Is it the things that we own or the property that we live in or the books or pieces of fine art that we have accumulated, is it even the wild perennial garden that we established that gives us our sense of joy & well-being? Or, is it simply our mood that provides us with the feeling that all is well with us and the world.
It is very easy to think that it is because I have what I want that I am well, or it is equally easy to think that I do not have what i want and that is why I am not well or joyous. But the facts of human psychology and the truths of human spirituality movements through out history seem to claim something other than acquisition as the factor that quells our jittery minds.
Those of us who have been studying mindfulness and researching subjective concepts such as joy and contentment or compassion and gratitude have been coming across a phenomenon often referred to as well-being or in some religious faiths it is referred to as Grace. These words denote a concept that is entirely reached through sensation, feelings and an internal awareness or awakening that allows for a verbal description of the mental state that we are in at any given moment. The importance of the internal awareness is that it provides a lens or a view of what is happening inside of us. This perspective does two very distinctive jobs. First, it is an alert mechanism–similar to the alert that anxiety might cause in the mind when the organism senses danger. And secondly, it provides us with a view of ourselves that requires that we acknowledge that there is both a mechanism doing the viewing and a mechanism that is being viewed. And for all practical purposes–it is the same mechanism, the human mind.
Let me for a moment review in a very simply way what Freud meant by the use of the word, “ego.” For Freud, the ego constituted the most alert of the aspects of the psyche. He essentially experienced the ego as the executive function of the the psychic apparatus…in addition to the ego he described the unconscious which the ego sat in and was partially submerged in and also described a super-ego as that aspect of us that learns based on the immediate environmental factors–so simply put the super-ego is our incorporated mother that taught us the right from wrong aspects of life.
The “id” which is simply the German word for “it” is where memories are both repressed to and in some cases originate from. It is most primarily connected with the alligator brain or the brain stem which is analogous to the autonomic nervous system. It is the source–again simply, of aggressive and sexual impulses un checked by the ego or the super-ego…I use to laugh with my major professor and say…in other words when it comes to the id we are like untrained dogs in a park….
O.K. back to the word “ego.” In recent years and mostly through popular psychology the word ego has had less and less of a scientific, glossary-type definition and it has come to mean the persona of of the self…So, we might hear some one say, “he or she has a big EGO,” and they would be meaning they are so full of themselves. I will use the word ego in its current colloquial form rather than in the more scientific psychoanalytic form. For our discussion the ego will refer to the part of myself that has perception, ideas, consciousness and is the part of ourselves, that is most know to us by our first names. In other words, when I think of who Al is, I am thinking of the egoic aspect of myself that has grown with a consciousness of myself growing in an environment. I am a bi-lingual french/english speaking man of middle age and I am the person who I think myself to be when I say, “I am Al!”
It is really pretty simply. Who ever you think of when you think of yourself by your first name is pretty much what the ego is in you.
However, it is not the totally of my consciousness and that is the part of me that I want to talk about, the other part of me that can stand back and watch “Al” make up his mind, or make a mistake, or say something out-loud or even say something to myself. I have a lens or a perspective that give me the ability to watch myself act in the world. I can see myself thinking and I can say to myself something like, “oh, al–give it up, stop-it–damn you can be a fool,” or I can see and hear internally Al saying, “wow, I like that–I hope I can do that again.”
What I am getting at is that in my mind I have the capacity to watch my ego at work. I can see it do and say things and even see it planning and being disappointed and angry and frustrated and manic and glad and all the rest. In my mind and with another aspect of myself that is not my ego, I can see me at work–manipulating, facts and emotions into conclusions and ideas and opinions. But the fact that I can watch myself do this–it the fact that most interest me and I have come to see this lens as the lens that can guide us out of narcissism and bad moods and other stuck places that the ego can find as a jam to be in.
The question that I am asking of myself when I ask, is it the thing or is it the mood that creates our state of mind is first and foremost a question that has to be directed either to the ego, or to the lens, if you will–that other aspect of self that is not the ego but can watch the ego.
I am not even sure that that lens has language except for what it borrows from the ego. So it may be that the self apart from the ego can not really function aside and apart from who I am as Al, but I do know that I am able to be in a much quieter space, a space more full with well-being when I manage to stop or shut down the ego and in its place I am existing as a consciousness from which my ego emerges.
In the next post I will study further the emerging from the ego as what I mean by the emergence from narcissism. It is a bit like the process we used some many thousands of years ago when we came down from the trees.