The Healthy Ego & Beyond
So far we’ve distinguished the four primary relationships that make up the relationship blueprint. Then we focused in on the grasping and the rejecting relationships, which are the modes of operation that we tend toward when things are difficult. We did not focusing on the collapsed self because we’ve covered that topic previously in “Superego Five: the Final Split”. Just as we owe Ronald Fairbairn a debt of gratitude for his work in distinguishing these object relations (as well as his student Harry Guntrip for his work on the collapsed self), we owe A.H. Almaas a debt of gratitude for his work on the central object relation or the healthy ego. Although the healthy ego may be considered the desired goal from the viewpoint of most psychologies, Almaas brought spiritual principles into the practice of psychology and distinguished how one can go beyond this psychological structure. In fact, one needs to go beyond this psychological structure if one is to actually gain contact with reality as it is and realize one’s full human potential.
Earlier in the twentieth century, Freud distinguished an aggressive drive and a libidinal Drive. The aggressive drive functions in service of survival. When this biological drive is put through the human thinking and imprinting process, in other words human conditioning, it basically becomes the rejecting object relation. While the aggressive drive is all about surviving and moving away from danger, the libidinal drive is all about moving toward. The libidinal drive functions in the service of sexuality, connection, wanting, desire and so on. When the libidinal drive is put through the human thinking and imprinting process, where what one wants and needs is not always available, it basically becomes the grasping object relation. In other words, our experiences of wanting and rejection with the breast, mother, father and so on, fueled by these biological drives, become imprinted as the grasping and rejecting object relations.
These two object relations are primitive or archaic in the sense that there are formed very early in a human beings developmental process. They are basically infantile ways of relating. They tend to stay buried in the unconscious unless things get difficult, in which case we are under enough stress that we resort to these more primitive behavior patterns. Most people’s love and sex lives being the case in point. But, what about when we’re not under stress and things are going pretty well, or at least good enough?
In this case, which is the case for most individuals most of the time, we function from the central object relation. For example, how we function with friends that we get along with or work when things are going relatively well. The central object relation is the object relation that formed in the relationship with the good breast that was available and nourishing, then with our mother when she was kind and attentive, then with our father when we experienced him as good, and so on. It’s the imprint that got formed when we were being fed sufficiently, paid attention to and felt that we were getting what we needed. The grasping objects relation, on the other hand, formed when what we wanted was not available. The rejecting object relation formed when we felt rejected. The central object relation forms when the care that was received was experienced as good enough. The self in this object relation is an OK self, a self the feels good enough. The other in this object relation is an ideal other, an other that is treating us well and that we like. It’s not the unavailable breast or rejecting breast. It’s the good breast, feeding us sufficiently. Eventually, the other in this object relation becomes the parent we idealize.
Our self sense becomes one that we are comfortable with and proud of. It develops distinguishing characteristics as we grow up. Perhaps we become the creative one in the family, or the smart one, or the one who is good at sports, or the cute one. We could even be the rebellious one or the cranky one or the tall one. Regardless of whether the label sounds positive or somewhat negative, we are comfortable with it and feel rewarded for being that way. It’s our central identity and it works well enough for us.
This is a part of ourselves and a way of looking at things that we are comfortable with. It’s the foot we put forward in society. If somebody asks us who we are, it is how we would describe ourselves. The affect of the central object relation is comfort. It is how we recognize ourselves. It remains conscious because we want to be conscious of this identity and the other related to it, whoever that might be in any given moment. Because it remains conscious it tends to evolve. Our self-sense in this object relation tends to grow and become more sophisticated and detailed. If we are the funny one perhaps we get funnier or if we are the creative one, then we find more sophisticated ways of being creative. Our character develops. The other that we pursue and feel gratified by also becomes more sophisticated. We go from feeling that we are a wanting mouth who wants milk to a child wanting attention to a student getting good grades to a young person gainfully employed to a spiritual seeker seeking to connect with god and so on. The relationship evolves.
Whereas, the grasping and rejecting object relations are split off, in severe cases, or simply repressed, in most cases, the central object relation or central ego floats above the waterline of consciousness and directs us in our day-to-day affairs. When something disrupts our sense of things being OK, in other words when the s*!^t hits the fan, and this positive imprint doesn’t match the circumstances we resort to the more severe and unconscious object relations of the grasping and rejecting kind. We might even feel that we become another person, “I can’t believe I said that”. If things are experienced as truly impossible or hopeless, we resort to the collapsed self.
