The human mind is like a fragment of stained glass in a gorgeous stained glass window: it’s part of something greater, but by itself, it’s only a small piece. Our fragmented state limits our view of reality. We think our little fragment is all there is to us, and so the ego frantically clutches at itself instead of backing up a step and seeing the bigger picture.

We must grope in the dark to understand how the ego operates—and then cut off its funding.
We must grope in the dark to understand how the ego operates—and then cut off its funding.

Our split-off consciousness—this state that we are in—fears that if we let go of ourselves, we will be annihilated. So we protect our edges, trying to keep our limited little self safe, when it’s our perception of our limitation that creates fear and suffering. This is the plight of humanity.

It is our goal then, through the process of incarnating, to figure out how we fit into the Big Picture. Trouble is, we think our fragmented self—our ego-consciousness—is the end-all and be-all. We don’t realize that whatever abilities we now have—our outer intelligence and our will to take action—has come about because of efforts we ourselves have made in previous incarnations to free ourselves up.

We had to use whatever consciousness we had at the time to enlarge our faculties. And we’ll keep doing this until all our fragmented aspects are back in the fold. At some point in time, all of humanity will then become one with ultimate reality. But obviously, we’ve got a ways to go.

The ego then is a separate fragment that is under the illusion that to enlarge itself will mean to blow itself up. But each of us are here on this planet, caught in the cycles of birth and death, because we need to do exactly that: let go and expand. In short, we need to get over ourselves. Penetrating this illusion is going to take more than good luck; we must have a bunch of commitment and a boatload of goodwill, and we must ask for a good bit of help.

We need to stop digging in our heels, and—going one step at a time—discover that there is life beyond the ego state. We’ll also find that this other life is the real reality, and there is no reason to fear it. It is trustworthy; it is good. What we’ve been protecting has been an illusion that includes the belief we’re alone and must die.

Awareness doesn’t just show up, served to us on a silver platter; we have to fight for it. It won’t come easy or cheap. But sticking with the isolated ego state is no picnic either. It may appear safer and easier, but it takes us down a road of stagnation that leads to the doorway of death—ever recurring death. You’d think we’d want to wake up from this nightmare.

What stops us are the tricks of our ego that it uses to keep its me-Tarzan mojo going. It likes its limited, isolated state and doesn’t feel compelled to move beyond it. Let’s get a bead on these tricks so we can spot them in action.

For starters, the ego will trot out every conceivable negativity known to humankind. It will leverage any fault, violate integrity, and trample all over truth and divine laws. We can bundle all these ugly traits under the triumvirate of pride, self-will and fear, which are the main ways the big, bad Lower Self avoids self-improvement.

For example, the ego will warp our natural instinct for self-preservation into a fear of losing its present state—meaning it doesn’t want to become more self-aware. Remember, whenever we find fear, we’ve found a distortion of truth and reality. And if we’ve found fear, then pride and self-will must be nearby, as these three faults always travel in a pack.

So the ego maintains its separateness by pridefully putting up an artificial conflict between itself and everyone else: “I must prove to the world how much better I am; I must out-do everyone; I can’t be worse than anyone; it’s me against them and I must win.” Any inkling of “I versus you” is a clear indication that the ego is at large.

This spirit of one-upmanship misses the whole point: we’re all in this together. We all have some area in which we need to grow and heal. Our interests in accomplishing this can only conflict with others on the most surface levels. Just below the surface is always the deeper good, where divine law dictates what’s best for all concerned. Comparing and competing only sharpens our sense of separation, bolstering the illusion that this pitiful existence is all there is to life; they limit us further instead of helping us advance.

It is also pride that makes us live for the sake of how we appear in others eyes, rather than for the sake of truth and real feelings and our own interests. Our whole goal then is to create an impression. That seems more important than anything, including the awareness that this is a tragic waste of time, since any gain is totally imaginary.

We tuck a lot of prideful behaviors behind our ego, including all our defensive strategies—submission, aggression and withdrawal—and their cover-up masks which are intended to hide them—power masks, love masks and serenity masks—along with our shame of being exposed, and our embarrassment about our real feelings. These are all tricks of the ego designed to keep us small. No joke, that’s what the ego is going for.

So where’s that third fairest-of-them-all quality, self-will? If we find the other two, it must also be in the house. Ah, here it is: our stubbornness and spite, our resistance and defiance and rigidity. In all of these, we are stiffening against change and against expanding ourselves into new spiritual territory. Here, the trick is to make being rigid look more appealing than something threatening like being flexible and open. The latter could be downright humiliating. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

The tricks of the ego are intended to keep us in isolation. But we’re like ventriloquists the way we throw our refusal to move on something like another person’s idiosyncrasies or shortcomings. We hold back in order to punish a specific person—perhaps a parent or parent-substitute or other authority figure. We don’t want people to see our general spiteful attitude toward life itself.

Our fears fill up the categories of worry and anxiety, or apprehension about living. These are joy-killers that suck the peace and freedom out of life—you know, those things we can only experience when we’re present in the moment. Change, according to our ego, could snuff out life in an instant.

The ego is up to its old tricks when we attempt to keep ourselves safe by denying pleasure and the movement of creativity. Per the ego, we must stay very afraid. For instance, we fear exposing our real feelings, which denies relating deeply with others. Here are a few more things up the ego’s sleeve: inattentiveness, absentmindedness and lack of concentration. For how can we possibly transcend ourselves if we can’t pay attention?

Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s going to take some single-pointed focusing if we want to outgrow our present limited state. If we’re too lazy, tired or just plain passive to crank up some effort, we’re dead in the water. The ego will make movement seem exhausting, undesirable and downright impossible. The tricks can go on and on.

Here’s a good one: we make way more of someone else’s negativity than we need to. We act suspicious and distrusting of others, justifying our withholding of ourselves. We avoid the natural movement of expanding toward union.

The position of the ego is both preposterous and paradoxical. It is inherently unhappy because it feels finite and limited. The ego can’t see beyond its own edges, and what it does see is so limited it creates a warped sense of reality. The ego feels powerless within a big meaningless universe it can’t fully grasp.

The way out of this jam is for the ego to overcome its temptation to stay little—to stay put. Paradoxically, it does all in its might to remain in a limited state that makes life lonely and fearful and meaningless. Hmmmm.

From the ego’s point of view, death is terrifying. We can try to deny this, but we can’t actually dissolve this awful feeling as long as the ego stays trapped in the narrow confines of itself. But sooner or later, we all have to look our fear of death straight in the face, whether we feel it acutely or just have a gnawing sense of it in our belly. But despite the discomfort of this feeling, the ego clings to its fragmented condition, making it impossible to hop over the imaginary line between life and death. It’s really quite crazy the way we cling to the thing we battle against.

This, however, is the universal state that we are each called upon to transcend. We have to get over ourselves. We must grope in the dark, using whatever parts of ourselves we have at our disposal, to understand how the ego operates—and then cut off its funding.

Some of us may think we don’t have the courage and discipline to commit ourselves to the task at hand. But friends, these are not things we don’t already possess. We all have every possible quality we could want in abundance. The only question is: Do we wish to avail ourselves of our own potentials? Or would we rather claim we don’t have these things—that someone has to tap us with their fairy wand and then we’ll come to life.

We are confused in our thinking that self-discipline will hamper our freedom. Flip side, we think a free person shouldn’t need to have self-discipline. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only by having discipline can we be free. If we are self-indulgent, we will be weak and powerless, dependent on others and therefore perpetually afraid. And there’s no freedom in that. But of course we must use our self-discipline for our own sake, not to appear better in other people’s eyes. Because then we’re really letting others impose their will over us.

It takes some self-discipline to overcome our resistance to growing. First, we have to notice our ego tricks in action and not give in to them. That alone is new territory for many of us. Gaining new territory is synonymous with gaining more awareness, which makes our experience of life more meaningful. So when we transcend our ego, we tear down unnecessary fences and expand the scope of our field of operation. We bring in more reality.

To do this, we will need to expand our knowledge and our skills. This means we have to overcome our laziness. And that requires self-discipline. But if it’s worth having, it’s worth investing in it. Trial and error will be part of the equation, and we’ll need to learn to convert our failures into success. We’ll need perseverance and patience and faith. Until new ways of operating become second nature, we’ll have to put up with some discomfort.

But isn’t that always the way it goes with the learning process? We have to accept the difficulties and learn the mechanical aspects of a new process. Eventually, the new way becomes effortless, as the spiritual self is more freed of its bindings. But this won’t come by magic. If it seems to, we’re bypassing and not transcending.

The ego needs to change its lazy ways if we want to unify with the greater cosmic consciousness. But the ego is under the illusion that to remain narrowly confined is easier and more relaxing. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps seems terribly tiresome. Stagnation, however, is a contracted state, which is anything but comfy. It takes work—albeit an unconscious effort—to stay stuck, and this shows up as exhaustion. Just look around—the people who do the least are always the most tired. People who do the most are energized and relaxed, provided they aren’t using activity as an escape.

But lest we start bashing the ego, realize that it is part of divine consciousness, made up of all the good stuff from which it has separated itself—even if these bits are now being bastardized and misused. Indeed, the ego is made from the same material we ultimately want to reunite with. So it’s not to be ignored, insulted or denied.

In order to expand and regain its divine state, the ego has to adopt attitudes compatible with its original nature. All its tricks must be sharply recognized with incisive self-honesty, and their rationalization given up. We must ruthlessly turn the spotlight of truth on the little self and stop denying and projecting its bad habits on others.

The healthy parts of the ego are the parts that hold the light for self-discovery. The weak, sick parts often want to give up simply because we can’t stand ourselves for one more day. We try to escape, often through drugs and alcohol, or other false means of transcendence. But this is a highly dangerous route to take; it’s a variation on the theme of insanity. For insanity is nothing more than the ego attempting to lose—or transcend—itself because it can’t bear itself any longer.

In these false and dangerous attempts at overcoming, we are hoping to avoid effort and pain and inconvenience; we want to get around everything we don’t agree with or don’t want to understand. We want to cheat and use shortcuts, all of which, in the end, extract a very high price. This makes us hold on even tighter, becoming rigid and immobile. Over the course of many incarnations, this will be reflected in both our life circumstances and our bodies.

We can’t cheat life and we can’t skip steps if we want our spirit to be free. But then, once we have mastered the new skills of noticing and overcoming our ego tricks and we have adopted attitudes compatible with the divine, it will seem as though inspiration and pleasure are happening through us. Then the true mosaic of life, made up of eternal truth and beauty and love, becomes ours. More and more, we become part of all that is.

Gems: A Multifaceted Collection of 16 Clear Spiritual Teachings

Next Chapter

Return to Gems Contents

Read Original Pathwork® Lecture: #199 The Meaning of the Ego and its Transcendence