Kryptonite: the curse of egoic protection

Consciousness, our awareness that we are perceiving something, is more likely the latest and greatest advance in human dominance on this planet.  Consciousness creates a capacity to take data and to synthesize it, to morph it from one thing into another.  It is the seat of creativity, the seat of creation.  The ego is a function of consciousness that has arisen as the most profound aspect of the human brain and consequently as the most profound aspect of the human personality.  In fact the awareness of our ability to perceive gives us what we consider to be our identity.  It is no wonder then that if anything threatens it, we defend it with a vengeance.

I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us… if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives     and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.”
~Christopher Reeve

Thank you Superman.

Who would have thought that that perpetual little voice was really kryptonite.  Shutting down that voice is tantamount to putting on a cape and knowing exactly where to go to stop the next crime.  And those superhuman ears that could hear right through a bank vault…that was simply Clark Kent taking off his glasses and shutting down the chatter and intently listening for where  the voice of the next-right-thing might be coming from.  The perpetual egoic voice is poison, toxic to our stillness and serenity.  And at the same time it is the very seat of human survival.

I still see such faces of doubt when I talk about the miracles of stillness.  People are so afraid that I am asking them to shun their egos, to drop their personalities or to lose their identities–but that is so far from what i am saying.

I love my ego, my identity, my sense of self in the world that I have been growing in my mind right along with all the other bodily growths that have been so crucial to my development.  My ego is very, very important to me.  It is what i consider the executive director of my character.  It is the default person that I go to when a question arises like, do I take a right or a left at the next light?  Or, should I wear argyle socks; or should I invest in stocks or real estate, and that is to say nothing of its usefulness in solving the equation E=MC squared and measuring the distance between galaxies in light years.

And, way back at the very beginning of my of my egoic life, I depended on my ego to let me know what I liked and did not like.  I depended on my ego to assist me in formulating my first words.  My ego helped to to learn how to stand up take a step, walk a few waddles away from my mother and even taught me how to fall on my diaper in a soft kind of fall so I did not have to hurt my head.

Pretty cool thing this ego.  It began the job of protecting me from all the various dangers in my world–like the vacuum cleaner or the dog that was twice my size.  It cried out in horror in the middle of the night when i did not know where my mother was and I was afraid that i would never, ever see her aging, except when my ego learned how to cry loud enough, my mother appeared, picked me up told me not to be afraid and soon I was able to go back to bed and sleep the rest of the night.

Just about every executive function that my conscious and unconscious mind performs comes directly out of something that the ego learned objectively or subjectively.  I like my ego a lot.

So, what is so kryptonite about my ego?

The one thing it can not do is to be still.  It can not be calm, as a matter of fact it can not ever stop thinking or talking.  It is a perpetually running commentary on every single act and thought and idea and fantasy that I have. If I raise a cup of coffee to my lips  and the coffee is hot, my little perpetually running ego will say, “that coffee is too hot.”  Why does it think it need to tell me that.  After all it is my lips that were already burned by the hot coffee and some combination of neurons and nerve ends and hormonal sequencing had already brought the news of the hot coffee to my brain and I had already pushed the cup away from my lips…so why the duplication of effort.  Why did this little voice have to chime in and tell me that the coffee was hot.  It is redundant and extremely inefficient.

I will tell you one more thing that my ego does.  It makes me defensive.  It rattles its tale like a snake in the desert whenever someone threatens to oppose my position, my ideas, my opinions and above all, my cherished feelings. My ego is fragile, it is guilt ridden, it is shame and fear based.  It operates to protect a piece of me that needs about as much protection from the universe as does the sun.  It protects me way beyond its original mission.  It is Hal the malfunctioning space computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey that had as its mission to protect the astronauts, but grew out of control and began to protect itself instead. Remember that slow computer voice:  “Just what do you think you are doing, Dave.  I am entitled to an explanation, Dave…I feel much better now..I assure you that things will be much better now.  I am feeling much stronger now, Dave.  Take a stress pill, Dave…I will be back to normal.   it my job to help you.  Let me help you, Dave”

In the movie the computer malfunctions and takes on the mission of protecting itself instead of the crew that it had been built to protect.  The Computer, Hal, had been installed onboard as the “brains” or the C.E.O. of the mission. But as it began to acquire more and more information it took on the mission of protecting itself, much like our egos do.

The question of the ego as the seat of our survival is probably very Darwin-correct.  It evolved more recently and more quickly that any other organism on earth seems to have evolved.  The ego, once it caught on to its role as a dominant force for human survival built itself a cortex that surrounded the cerebellum and off it went with super human speed to protect and defend itself with nearly wild abandon. Everything from a domestic quarrel to international territory dispute is attributable to the ego’s need to defend and to protect.

There is no question about the importance of the ego in the development of the human race from both a micro and macro perspective.  The human race and the individual human being is more protected by the functions of the ego that any other aspect of human civilization.

Having established, in some minor way here for discussion purposes, that the ego is of supreme importance, why then is it so equally important to dismantle its power?  The answer is in the metaphor of the Space Odyssey movie.  Because it has become so important, we have stopped questioning its growth.  In the same way that an adolescent needs to break away from its family in order to grow independently, we each have to find a way of letting-go of our egos in order to continue to grow independently, that is, to grow spiritually and creatively independent of the egoic powers.

