#1092 The Paradox of the Ego

Ironically: We Need a Strong Ego to Let Go of Our Ego

Let’s spend another moment or three with Franciscan mystic-monk Richard Rohr.

In Falling Upward, he integrates his Catholic faith with ancient myths and modern wisdom.

His book is all about the “two halves of life” / “the two tasks of life.”

(Note: David Brooks‘ “two mountains” are really just his take on this basic idea.)

As Richard says: “There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean we do it well.


Two tasks. First we build up a strong identity by playing the normal games of society. THEN… We move beyond that to connect with our higher purpose and something bigger than ourselves.

It’s basically moving from an “ego” level to a “soul” level.


Here’s the paradox.

As Richard says: “You ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of your ego.

And: “In fact… far too many … have lived very warped and defeated lives because they tried to give up a self that was not there yet.

This,” Richard says, “is an important paradox for most of us.

We’ve talked about this a few times. I think it’s worth coming back to.

Richard leans on the wisdom of Joseph Campbell and Ken Wilber. So, let’s invite them to the party to hear what they have to say on the subject.

In Pathways to Bliss, Campbell tells us: “Of course, to reach the transpersonal, you have to go through the personal: you have to have both qualities there.

(Check out those Notes for a deeper dive.)

While (in One Taste) Ken Wilber tells us: “But ‘egoless’ does not mean ‘less than personal’; it means ‘more than personal.’ Not personal minus, but personal plus—all the normal qualities, plus some transpersonal ones. … There is certainly a type of truth to the notion of transcending ego: it doesn’t mean destroy the ego, it means plug it into something bigger… Put bluntly, the ego is not an obstruction to Spirit, but a radiant manifestation of Spirit.

Another way to look at it, to paraphrase Nathaniel Branden: We can’t let go of something we never had a firm hold of. Or, as Richard tells us: “You ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of your ego.


Richard tells us that building this “ego container” is the primary task of the first half of life. Then we need to empty it in the second half of life. And refill it with God.

I think the simplest way to think about it is to go back to Desmond Tutu and his BRILLIANT reminder that we’re just the light bulbs. Our job is simple: Stay screwed in.

We create a strong sense of self SUCH THAT the Divine Light can shine.

Rather than “delete” the small “self,” it’s more like we’re plugging it into something bigger than ourselves so it goes ALL CAPS. Like this…

self SELF!!!

Let’s plug in and do that.



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