Hi, this is Brian.
Welcome back to another Areté +1°, micro-chapter from my new book, Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential.
This one is called…
A STRONG EGO
= YOUR TICKET TO THE DIVINE
In our last +1°, we talked about what Father Richard Rohr describes as “The Paradox of the Ego.”
This is an important subject that is part of a much longer discussion. Let’s spend another moment or three on it now.
It seems to me that a lot of/most “spiritual” people these days tend to think that we need to “get rid of” our ego or otherwise maim it if we want to tap into the most divinely spiritual within us.
I don’t agree with that approach.
Campbell tells us that he doesn’t understand why there’s all this talk about annihilating the ego when, in fact, it’s our egos that keep us in the game.
Wilber tells us that it’s not “ego-minus” but “ego-plus.” We need a strong ego that’s plugged into something bigger than ourselves. THAT’s when the magic happens.
Then we have Nathaniel Branden who, as we discussed, tells us that even if we think “letting go of” the ego is either desirable or possible (he and I don’t think it’s either), successfully letting go of your ego would, by definition, require you to have a firm grip on your ego before you could let it go.
(Think about it for a moment: How can you let go of something you never had hold of?)
All of which leads us to how I like to think about our ego.
Of course, there are so many different definitions of what the “ego” is that we can get dizzy trying to keep up. I prefer to think of the ego in a classic Western psychoanalytic frame a la Freud.
In that model we have three components: our id, our superego, and our ego.
Our id is, essentially, that impulsive part of us that wants everything right.this.second. It doesn’t matter whether that thing we want is good for us or not. Just give it to us. NOW.
When your impulsive id is running the show, you’re probably engaging in one or more of your addictive behaviors—whether they’re digital (“Hi, smartphone!”) or chemical (“Hi, sugar and flour and alcohol and…”).
Our superego is basically the conditioned part of us that’s constantly judging all those things your id just did and wondering what in the world you were thinking.
It also really (really!) wants people to like us and can lock us into conformity when it isn’t shaming us for not being perfect.
Then we have our ego. In this framework, our ego is that part of us that keeps our id and superego in check.
Note: We NEED a STRONG EGO to make sure we don’t spin out of control, alternating between a hyper-impulsive/ addictive version of ourselves and a hyper-conforming/perfectionistic-ashamed version of ourselves.
All of which begs the question…
How do you get your ego to be strong enough to deal with the pulls of the id and the superego?
In short: You have the wisdom to know the ultimate game you’re playing and how to play to play it well. And, you have the discipline to do what you need to do whether you feel like it or not.
If you think your ego is a bad thing and that having a strong sense of self is an “un-spiritual” thing to desire and work to attain, then, as per Rohr’s commentary, you’re in trouble.
Recall his comments: “You ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of your ego.”
The good (spiritual) news is that, as we deepen our connection to our highest selves by more and more consistently showing up and doing our best, we naturally tend to plug in to something much bigger than ourselves.
In Pathways to Bliss, Joseph Campbell puts it this way: “What is it we are questing for? It is the fulfillment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfillment your gift to the world, which is yourself. There’s nothing you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way, you will find, live, and become a realization of your own personal myth.”
That’s worth a reread:
“What is it we are questing for? It is the fulfillment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfillment your gift to the world, which is yourself. There’s nothing you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way, you will find, live, and become a realization of your own personal myth.”
In the same book, Campbell also tells us: “This gets back to Krishna’s dictum: The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.”
All that to say.
It’s time to perfect ourselves.
It’s time to become transparent to the transcendent.
It’s time to do the hard work to forge the strength for two.
It’s time to close the gap and live with Areté.
It’s time to activate our Heroic potential.