Monday, 19 September 2016

Ego and its tendencies


The Animal Inside by Olympia Altimir

Ego

Ego is a popular term, and therefore, has acquired many meanings. It means “I” or “myself” and it also means something that one owns (e.g. in “my ego is weak” etc). It also means a sense of self-worth, self-esteem (for some odd reason). In Psychology/Psychoanalysis it has been adopted in a more formal way. For the purpose of this discussion, we will define it as a structure in the Mind that deals with survival directly and in a primitive and mechanical fashion. It is also called Mammalian Mind, Lower Mind, and Primitive Mind etc. 

There is also a Reptilian Mind, which is even more primitive and is seen as control system for basic actions. It takes care of some very basic self-preservation activities. E.g. when you are about to fall from your chair, the fear, the feeling of urgency and the actions you take to save yourself or to minimize the damage, all come from reptilian mind. There is often no time to think, or even for primitive strategies to fire up, you must act mechanically and automatically. We can see some physical structures corresponding to these various mental structures. The reptilian part corresponds to the brain stem and spinal cord, the mammalian part corresponds to the limbic system. The cortex and the neo-cortex correspond to the newer and more developed human Mind.


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Ego is a structure in the Mind. It is tempting to call it as yet another affliction of the Mind, and some people do so, but it is a part of the Mind, not a condition of it. It is an ancient and primitive part. In the evolutionary journey of the Mind, some structures formed in the early stages and they continue to operate till present time. These structures are perceived as some programs, tendencies and instinctual knowledge. These were extremely useful in those days, they kept the Mind going, helped the individuals survive and procreate, and formed a strong base for further evolution.

Ego continues to function in human Mind, and if not trained and utilized properly, becomes an affliction instead of a bodyguard. A huge amount of suffering is a result of Ego and its actions. So it becomes necessary to study it in detail. Its knowledge frees us from its afflictions, and restores peace, happiness and freedom. In an ignorant Mind, the Ego controls the person totally, and in an aware mind, the case is reversed. We are now going to do the hair splitting and in-depth analysis of it.

Ego v/s Identity

The Self can identify with its various activities or contents. It forms a structure called Identity, which we already discussed in detail. Self can also identify with Ego. It sees the acts and tendencies of the Ego as itself and owns it like any other mental or physical entity it can own. The Ego also gets assigned to a container of experiences. If the person operates mostly from his Ego part (commonly said to have a big Ego), then most of the Identity will be of Egoic nature. And since this is the most common state of humanity, the identity has become synonymous with Ego. But we are going to stick with more general definition of identity. Ego forms a part of it. Some people have “less Ego”, which may mean that their sense of identity is not mostly Egoic, it can be intellectual or spiritual etc.

As an aside, other stuff the Mind assigns to Identity is:

Objects: Land, houses, cars, food and what not. These can be seen as the part of the Mind and a person defends them as feverishly as he defends his body. Sometimes other people and pets are owned and objectified. So a person defends his mate and children equally, when in danger. Try insulting a pet and see its owner’s survival instincts flare up.

Body: This can be the case with most of humans, their body is the self for them. Their whole life revolves around it, that is the only thing they know of. Identifying with it has certain advantages, like, one tends to protect and maintain it better.

Ego: As mentioned above, when most of the actions, thoughts and processes of a person are of Egoic nature, the identity mostly consists of Ego. The person sees himself as the Ego.

Intellect: The identity can also be derived from thoughts, intellectual content, knowledge, intelligence and activities/thoughts belonging to them. So a person can identify himself as a writer, programmer or a scientist  or even as a believer in such and such idea etc.

Self: A person can be identified with the Self, the witness, or the consciousness. Such a person sees himself as a watcher of all the mental drama and phantasmagoria. 

These identifications keep changing depending on the demand and the situation. So the identity is a dynamic entity. Egoic identity is a special case of identity. Now that we know the difference between the common meaning of the Ego and the more general meaning, which is defined here, we can go ahead and see what this Egoic stuff is about. 

Survival tendencies

The Mind, while going through its evolutionary journey (the Fundamental Process in action), has come up with certain strategies that helped it survive the immense forces of impermanence. Self-preservation is obviously the top most priority of the Mind. Structures that cannot preserve themselves are soon destroyed. In case of organisms or humans, it simply means death [1]. The Mind has very robust mechanisms for self-preservation, and most of them are not under our control. 

