In psychoanalytic terminology a dynamic is related to the meaning of the word in physics. It essentially refers to the motion and, loosely, to the direction of energy flow in the brain. In recent year the concept has been modified to refer to a metaphoric motion of energy. In part that is because the elements of Freud’s early theories could never be proven with the biological sciences that he had hoped for. Nonetheless 21st century science is actually in a better place to verify Freud’s theories than was the science at the beginning of the 20th century when he was at his most prolific.
In a sense the dynamic theories of analysis point to the notion that all conflict can be established as originating within the mind of the person suffering the conflict. Through the mental process of externalization it frequently is seen that a person will take one half of a conflict, or one side of the conflict and externalize it and “pick” a fight with that object outside of himself to essentially resolve the ambivalence.
In his 1919 thesis on the pleasure principle, Freud describes the human mental dynamic as an embattled ego fighting against the forces of the id, the super-ego and the outside world. The idea of a mind sectioned off into various parts was not new, but the conceptualization that these parts communicated with each other and that there was an interplay in aspects of us that we might not know, is what most shocked the scientific world at the turn of the 20th century.
Like Copernicus and Darwin and Descartes, his theories shook the sleep of the world. The sun does nor revolve around the earth, we were apes in a previous life and the soul may not be permanently attached to our consciousness do not bode well for a narcissistic organism like man that enjoys the perks of thinking of himself as the center of the universe.
I will not continue in this vein describing the history and i may return to this theme in later web-logs, but for now I want to establish something about how I see the term ego and the best uses that I think it might have for my intentions here which are to marry some spiritual concepts to some psychoanalytic concepts that have a fairly wide acceptance in the social sciences.
The Ego is an aspect of the human mind. The human mind is a manifestation of the brain/body matrix of the human organism. In other words, the biological brain creates a set of functions that can be best understood as a cluster of mental operations. These operations are neurologically, and biologically and chemically oriented and the interplay of these hormones and tissues establishes a “location” that give us our consciousness.
You might say that the brain in its jungle like system of connective tissue and hormonal interactions, establishes a condition in which human beings can use its senses to produces and store images that can later be used to synthesize data into events that we learn to recognize symbolically.
The ego is perhaps the best know section of consciousness and it has lent itself to many colloquial and even provincial definitions. But for my use, I think of the ego as the executive seat of the personality. I like to think of the ego as that part of my mental functioning that I associate with my first name. Those aspects of me that I grew into and those concepts of me that I grew out of are the egoic parts of me.
The id or the unconscious are those parts of me that operate without my having any knowledge that they are operation, somewhat equivalent to the autonomic nervous system that pumps my heart and breaths through my lungs and circulates my blood. The Unc. is the most primitive aspect of my mind and again, loosely it might be thought of as originating in the oldest part of the triune brain–the reptile brain.
Finally, for Freud the third aspect of the brain function is called the super-ego which is thought to house the prohibitions and the learnings that have exerted a pressure on the more primitive parts of the brain. You might think of the id as a wild dog and and the super-ego being what happens to that dog after it is well trained. It’s urges toward sex and aggression are still all contained in the dog, but the super-eg0 imposes restrictions on the dogs behavior and because of its devotion to its master it very reluctantly “stays” instead of chasing the other dog in the park.
When I will use the word ego, I will use it in its more generic term. I mean I will think of the entire complex of the personality, the persona that is known by my first name, as the ego. And I will reserve the word “self” to mean the entire organism body, mind, brain, consciousness and awareness. In this way we can think of the ego as having arisen in the wider consciousness of the human being.
Recently, I have been using an analogy to describe the difference between the ego and the self. I think of the entire space between my ears as the wider field of consciousness. i use the metaphor that God, or the universe, or biology has given each of us a 400 acre parcel of land between our ears. And on the vast acreage there is a farm house. In this mental image the acreage is the wider self and the farm house is the ego.
This metaphor is important to my concept of the divided mind. In recent spiritual authors, notably Eckhart Tolle, but certainly many more, the concept of awakening is important to the description of how mindfulness can assist a troubled, dysfunctional ego. Awakening is that process that we use when we “step-back” and can watch the mechanisms of our mind/brain matrix at work.
This is perhaps the essential concept necessary for such activities as meditating to take place, or for one to be able to temporarily remove oneself from listening to the chronic egoic background voice that has a commentary on everything form the temperature of the moment to the judgements we might make of some ones hideous shoes. This background voice that never shuts up, perhaps even during sleep, operates like a gerbil on a wheel.
Mindfulness and meditation and other acts of stillness and peaceful repose, are only possible if one learns how to exit the ego and go to rest comfortably under the shade of a large spreading chestnut tree somewhere out in our personal 400 acres.
Having studied and researched the human condition for all of my professional career first as a counselor and later as a clinical psychoanalyst, I have come to a theory of the mind that allows me to explore exiting from narcissism. I envision being able to talk about this process using subjective phenomenological experiences as well as documented countertransference examples from my clinical practice.
It is my idea at this time in my writing that spiritual and creative dynamics must be used to free oneself from the grips of a tenacious ego hell-bent on protecting itself at the expense of the greater self. The mission of the ego is the defense and the protection of the organism and the specie. The ego never willingly abandons its post as sentinel of the organism.
However, as we grow in wisdom there begins to be aspects of one self-protection that has in many ways become the inside walls of a prison rather that being the outside walls of a fortress. Ambitions, like living in the moment, or being involved with the process of a project rather than outcome of a project, or the desire to escape the ever present background egoic voice; ambitions like these require exiting the protective comforts of the “egoic home” and spending time in the vast meadows and country sides that surround the farm house.
It is my thesis that creativity and spirituality form the backbone of emergence from the confines of a narcissistic ego.
While I enjoy the next few months studying and sharing my joys of learning the secrets of Meister Eckhark, the protagonist of this 13th century Everyman drama, I hope to show in one more way that what we know of the universe on a microcosmic level of interconnections may well hold Truths about the macrocosmic dynamics of a Spiritual Analysis.