I thought I'd do some basics this month and write about the ego, or more accurately, how to deal with the ego. The ego is something we all have to deal with. I've always found the following passage interesting and important for any discussion about the ego because the quotation puts the ego in the correct context. "I have spoken " of course this is Jesus talking to us, or the Holy Spirit speaking through the vehicle named Jesus. "I have spoken of the ego as if it were a separate thing, " (T 61/67) which to me means the ego's not separate but Jesus is speaking about it as if it were " acting on its own. This was necessary to persuade you that you cannot dismiss it lightly, and must realize how much of your thinking is ego-directed." (T 61/67) This has several different thoughts in it that I think are important for us when we're finally looking at our ego and figuring out how to interact with it, how to deal with it.
We're always going to be in somewhat of a compromise, metaphysically, with the ego. The compromise is that the ego isn't real, doesn't exist and is not truly a separate thing. However, at our particular stage of insanity, illusion, "stuckness" (whatever it is we are), we have to make certain compromises with the absolute to find an effective way out. This is always a little difficult for metaphysicians and A Course In Miracles students who may have no idea that there is a compromise to make. They usually believe just the opposite, that making no compromise is the way out of the "duality" maze. However, I think this passage, as well as many others in the Course, is pointing out that compromise. The ego is not a separate thing; it's not even really a "thing" at all. However, we have to think of it as if it were and deal with it as if it were, to navigate successfully our way through this ego illusion. The bus may not be real, but you had better treat it as if it were and step out of its way or your life will soon take a very dramatic turn for the worse. It's even appropriate for us to think of the ego as a separate entity that's trying to trip us up, in the same way traditional Christianity conceptualizes the devil. This separate, malevolent entity we call ego has been ordained, throughout time, to seduce us to doom, depression, destruction and death.
I have found, through my study of metaphysics and A Course In Miracles, that the Christian devil is, indeed, not the real entity I was led to believe. We learn here that our ego is not necessarily a real entity either. However, at this particular level of trying to escape from ego involvement, we have to deal with it as if it were. The ego is a big careening bus that has taken a direct aim on us and we had better learn how to step around it. We almost have to deal with it the same way traditional Christians deal with the devil. That quotation said, "This was necessary to persuade you that you cannot dismiss it lightly." (T 61/67) If we think of the ego as an outside entity attacking us, trying to kill us, we will take it seriously. If we get too high and mighty we may think, "After all, the ego's not real so I can just ignore it." This is the inevitable "level confusion" pitfall. We don't take ego seriously and we don't do what is needed to heal and escape from it. Eventually, we just get slung back into the ego pit of despair.
Remember that the passage also stated, "... and (you) must realize how much of your thinking is ego directed." (T 61/67) Here's another unique idea for me. How much of our thinking is ego directed? That is a good question to ask yourself! Sometimes, people who try to fake it till they make it, or those who really believe they have made it, will say none of their thinking is ego directed. They are in just one, whole, right mind all the time. They put that idea out there and I want to acknowledge them. They are "better" people than I am. "Congratulations" all of you out there who are never in your ego. I am! Now, the question is how much of the time am I in my ego. Well, that's an interesting question.
On the other extreme from those who claim no ego, there is a tendency to think that we're always in our ego and never hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Many believe they are always going from one "body" thought to the next "body" thought (or the next "anger" thought or "fear" thought). Some say they are always in defense mode. I think that is just as ludicrous as the idea of saying you are always in the Holy Spirit. I really believe that the condition of our mind is much more in the middle of that whole continuum.
I have asked this question frequently and before I wrote this article I asked Holy Spirit, "Give me some figures. How much am I usually in the ego and how much am I usually in the Holy Spirit?" I "heard" it was a 60/40 thing with tremendous daily variations. I figured this must mean I'm about 60% of the time in my ego mind. However, don't forget that this means I have a real 40% of the time when I'm truly being "Tony the Christ" and in the Holy Spirit. I thought this was probably O.K. Then I "heard" that the 60/40 thing might be the other way. On good days, when I feel peaceful, happy and confident, I'm only 40% in my ego and 60% in the Holy Spirit. That's much better than O.K. That's, "G-r-r-r-r-eat!" (As "Tony the Tiger" used to say.)
