The Ego and the Self: a dialogue in conflict

There is a life that lives inside the life I live.  Sometimes this life within a life is submerged so far below the surface of consciousness that one could not discern that it is even there.  Other times, I hear it calling and I know that I can access its wisdom and other times I hear it calling and I refuse to hear what it is that it wants to tell me.  I am no stranger to the divided mind.  I have lived side by side with myself for years and it does not worry me that i experience this twoness about myself.  Perhaps it is the strong Catholic faith that guided my early years.  The nuns telling me that the angel sat on one shoulder and the devil sat on the other.  The divergence between heaven and hell as a catalyst for the duality that characterized my struggles within even as a young teenager.

This book of essays is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Or, at the very least we are all equally capable of accessing the glimpse of the life within the life that is so necessary to discover if our ambition is any form of serenity.  The conflicting dialogue, the running commentary that we have grown accustom to is made of of two equally important aspects of our mental capacity.  On the one hand we have an ego like structure that is focused on the external world.  It collects data, assesses that data and logically goes about the business of coming to a conclusion.  It is the science of life that it listens to.  On the other hand we have a deep instinct that comes to us through millenniums of evolution.  It is the age old capacity of subjectively experiencing what we feel inside of us.  It is a sensation we feel.  It is a kind of interior road map that guides us to internal points that inform us of the internal operations of our mind and body.  It is in many ways the source of oneness.  We experience our energy and our drives from this subjective location.

As we journey through this life, we are brought into direct conflict between these two points of observation.  There are times when they may be in concert, but for the most part they will inform us in such different ways that it is difficult to reconcile one from the other.  The journey through these essays is meant to provide a clear and logical path to understanding who we are and what we want from our brief experience of life here on earth.  Much goes into contemplating life and we have so little time in which to accomplish this task.

A spiritual community, for many of us began in our families of origin.  It is, for many of us, very difficult to grow in a family that emits dysfunction.  Dysfunction is emitted based on lack of knowledge, lack of right thought, and lack of feeling the internal messages that would assist in dismantling the frightening anxiety.  Family dysfunction essentially points us in the wrong direction.  Some are able to re-navigate their way to their own paths quickly.  Others fail at finding their way and suffer for most of a life time before, if ever, finding the comfort of serenity that exist within.

In the last number of years after leaving a psychoanalytic institute that I am indebted to, I began to do a different kind of research than I did as a candidate in analytic training.  I broke away from the formal scientific method and that allowed me to study other forms of knowledge.  I have read Buddhist material, I have sat in meditation with a Sangha, I have reviewed a multitude of new age writers and I have begun to dedicate my journey to understanding the convergence that I believe points to truth.

Here I have to explain that Truth with a capital “T” is not a scientific venture.  It is a philosophical venture and as such it breaks away from pure objective data and is willing to grapple with “Truth” that is subjectively experienced from within.  Truth used in this context implies an experience that is overwhelmingly sensed as coming from a place that is not purely thought.

The manner in which the body informs the mind of an internal event is not necessarily done in words.  A sharp pain in the back, or the chest, or a awful feeling of needing to vomit are not experienced by the mind as words.  These sensations emit from the body with the sole purpose to alert the body that something is out of balance.  This sensation of “out-of-balance” is crucial to surviving and is every bit as informative as our eyes perceiving a mad dog coming our way.  The vision that the sensations provide, though wordless are of primal importance to both the continued growth of the individual as well as the continued growth of the human specie.  Our internal being is connected to the oneness of the human race and the oneness of the human race is connected to all living organisms on earth and in the universe.

We are not alone, nor are we meant to be.

As I continue through these short essays, I hope to bring a dialogue to this concept that we are an ego and we are a self.  The subtitle of this blog from where this book is being written is:  a recalcitrant ego in search for a self.  To that end I welcome readers to comment within the blog post.  I think this kind of interaction will bring us to a point of convergence where, with help of each other, we will move closer to the irrefutable pleasure that is derived from knowing the extent to which we are divided and the manner and methods necessary for us to move away from internal conflict and move towards a serenity that has life glowing like the sun when it shines its morning light on the darkness of the night.

