Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gems from the Forums II: Leggo My Ego

This gem comes from a series of private messages I exchanged with someone on the forums who was new to Thelema. During the course of our exchange, my correspondent asked me:
While reading some stuff I always come across the term "ego" (from a magickal perspective obviously) and I guess the ego represents those "layers of crap of the mind" you mentioned? )the percieved separate "me" by the rest of the people. Is the ego that actual element which we have to "get rid of" in order to reach or discover our will? I am a bit confused overall with the "true self" as opposed to the "ego" (and ofcourse that choronzon-that represents that most harsh parts of it?

My response follows:

This is a good question, and it's made difficult to answer by the different definitions that different people use.

In its most basic sense, "ego" is just self-consciousness, awareness (literally "I" in Latin). *That* ego is never going to go away: even in the most far-flung trances where you forget every trace of yourself as separate from the world, you're still "perceiving" through the self-awareness being generated by the brain.

In a different sense, "ego" can refer to what I've been calling the thoughts that the mind overlays on top of phenomena. This ego also can't really be gotten rid of -- though its influence can definitely be lessened over time. Really, your goal is to get to a point where you can recognize these thoughts for what they are and look past them.

In another sense, some people use "ego" to refer to anything that the thoughts in their mind deem to be "selfish" and "bad." For example, some new age types have it in their heads that there's a "higher self" (that, naturally, only wants "good" things) and that there's a "low self" or ego that only wants big, bad, nasty, selfish things. Thus, they ineptly reason, they should steer clear of anything "selfish" and devote themselves to "higher" and "selfless" pursuits.

It should be obvious that this last approach is just Christianity dressed up in different language. It's another one of those moral systems that tells you that the self is bad and that the random thoughts that your mind has dreamed up are good. It's a system that will lead you to make bad choices and thwart your true will.

Now, of course, I'm not saying to rush right out and start doing the most selfish things you can. I'm saying that you have to look at what your self actually wants, rather than refer to some arbitrary standard of behavior that only exists in your mind.

There are probably other definitions attached to the word "ego" that I just can't think of right now.

So, basically, whenever you hear someone say "ego," you have to figure out exactly what the person means by that term, usually based on contextual clues.
[My correspondent also asked:]

I am a bit confused overall with the "true self" as opposed to the "ego"

Well, basically, your "true self" is how you act when you take away restriction. The "ego" -- in the sense of the thoughts created by your conscious self of how you "should" act -- is the restriction.

Your mind is "supposed" to work by properly interpreting the world and conveying this information to the true self so that it can carry out its will. Unfortunately -- due to evolution, which strives to produce creatures good at surviving, not creatures that are happy and satisfied -- the mind screws up pretty often and frequently thinks it runs the show. It starts telling you nonsense like "X is good" and "Y is bad" and "Good people act like Z, and you're good, so you should act like Z."

Your "true self" always tries to manifest as best it can, but it gets hampered by the mind. The more you're able to see through the mind, the easier it is for the true self to express itself.
Doing your will isn't a binary thing -- it's not like some day a switch will be flipped and you'll say, "Ah! Today I'm doing my will...unlike yesterday!" Doing your will is something you do better and better over time as you are able to look past more and more of the mind's restriction.

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