Then, of course, I too occasionally have days when I'm totally filled with dread and anxiety and feel that my own personal world is coming to an end. On those days I'm probably 90% in the ego. I think we vary in a range like that and I don't think it's an absolute 100% ego or Holy Spirit for anybody, regardless of what those people may say. I know people say certain things, and that's fine. I don't care what people say. I believe we're in a middle range. Maybe sometimes we're 90% in the Holy Spirit but I think as long as we're maintaining bodies there is some percentage of our mind that flips into the ego from time to time. You can ask yourself this percentage question frequently and I think if you did you would learn a lot. "How much of the time today have I been in the peaceful, Holy Spirit, God-centered part of my mind? How much of today have I felt separate, in fear and have been in the ego state?" These mental "barometer" checks would help us to grow.
Like The Rug Gets Pulled Out From Under You
What I've learned from frequently asking this question is all that's actually necessary for us to do is to shift our personal percentage, whatever it is, a few points more toward the Holy Spirit side of the equation. I've learned that a few percentage points make a big difference in the way I feel. Sometimes, people think it is "all or nothing" and they get disillusioned if they catch themselves in ego. I think this problem of getting disillusioned is mostly because we have this all or nothing view. I, now, don't believe it's all or nothing. That's why I think it healthy for us to ask what percentage of the time we are in ego or Holy Spirit because when we see the range that our percentage fluctuates in, we'll see the value of shifting just a few percentage points. For instance, if today I'm 60% in the ego and 40% in Holy Spirit, maybe I could push for 55/45. Maybe, if I could just catch myself in the ego a little sooner and make the corrections I need to make just a little earlier, I could spend more time thinking God centered, fearless thoughts. I'll be moving that percentage more towards the Holy Spirit side and that's probably the best I can do today. I think this a lot. This is how it works for me. If I can shift ever so slightly towards the Holy Spirit side of things, I'll have the awareness that things are getting better, that I'm feeling better. When I'm feeling better the experience carries me and helps me shift even more, another couple of percentage points. All that is necessary for me is to create, within my mind, the experience of, "I'm feeling more at peace than I was a little while ago." If I can do that it has momentum that carries me into greater and greater experiences of peace so that I can get my percentage up even higher.
Of course, then the questions come: "But once you get your percentage up, why doesn't it stay there? Why is there this fluctuation? Why is it moving around? Why don't we just make a steady progression toward peace?" Unfortunately, I don't think that's the way the mind works in this particular illusion called the world. The Text talks about this. The Course wants us to see who we really are. It states, "It is not you that is so vulnerable and open to attack that just a word, a little whisper that you do not like, a circumstance that suits you not, or an event that you did not anticipate upsets your world, and hurls it into chaos." (T 470/506) This is what goes on with the mind that's in the separated condition. We could have just spent days being heavily in Holy Spirit and then this "thing" happens -- this "little whisper" that we didn't anticipate. Something happens that we didn't like. The awareness of a circumstance exists that just doesn't fit and suddenly, even though we'd been in peace in Holy Spirit mode for a long time, the ego gets hold of us and we get hurled into chaos. That's just the way it is.
I've had this experience repeatedly and I'm always: (1) just amazed at how devastating it is, and (2) astounded at how little it takes to push me there. One "bad" phone call and within thirty seconds, where I was at peace before, I'm suddenly a mess. I think, "How did I get so hooked so completely, so quickly?" Yet, that question is just another part of the hook. I need to realize, "O.K., I've spent a couple of minutes in the ego. However, all I have to do is get my percentage up a little bit more by consciously choosing to think Holy Spirit thoughts right now and I will have the experience of things getting better." That experience helps to get my percentage up higher and higher and higher. The key thing about dealing with the ego is accepting the variability of the separated mind. This is the way the mind is in this split state. Mind vacillates all over the place. If we accept this and don't make it so negative when the ego detour happens we will work at making the little shifts we need to make. We will work on that couple of percentage points difference and we will gradually move ourselves back to prolonged periods of peace.
AC – BC
Now sometimes people, including myself, will have hard times making even those small shifts. Thoughtfully, A Course In Miracles provides us with the following little safety net, "And if you find resistance strong and dedication weak, you are not ready. Do not fight yourself." (T 581/625) Here again, is one of those ideas from the Course that can be put in the realm of the compromise ideas I wrote of earlier. We know we should always be able to be at peace and at love and joy. Yet A Course In Miracles tells us sometimes we're going to have to accept that we're just not able. We're going to have to compromise a little bit. We're going to have to understand that resistance is just too strong, right now. Our dedication is too weak. When this happens, don't fight yourself; it's only going to make things worse. This quotation can be used positively; it can also be abused and used negatively. I think we have to ask for help and be Holy Spirit guided when we are simply not able make the mental shifts. Used positively, there have been times for me when knowing that I have the safety net, knowing that I could just let my ego have its way, helps me to move a couple more percentage points toward to the Holy Spirit. Knowing that I don't have to do it totally 100% and that if it gets absolutely too hard for me, I don't have to torture myself. (The ego is quite capable of doing that.) I can just let the ego run its thoughts through my mind.
