Often when I am teaching creative writing classes I use this poem (One Source of Bad Information from Morning Poems) by Robert Bly. It’s a good poem in its way and lends itself to all sorts of writing exercises. Over time, it has also helped me better understand what what A Course in Miracles refers to the ego.
I have called the ego a habit of thinking. More specifically, it is a habit of giving our thoughts – the effluvia of our brains – a particular importance and credence. We listen to thought and we believe what we hear is truth. And since it’s not, we end up dissociated from love which is painful and lonely and incoherent.
In his poem, Bly talks about an inner child “who hasn’t learned a thing for thirty/thousand years.” This child has to “make up its mind” how to save us from death. He’s not especially wise or insightful but he is loyal. He does want to save us. Bly concludes:
. . . Because of this boy
You survived a lot. He’s got six big ideas.
Five don’t work. Right now he’s repeating them to you.
The course teaches that “egocentricity and fear go together” (T-2.V.2:4). The messengers of fear
. . . steal guiltily away in search of guilt, for they are kept cold and starving and made very vicious by their master . . . They have been taught to seek for the corruptible, and to return with gorges filled with things decayed and rotted. To them such things are beautiful because they seem to allay their savage pangs of hunger (T-19.IV.A.12:5, 13:3-4).
That is an intense sequences of images, very much in keeping with the course’s teaching that the ego does not mean us well. Ken Wapnick often says (I paraphrase and don’t have a precise link – I’m sorry) that a healthy respect for the ego is a necessary prerequisite to fruitfully studying ACIM.
I agree with Ken in this instance. I’ve said as much many times. But I don’t think we have to concede the precise images the course uses in order to properly respect the ego. For example, one reason I like One Source of Bad Information is that it is consistent with much of my own experience of ego. That is, I don’t experience the ego as malicious so much as uninformed, emotionally spastic, unreliable and possessed of a limited functionality that is not at all conducive to awakening.
In other words, it’s very much like a sleep-deprived three year old.
Now, as a father I love three-year olds. You can tickle them, make pancakes for them, read Ox-cart Man to them, play tag and hide-and-seek, tell cool stories about talking bears and dancing trout, play in the brook, make snow forts and so on and so forth.
But what you don’t do with three-year olds is put them in charge of anything. They can’t reliably keep a scoop of ice cream on the cone, let alone manage issues of life and death.
Thought is good at certain things: I’m grateful for penicillin, banjos, crossword puzzles, toilet paper and wood stoves, to name just a few. But thought doesn’t stop at reasonable technical accomplishments. It also suggests that it – and not God – can guarantee us true happiness and inner peace.
When we listen to that suggestion – when we give attention to the possibility that egoic thought can run our lives – then our lives run amok. We forget ourselves and suffer accordingly.
When I think of the ego as an insane snarling dog bent on ripping my arms off, I want to defend myself against it. I get scared. When I think of it as a bossy three-year old child it is a lot easier to gently say, “I’ve got this. You go play with your Legos.”
That is important because as I diminish my reliance on egoic voices, a new space opens up in which it becomes possible to better hear the Holy Spirit, and thus become aware of God. That is all I have to do: listen to the Holy Spirit, the healed part of the split mind, and allow it – in its way and time – to remind me that what I am in truth is not separate from God. The belief that I am separate (and have to personally deal with it) is the only real problem I have and absolutely the only one I need to correct (T-1.VI.2:1).
So we have to find what works and work with it. Could be a poem, a certain course teacher, a long run, a new writing project, a trip abroad. I don’t know. I do believe – because it is my experience – that the Holy Spirit will reach us any way it can so long as we are open and willing. It merits our trust. It will not steer us wrong.