have Been

Our sense of self is based on fixed structures. In fact, that sense of self is itself a fixed structure. So our feeling of identity is ordinarily unchanging. Our sense of who we are has a conditioned quality to it, which means that we have a habitual tendency to experience things in a certain way, to think of things a certain way, to know and do things in a certain way over and over again. And it is not only our perception that tends to be confined to a certain groove; even our experience of ourselves is limited and constricted within certain boundaries. This rigidity of the ego-self, its inflexibility, can be experienced as inertia: the habit of going on and on in the same way, in the same direction, without change. Our perception, experience, and identity contain this inertia. Inertia can also be expressed as an automatic tendency to continue with and live out the status quo. The personality becomes part of the status quo; consequently, its way of perceiving, being, and operating can’t help but perpetuate the way things have been. This means staying at the same level of experience, the same level of discourse, having the same patterns and the same identity, and being the same kind of person year in and year out. This can manifest in specific and clear ways, such as the inflexible tendencies that are hard for us to break even when we want to. We might be always busy, always afraid, always angry. We might habitually watch TV. We might habitually spend time in social conversation or gossiping. Even though we want to change those behaviors, it might be difficult due to the inertia of the personality. To love the truth for its own sake means that we’re going to be happy to see something new in our experience.

The Self is Always Looking for Something Concrete, Something Solid, Stable, Graspable to Support Itself

In general, what is most real for human beings is the physical. To us, a rock Is something that actually exists; it is something to contend with. If everything else fails, we look for a big, solid rock—whatever we consider to be “the bedrock of reality.” Why? Why don’t we naturally move toward liquefying everything? Why don’t we want to make everything gaseous, more like air? Why do we find the solid state preferable? When you think about it, you realize that much of the universe and much of our own experience is not that solid. For example, our feelings are pretty fluid and hard to find. Our thoughts are even more so; they basically don’t exist. They are more like ungraspable holograms. But those thoughts, those ungraspable holograms, always want to pin things down, make everything real and established and known in a concrete, storable way. We can see how this habit becomes the tendency of the ego-self—or what we call the self—to preserve itself. The self is always looking for something concrete, something solid, stable, graspable, to support itself with, to depend on. That is because the self believes that if there is no bedrock, it is going to sink; if the bottom of reality is not solid, the self will get submerged and drown. So we believe that we have to locate some kind of island or rock of solidity to stand on to keep us from drowning.

The Stance of the Ego-Self that Doesn’t Know its Nature

The stance of the ego-self that doesn’t know its nature is to fight some experiences and hold on to others. The ego-self has preferences for what should happen and shouldn’t happen, according to its ideal of what we believe is enlightened or not, and what we think is pleasurable or painful. We have all kinds of value and judgment standards about what’s good and what’s bad, what is scary and what is not. Some of this is conscious, some of it is unconscious, and much of it divides us within. This division creates a kind of war, like a resistance movement within us, whereas our True Nature is inherently undivided and indivisible. 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.

There is no Ego Separate from the Soul

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.

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