Monday 2 September 2019

There is nothing wrong with being an ego! (From William Arkle)

Edited from The Resolution of Grief, an essay published in The Great Gift (1977) by William Arkle:

Behind the ordinary ego, or within the ordinary ego, is the divine ego. So there's nothing wrong with being egotistic - in the proper sense of the word.

There is something wrong with being egotistic in a narrow sense of egotism, in which everything is built up around the importance of its own self centre. But as this egotism grows, as it should do in a healthy being, it naturally grows into its bigger self, and the bigger self naturally grows into the little self, and the two integrate.

This is what psychologists describe as integration. It is the integration of the true self with the personality self of the physical body situation, and the two learn to live together and integrate completely. Then the personality becomes a wonderful instrument through which the divine self can experience, and learn, and interpret its learning, and communicate with other beings through physical forms, and through physical means of expression.

In doing that, it learns a great deal, and helps others to learn a great deal, and it builds and builds and learns to express the divine potentialities that we've been talking about - the divine friendships and the endless possibilities which emanate from its true nature.

So there is nothing wrong with being an ego, which is another word for 'I' and 'Iness'. You never lose the sense of 'Iness'.

You might lose the sense of knowing who your 'I' is, who you are, because the narrow sense of the personality ego - the smaller ego - often gets a very complete but restricted image of who it is, and it spends the rest of its life conforming to that image of who it is.

But the divine ego, the spiritual ego, the true self, is able to be itself and, at the same time, know that it is in a state of becoming. It isn't very concerned to circumscribe itself, to give itself a definite image, because it knows that if it does, that it's going to limit its ability to respond in an ever new way to new possibilities.

So what happens in life, is that we gradually learn to integrate the smaller sense of ego with the deeper and greater sense of ego; and, without losing a sense of 'I', the 'I' begins to become equally concerned with the well-being of others as it is with its own well-being; equally concerned with the happiness and the beauty and the possibility of the others in creation, its brothers and sisters, as it is concerned with its own reality.

So what happens, in a successful life, is that the ego broadens-out and gets bigger in a proper loving, caring way; not bigger in a grasping way, which is centred on its own small and selfishly oriented appetites; more a growing, which is able to grasp the meaningfulness, and the value to itself, of the fulfilment of all other forms of life, and all other beings, and all its other brothers and sisters.

Then the ego just grows and grows to include the well-being of all other egos. But there's nothing wrong in the sense of ego awareness.

What we call 'egotism', on the whole, reflects an unhealthy attitude in which everything is drawn into the small-self for a small-self satisfaction, small-self fulfilment of the wrong order, not large-self fulfilment for the higher order. The small-self fulfilment is a lower order appetite such as appearing to be important in the eyes of other people, appearing to be clever, appearing to be valuable in some way which is superior to other people, trying to be 'one up' on other people and so forth.

Note added (by Charlton): Arkle here is an antidote to the prevalent error that Christianity is aimed-at the loss of self; rather than the true Christian aim of expansion of self. Another error is that the ego-less human may then achieve a union with God that is an assimilation; rather than the true aim of a loving relationship between God (the creator) and his divinised children - the Sons and Daughters of God.


ted said...

I do believe Christianity is still better of maintaining the self than the Eastern religions.

We are not just Consciousness, but we possess consciousness. Therefore, we possess an inner unity that transcends the flux into which the Eastern religions would dissolve us into.

Francis Berger said...

This is an important insight from Arkle, and I appreciate that you have elaborated on it here. The comparison of small-self egoism versus large-self egoism is particularly penetrating and useful.

Modern people harbor a schizophrenic attitude when it comes to the small-self ego. On the one hand, most are contemptuous of it and are quick to criticize it. On the other hand, they also admire it and yearn for it - that is, given the chance, most people will pursue small-self egotism with reckless abandon, especially at the expense of large-self egotism.

William Wildblood said...

I think this all boils down to a confusion between the false self and the true self. The false self is our restriction of our individuality to a self-centred thing that only seeks its own good. The true self expands outwards as it grows but does so in the full knowledge that it is a creation and not a fully autonomous independent being. That's the difference between, figuratively speaking, a Satan and a Christ. To get rid of the false self by dismissing the whole self seeks to cure the patient by killing him.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - That is indeed it; but some (most) do not acknowledge the reality of the true self. Perhaps it has been made harder, or more confused, for Christians due to the doctrine of original sin - which suggests that the true self is corrupted intrinsically. Others believe that the divine self in Men is 'merely' a fragment of God - not distinctive to the person, not personal - therefore something that will eventually go back to its origin.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - Modern people have a kind of double bind of nihilistic despair - veering from the materialism which says there is no real self except as a brain epiphenomenon, so at death the individual is annihilated; to a distorted Buddhism that regards the self as part of the delusion/ illusion of 'the world' (maya) that ought to be reabsorbed into an abstract deity - annihilating the individual.

Nathaniel said...

What a great post. I've found distinctions around ego to be very useful.

"Remember that greed includes greed for being not greedy" - Idries Shah
I find this a useful reminder for the promoters of ego-death, who usually come across very egotistical.