Feeding oneself is the primary task for anyone. We do it relentlessly, just like other animals. Most of our activities are just the pursuit of food. And those are driven by the Egoic processes of self-preservation. When the stomach is full, the Ego is mostly at rest. Some auto-processes even make the entire being fall asleep, nothing more needs to be done when one lives at the level of the Ego. But for those living above it, the life starts when the stomach is full. Some odd behaviours spring from the Ego satisfaction one gets after eating. It is universal behaviour to offer food to others to gain their favour. The food makes Egoic programs kick in and supress higher programs, which compete for execution with very powerful Egoic ones. So if you want a big contract, take the client out for a dinner. It is customary to offer food when someone visits you. This sends the friendly signals to the Ego that the place where it is, is harmless, safe and the host is not hostile. If you don’t do it, you may “hurt the Ego” of your guest. It sends a signal that the guest is unwanted, and the Ego perceives it as a threat or insult.

Feeding someone also helps to make bonds and relations. Food and shelter (better if it’s a mansion) helps to secure a mate. Most of the marriages are made this way. If you lack enough resources to get food or have no safe place to stay, you may find it difficult to secure a mate, it does not impress the person’s Ego very much. A good relation starts with good food. Especially the sweet and fatty food, it triggers neurotransmitters (Oxytocin etc) which actually invoke feelings of trust, safety and likeness in your potential mate. This is because that is how bonds were made in the past, it’s a learnt behaviour that results in better survival and is now stored as an Egoic tendency. Sweet and creamy food means more nutrition and they appeal to Ego, which then takes proper actions to secure the relation which will bring more of such food. It is all automatic and below the awareness levels of people. They usually cannot explain their behaviour when influenced by food, and they make up some reasons that sound nicer and more “civilized”. 

The body needs continuous nourishment and whenever it fails to get enough of it, it starts sending pain signals, known as Hunger, to the brain. The hunger is felt as a suffering, a threat, an urgency and the Egoic programs fire up to do something about it. A hungry man is just like an animal, he does whatever is needed to get the food. The issues like morality, right and wrong, aesthetics and all higher functions are suspended in order to meet this need. It is possible for a man to beg, scavenge, steal, rob or even kill others for food. The same actions can be evoked in case of shelter, another need for survival. Men are known to take possessions of others shelters, resources and land forcefully and violently. This is not only ancient, it is very much the present, we see it in the form of wars and crimes.  Just our friendly Ego at work here. It is merciless in the matter of self-preservation.

One may ask whether such behaviour is ethical. The Ego knows no ethics, which is an indulgence of higher Mind. One can ponder on ethical questions when the stomach is full. When it comes to survival we leave the domain of right and wrong, we are on the mercy of very powerful Egoic tendencies. One can suspect that the matter of ethics ceases to make sense here. What if you are the victim, someone is trying to rob you of your food, isn’t it wrong then? You are free to defend. Let the protective tendencies of your Ego take care of it. One can frighten away, harm or kill other in order to defend. This is also Ego in action. No amount of ethics or philosophy works here. Of course, a wise man who has mastered his Ego may behave differently, but the choice is always there. 

How to remain uninfluenced by the tendencies of the Ego? These are very useful programs, so we want to keep them, but we do not want to be governed by them. The only way is to become aware of such programs and tendencies. Observe yourself very carefully under situations that make you behave in odd ways. Question your own actions, find the cause of them. You will see that you did such and such act only because it helps in survival. It is better to be honest about it rather than conceal it with more “civilized” notions. Survival is a must, and one must take proper actions to ensure it, and leave the issue there. Once you become aware of your own survival tendencies, you can act more meaningfully, and you can also see clearly why others act the way they do. This makes one forgive others and be compassionate towards them, as you now know why they act in a way they do.
If you can master your own Ego, it becomes very easy to master others, as now you know all the right buttons to press. However, controlling others is surely not your path, and its surely not fun, because there are very severe consequences of it. All you can do is, use this knowledge to make your path smoother. You will find that effective use of it brings more peace and saves time, as you can keep troublesome people away and not get tangled in Ego games.

Protective tendencies

Just feeding is not enough obviously, there are a thousand things that can kill you, and the Ego has its own set of weapons to deal with such threats. We see them in the form of fight or flight behaviours. Mind has learnt this long ago that it is better to fight when there are more chances of winning and the enemy is weaker, else its better to run away. This is effected via internal actions known as Fear and Anger. They appear as feelings or emotions. Fear causes a person to take flight, while anger encourages him to fight. These have become ingrained in the Mind as Egoic tendencies for protection, and they happen without much control of the person.