The central object relation is particularly hard to see because we are so strongly identified with it. It may not even occur to us that this is simply an image, an identity. We might ask, “Why in the world would I want to transcend this, it’s good enough, I like it?” Most psychologies have this object relation as the desired goal. Perhaps they tweak it a little bit to make it function better. They certainly try to clean up the more difficult grasping, rejecting and collapsed object relations. From there, they reinforce, strengthen and touch up the central identity.
Spiritual methodologies, on the other hand have the transcendence of this central object relation as the goal. They don’t deal particularly effectively with the rejecting, grasping, or collapsed self. Historically, people with more severe problems often weren’t let into spiritual schools or the schools weren’t of much use to them.
So tonight’s topic is largely a spiritual topic. Tonight’s topic is about the transcendence of the healthy ego, how that process goes and why we might want to do that.
But before we get to that let’s briefly touch on what resolves the grasping and rejecting object relations. The qualities of the heart, love primarily, are what resolve the grasping object relation because ultimately that’s what an individual in need wants. When we find love in our own hearts and realize that we have an abundance of it in our very nature the grasping object relation begins to dissolve. The rejecting object relation is resolved when we find the inner power and strength inherent in our deepest nature, in our being. In which case, someone rejecting us is no longer so threatening and we don’t need to reject others to be powerful.
To find love and power within us notice when the related object relations are triggered, disconnect from the triggering circumstance and instead go inwards. For example, when we find ourselves grasping at something in our life circumstance (perhaps food or a job or a lover), we can disconnect the feeling of grasping from the object, and connect more to the issue of grasping itself. Here we will encounter memories that need to be felt through. Then we continue inwards to find the actual energy or libidinal drive. From there continue inwards to what sources libido in the first place and you will find love. The same holds true for the rejecting object relation. Something in our circumstance triggers us (an angry boss, a rejecting lover, etc.), we feel rejected or rejecting, we can disconnect from the triggering circumstance, feel through the memories, experience the energy behind it all and where those energies come from originally. We will find that the fear and aggression that we were experiencing are originally alertness and power at the deepest levels of our being. In other words, the object relations or our conditioned selves distort what originally is our true nature and it’s qualities.
Now there is a crucial part of this progression that it’s important to emphasize. When we move from the inner patterns and memories, beyond our conditioned identities, letting them go, and simply begin to experience the energies involved behind the patterns we inevitably confront some type of disorientation and emptiness. This is because our usual identities are found to be vacant, they are only images, imprints. We feel empty and untethered. It is a type of empty limbo between the false self or conditioned self and ourself as presence, our true self, our true nature. We have to continue through this emptiness and dislocation, in which case it will turn into spaciousness and possibility. From there the real qualities of being or existence will be revealed; qualities like love and power. As mentioned in the previous lecture this is a fork in the road because people often lose their way when the ego collapses. Unfortunately when that disorientation and sense of lack arises as the ego falls apart people usually turn back and reconstitute their ego structures.
The process is similar in the dissolution of the central ego. The central ego tends to dissolve when what it is providing you stops being rewarding. For example, maybe someone is a doctor for a number of years but after while being a doctor isn’t all that. Or your relationship partner is still providing all of the comfort and approval that they always have but it just doesn’t do it for you anymore. Or getting good grades just isn’t enough anymore. Or the promotions at work stop being so meaningful. It’s kind of like a midlife crisis effect. Although, these experiences can be distressing they are actually a sign of growth.
The reality is that eventually the ego fulfillment of these circumstantial rewards won’t do it for you. It’s simply a type of feeding. One is feeding one’s ego. Even if it is the central ego or healthy ego, one is feeding an image. It may be exciting and distracting for a while, but its not actually all that rewarding. That’s why it tends to take more and more exciting objects and results to feed that ego. I’m sure in the early days Donald Trump’s first business deal was quite pleasing to him, but then the business deals had to get bigger and bigger to provide the same pleasure. Now he’s running for president but he doesn’t look any happier. Because feeding the ego doesn’t ultimately turn out and isn’t inherently rewarding, the way reality and it’s qualities are inherently rewarding, it takes more and more to gain that same sense of fulfillment. Qualities of reality on the other hand (pove, peace, stillness, clarity and so on) are inherently rewarding. When we find those within our Being we can engage the circumstances of life enjoyably and playfully instead of desperately and dependently. Our view of reality is no longer based on feeding at the breast.
