I think it is important in studying and practicing A Course in Miracles not to get overly hung up on the ego and its many voices. It is true that the ego is subtle and cunning and shows up in many guises. It is true that we must be vigilant against it. But it’s helpful to remember that it is just an idea – and not a very good one. It’s just a habit of thinking to which we are deeply attached. It’s not real.
Sooner or later, you reach a point – it’s different for everyone – where you realize that the voices in your head don’t mean anything. You realize that the ego is always chattering and that its constant prattle is meaningless. It’s not helpful. No exceptions! And when you accept this, you also learn that you can function just fine by letting the ego be. You don’t have to change it or argue with it or heal it or love it or castigate it or anything. In a way, we could say that the ego wants to be accepted and that we have accepted it – but it’s not a relationship that works! It’s not functional. And so we need to make a change.
Sometimes I think of it in terms of bird song – or the sound of rain or wind. The birds are singing outside your window and you don’t try to change them. You don’t try to eliminate them one by one. It’s there and you let it be. It’s natural.
Thought is natural, too – it’s what the physical brain does. It’s our devotion to thought that is the problem. We assume that it’s correct – that it is telling us what is real and true. We don’t question it. If you spend a few minutes just letting your thoughts be – without judging them or resisting them (yes, I know – that’s hard to do) – you will see this. We have given too much power to thought and in response it has become tyrannical. It resists our efforts to undo it.
That’s the ego – it’s just an idea about thought. And we can have a different idea if we want. If the old one isn’t working, then let’s try a new one. That’s really what A Course in Miracles is about. It’s a means to experience thought in a new way – at a new level. You often see – especially in the workbook – calls to slip beneath the cover of our regular thoughts or something like that – and reach the thoughts we think with God (e.g. W-pI.69.6:2-5). We’re not doing battle with shallow egoic thoughts – we’re simply disregarding them in favor of something that is deeper and more nourishing. Something that is real as opposed to illusive.
For most of us, that takes time. It is a process. We watch our thoughts – we see how we interact with them – and we begin to appreciate how much discord and anguish and incoherence results. We begin to see how untrustworthy our minds are! And so we naturally lean in the direction of an alternative. We become open. That’s a function of learning. We identify the ego with pain and chaos and move away from it. And as we gain some distance and perspective, we learn that there is another way – what Bill Thetford insisted, way back at the beginning, was a better way. Seeking it, we begin to experience peace and joy. And we want more of that.
We have to learn what the ego is – but not because we are called to undo it. We are really just leaving it behind. It’s like a security blanket that we take everywhere, holding it over our head so that it darkens and obscures what is true. But as we gain confidence, we lower the blanket. We use it less. Sometimes we don’t pick it up for hours. And then one day we’re ready. We’re like baby robins on the nest’s edge and we’re cool. We’re ready to move on.
We can’t rush that. There’s no point. All we can do is keep learning. Keep looking at what’s going on – our lives in all their facets, our thoughts in their gushing inelegance. Find what works and stay close to it. Don’t worry that it seems like it’s not working or that it seems like you’re alone. It is working and you aren’t alone. That’s going to be more and more clear as time passes. It is a promise the course keeps – for all of us sooner or later.