A Month in the Sub-Tropics

It is always the inner conflict that is most painful.  A short definition of pain might be in order.  This is what is currently on Wiki, “Pain is “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”[1] It is the feeling common to such experiences as stubbing a toe, burning a finger, putting iodineon a cut, and bumping the “funny bone“.[2]

Well that sort of does away with my premise.  When we talk about pain in psychological terms we are not referring to the “bumping the funny bone,” we are referring to another kind of discomfort that is associated with not liking something very much.  I very much do not like ambivalence and because of that, I refer to my conflict as a kind of psychic pain.  A bumping of a kind of mental funny bone.  But from this perspective the entire idea of pain is a metaphor.

When we talk about all pain being an inner conflict, I think we are talking about a pain that is not necessarily connected to tissue and to nerve endings.  The pain that is associated with inner conflict comes from the essential characteristic of fear.  Fear leads to a kind of pain because it introduces a certain chemistry within that has us imagining pain.  As we begin to calculate how awful something will be or how awful something was, we tend to call that association pain because it has in common with physical pain the notion that we do not like it at all.

Coming out as an artist is often painful for people.  Coming out as an artist is big business for the soul and all too often the ego does not want to encourage this idea and it begins an internal dissent.  The ego fights back with words, “you are not an artist, you are not a writer!”  There is a deflating vengeance that the ego can have toward we changing a mental construct about ourselves.

This winter I am in the sub-tropics giving myself an artistic interlude.  I am here to make peace with my inner conflict, to subside the psychic pain involved with reinventing myself at the age of sixty-five.  I am here to gently nudge my soul away from the precepts of the ego that tries to steer me away from becoming comfortable with a new me.

The idea is not so much to convince myself of an identity.  I can do that very well on my own in my traditional settings.  The idea is more one of convincing myself that authenticity is itself a form of joy and a form of success & that I need to practice authenticity internally as well as I need to sell it to others externally.  I feel prepared to let myself be a creative writer.  I have allowed the thought to simmer now for some time and I think the sauce is ready. Listening to the small inner whisper, the internal voice that is meek like that of a child’s, gives my soul a hint of the permission it needs to eventually amplify that voice into it own authenticity.

As I think about the process of authenticity i find that there is as much letting go as there is newness involved.  Letting-go of deliberate outcomes in exchange for accepting things as they are provides us with enough faith to believe that change will occur when it is time for it to occur.  The caterpillar  has no intention of becoming a butterfly. When it is time the metamorphose will happen.

This deliberate letting go of outcome, I find difficult to reconcile with my egoic self that has always be so directive and controlling about what i want and how I propose to get it.  The simple idea of letting the world happen to me requires that I have a faith in a process that I have little to no experience with.  I am here in the sub-tropics letting the world happen to me and I am finding that it is equally difficult to call myself a writer even when that is all that I am doing with my life.  The ego gets up with me every morning and when it hears the sound of the pounding surf several hundred feet away it begins instantly to command and make demands on me that sounds more like the voice of a drill Sargent than it does that of a gentle nudge.

The aspect of my creativity that I have long postponed was that I thought I needed to know where i was wanting to go.  I thought that the desire had to lead in the way of a guide rather that in the manner of a muse.  In fact i am discovering that my creativity resides much more in the concept of allowing myself to be authentic in the moment than it does about knowing directions.  Who I am and what is important to my life happens in a moment by moment manner and there are days that I wake up discouraged in myself just as there are days that i wake up feeling enlightened and even wise.

In most of my professional life I have surrounded myself with intelligent, scientific types.  I have enjoyed using the phrase research fellow as it enhanced my idea of value.  i do not want in any way to have to dismantle those ideas and those times, but I do want to add a different flavor to my repertoire.  I am encouraging my soul to listen to the sound of the pounding surf and i am encouraging myself to think and to use words in ways that are not necessarily accurate; rather they are used to convey feelings, to create portraits & landscapes that are pleasing to the soul.

