A Story to Shed Light on the Ego

In this post I talked about how projection can work in our lives, especially in terms of relationships. We project onto others what we do not want to look at in our own self, and then judge the other exactly the way we fear WE would be judged.

A lawyer was mean to me once, and for a quarter century I played the role of victim, never once bothering to look at what that role meant for my happiness or – more important for our shared salvation – his.

This is not a healthy way to live! It does not make us or anybody else happy. It seizes and clutches rather than liberates. It depresses rather than inspires.

Here I want to go one step further – again using a personal example – to hopefully show something about the subtlety and destructiveness of ego.

Jealousy has been a part of my life since I was a child. I don’t like to share; I never have. As a little boy I preferred playing alone to playing with others because sharing was complicated and no fun. I wasn’t the kid who took his ball and went home – I was the kid who stayed home with his ball. If I had to play with others, I did so grudgingly, resenting every moment that wasn’t all about me.

As I grew up, and not sharing became less socially viable, jealousy slowly morphed into a steady background hum. It touched every relationship to one degree or another. I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t making others happy, but it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster either.

To me, as an adult, jealousy felt like a reasonable expression of my fundamental unworthiness. Why wouldn’t people want a better partner, friend, teacher than me? I was broken and unfixable. Who wouldn’t be better without me? I didn’t even want to be with me.

So you can see how at one level the jealousy dynamic was a frame in which I could more or less constantly perceive myself as a victim. I understood it in this light for years. And I worked hard on it in that light! Prayer, therapy, dialogue. Jealousy never went away but at least it was manageable.

I called that a “win.”

And I was wrong.

About a year ago, following a particularly challenging series of conversations with Chrisoula, I woke up from a dream I have since forgotten. There in the darkness, I saw three things with crystalline clarity:

  1. Jealousy was about perceiving myself as victim BECAUSE
  2. It allowed me to percieve others as victimizers WHICH
  3. Allowed me to punish them.

The punishment part was very important. I was worthless, yes, but you were worse – you were actually evil. You saw my worthlessness and betrayed me by choosing – by just being willing to choose – another to take my place.

And for that you deserved to be punished. And since I was the victim, then I was the one in charge of choosing and administering your punishment.

And I loved that. Loved it.

Is that clear? Under the “woe is me” narrative of the victim was the “off with his head” narrative of the cruel, unjust and all-powerful tyrant.

It was awful to see this. I could handle being a victim. In fact, I kind of liked it. Lots of sympathy, other people were reponsible for taking care of you, easy to lay claim to special treatment, et cetera.

But being the victimizer? The one who made victims of others?

I did not want to see that. In you I could see it, sure. But in me? No thank you.

However, in that moment, it was no longer possible to see it anywhere else but in me. In that way, the Holy Spirit brought a grim and twisted charade to its close. It taught me that I am not allowed to judge my brothers and sisters, and I am not allowed to punish them.

So I had to let the whole jealousy schebang go, right? I couldn’t hold onto it at all because I saw it was just a front the ego was using to cover an even more vile and destructive objective: it hated you and wanted to make you suffer before destroying you.

Seeing ego in that light – and knowing it was operative in me and all my relationships – was nauseating. It drove me to my knees in an old-school prayer – hands clasped, rocking back and forth, pleading with God to forgive me for hurting you and to make it so that I would never do so again.

To which God gently replied, “okay.”

God hears our prayer because our prayer is God praying in us. We’re already saved; salvation is remembering what is, not creating something new. It’s not about replacement but recollection.

To truly see the ego is always to initiate its undoing. When you really see ego, you will not like it, and not liking it means you will no longer value it, and what you do not value you will not protect or otherwise invest in (e.g., T-2.II.1:5-6). You will beg God to remove it from you.

And absent your care and nurture – absent your mindless blessing – ego will disappear. And what will remain is the quiet peace and joy which the Holy Spirit offers us in order to allow us to remember our home in Creation.

The moral of this story is: do not be afraid of how ugly your interior appears. Do not be scared to really assess your motives and biases, to look at ego in all its viciousness. Let it speak – hear its case.

Let all of it be revealed, so that all of it may at last be undone.

Do you like monster stories? Monsters are often stand-ins for ego – Mister Hyde, the witch in Hansel and Gretel, Grendel coming up from the swamp to threaten our meager fire . . . ACIM students looking at ego are not doing anything new. But we are maybe doing it in a way that aims to create new stories – stories about happiness and the end of conflict.

Those monster stories are our ancestor’s version of the work to which A Course in Miracles calls us: to face what is scary. But we do not have to destroy the monster. We merely need to see the monster/ego clearly where and as it is – inside of us and unbearably cruel. When we see it this way, then we will see also that we are what makes this monster possible.

Therefore, because we are doing it, we can do something else. This is the whole promise of salvation in A Course in Miracles!

In every difficulty all distress, and each perplexity Christ calls to you and gently says, ‘My brother, choose again.’ He would not leave one source of pain unhealed, nor any image left to veil the truth. He would remove all misery from you whom God created altar unto joy (T-31.VIII.3:2-4).

