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Ego Structures

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Ego Structures

Centers of Operation that We Call the Self

All the structures that I am talking about—representational, libidinal, and precognitive—tend to move toward crystallizing into a manifestation that we call the self, the ego self. That is why we call them ego structures—because they become either the defining structures of the self or the supporting structures for the sense of self. The moment there is an identification, a holding on, an attachment, that activity appears in our experience as a self. The identification or attachment constitutes a place where something artificial is created—some kind of occlusion, some kind of knot, some kind of center, some kind of opaqueness, some kind of stuckness—and that then becomes a center of operation that we call the self. Of course, the self has many other functions and many other reasons why it manifests but, regardless, the building blocks of the ego self are always these various kinds of structures. As we work through the more evolved structures—the conceptual and representational structures—the self seems to dissolve and disappear. There is no self for a while, but it comes back again in more primitive forms because our consciousness simply regresses to an earlier time when there were still structures that defined something that we could call the self. As we work through the representational structures, what arises are the primitive libidinal structures and, as we work through those, what arises are the preconceptual structures. The sense of self comes back again and again because there are earlier structures that we haven’t yet seen. The tendency of the self to reappear is very powerful and instinctual. It continually reverts to earlier times and regresses to earlier structures in order to maintain its existence.

Clarifying the Various Structures of the Self

Many seekers of spiritual development come to believe that having profound experiences, like the ones discussed above, is enough to bring about total liberation. This is a vestige of the oral self, believing that one good nursing is all that one needs. The situation is much more involved; permanent realization requires a great deal more than the arising of the experience of self-realization The difficult work is that of the clarification of the self from all rigid ego structures, and this does not happen automatically by the mere experiencing of the state of self-realization. We need to become aware of the various ego structures and their associated affects and desires. We need to understand them to the extent of completely seeing their mental nature, and hence, their lack of ultimate reality. We need to see, understand, and be released from, the various misunderstandings, tendencies, and attachments of the self that orient it away from its inherent endowments and cause it to stand in its own way. This is a deep, slow process of maturation, but it is greatly aided by the arising of various experiences of self-realization. As the student clarifies the various structures of the self, Being—in its various manifestations —becomes a permanent center of experience and eventually the constant
ground and fabric of the self.

Ego Structures are Always Alienated from True Being

However, looked at from the dimension of Being, regardless of how mature and integrated ego is, it is always a precocious development. We have seen that the ego becomes the system that structures, and includes in its structures the ego functions. It becomes, in other words, the functional part of oneself. We have also seen that ego development is an incomplete process, short of the realization of the Personal Essence. Ego structures are always alienated from the true Being, so the functional part of oneself is separate from who one is. Thus from the perspective of Being, ego development is a development of functioning that is separate from who one is. When there is appropriate emotional development, the individual is better off than the narcissistic character we have just described. However, it is intrinsically the same kind of situation, for in both cases—normal and pathological ego development—there is dissociation from one’s Being.

Ego Structures are Zones of the Riemannian Manifold of the Soul

It is evident that ego development is not possible without the impressionability of the soul. Ego development proceeds mostly through the building and establishment of structures. Ego structures are nothing but zones of the Riemannian manifold of the soul impressed by systems of representations in a semi-permanent fashion. This is made possible by the extreme plasticity of the soul, which allows the mental images and remembered forms to mold her field into their corresponding ego structure. In other words, an ego structure is a region of the soul molded by a constructed mental image. Ego structure depends on two levels of impressions in the soul. We have discussed primarily those semi-permanent impressions that are due to the self-representation and its subunits molding the field of the soul. This self-representation is built up using memory traces of earlier, more momentary impressions. However, some of these early impressions remain in a semi-permanent way, not through representational memory, but by the impressions being strong enough, or repeated frequently enough, that they directly condition the substance of the soul. These are the kind of impressions we discussed in chapter 7, the direct structuring of the soul field by her own intense or repeated experience.