The vitality of Blood Pressure

Vitality–dreams are made up of this stuff, these chemicals that come together in a alchemist sort of way.  Faith & Hope are sacred words, part of the potion that swirls and whirls around the inside of our minds and settles in a peaceful sort of knowing that renders us completely at ease with whatever is.

Whatever is is not the same as our response to whatever is.  Is-ness is different from our response to what is.  And Vitality is a key component to our happiness.  I feel like I am all over the place tonight.  In part my biology is playing with my psychology. And interestingly, earlier my psychology was playing with my biology.

I had a rather benign procedure earlier today.  But it was complicated enough that I elected to have it done in the O.R. rather than in my doctor’s office.  That was a wise choice on my part, despite the difficulty I had convincing the doctor that I was not about to allow anyone to “take-that-route” without anesthesia.  As much as I am fond of the here and now there are some things I would just rather not be present for.

While recuperating from the O-R ordeal, I got a e mail from a patient.  He wanted to know if love really existed. And further, why bother if in the end there are no promises. I answered her with the following:

“Let me do the best i can,”  — “as I am still under anesthesia, from the cyctoscopy I had earlier toady.  Hope and Faith are notions that we entertain in our minds–much like the notions of death and pain and persecution, they exist or do not subject to our will.”

The impermanence of life is a truth from the moment of conception and as well as we are able to accept that, the end of anything is a fact that is inescapable. That’s philosophy at best and biology at its worst.

What is Love?  Wow, that is a big mouthful and one that in my most sober moments I could not really take on.  What I can take on, and indeed believe in is–Vitality, drive, desire, goals and wishes…

Vitality, like well being is something that we aim for.  In a state of vitality we are able to live in the moment and are able to find beauty in a cool gust of breeze, or a ray of sunshine falling though a droplet of water or resting over the horizon.  Vitality is a feeling of well-being that I have come to “believe” in.  I trust my vitality and I trust that i will have it with me from now until my impermanence sets in.  Love is fun in living.  It is about stopping the incessant chatter and replacing that chatter with a calm and cool view of life that starts with the “notion” that I am fine and I will be fine.

I used it this morning.  I went for a procedure got to the hospital for 9:30 and proceeded to have to wait until 12:30 for my turn in the operating room.  I saw that were I to have wanted to I could have been angry. I could have been scared, I could have had just about any feeling that my thoughts could conjure up.  You see, thoughts come before feelings, and feelings precede moods.

I decided, while waiting in the sterile and overly air-conditioned cubby-hole that looked like a parking lot for gurneys than anything else,  to be quiet and to play with the blood pressure cuff that i was hooked up to.  I decided to drop my blood pressure using the monitor as feedback.  I started with a BP of about 140/80.  In about 30 minutes I had lowered my Bp to 114/60………

So. I thought,  if my BP responds, why not my emotions.  I let myself have any thought, but if the thought became doom-like and I experienced  not feeling good, I returned to concentrating on the calm and each time, it would worked.  The BP would come down.

In the bargain that I had in my mind with a former lover, I was going to die first and never have to be alone.  He was 15 years my junior. so I had a pretty good jump on this bargain, but life had twists and turns about which I knew nothing…

I could never have taken care of a dying man for five years—the universe, luck, a series of consequences or just plain—how-it-worked-out, intervened.  Impermanence always wins and if we let that fact interrupt our joy of living, then we lose out in a much greater fashion.  That is, not just lose in the end–the destination, but lose the entire process, the journey.

I am in love with life.  That feels like good-enough for me at the moment. Romantic love is like coming upon a great novel after reading several lousy books.  It is an enthusiastic response to a particular situation, a particular man or woman–or a particular moment.  Romantic love is as predictable as new england weather….I love new england weather, but do not particularly enjoy a 19 degree day in February when the drizzle turns to ice and the lovely breeze is nothing more than a damn cold northeast wind.

