Can the Ego Put Itself to Death?

I mix and mingle with some pretty amazing men and women all affiliated with the Dayaalu Healing Center on Bainbridge Island, WA.  At a holiday potluck, I met Kimberly Rafferty who describes herself as a scholar and philosopher of subjects related to Yoga Sutras and Sanskrit. I loved the fact that she declared herself a philosopher. In the last three years I have recognized that as an identifier for myself and have even added that title to some of my business cards. Artist, Eco-Psychologist and Philosopher.

So, when I discovered a post I’d written in June 2013 when I was participating in Cuppa Joe – a four week online course in all things Joseph Campbell, I decided it was worth repurposing since it’s relevant to my current musings. ( By the by, local folks can join Jeff Leinaweaver and me for a monthly Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable Group held in the classroom at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art – )

Can the Ego Put Itself to Death? Campbell poses that question on page 89 in my copy of The Hero’s Journey.

I hope not!

Seems our modern ego conjures a wide array of reactions, especially in those who seek enlightenment. Is the ego really needing to be slain or could there be another option?

Every time I remember that psychology is a brand new set of concepts on this planet – less than a nano second of linear time when you think of the evolution of our species, I realize  I may have contributions to make to that field of thought. Because of my years of experience visiting altered states of consciousness – spontaneous excursions when I was young, many years of analytic dream work, active imagination, spiritually responding to the land, learning from traditional Native Americans in Montana, creating, creating, creating and now more than twenty years of regular practice with Ecstatic Wisdom Postures – I’ve concluded that we need the ego.

My definition of and relationship to ego may be quite different from how Jung and Campbell imagined it. What if the ego is a semi-permeable membrane between this ordinary world of consciousness and the numinous world of non-ordinary experience? What if the ego is our help mate, our witness, our side-by for the soul’s work of spirit? What if the ego midwifes the birth of embodied spiritual wisdom?

How can science and spirit tango without the ego dancing the steps?

singing down moon

When we go on a vision quest, a s/hero’s journey, how can we bring back the boon to our community, if we don’t have an ego to do the work?

I’m fascinated by the differences between Jung and Campbell in their assessment of the timing of the s/hero’s journey. Standing in my shoes, the journey happens many times in one lifetime. The gifts of return are different each time. Developmentally, each crossing of another threshold closes the door to former patterns, a door that will be remembered but not reopened.

Jung says the journey takes place in the first half of life and includes the conscious psyche emerging victorious over the unconscious. (Italics mine.)   That word “victorious” suggests that the unconscious is an enemy, something that needs to be controlled, something to fear. Jung’s perspective reflects his era. We’ve arrived at new possibilities for defining both the ego AND the unconscious. I see the latter as a fathomless well of mystery that plunges deep within and soars to the boundless void without. The unconsciousness is the mysterium tremendum and a realm I want to embrace, not conquer. My more fluid, courageous ego allows that and my bodymind is the bridge between.

Beyond words

We are, after all, beholden to the unconscious for our human abilities to create, to mythologize, to imagine, to intuit, to string ideas together as I am doing here, etc.

Campbell suggests the journey is mostly in the latter half of life and that “mystical realization dissolves the ego.” (Italics mine.) Again, I don’t want my ego to dissolve because my ego allows me to stay grounded in the material world simultaneously co-existing with awareness of the oneness, the non-ordinary realities, the mystery guiding my responses to living my daily life on earth. Ego is my witness to all that is.

I like to think I am one of the imaginal cells for the evolution of humanity,( 1.) whole brained and with an animated bodymind. There’s the beginning of a new mythic storyline more congruent with the knowledge of our era.

just this

  1. If you’re interested in knowing more about my POV, you can watch a YouTube webinar I made describing how ecstatic experience has helped my ego reframe itself. Click on Ecstatic Wisdom Postures in the header above right here on my blog.
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About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, and eco-psychologist, mother of four and grandmother of eight.
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One Response to Can the Ego Put Itself to Death?

  1. Ruth says:

    I love the sentence “What if the ego midwifes the birth of embodied spiritual wisdom?” and particularly like the way “embodied” and “spiritual” are conjoined as one concept. The ego becomes the aspect of ourselves that allows us to live in all realms. Nothing is conquered; rather, our ego describes a manner of travelling simultaneous paths, each enriched by the other. That would certainly be my hope.

    Like

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