Knowing this helps me move just a little bit more towards the Holy Spirit because in my ego thinking, or in my wrong minded thinking, I get hooked in "all or nothing." When I'm aware that I can't have it all I all too often go for having nothing. When I realize that there is this a range and I don't have to push myself more than is really possible, then I find I am able to go a few more steps. It's just like working out physically. If we think that the only way to go to the gym is to go every other day and spend two hours there, many of us (including me) may not be able to do that. (Then again, you may be "better" people than I am.) I am not able to do that but it helps me knowing that I don't necessarily have to do that. If I can get myself to the gym just once a week (or even once every other week), spend only one hour there, at least that helps me move in the right direction. So these ideas, resistance strong, dedication weak, don't worry you don't have to fight yourself, (see T 581/625) usually help me to do a little more, not a little less. I label that "positively" using the idea. Sure, some could (and probably do) abuse this idea and take it as a rationalization for not shifting as much as they really could and just staying stuck. I'm simply sharing my experience. It is (as always) up to you how you use any idea from A Course In Miracles.
Now, again, I will acknowledge there are definitely some people (those "better" people) who say they don't have these big anxiety slips into the ego. All I have to say to them is, "God bless you and I hope it's always that way for you." I know there can be the experience of not having big ego slips which can last for years and years. However, even for these people who have had the extended periods, years of time, of not feeling in the pits of ego, that "thing" can happen. There is, one day, a "little whisper," something happens they didn't anticipate (see T 479/506) and suddenly they're in the pits of despair and they think, "How did I get here? I had been so healed for so long?" Those moments, can be very devastating in people's mirs.
I've seen people who were excellent students, who had wonderful rose garden experiences studying A Course In Miracles, fall off the wagon and quit their study because of an unexpected slip into the despair pits. So if you haven't had one, fine, but just let into your mind the thought that you might, someday, have a slip (a big one) into the ego and that this doesn't mean there is anything wrong with your study of A Course In Miracles! It's just the way the mind works. Don't worry. You're not going to have to push yourself harder than you can. Just do the little bit that you can do and deal with your ego the best you can. Move it a couple of percentage points more toward the Holy Spirit and see if that doesn't make a big difference.
There is really something different about my ego slips now, and my slips into the pits of despair before I got into the Course, (I call these times my years "BC" -- Before Course). Whenever I had one of these slips into the ego in Tony's years BC, (sleepless nights, constant worry, preoccupation and obsession), I always thought I had to get out there in the world to change the external circumstances. Much of my life was dominated by that. I'd go along; everything was O.K. Then I'd have one of these deep slips into the ego and I did whatever I thought I needed to do the change the external situation. I'd break up the relationship, quit the job and/or move. I changed the externals. Now, I still have big slips into ego but I've learned I don't have to go out there and manipulate the external situation. All I have to do is sincerely ask the Holy Spirit for help and I observe that the feelings can change and shift. I can get myself back to peace without the external changing and that is miraculous! When I think what a shift of mind that is, Tony AC (After *Course*) from Tony BC, it's huge! To know that I can be in my own private hell and still know that nothing out there has to change for me to heal is a paradigm shift. I can ask for help from Holy Spirit, do what I can do mentally without having to do what I can't, and I will heal. I will feel better. I know that because it has happened so many times. This is a major shift for me
Food And Sex (Not At The Same Time)
The Workbook states, "(Forgiveness) merely looks, and waits, and judges not." (W 391/401) In dealing with the ego one of the major processes you need to internalize is: you look at it, you wait, you don't judge it. You don't resist it. This is what forgiveness is. This is how you deal with the ego. You look at it, you wait; you don't "handle" it. You may let it work its way through your mind. You don't necessarily have to change anything. That's a very key issue for me.
