The Ego Is Self-Imposed Darkness

We all make an ego for ourselves – a self, an identity – and, critically, we also make one for every other person that we perceive (T-4.II.2:1). This is important! It’s not just our self that we’re fogging with bad ideas and guilty thoughts, but everyone else too. It’s not an ideal approach to inner peace – not for us and not for our brothers and sisters.

It is helpful sometimes to make contact with this fact: to sit quietly with a cup of tea and look closely at the egos we have made for others. This person is attractive. That person “gets us.” This person is mean, that one is generous. She makes too much money while he is too self-righteous. Irish people drink too much and Germans are too efficient. Buddhists are peaceful, Catholics are repressed. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.

We all do it and we all do it for the same reason: we want something. We are raging oceans of emptiness and darkness and want other people to fix it. We want them to love us, comfort us, feed us, entertain us, console us. We assign roles – lover, parent, friend, soul mate, student, teacher – and expect everyone to dance accordingly. When they do, we think we’re happy because we’re getting what we want. When they don’t, we are poor victims of unjust external forces. Either way the ego wins.

This is the root of conflict. It’s not money and it’s not sex. It is the false self we believe we are that creates false selves for every other being we perceive.

So what do we do? We need to see the total futility of ego-based thinking. When we do, we will reach the point that Bill Thetford reached: we will declare that there must be another way.

Belief that there is another way of perceiving is the loftiest idea of which ego thinking is capable. That is because it contains a hint of recognition that the ego is not the Self (T-4.II.4:10-11).

That point is a sort of surrender. It reflects the shred of willingness that is all the Holy Spirit needs to begin to teach us “the other way.” We begin to perceive our brothers and sisters without bringing our own needs and wants into it. It’s not that our needs and wants aren’t there – they are and they will be so long as we believe we are bodies in the world – but that they are no longer as powerful. They float up and we know they aren’t the only game in town. So their stranglehold on us loosens.

It is an incredible gift to look at a person and leave – or will to leave – your predetermined sense of them behind. It liberates them. It validates them at the level of spirit. And it releases us a little as well, because only spirit can perceive spirit. So when we make this effort to put aside the egos we make for everybody, we are also putting aside our own ego.

This is the practice of right-mindedness which leads naturally to right perception – a critical step in our awakening journey. Right perception is the ground from which on the One-mindedness of the Holy Spirit springs (T-4.II.10:1-2).

The ego cannot survive without judgment, and is laid aside accordingly. The mind then has only one direction in which it can move (T-4.II.10:3-4).

Often, when I am interacting with others, I make a point of giving attention to the ego I make for them. As importantly, I make a point of remembering that they have made one for me. It reminds me to breathe and relax. We are all sort of fumbling through this self-imposed darkness. The best I can do is rein in, as much as possible, my own projections. Really, what else is there to do?


  1. This may be off the point a bit, Sean, but do you think it ironic that as we become more willing to “see” this world as a illusion, the more its (illusory) beauty becomes apparent?

    Like your mushrooms, my morning glories and the magnificent bald eagle that flew low across my path on this morning’s run.

    If not real, then what? Is it simply the way Oneness unfolds in our deepening awareness? What do you think?

    1. It isn’t surprising to me that it works that way – at least not anymore. I think where it gets tricky is that we are still ascribing beauty to the external rather than realizing it is an interior awareness with a correspondent external manifestation. Does that make sense? I mean that I see the mushrooms and I am brought up short and it’s good – there is so much simple happiness and peace in that moment – or earlier today walking I stopped to listen to leaves falling one by one in the moonlight – and again, there is so much loveliness. It is exquisite. But my focus stays on the leaves – rather than returning inward to the source in which beauty resides.

      So long as I perceive beauty I am still perceiving differences. Falling leaves in the moonlight bring me to my knees but not the dead fox on the side of the road. That makes me sad and the ribbons of its guts make me a little nauseous. So I am still in the split mind – it is still an experience of duality. Perhaps it is a more refined experience – I think it is absolutely moving in the direction of Oneness – but it remains firmly ensconced in separation, where there is really no middle ground.

      But you know, the Course is clear that before we wake up we’re going to perceive beauty, so there is reason to take heart.

      All this beauty will rise to bless your sight as you look upon the world with forgiving eyes . . . The smallest leaf becomes a thing of wonder, and a blade of grass a sign of God’s perfection (T-17.II.6:1,3).

      I try to remember that the beauty I perceive – in the natural world, in other people, in ideas and language – simply reflects the interior decision to rest in the Holy Spirit rather than flail about with the ego. Nothing is actually changing outside. I can enjoy it and admire it and write about it, but I don’t ever want to confuse it with the real work and the real source, which is forever without either name or form.

      In the end, we must forgive even beauty: Dickinson poems, geese in autumn, morning glories, peach pies . . .

      1. “So long as I perceive beauty I am still perceiving differences.”

        Yes, back to the idea that, sigh, both our likes and our dislikes distance us from truth, sometimes the former more than the latter, often the other way around.

        This morning as I enjoyed my daily “white space” (an old newspaper term that for me best describes these cherished moments of presence — or attempted presence), someone revved up a gas-powered leaf blower outside and went to work. It is a stunning morning, and the windows are open, and all I could hear was the noise of the leaf blower. (What a contrast to your falling leafs? 🙂 And I couldn’t get past that. I couldn’t forgive myself for getting stuck there.

        I’m not sure where I am going with this. Perhaps, that even as beauty becomes more breathtaking ( just paused to look at the slant of light through the trees, dappled and moving because of a slight breeze), much of what my ego doesn’t like (leaf blowers, violent TV shows, shrill voices) tends to become amplified in my thoughts. Still, I recognize what you say about separation and that even the slightest disturbance in my peace is my ego act. And perhaps in this awareness, I gradually will become less resistant and let go just a bit more easily.

        And I thank you, Sean, for your blog and these discourses on the Course. Your words help shed light on what Self somehow knows but doesn’t know it knows…..

        I really like 🙂 this:
        “I try to remember that the beauty I perceive – in the natural world, in other people, in ideas and language – simply reflects the interior decision to rest in the Holy Spirit rather than flail about with the ego.”

        Yes. Thank you….

        1. It is my experience that the more open one becomes to the Holy Spirit – the more willingness we bring to bear on Atonement – the more shrill and insistent the ego becomes. It is literally fighting for its life! The course often points this out in very dramatic language (eg T-31.III.5:2) but we forget that.

          Also, it’s important to remember that the contrast between beauty and not-beauty is necessary in order that we can make a clear choice. So when we reach that space where we can clearly see the dappled light vs. the snarling blower we are really staring point blank at ego vs. Holy Spirit and can make a choice.

          The Holy Spirit teaches us through those contrasts – be grateful for them – and then choose!

          Thank you for the kind words re: the writing here – I am grateful you are part of it.

  2. Hi Sean. This came at a perfect time for me to hear this. Does that surprise either one of us? Heck no! I liked you comments about the ego we give to others. I know when we do that it is something we need to learn or forgive about ourselves, but it is still a process and “feelings” can mess that understanding up. I am further ahead in my understanding of all that is, than I was yesterday. That is a good thing : )

    1. Hey Janet! I’m with you – coincidence no longer surprises me! I’m glad the post was helpful. And yes – it is a process. More and more I see the value of just accepting that – not fighting it, not judging it – but just letting it be. Learning takes time. A moment comes when we slip beyond both time and learning but until then, why not enjoy the process?

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