Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Transpersonal Psychology and the Blue-Eyed Thai Girl

One of my favorite things about blogging is the pool of knowledge available to all of us with just a few key words in a search engine.

The next best thing is the way we are able to engage each other in a form of conversation. One post read on another site will generate one on mine. Maybe one on mine will generate a post on another site. I can't imagine a better way to take advantage of our collective education and points of view.

Jen who writes One Plus Two and I have been engaged in an email conversation about ego and its place in our lives. We haven't gotten academic or pedantic. It's a casual sharing of views between us. It's just one mind to another, one thought to another. Her post this morning is abut her concept of ego and its place in our lives. This post is a response to hers.

She presents the trifecta of Freud's ego, id and superego. I don't remember too much about Freud with the exception of the basic concepts taught in a college course too many years ago to admit. What I remember most is that his basic premise is that human beings are evil and that when given the choice will always choose anti-social behavior. This creates conflict between three elements of personality. I believe he built the theory based on the cultural premise of the time which was Calvinism. (We need a big bad White Dude In The Sky to keep us on the straight and narrow and we get to heaven [reach enlightenment] by repression of our base human instincts. Morality must be enforced with an iron fist.) There is an interplay between culture and psychology and one developes in support of the other. The psychology becomes part of the worldview of the members of a common community. The model is perpetuated through a socialization process of propaganda.

That's true for any society, east or west. All cultures will develope a collective psychology that will support itself. The social reality produced is considered "normal" if it coincides with culturally accepted behavior.

I think at some level we become attuned to these things and they may or may not resonate with us. Sometimes they won't resonate to a point where we can become alienated from everyone around us.

To a certain degree, that is what happened with me over the years. That caused me to explore many different types of thought, hoping I would find one to use in my own life, to provide me with guidance and context. It took literal years to sort through all the "stuff" that's out there.

So, although I feel somewhat out of my league when responding to someone like Jen who has an intellect I can only dream about, I will do my best to summarize how I view ego and its place in my (the) world. This exchange is particularly interesting, given our different educational backgrounds.

Ego is the part of me that demands separateness, including the separation of body and mind. It is the source of unhealthy attachments, anger and insecurity. It is the part that is satisfied by power over others and a higher privilege than others. It is in constant competition with other human beings by necessity. If we can't overcome others in one way or another, we will find ourselves at the bottom of the heap or worse yet, extinction. That is the shadow level of ego. Our perception of self determines our perception of social reality.

My ultimate belief is that ego is what hinders our ability to escape the cycle of suffering. That doesn't mean complete self-abnegation but it does mean that I remain conscious of the potential dangers inherent in perceiving myself as separate from other human beings. By "dangers", I don't mean to imply that we should be without boundaries or identity. I do mean that it is necessary to see ourselves as an integral part of a larger community. It is necessary that we understand that when an Other suffers, we all suffer. When the community is out of balance, we are likewise out of balance. It is important that we choose to use power for something higher than self-interest.

In that respect, ego creates conflict. On the other hand, it is also what prevents us from stepping in front of buses or allowing ourselves to be abused or oppressed. That is the positive aspect of ego.

So within that context, there's still the question of how to manage it, how to make it work for us instead of against us.

I will be interested to hear other thoughts on this topic. :)




Anonymous said...

How funny that I am writing my blog about the same subject: "ego", although not so deeply meaningful as yours, of course. I promise: I will not plagiarize!

Lucia said...

There are a few concepts here that I'm turning over like rocks in my hands. One is the relation of ego and suffering. It certainly plays a part in inter-personal suffering, but suffering is so much broader, and often external.

If I don't have enough to eat, is it ego that causes me to go look for food? (I'm talking here in a situation of poverty, no food, famine.) If I get food, but my neighbor does not, is that my ego causing suffering to someone else? Does ego operate differently in the societies of the have enoughs and the societies that don't have enough to go around?

Turning over another rock. Maybe the point of our lives is to sort through the stuff? It takes years because that's part of what we're here to do, part of our job as humans. And another of our "jobs" is to come to some peace with how to live with ego.

QT said...

Chani - I think a state of "egolessness" as practiced by Eastern religions is something very difficult for us in the West to grasp without immediately associating it with ceasing to be an individual. I, too, could write a very long response but I think you could probably hum this tune right along with me! : )

"We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends."

Thanks for the great post.

jen said...

Ahem. Whatever, you are the wise one in this relationship, sister.

I hadn't much thought of how ego keeps us safe. That is one to mull. Lucia's comments too...do our egos allow others to suffer? I think in broadstrokes, yes. But how, nuts and bolts, I am not as clear.

I too hope someone else picks up and expands on this.

Anonymous said...

My point in my blog was that, behind the concept of altruism, there is in reality our two egos that are fighting and compromising: my ego wants to enjoy, and my other one knows that to enjoy I need to suffer and be kind with others. That is how one can be the happiest possible.
I raise also the point that my ego has to compromise with my alter ego: the other person with which I am living.

Susanne said...

Um, I read Jen's post too and I actually think that you are speaking of two different things both called ego. Two different ways of looking at the world. Through your posts I have found out that I have used them both without even realizing that they were the same word.

Now I have to go and think again...

flutter said...

I just love your blog. You are quite a deep thinker.