From the bottom of my heart – which is cleansed and brought to the light in your heart by the light in which both our hearts are brought forth – thank you for sharing the way.

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  1. Thank you! Very helpful in looking at the ego, reminding me to continually ask for help
    and knowing I will be helped if I stay open to hearing.

    1. You’re welcome, Barbara. Yes, I think that openness is really essential – and we don’t know when the answer is going to come or what form it will take. Willingness, patience, maybe a good sense of humor πŸ™‚ These are all helpful!

      ~ Sean

  2. Sean I’m in that place you have shared about so honestly. You have just brought it to light in me. I feel despair sickened at my blindness and selfishness. But there is a little hope dawning so thank you sean. I want to know how you came through it

    1. I hear you, Sean. It can be difficult. I think the clarity of the Holy Spirit really just undoes our reliance on the old behavior. We see it for what it is and we make a different choice. The behavior and the relationships in the world shift in response to the change in our thinking. It’s rough for a moment, but then it seems to be smooth sailing – until the next rough wave appears!

      For me, staying close to my practice, and being willing to do what is necessary to change my mind – openness, willingness, patience, good humor, friends & allies – all seems to help. But mostly we are in God’s hands, and God is good. Sometimes, just remembering that is enough.

      ~ Sean

      1. Thanks sean I needed to hear that and I have been thinking something similar but you have assured me. Truth does set you free

  3. Hi Sean:

    Beautiful, brilliant post.

    “And absent your care and nurture – absent your mindless blessing – ego will disappear.”

    So true. My “mindless blessings” have been myriad, painful and quite elaborate at times. But it’s should no surprise that an infinite soul convinced it is a tiny container of mostly water is going to create a few spills, perhaps even a flood or two in life. I mean if it’s not a recipe for rebellion, pray tell, what is?

    Healing from my stuff has always been through totally forgiving myself. And one of the many things I believe it has taught me is I can’t outsmart my ego. I’m just way too slow. And you know what I mean.. πŸ™‚

    But… I can “:outheart” it. For me, the only place I’ve ever really been able to get forgiveness done is in my heart. If I don’t go there, I’m an egoic goner. Literally.

    My heart is where I feel God resides deep in my body. And it’s where I feel forgiveness radiate from, inwardly, in all directions.

    It’s the same kind of feeling I get from reading your words. I find them very healing because they touch my heart and mind at the same time. They ring true on a deep level.

    I love that. Yes, God is good and loves us forever.

    Thank you again, Sean.

    Much love.

    1. Thanks, Paul. I love that phrase “outheart” the ego. In a lot of ways, ego IS thought – and thought cannot undo thought. But the heart is at another level of eloquence, meaning-making, and being. Self-forgiveness is also at the heart of salvation; this is my experience, too. In some ways, we learn that we can forgive others by forgiving our own self. Lots of grace in that when we are open to it . . .


      1. Interesting you say “In a lot of ways, the ego IS thought – and thought cannot undo thought.” I had actually never thought of it like that.

        There is a quote in Richard Rudd’s book, The Gene Keys. It goes:

        “The ancient Indian sages called the world we inhabit maya – an illusion. Our problem has always been that we try to understand this maya through an instrument (the mind) bound by laws that prevent true understanding. You cannot use an instrument in the maya to understand the maya.”

        I feel like there is a connection between what Richard is saying and you are saying. It feels like a bridge of understanding to something larger and I’m missing it right now.

        But it will come. Thanks! πŸ™‚

        1. Yes, Rudd’s formulation is similar to how it feels and looks and occurs to me. I do not have a sufficient familiarity with Eastern spiritual traditions to use their language but – overall – the sense is, thought cannot undo thought and ego is a thought.

          My own understanding and practice on this was guided largely by David Bohm and, to a lesser extent, Krishnamurti. Their dialogues are a fascinating way to consider A Course in Miracles and the nondual tradition from a western perspective.

          Bohm’s little book On Dialogue, in particular his essay “The Observer and the Observed” were deeply helpful and remains one my staple texts.

          Bohm’s approach generally involved considering this question: What would our living look and feel like – both individually and collectively – is were able to communicate without imposing our view on others or feeling a need to conform to their view?

          This would undo a great deal of the distortion and confusion that characterizes our thinking and thus our living.

          Bohm’s work directs us to give attention (a lovely phrase I learned from him) to thought and to worry less about the externals. This reflects the ACIM teaching that cause is internal; the external world is effect.

          And, Bohm was ultimately urging us not to adop this or that thought or belief system but rather to penetrate to the very origins of those systems – to realize in a felt way that the observer was not separate from the observed.

          We are one πŸ™


  4. Hi Sean
    Finally, I feel I can relate. I’ve been stuck in being jealous for so long. That I’m saying finally, because your words just hit the nail on the head.
    Got it!
    Thank you for sharing
    Lots of love
    Bea x

  5. Thank you for this post. I think I have a lot of anger (to be honest I am not sure–I dont feel angry most of the time, not like I used to, when I would go to demonstrations and yell and chant and basically tell others how wrong they were and how right I was)

    I project that anger onto others and make them the bad guys, and me (or others: the poor, the excluded, minorites) as the victim. I also have a sense of superiority to others: I am smarter, deeper, wiser, more spiritual, and of course, “nobody gets me.” I am alone, or feel that way, and I think in some ways I hold onto that aloneness because dealing with people is so hard for me. Or rather, I *say* that’s it’s hard.