Love, like a warm  breeze in summer becoming a chilling wind in winter, has to be seen in context of our greater life’s purpose. To be in love with life does not mean that I love every moment of my existence–pentax up the shaft included.

My major professor while studying to become a psychoanalyst wrote a journal article entitled, “how we aim to be with patients.”  In it she describes than a variable of successful treatment lies in the analyst’s ability to “be” with the patient.  This is in juxtaposition to knowing about the patient.  She always stressed that being with the patient was a most difficult task of a beginning analysis.  Usually that was the case because the feelings and moods being presented in the consultation were feelings and moods that the analyst did not want any part of–too regressed.

As I study, most recently the phenomenon of exiting from narcissism, I am struck by the parallel process that can be found here between how we aim to be with a patient and how we aim to be with our selves.  The routine by which the excessive chatter that seems to emanate from that piece of the ego that is learned must become in alignment with our greater self.  That is to say, we have to aim for the feeling of well-being and adjust our directions in life based on how we align the ego with the self.

Vitality–or the feeling of vividly being alive ought to be able to trump any other feeling.  Vitality, as well-being, demands of our egos that they align with the greater purpose in life.  Our life mission can be at once both the destination and the journey.

But just as surly as we need to come to terms with the fact of impermanence, we need to come to terms with the fact that vitality and well-being must consciously and routinely be invited in.  We are not as likely to stumble on happiness, if we are not consciously on the look out for it.  Health, happiness and success are deliberate, not passive wishes if they are to be manifested.

Vitality, success and well-being are the emotional equivalence to blood pressure. Emotional health & romantic love need to be allowed in deliberately.

A.L. Dussault

Charlestown, R.I.

kindness–

I found this poem on the web and i thought it applied  significantly to how we can convert a feeling like sadness to anger, or fear to hopelessness.  I thought that it touched not only on the actual feelings that we struggle with, but that kindness seems to be working in this piece as a solution, one more tool in the psychoanalytic kit for emerging from narcissism.

I certainly have had the experience of having my future dissolve in a moment.  Many of us have–sometimes in relation to a massive tragedy and other times in relation to a minor inconvenience.  The point is that we have a capacity to witness the process of watching our mood slowly follow a thought into the deep darkness of the recesses of our minds.  Once in a regressed state it is so hard to figure a way out.

What I have been suggesting is that we know ourselves well enough to know that we will be deposited, we will slide back, we will find ourselves in some state of helpless or hopeless emotional turmoil again.  It is inevitable.

If we have believed in the process of practice, we have such a betters chance of noticing the bad feeling as a cue, as a warning that we are not in the state of well-being that is such wonderful place from which to live life.  If we practice how to emerge from narcissism even before we slide back into it we will see that from within the darkness we have a remembered well-Ness that can assist us to finding our way out of sever internal conflict that appears to be about something happening in the world but is happening as a conflict within.

I think of remembered well ness as a psychoanalytic tool, but it is a tool used by Buddhist and mindfullness teachers and spiritual leaders as well as cognitive behaviorist psychologist.   I think of remembered well ness as a tool of the universe, as a gift to the human condition.  But it is a tool that must be practiced to be useful.   If you were born with the potential of being a fine pianist but you never practiced playing the piano chances of you becoming a fine musician are slim.

A similar talent or gift is our cognitive ability to reach down into the recesses of our linguistic competence and begin to apply new feeling/thoughts to our psyche. The application of a better feeling thought to a psychic wound is like an ice-pack on a bodily wound.  It causes a degree of soothing that allows us to begin to think that we are already healing from the wound.  The application of a better linguistic thought does more that shift words around it gives us the capacity to shift moods around.  In this scenario a fowl mood is simply an alert to the mind that we are needing to shift our thinking and make it more accurately fit the experience of well-being that so many of us have spend a life time searching for.

The poem that follows is about Kindness, but it is about so much more that kindness alone.  I hope you enjoy it.

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

it is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you every where

like a shadow or a friend.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~

Dr. Albert Dussault