The central ego is based on the relationship to the good breast, the nourishing breast, the good mother that took care of us. But after a while the baby has fed enough and feeding just isn’t that exciting anymore. When something has fed you, you lose interest. That’s the way that physical objects and physical feeding work. That’s the way that bodies work. Once you’ve had dinner you are not interested in food anymore. The central object relation is based on feeding a physical object, the body. We live our life through that template. The problem is that you are more than a physical object. Physical or circumstantial rewards, although they can be quite pleasurable and there is nothing wrong with them, ultimately are not enough for you. No matter how good dinner is, dinner is not enough for a human being. It may be enough for a lion, but not for a human being. Our potential is much greater. We can realize our true nature. We can realize what it means to be and the qualities of Being. They are beyond the wildest imagination of our ego self.
This eventual disappointment or let down that the central ego sets us up for happens in all areas of life. It happens in spiritual or self-development schools. You come to get some spiritual experiences or psychological help or whatever and you get some and it’s pretty good awhile. But after a while the ego feels fed. After a while it’s just not that rewarding anymore. The school has become the filling breast and you got your fill. From there people think, “Oh I should go to a new school or more exciting school or a better school,” or whatever. But inevitably the same thing will happen there.
This is also what happens in romantic relationships, the relationship stops being as fulfilling as it was originally so the person goes enters new relationship and then another new relationship and then another new relationship. Inevitably when a person is functioning through the central ego this eventual disappointment will occur. The central ego is an ego structure, an imprint in the mind, it can’t actually be fulfilled, or the fulfillment will only be temporary.
What people really want is connection with themselves, connection with everybody, and realization of the unity of existence. We can’t achieve that through mental constructs. Mental constructs are inherently dividing, if they are taken to the level of identifying as them. They superimpose division onto a reality of it is actually unified, and dislocate us from actual real selves, our presence. We spend so much time in these divisive thought patterns and identities that they block the experience of the unity of existence and the quality’s of reality. We actually have to dissolve, even the central health ego, to experience reality as it is and truly enjoy our lives.
This is a fundamental shift away from using a school or a relationship partner or job as a place to get fed. It is a shift toward using them as an arena of practice and realization. A relationship, for example can becomes a place to experience union. A self-development or spiritual school, like ours, shifts away from a teacher spoon-feeding you in your attempt to reinforce your central ego to a place to dissolve the ego. Of course, we will experience great emptiness and lack in this process as we do when all mental structures dissolve. If you continue to go in that direction of dissolving and into the emptiness, that emptiness reveals itself as spaciousness with all the qualities of reality and you find yourself not separate from anything. Everything is one unity with myriad qualities; a majestic beauty of power and love and strength and peace and joy and silence and so on. This is the actual condition of reality before the superimposition of mental imprints in the form of object relations that divide reality into segments and experientially empty it of its qualities.
Although this task my seem daunting, my experience is that it is what is required to actually have the kind of life and relationships, including romantic relationships that people want. Spiritual development is the gateway to an Eternal Date, a relationship that achieves higher and higher peaks of intimacy and sexual attraction. Fortunately, although the task is large, when we practice fully in any given moment we honor our spirit and we honor the other person. We can have an Eternal Date with someone any moment we want if we keep taking the right fork in the road, moment by moment. Even more importantly we connect with ourselves and realize our Self.
Basically, when we undo the central object relation, when we undo even the healthy ego, we stop superimposing this early breast-feeding template onto reality. We stop perceiving reality through the superimposition of physical objects feeding each other and so on. We see that reality is far beyond, far richer and deeper than that. It includes physical reality but it is far beyond that. It has an inner depth; it is many layered but one totality, it is alive and vibrant. We are all that, not separate from that. In this case, the central ego has served its function, as a cocoon allowing our infant bodies and minds to function in the physical environment. Like all cocoons, it is meant to be shed, so we are not left believing that feeding is all there is to life.