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Reflecting on Images of Ego

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.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Pamela December 13, 2013, 5:14 pm

    I have to say that I like the idea of the ego as a three year old but I find it difficult to fully see it this way because the ego, for something that is NOTHING, has a whole heck of a lot of attributes, properties, and characteristics that are not really the same as a three year old. We are told that the ego is capable of suspiciousness at best and viciousness at worst, that it is desperate, and foolish, incapable of trust, an expert in confusion, and utterly committed to unTruth.

    The ego is further defined as the belief that the mind is completely on its own, as a part of our belief about ourselves, as a man-made attempt to perceive self as one wishes rather than as it is, and as a device for maintaining that we are on our own in life. In addition, the ego is said to be a perceiver only of images it finds unworthy, a confusion in identity, and the part of the mind that believes in division and which acts to threaten and block our natural impulse to help others.

    And, above all, the ego is said to be a”distorted product of the misapplication of the laws of God by distorted minds which are misusing their own power.” I think that seeing it in all these forms is probably needed in order to have a ‘healthy respect’ for it. However, maybe the respect part should be reserved not for the ego but for the amazing Power of mind, even when insane. Perhaps this is what Jesus felt when he could do few miracles among the Nazarenes and he therefore marveled (astonished, almost in awe) at their unbelief 🙂

  • Anil December 13, 2013, 10:23 pm

    Words are so limiting in having a true communication, but that said, I do want to say that how we each experience the ego along this path is very personal, just as much as the path is personal.

    And by personal, I mean that every step of the way is so unique to the individual that is experiencing that step, that it is a wonder we can communicate in writing at all ! (:

    Jesus is to be commended, for inspiring a document that speaks to so many people at so many levels, and ultimately each of them have to turn to their own internal teacher to make sense of it all.

    Reading your writing on the Ego, and Pamela’s comment above – these were the thoughts that came to mind. And as I write, I understand better, (perhaps understand is the wrong word), but I see/feel in a clearer way how my own version of the one Ego has played, and is playing itself out in my journey.

    A healthy respect is indeed required to go deeper into this path, and last week, I suddenly, for the most innocuous of reasons, wondered what the Ego would next “do” to lash out at “me”.

    That moment has long since passed, but it indicates how deeply suppressed is my fear of the Ego, and how much more “work” is needed, the constant application of right-minded corrective thoughts to see past, and see through, the vast Illusion I seem to live in.

    Sometimes those corrective thoughts spring forth, of their own volition, and seem to be so readily at hand, and sometimes, they are painfully far away.

    Many thanks, Sean for your blog – a place to come periodically and renew, nourish (and occasionally irritate myself (: – and each of those reactions I have, are beneficial in their own way in this journey of awakening I seem to be on.

    Take care,

  • Sean Reagan December 14, 2013, 11:10 am

    Thank you Pamela and Anil!

    • Anil December 21, 2013, 2:36 am

      I suddenly had the thought, while reading a course author this afternoon, that I should write you, Sean, just to say….
      “You’re very welcome ! (=”

      Ps. Indeed minds are joined, and there is only one !

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