Ego Structures Seen as the Structuralization of Space

Space: This is the aspect that is the open dimension of the mind, which is its most inner nature. It is the experience of Being as a vast, clear and empty space. It is not an emptiness in the sense of lack, of something missing. It is the presence of Space; clear, light and immaculate. We have devoted a book, The Void, to this aspect. In that book, we develop the understanding that ego development is not only a matter of building mental structure, but that, because Space is the ontologic nature of the mind, these structures are built in the emptiness of Space. So ego structures are seen as structuralization of Space, building content in it instead of letting it be in its purity. This leads to the loss of this aspect. The particular issue for this aspect is the presence of the self-image itself. When one can let go of one’s self-image Space arises. Space becomes the
agent that is needed for eliminating any self-image, which is necessary for the realization of the Personal Essence. In other words, Space dissolves the self-image.The individuality of the ego, being based on the self-image, loses its defining boundaries, which leads to the emergence of the Personal Essence. The sense of self of the ego, which is dependent on the self-image, loses the mental content that defines it, which leads to the manifestation of the Essential Self.

Experience of True Nature Does Not Automatically Dissolve All Ego Structures

First, experience and recognition of true nature, regardless on what dimension of subtlety and completeness, do not automatically dissolve all ego structures. It is our observation that ego structures, and for that matter psychodynamic issues, are not affected directly by enlightenment experiences. This is due to the fact that these structures and issues have mostly unconscious underpinnings. Unconscious elements of the psyche are not impacted by conscious experience directly, except maybe in exposing them to consciousness in some occasions. These structures are impacted only by awareness of them and complete understanding of their content. The enlightenment experience may give the individual a greater detachment and presence that makes it easier for him or her to confront these structures and issues without becoming overwhelmed by them, and hence have a better opportunity to work through them. The greater presence that may result might make it easier for the individual to abide more in true nature, and this way have a greater detachment from the influence of the structures. But the structures will not self-destruct simply because the soul has seen the light. We understand that this view is counter to the claims of many individuals who profess enlightenment. The actions of many of these individuals should speak for themselves.

Integration of Self-Representations Into Overall Structures

The sense of a separate self develops gradually in early childhood, within the interaction with the environment, particularly with the mother. The self develops through the creation of internalized images of oneself and the other. These images, or more accurately, representations, become integrated into overall structures that finally give the individual the sense of being a person with a sense of identity and unique characteristics. 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 12 to 18 months when the child begins discovering and exercising its unique capacities and functions. The next is that of rapprochement, between 18 and 36 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 a capacity to experience another human being, originally the mother as an autonomous individual in his or her own right, with unique qualities and functions.

Major Ego Structures which Pattern the Flow of Your Experience

Human values can generally be understood by looking clearly at the personality, or the ego, from a simple perspective. The usual way of living life, the undeveloped way, operates from the perspective of the personality, of the ego-self. If you envision it as a circle, it can be divided into two primary elements: the circumference or periphery of the circle, and the center of that circle. This is a good metaphor for the nature of the ego-self: The center is what we call the sense of self, the “I” that you take yourself to be. When you say, “I will do that,” or “I want this,” that is the center of the personality, not the whole of the personality, only its identity. The other element of the personality, the circumference, is the individuality, the sense of being an individual. So the center is the identity, and the circumference is the individuality. If you look at your experience of yourself and the way you live your life, you notice that usually it can be seen from these two perspectives. Either you are concerned about who you are, your sense of identity, the feeling of self, the center of operation, your center; or you are thinking of yourself in terms of boundaries, in terms of being an individual, separate from other individuals. You notice that you are an individual, and as an individual you have a certain quality which is your identity. The fact that you are an individual does not affect what quality the self is. So the personality is like an individuality with a certain color, a certain quality that defines it, and a name At the most superficial level of these two elements, the shape of a human being gives you a sense of individuality, and your name gives a sense of identity. You are usually willing to fight for your name, and for your sense of individuality. These two elements are the major ego structures which pattern the flow of your experience, pattern your soul, and they are, of course, intertwined.