The ego is kryptonite to serenity and stillness.  Its very strength is the condition that prevents it from willingly taking a back seat to other “ideas” and “missions” that we might want to undertake.  In 12 step programs a phrase is often used that while we are in the rooms praying for some strength to overcome a desire or crave, the egoic condition of the disease is in the parking lot doing push-ups…

This is just one more way of saying that if the ego become attached to a mission, even if that mission is self-destructive, the ego will not let it go.  If the body begins to believe that a cancer is an organism that needs to grow, even if that organism is killing us the ego will assist the cancer.  Egoic protection is not regulated and without regulation even capitalism seems to not be able to regulate itself.  Regulations for the ego must not come from the ego anymore that insurance lobbyist can be trusted to have popular interest beyond the interest of the insurance companies.

The spiritual and creative solutions that are so necessary for a wide and flexible and deepening experience of life do not emanate strictly from the domain of the ego.  The right hemisphere of the brain where the music of life comes from, where the abstractions of art come from, can not be regulated by the ego any more that a sonata can be appreciated solely from a mathematical point of view.

Spiritual solutions and scientific, clinical solutions are not in competition–they are complimentary.   It is the proverbial oranges and apples argument.  You just can not compare them.  At the time that Freud was publishing his seminal work on dream interpretation, he was being locked out of medical societies because dreams were not the purview of science.  Copernicus was debunked because man just could not tolerate that he was not the center of the universe.  The sleep of the world does not like to be disturbed.  And as the history of civilization enters a new millennium where a new kind of spiritual awareness is growing divorced from religion, the sleep of the world is being disturbed one more time.

This time the argument is not to debunk science or to debunk spiritual awarenesses, but the challenge is to establish the cooperative venture that the human spirit can take as it continues to try to find a balance between survival and peace.

Consciousness, our awareness that we are perceiving something, is more likely the latest and greatest advance in human dominance on this planet.  Consciousness creates a capacity to take data and to synthesize it, to morph it from one thing into another.  It is the seat of creativity, the seat of creation.  The ego is a function of consciousness that has arisen as the most profound aspect of the human brain and consequently as the most profound aspect of the human personality.  In fact the awareness of our ability to perceive gives us what we consider to be our identity.  It is no wonder then that if anything threatens it, we defend it with a vengeance.

A spiritual life can exist along side of the most scientific facts.  It can exist with or without the existence of God.  A spiritual and creative life is fed by our vitality, our appreciations and our gratitudes.  When I sit with a patient, or when I sit with my child or my children’s children, an energy of ancestry and an energy of hope sits with me.  The very energy that was once my beloved grandmother, or my beloved analyst are energies that have not died, but energies that have been transformed.

I am not privileged to know or to see the other side of the veil, that is reserved for angels and gods, but on this side of the veil I am aware of consciousnesses that have come before me and live on in my DNA in some manifested manner that I can barely see and must squint my eyes to even remotely begin to imagine how many generations of previous human blood are present in my flesh.  It is as daunting as the trillions of light years that make up distances in the universe.  It is as daunting as the trillions of dollars that make up the deficit in the global budget.  Yet, some day the earth will turn another millennium and it will be the year 3010.  What on earth can we imagine of that.  What peace or what conflagration will have destroyed or enhanced the conditions of our globe as it spins wildly through space about as carefree and as self protective as or own fragile egos.

We loved to believe in superman, he jumped tall buildings in a single bound and we are still transfixed by the spiritual condition that is the hope that kryptonite will never destroy the powers of the human spirit as it attempts to triumph over evil.

The challenge that the new spirituality puts right in front of us today, is the challenge to not let the powers of the ego remain unregulated. The spirits of faith, hope and charity, the cornerstones of the right hemisphere of the brain needs our help–right NOW.  Go in peace and do not be afraid or ashamed to procreate & co-create.

self-portrait                                             9/9/09


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5 comments on “Kryptonite: the curse of egoic protection

  1. Trissa says:

    Love reading this, Al. Pls keep writing! Peace, Trissa

  2. claudia luiz says:

    Thank youfor this. It is helpful to understanding the role of the ego…and I resonate with the difficulty being still…thank you!

  3. “It (the ego) cried out in horror in the middle of the night when i did not know where my mother was and I was afraid that i would never, ever see her aging, except when my ego learned how to cry loud enough, my mother appeared, picked me up told me not to be afraid and soon I was able to go back to bed and sleep the rest of the night,”

    I guess the question is, how long do we go on screaming? At what point do we just get on with our own thing and just call Mom on weekends.

    We do defend that ego with a vengeance don’t we? I’m working on that.

    I love your comparison to Superman. The thing that always amazed me about Superman was that while all the other Super Heroes are normal people with Super Alter-Ego’s, Superman is ALWAYS Superman and Clark Kent is his Alter-Ego. Prety cool, huh?

    • aldussault says:

      he was my favorite–i liked that clark kent was such a klutz, such a wimp while the secret side was strong…almost the opposite of what most of us try to do which is to show the strong side to the world and collapse when we are alone..

  4. Tom says:

    But what are your options when Hal won’t open the pod bay doors? Your essays are thought provoking. The threads of thinking about survival, generations, and the ego makes me connect that education, analysis, conversation (with self and others), and all of the redundancy with what our in-the-moment ego perceives can serve the purpose of survival by expanding the contexts in which we watch for the isolated event to possibly recur. The hot coffee may inform your instincts to think anew (and with heightened caution)about cups, liquids, baristas and the like. This stimulus generalization may develop better defenses, but overdevelopment/generalizing can create paralyzing defenses. This may be restating one of your points about the ego, but you’ve got me thinking about paralysis and repetition as a delusion of protection and control against long-gone dangers.

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