Both ensure survival and protect the person from threats. They do spill over into day to day actions and result in odd kinds of behaviour. So an employee who doesn’t obey you also causes anger even though he is not a threat. His disobedience is perceived by the Ego as an ineffectiveness of your power over him, you expect him to engage in flight behaviour, but he is not complying, which means its time to fight. Going late in a meeting makes you afraid, although there is no predator there, but the Ego sees your boss as a provider, a leader you must obey, and your failure to do so means you are provoking him for a fight, which makes your Ego issue commands to run away, and invokes fear to motivate you to do so.

This also explains some customs like bowing down. It means I’m not a threat, I’m receding not approaching. This clams down the Ego of the host and he tends to accept your presence better. Approaching someone with food or shiny stuff (aka gifts) has even better results. Smiling and making laughing noises helps even more. These actions are considered “normal” because most of us act via our Ego. If you are operated mostly by Ego, be sure that most of your actions will be governed by protective or defensive tendencies of it. You will also understand the strange behaviour of wise men who have a leash on their Egos, as they are less animated by it, they don’t feel the need to act in a “normal” way and their actions seem strange when seen by an Egoic person. They wouldn’t punish a person who robs them, they wouldn’t hit you back if you insult them or they would never be afraid of anything. There are many more marks of such people, and obviously these men are very rare.

Procreative tendencies

Once the Mind is nicely fed and protected from danger, it wants to replicate itself. This is by necessity, as we have seen, structures that do not replicate get destroyed sooner or later thanks to the impermanence. Replication or reproduction is a necessity for the Mind. It is the most primal drive, which, in some organisms, surpasses even the self-preservation and protection (such as in microbes that divide into two new forms and give up their own individuality, or in creatures where one of the mates, usually the male, is eaten by the other after mating, or in cases where the offspring eats away their parent as soon as they are born).

The Mind has evolved some great and some odd strategies to ensure large scale reproduction. One of the necessities is to allow incremental changes in the structure of the organism, so that there is enough variation to resist any unforeseen environmental changes. This happens via mutation. Another trick to ensure variation and combine favourable traits is mixing of genetic structures, which is possible via sexual reproduction. So you will find that all higher animals reproduce via sexual means, mixing of genes, it has been a great strategy so far.

The structures responsible for ensuring sexual reproduction have taken the form of some Egoic tendencies in humans. These programs execute as soon as the person is ready to reproduce and as soon as there is a suitable mate nearby. Most of our interaction with opposite sex is governed by these tendencies. For example, attraction towards young and fit member is a natural tendency, as it means a good chance of reproduction and a healthy offspring. Repulsion towards ugly, diseased, old, weak or unfit individual is due to unfavourable chances for the mating and for offspring. Tendency of the males to mate with many is a result of programs that ensure wide distribution of genes, and tendency of females to mate with those who own enough resources and provide security is a result of programs that ensure survival and protection of the offspring and the mother. We do try to cover up these tendencies or explain them away with excuses, but they govern us, they have the strings and we are the puppets. Not obeying them gives rise to suffering, just like hunger or fear. This is longing for a sexual union, and is a very uneasy feeling to say the least.

These tendencies do make people behave in odd ways. Such as different dress codes for different genders, customs e.g. marriages and rituals that resemble a mating dance, and a large variety of social and individual behaviours. Most of the literature, art such as paintings, movies and such is nothing but a description of procreative behaviour in a fancy style. In the end there is mostly a union of partners, if you see happy endings. Most of the internet is porn, most of the music and talk is about relations. Most of the efforts and actions of young people are efforts to get a beneficial mate or as many mates as possible. Whole societies are based on marriages and families, most remarkable being everyone carrying a name of their father. For many, their lifestyles are a consequence of mating, their sufferings are a consequence of getting a wrong mate, or their pain is due to failure to get a mate.
Well, I can only paint a tiny picture here, but you get the point. For one who is free from procreation tendencies of the Ego, this whole human drama looks very funny indeed. Its as if the whole world is doing a mating dance.

Social tendencies

Man is a social animal, and this is possible only because of the Ego. The Ego has programs that favour living in groups over a lone wolf style of life. Obviously, this had survival advantages in the past. An individual in the group is better protected, as other members do sound alarms or get eaten instead, is better fed as they can hunt big animals in a cooperative way or grow crops, gets more chances of mating, and so on and so forth.

