Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On the ego

There are plenty of mystical traditions floating around based on ego dissolution as self-improvement, ranging from the nearly ubiquitous (Buddhism) to the obscure (several gnostic sects). The above posts explain better than I can why ego dissolution is worthwhile. The TL;DR version is that while the ego (or rather, the sense of self -- which is different from the ego as used in Freudian and Jungian traditions) serves a purpose socially, when it becomes inflexible it holds you back; who you think you are is not who you really are, and when you assume that those properties you attribute to yourself are truly essentially parts of you, you cement yourself into that role. Grant Morrison talks about this, too:

The ego is an extremely difficult opponent, because the ego is what we identify as our own selves. The thoughts that you consider your own are those of the ego, which is reasonable because of the basis of verbal thought in language and the social basis of language. However, the ego is also an insidious structure that very quickly fossilizes; when your ego is the primary mover and shaker in your head, you can't tell which thoughts are reasonable and legitimate and which thoughts are merely preserving the ego's dominant control over decision-making. The ego is the collection of all your oldest habits -- all the habits that are hardest to break. Not only does it have ages of operant conditioning behind it, but it has several defense mechanisms that keep it away from threatening ideas. These defense mechanisms are sometimes classified as cognitive biases, and sometimes classified as social filters. Having a fossilized ego is like traveling only by train: while your social life is made easier by the sheer predictability of your movements, that same structure prevents you from having any experiences that lie outside the dining car.

The mechanism for breaking down ego, which was mentioned in the video above but may not be clear, is to forcibly go against those behaviors you identify with yourself and jump into behaviors that you consider completely out of your domain of experience. One can do this constantly, or one can do this periodically by completely reinventing oneself on a regular basis. During some stages in human development this behavior is both normal and socially acceptable. During others, it is considered potentially pathological. However, it meshes nicely in spirit with other posts I've written here about agnosis.

I do not see myself undergoing such an experiment in the near future. I suppose that means I should.


  1. An interesting Jnana Yoga technique is the 'Nan Yar?' technique put forth by Sri Ramana Maharshi. It's the method of self inquiry by intellectually inquiring to yourself as to the essential nature of your thoughts. I imagine this inquiry going on for quite a while. because you begin with your various body parts, "Am I this body part?" then your thoughts, "Am I this thought?" then you get to the clincher, "Am I the thought of 'I'?" and so on.

  2. The self is an illusion. Create yourself.

  3. Reverend, am I correct in intepreting this as being similar to the neti-neti 'meditation of dissolution'? Wherein one says, "I am not my X, I am not my Y" etc.?

    I was listening to a podcast of Erik Davis' gnosticism class at Maybe Logic Academy a while back where he talks about the two varieties of ego-collapsing meditations, one of which involves dissolution and the other involving expansion. I think RAW made this distinction as well.