    I do love people (I work with them directly in my job, and I like my job), but …. I dont want to be around them that much. I *think* that’s okay. I don’t really know. I’ve been told by others that I am anti-social. Maybe. Being alone is so pleasant for me, so enjoyable, and sometimes that worries me. Why don’t I take pleasure in others’ company (for the most part)? Is it because I am not seeing them clearly, as my brothers and sisters? Is it because they complicate things? Is it because it means extending myself and some part of me is resistant

    I dont know. I am working my way through the workbook, joyfully and assiduously, and hope the Holy Spirit helps me see the truth.

    Your posts are always appreciated.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Hillary. It’s nice to hear from you.

      In a lot of ways this feels very consistent with my own experience. A sincere desire to help somewhat riddled with ego (arrogance, impatience, etc), and all of that. I could have written it.

      Politics – marching, agitating, voting, following – has been a tremendous site of learning for me. I’ve mostly moved on from it but . . .

      In my experience, yes, people complicate things. Or that is how I experience it. Relationship is complicated. I learned that lesson quite young and in many ways arranged my life to minimize those complications. Nose in a book, et cetera. For me, it was a defensive maneuver. And it turned out there was a better way to look at relationship, which made it easier to actually have them without so much angst or emptiness. But I’m a slow learner, very stubborn.

      The course was really helpful to me in terms of shifting my thinking; there was a fairly long period of adjustment after that. And THEN the healing began πŸ™‚ I think I’m saying, it can be a pretty long road.

      Do you find the course helpful? Does it layer onto other spiritual traditions and practices?

      Thanks for reading and sharing & being here. You’re good company πŸ™‚


  6. Thank you for your response. It’s nice to know one is not alone in these feelings.

    Re the course. I have been going thru the workbook and am on lesson 90, and on my second read-through of the text. Interestingly, what was utterly obscure to me when I attempted to read the Course 10 years ago is now clear and inviting. I would say the Course has been very helpful to me; I have always gravitated towards non-dualistic spiritualities but ACIM is the first one that states that we created the illusion as opposed to God (as in Vedanta). That makes a lot more sense to me. The one thing I’m having trouble with is the relentlessly grim perspective of the Course regarding our life here in Earth. To be honest, I am happy with many aspects of this illusion! I’m not sure what that means; perhaps I am deluding myself.

    Thank you for your blog.

    1. It’s funny. The course was on my radar a couple of times before it finally caught; I think I was just desperate and maybe also ready to grow up a little or something. I was in my early forties when the course finally resonated. Before that I’d been bouncing around in a long unhappy marriage between Zen Buddhism and Catholicism. Couldn’t make them work together, couldn’t let either go.

      ACIM just took a sword to that dilemma and severed it. Very intense.

      I’m happy, too. I think a lot of us are. The course is clear that “awakening” includes the translation of dreams of fear and hate to dreams of happiness and love. And then, in that state of joy and kindness, God takes the last step, restoring our minds to oneness. So in an important way, our work here is to be happy and make others happy, and otherwise let the spiritual chips fall where they may, which they always do anyway.

      That said, it’s also clear to me how ego is just as present in the seemingly big happy moments as in the miserable challenging ones. I am beginning to suspect that happiness ACIM contemplates is is winning the lottery one day and losing it the next and there being no difference in our response.

      And I understand “happy” in ways that include social justice, corporal works of mercy, nonviolent resistance, anarchy-as-love, food security, etc. So not always easy because that DOES involve relationships, often with folks who are actively opposed to love and justice (whether they know it or not).

      I also experience of the course revealing more of itself on successive reads – and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it, so . . . But again, I am a slow learner. πŸ™‚

      Thanks, Hillary. Hope all is well!

      ~ Sean

  7. The ego is extremely complex it seems. I recall from reading ACIM that spirit does not need training or teaching but the ego does. Maybe that is why the ACIM is such a large book; it delivers the simple message over and over in different forms that our sole responsibility is to just accept the atonement which will correct the error. Of course, I think that means we will be able to perceive the innocence of our brother first, then all else is cause and effect, not judgment. Appropriate action may need to be taken, or not. My ego still needs training in that regard.

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing, Edward. I do think that repetition is a big part of the ACIM learning process; repetition of the core ideas and then application, over and over and over.

      In my experience the ego masquerades as complex but it’s really just a way of thinking that can be set aside. Its productions appear vast and entangled and whatnot but its form – the engine that it is – is pretty straightforward.

      Perhaps it’s like reading a dense and heavy tome – you think you have to finish it or understand it in order to put it down. But then one day you realize, I can just set this down.

      Maybe!! I need a lot of training as well πŸ™‚

      Thanks again, Edward.

      ~ Sean

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