All these tendencies appear in the Ego as social behaviours. So we see a tendency to organize into hierarchical structures, a tendency to associate with our tribe, a tendency to believe what others in our group believe and tendencies to ape the actions of others in the group.
It also explains the odd behaviour like wars, which is an attempt by one group to kill another and to steal their resources and mates. This worked well in the past. Obviously, all this still continues, as the Ego is still dominant way of functioning. The human societies are governed by human Ego. 

Those who are free from social tendencies of the Ego, appear strange to those who are enslaved by them. A free person does not obey society, does not comply with its ways, does not force his own ways on others, does not meddle with social affairs, does not go to wars, does not desire power and social status and remains untouched and independent of others. The reason is that such a person is free from the chains of the Ego and feels no need to behave in “normal” fashion. This also frees him from the suffering social conformity causes and the suffering one causes to entire societies.

Emotions

These are internal actions, we briefly touched before. These are the pre-actions mostly initiated by the Ego. They are Egoic in nature obviously. You become aware of them after they take place not before and you are mostly not in control of them, you can do some minor damage control, but not much.
By Khadija Hashemi

Anger, fear, lust, jealousy, pride, sadness, love, hate etc. are examples of such emotions [2]. You can now easily relate these with the classification presented above of Egoic tendencies. Emotions arise as impulses and last for seconds to hours. They grip the Mind totally when they are occurring and the person usually acts irrationally like a puppet. They cause suffering, needless to say, and therefore a wise man tries to understand them, know their mechanism and causes, and tries to minimize their impact.

Emotions add spice to the drama of human experience, we do not want to kill them, but we do not want to be governed by them. We want the freedom to experience an emotion or to let go of it. We certainly want to be free from the automatic actions they cause.
Again, awareness is the key. If you are totally aware of the contents of your Mind, you will recognize emotions early and will not be moved by them. Awareness of them protects you from taking action on them, especially the impulsive actions. Emotional fools are those who indiscriminately invite them, are a slave of them and mindlessly act on them. Obviously, their lives are full of suffering. A person who sees the emotions as they are, as Egoic tendencies, programs, instincts, lets them be and is unaffected by them, is freed from their ill effects. This opens up doors to unlimited happiness and freedom.

Surrender

Quick progress on a path demands complete surrender of the Ego. Most of the journey is not about gaining stuff or knowledge or power or exotic experiences, it is about losing accumulated structures, setting them aside, freeing oneself from ignorance. It is a gradual removal of veils after veils, just like peeling an onion. And just like peeling an onion, you gain nothing in the end. All that remains is nothingness, the Self alone without any coverings. If that sounds discouraging, then it is just your Ego telling you that. From its point of view, the whole journey is meaningless. Ego is about gaining and accumulating. It cannot appreciate any path or your end goal. Ego erects huge hurdles on your path, by dragging you away from it, into the world of gain, control and the usual carrot and stick lifestyle. Therefore, it becomes necessary to let go of it, surrender it completely. Since it is a useful tool, you can use it whenever the demand arises, else you keep it away in a toolbox of the Mind, with its other tools. Surrender of the Ego is an important sub-goal and a great achievement. We will discuss how Egoic tendencies become afflictions and how to reduce its influence in the next article.


Notes:

[1] If we focus on only the human experience, a human needs food, water, air and shelter (the basic needs) in order to continue the human experience (i.e. to keep the body alive). We also need to keep some mental structures intact, such as how to feed oneself, how to hunt or grow food, and which food is suitable for the body etc. The mental structures are maintained by continuous renewal of them via experience. The physical part needs physical stuff to maintain and renew and that’s where the problem lies. If everything is Mind, why do we need to eat? The answer to this question involves introduction of new entities like Energy, so we will deal with it in the forthcoming articles on the body.

[2] Is happiness also an emotion? It’s a good question. It is a state of the Mind surely. One can say that when there is no Ego, the happiness is still present. So it is not Egoic in nature. The happiness is a natural and default state of the Mind. It is seen only briefly because the Mind is mostly in the state of suffering, wanting, defending etc. and when for tiny periods, the suffering is temporarily removed, it experiences its natural state and perceives it as happiness. It is peaceful, blissful and quiet. But when expressed it is seen as positive actions, behaviour and even positive emotions. Why is love classified under Egoic emotions? Isn’t it a higher function? Unconditional love is, not love. More on that later.


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