A Course In Miracles tells us that the ego is very hooked into the body. Most times when we think of the ego, we think of the voice in our mind and we forget the ego's absolute use of the body as its playground. All the so-called body appetites are actually ego ideas. I can deal with body appetites the same way I deal with any ego idea. It works with hunger just as well as it works with thoughts of fear. I don't necessarily have to do anything with hunger, because I've realized that if I do something with it or not, it amounts to the same thing. I'm hungry again a little later. Right? I get hungry; I eat. I'm fine. I get hungry again a couple of hours later. I get hungry; I don't eat. Guess what? In an hour or so I usually don't think about being hungry. I'm usually not hungry and then a little later I'm hungry again. So, the hunger goes away, the hunger comes back, the hunger goes away, the hunger comes back.
Now if hunger doesn't illustrate the workings of the ego for you, think about sex. Sex is a good example. You get horny. You have sex or you don't have sex. Either way, the horniness goes away. A little while later it comes back. It doesn't matter what you do with it, act out the appetite or not. The appetite comes and goes. I think that's what A Course In Miracles wants us to realize. The ego has a playground in our body and these desires and thoughts come and go. We attempt to handle them externally and sometimes we get little bits of external relief but they always come back. "Any way you handle error results in nothing." (T 145/156) We don't really have to do anything! The Course states "Body appetites are not physical in origin. The ego regards the body as its home, and tries to satisfy itself through the body. But the idea that this is possible is a decision of the mind, which has become completely confused about what is really possible." (T 53/58) Remember, body appetite is just another ego game played out in the body. In another place the Course states, "... the existence of the world as you perceive it depends on the body being the decision-maker. Terms like 'instincts,' 'reflexes' and the like represent attempts to endow the body with non-mental motivators. Actually, such terms merely state or describe the problem. They do not answer it." (M 16/17) I know most of us, at one time or another, have had some difficulty controlling our, so-called, body appetites. Realize that this is just another ego thing with which you have to deal. The way to deal with it, the way to get control of it, is the same way you do for the ego voice in your mind. You listen, you wait; you don't judge it. You don't have to do anything to handle it. You take it to the Holy Spirit and do what the Holy Spirit guides you to do. You eat, if you feel guided to by the Holy Spirit. Engage in sex if you feel guided to by the Holy Spirit. Don't let the ego run those things. Turn them over to Holy Spirit and He/She will use them in a way that won't hurt you. In dealing with the ego, we need to know that the things that go on in your life and in your body aren't physical. They're just the same as any other ego conversation. You look at them, you wait; you judge them not. We turn them over to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit handles them for us.
Now, this idea that the body doesn't really get hungry or have other needs is a tough one. That's one of the higher teachings of the Course. It's definitely something we're all not ready to accept. A lot of us think, "Hey, I'm hungry. There's no fuel in the body. I'm supposed to eat." Many are rooted firmly in this idea and that's O.K. A Course In Miracles tells us it's O.K. "Our course is not concerned with any concept that is not acceptable to anyone, regardless of his formal beliefs. His ego will be enough for him to cope with, and it is not the part of wisdom to add sectarian controversies to his burdens." (M 57/60) Whether you truly believe the Course when it says the physical world is only a mental construct or whether you don't, the truth is it really doesn't matter. That's just part of the "sectarian controversies" we can get involved in. "How literally should we take the Course? What does it really mean?" In truth, the only thing we have to worry about is that voice for fear within our mind. Learn to identify your ego, that voice of separation and of doom. Learn to turn it over to the Holy Spirit and ask for help and the rest of "it" will fall into line and will be taken care of. Don't worry too much about the loftier ideas.
If you're trying to engage with the ego on this higher level (the body itself being only a manifestation of our ego desires) and you can't quite see how that works for you, the Course grants us another compromise. It states "It is not necessary to follow fear through all the circuitous routes by which it burrows underground and hides in darkness, to emerge in forms quite different from what it is." (T 302/325) It's not necessary for us to get our minds in there and try to figure out all these intricacies. Psychologically we may think, "I'm hungry because I really don't want to tell person 'X' that they made me angry. I always go to food whenever this happens" or, "I go out and have sex whenever this happens." We can get involved in all these psychological ways of dealing with the problem. Yet, the Course tells us that it's not necessary. You don't have to dig underneath and find out the way the ego is doing that. The ego is doing that, period. That's where it all comes from. All we have to do is handle the ego things that are right in front of us and clearly visible. I've said this before, "If it's not fifty feet in front of you, you should really ask whether your supposed to be involved in this issue or not."
