More about Ego.
The word ego has many connotations. Freud used it in relation to what he called the id and the superego.
The id is all the basic primitive drives. The superego is the demands of society. The ego is the part that negotiates between the id and the superego.
In the East the ego is used to refer to all the desires and aversions, the likes and dislikes we have.
In Christian terms this version of the ego is very close to “the will”.
Jung used the terms conscious and unconscious. What is conscious the Jungian context is the ego.
From the point of view of self inquiry the real interest is, as Jung suggested, in bringing what is unconscious into consciousness. This is indeed an expansion of our personal consciousness.
What is unconscious in us drives our actions and emotions. Since we are not conscious of what is unconscious in us, we feel ourselves to be victims of our circumstances.
The ego is unconscious or we are unconscious to its existence. It is the layers of beliefs below the radar of normal consciousness. What we see is its effects, since it is the underlying set of beliefs that generate our actions and experience of ourselves.
As long as it remains undercover, it continues to generate our actions and consequently our experience. We interpret our experience in relation to the motives of the underlying beliefs.
If we have an underlying belief that wealth will make us happy, we interpret what happens to us in relation to this belief. Each belief generates a multitude of daily experiences and actions, each of them being interpreted in relation to the underlying belief or value. Hence, the constant swing between happiness and unhappiness.
To dig up the underlying belief or programme that is dictating our daily experience is to see what is generating the swings. On seeing the effects of the belief we are then able to re-examine it in the light of consciousness. This is the way in which we bring what is unconscious in us into consciousness.
The natural process of growing up is to pick up the beliefs and values of the family and culture we live in. All beliefs are to do with surviving in the world and apply to the creaturely aspect of us. As creatures in the world we need to learn to survive in the world.
But, and this is what is forgotten in the process of growing up, we are not just earthly creatures.
Babies and children exist prior to taking on any beliefs and ideas. They exist in a state of natural consciousness, of direct perception.
This cohort of beliefs that we absorb take up a central position in our consciousness and in the process we forget who or what we were prior to this. The label “I” becomes attached to them and we become identified with this “I”. We come to believe that we are the beliefs themselves.
Unwittingly, we have traded who we truly are for a set of thoughts.
This is ego, ego in action because we see it only in its effects unless we look for the underlying thought.
We are not a thought, or a set of thoughts but this is what we come to feel ourselves to be when the ego takes residence in consciousness.
Self-inquiry is the work of looking at the thoughts that arise and tracing them back to the root thought. In this way we come to see the ego for what it is and can challenge its authority in ourselves.
We can look to see what we are in the absence of thoughts and verify that we do not die in the gap between thoughts. This shows us that we are not our thoughts but something prior to thoughts.
This in turn leads us to reconsider who or what we really are.
We are seeking to find who we really are. This is what spiritual work is about.