One can Neither Create a New Constituent Self-Image nor Change an Already Existing One

In other words, a structure does not dissolve in one experience, but needs many dissolutions at various depths, along with the clear arising and understanding of the relevant essential aspects. It is usually difficult to erase a structure completely, but consistent work will denude it of much of its charge and structuring power. It may continue to arise, but the soul will be able to readily recognize it as an image; hence it will have no power of structuring. It may continue as a recollection or an image that includes history, but a history that does not define one’s nature. This happens to the overall self-representation and not only to constituent self-images. This major structure normally continues in awareness, but more as a carrier of history, a historicalidentity that does not structure one’s true identity. It must be clear from this discussion that one cannot change one’s ego structure. One cannot add new structures that are not part of early ego development, except maybe with dramatic, intense, and long periods of impression. And one cannot modify a particular substructure. In other words, one can neither create a new constituent self-image, nor change an already existing one. One can weaken or strengthen an existing structure; however, one cannot modify its form or pattern, because such form or pattern is the structure itself.

One Cannot Change One's Ego Structure

It must be clear from this discussion that one cannot change one’s ego structure. One cannot add new structures that are not part of early ego development, except maybe with dramatic, intense, and long periods of impression. And one cannot modify a particular substructure. In other words, one can neither create a new constituent self-image, nor change an already existing one. One can weaken or strengthen an existing structure; however, one cannot modify its form or pattern, because such form or pattern is the structure itself. For example, if one encounters an image of being unloving one cannot change it to an image of being loving. The arising of the essential aspect of love will not change this image. It will simply dissolve it for a period of time, and will make it less powerful and believable to the soul. When it arises again, it will be the same image of being unloving, but because it has lost most of its charge and power it will have less structuring influence on the soul, who will, as a result, be able to allow her dynamism to display the quality of love.

The Structure in the Soul that Orients Her Externally

This overwhelming focus on the physical and instinctual aspects of experience tends to dissociate the soul from her essence, especially as it becomes instituted in her structure. However, a specific feature of this deep structuring seems to be central in effecting such dissociation: the fact that the infant, toddler, and young child are completely dependent physically on their environment. This dependency becomes structured into the soul not in the normal sense of dependency that many individuals have, but in a more fundamental orientation toward experience and life. The infant’s experience is that whatever the soul needs comes from her caregivers and the physical environment. In other words, what she needs can only come from outside her. This is typified by one of the most fundamental ego structures, the soul in the form of the empty stomach relating to an external breast. This deep impression in the soul permanently orients her toward the outside, always toward the most surface and physical reality, for the satisfaction of her needs.

Transformation of an Ego Structure is Primarily a Thinning of its Form and a Diminishing of its Power

The transformation of an ego structure is not a changing of its topography, but primarily a thinning of its form and a diminishing of its power. How much the particular structure loses its conditioning and patterning power depends on how much one has worked with it, how deeply and accurately one has understood it, and how intensely have been the resulting essential experiences. The final outcome will be its metabolism, its absorption into the presence of Being, which happens after a long process of clarification, as we discuss in The Pearl Beyond Price, chapter 14. It is important to recognize this to understand the true inner spiritual transformation. The transformation through which the inner journey takes the soul is not a change of her character, but a self-realization of true nature. This means one’s field of consciousness ceases to be configured by ego structures, and becomes completely permeable to essential presence. One’s identity ceases to be determined by one’s history and becomes simple abiding in true nature. One’s identity shifts dimensions, leaving that of historical content and abiding in timeless presence.

Two Levels of Impressions that Structure the Soul

It is evident that ego development is not possible without the impressionability of the soul. Ego development proceeds mostly through the building and establishment of structures. Ego structures are nothing but zones of the Riemannian manifold of the soul impressed by systems of representations in a semi-permanent fashion. This is made possible by the extreme plasticity of the soul, which allows the mental images and remembered forms to mold her field into their corresponding ego structure. In other words, an ego structure is a region of the soul molded by a constructed mental image. Ego structure depends on two levels of impressions in the soul. We have discussed primarily those semi-permanent impressions that are due to the self-representation and its subunits molding the field of the soul. This self-representation is built up using memory traces of earlier, more momentary impressions. However, some of these early impressions remain in a semi-permanent way, not through representational memory, but by the impressions being strong enough, or repeated frequently enough, that they directly condition the substance of the soul. These are the kind of impressions we discussed in chapter 7, the direct structuring of the soul field by her own intense or repeated experience.

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