People not only dig underneath their own mirs, but they also dig underneath other mirs all over the world to try to find some ego issue for them to focus on. I question that tendency. Of course, we're going to do what we are guided to do. However for me, when I'm dealing with the ego, I try to deal with the ego manifestations that are directly in front of my face. This means either my own life directly, or the mirs of those people I have direct intimate interaction with. That's where my ego surfaces. Other than that, I'm simply an observer. I am interested in the world. I watch the news but I don't get ego invested in it and upset about it. It's what's going on out there. I see it as a projection of my own mind but I'm not going to dig underneath all those news stories to locate the "circuitous routes." I do not need to figure out why I manifested President Clinton and Senator Dole saying what they say. It's just not important for me to do so. I'll deal with what's in front of me.
Five Things To Remember
My last point about the ego is stated in this quotation, "Everyone makes an ego or a self for himself, which is subject to enormous variation because of its instability." Now here's the kicker, "He also makes an ego for everyone else he perceives, which is equally variable." (T 51/56) Whenever you start thinking about the ego, remember we're not just responsible for your own ego, we make everyone else's ego as well. When someone irritates you, angers you, depresses you (substitute whatever negative adjective you want), you have to realize that it is not their ego that did something. There is no "their ego." It's always the ego we're making and putting on them.
Ultimately, we end up having to deal with the ego that now appear s to be "out there" the same way we deal with the ego when it appears to be within us. What were those major ways of dealing?
One, you accept its variability. The ego is incredibly variable, bouncing around all the time. The ego I perceive in other people is going to be just as variable and the one I perceive in me. I don't have to get upset about it. I've heard people say, "Boy, that person appeared nice for awhile and then they showed their 'true colors.' Then I got to see what they were really like." Well, what you got to see was just the variability of ego. Your ego, their ego, it's all the same. It's not the truth about them. It's just the variability of the ego in this realm of illusion. Yes, people do lousy things. We think they do lousy things. The ego is that way but we don't have to try to force that on the person as if that's who they are. If we can maintain our peace we may be able to get an appearance of shift in them. That's not why we do it, however. Peace is the only reward. Appearances of shift are just interesting to note. "35. Miracles are expressions of love, but they may not always have observable effects." (T 3/5) Sometimes we observe a shift; sometimes we don't.
Two, never forget that it is not all or nothing. All we have to do is try to help ourselves and them shift a couple of percentage points towards Holy Spirit. It is our peaceful interaction with somebody when we perceive them or ourselves to be in ego that is important. To be a healing force in their mirs it's not necessary for us to get them into Holy Spirit all the time. If we can just react peacefully they will probably appear to shift a few percentage points toward peace too. I think that's healing. They will feel a little better and that better feeling will help them to shift more and feel even better. Hopefully, big shifts are on their way and we will eventually feel a lot better.
Three, in dealing with what appears to be another ego, as dealing with our own, we look, we wait, we judge not. You see the ego that appears out there, look, wait, don't judge it. It isn't anything real. It's just another perception of this variable self for ourselves and everybody else. It bounces all around. They slip into the blackness of despair just as we do. You don't have to do anything with it. Remember these words: look, wait, judge not. (see W 391/401)
Four, In dealing with ego, remember that we think we are tied into all these things that seems physical, food, sex, shelter, money and more. These appetites are not really physical. They're just manifestations of our own ego thinking. Remember that for the other people too. Other people get just as caught into externals as we do. In truth, their being caught in externals is just a reflection of our own being caught in externals. The same way we understand that about ourselves, we also need to understand that about them. They may believe they are depressed because their lover just left them, but we have to know they're not depressed because of any external thing that's going on. They're depressed because they're choosing not to perceive this event correctly. They're choosing to forget who they really are. If we remember for them, it helps them to remember. It helps them to shift just a few points because our remembering is their remembering and our ego is really just their ego. There isn't any difference.
Lastly, five, when dealing with ego, their ego, your ego whatever, limit yourself to the egos right in your sphere of influence, in the fifty feet around where you are. I think we all have enough to deal with if we work with what's in front of us and we don't have to dig up all those deep tunnels. The truth is, if the world is only a projection of our mind, wherever we focus our attention we'll project the things that we need to heal. We don't have to search out there to see where our healing is. The healing we need to work on will pop-up right in front of our face because the world is indeed a mirror reflecting everything that is in our mind anyway. We don't have to go find remote mirrors. The mirrors that our brothers and sisters hold up to us every day of our mirs will certainly do. They do for me.
Hopefully, this can help you. I'm sharing my techniques of how I deal with my ego and the egos that I perceive. I offer them because I think this is one of the key issues A Course In Miracles is giving us and I feel we can learn from each other.
We experience ego everywhere in this world.
Deal with it! ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the October 1996 (Vol. 10 No. 8) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.