Richard Harvey—Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

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The Ego-Self And A Self-Inflicted Pattern Of Suffering

In the present era the ego-self begins to develop in early childhood as a sense of “I” and is created amid the indoctrination of separation and division in early life. Although we are clearly not independent organisms but innately connected, we are brought up to consider ourselves identified by a self that is distinct from the rest of the world and potentially antagonistic to all that is perceived as outside ourselves and therefore not-I.

Through the childhood experience of dependency, separation, and identity we develop the first level of the ego, the infantile or childhood ego which supports the strategies of survival in early life. Our early life conditioning indoctrinates us into disconnection, which starts with disconnecting from our mothers. We learn how the outside world is “other,” both separate and divided from us, as are other people. We are introduced to a world we cannot trust – a world of conflict. We learn to prejudge in order to manufacture a counterfeit sense of safety. Self-identification, which describes the recognition of oneself as a separate entity in the world that is “other”, and its elements of separation and division are thus the distinguishing factors of early life. At this stage, it is all about surviving the interaction with the world containing constant challenges, and the only way to survive seems to be through developing an ego-self.

As adults we then develop these seminal themes of separation and division even further. The second level of the ego is the calcified ego or extended self-sense that is built on the childhood ego in adult years. Through social and relational development, and philosophical, ideological, and mental posturing, the ego-self becomes the central reality of an individual life. Indeed, everything is experienced through the lens of the ego-self, which in present-day culture has given rise to the collective contempt for others considered unlike ourselves, belief systems that contradict our beliefs, and real or imagined threats to our survival as we experienced them in early life. At this stage, human beings become trapped by their own survival strategies, which gave them protection and security and now constitute a tyranny in their lives. Their angels have become their jailers.

The third level of the ego comprises finer, more subtle but nonetheless powerful holdings of the ego-self that we work with through spiritual stages of development. These include clinging to the illusion of independent existence, separating oneself from Truth, attachment to desires, goals and separation, identifying with and attaching to the inner source of arising consciousness, addiction to dreams, visions, and mysticism, rejection of the body and psycho-physical functions.

A great leap of awareness is necessary to even question this habitual and entrenched view that is upheld by collective humanity and cemented in the fear-fueled pressures of conformism and shrouded in the fog of ignorance. Ego may not be observed by ego, thus, it is only by raising your consciousness to a higher level of discernment that ego and the ego forces can be discovered, seen, and recognized for what they are.

It is extremely important to understand the basis on which the ego-processes rest. The ego only has power because it is the assumption of separation and division. The ego can only be powerful – active even – to the degree that there’s an animating investment in the belief in separation and division. Ego-processes are the activities of the ego-self and to be precise, they are the ego-self, since there is no real entity that is the ego but rather activities sourced in the mind from which the delusion of the ego emanates. The ego-self seeks to reinforce and preserve itself at any cost. Its central concern is its own survival and that costs you your life essence, your core reality, fulfillment, and joy and in a sense, you become the saboteur of your own efforts. The price is your life, and unconsciously you suffer, without understanding that it is you yourself who enslaves you to a pattern of suffering.

Suffering is predicated on the assumption of ego, which presumes subject-verb-object, or separation and division, and can be caught out in various forms of fearful manifestations.

One such form is obligation and being bound. Inherent in our sense of ourselves is an obligation to life. We are bound to life and in a sense this obligation motivates us to live and breathe, to act and participate. But the obligation goes deeper than that. For example, will we align ourselves to truth or to illusion, to morality or impropriety, to the banal or to the extraordinary? Whichever path we choose constitutes a binding. Therefore the human condition is one of being bound. How you are bound appears clearly to you in what you give your attention to. So, ask yourself these questions now: What preoccupies me? How do I spend my day? What absorbs me and occupies my time and is therefore of inherent value to me? Don’t think yourself into answering these questions in the way you would prefer, rather be truthful. The trick, the really crucial matter is to detect precisely what you are bound to and what you are not bound to. You may mostly consider that relationships, financial constraints, needs, desires, politics, and society are your bindings. If you choose a materialistic path, your binding is to money, family, the future, belongings and if you choose a power-based path your binding is to status, manipulation and deception. If you are centered in the life of the world, then the world with all its bindings will bind you. And you have invited it. If you pitch yourself into the rapids in a boat, don’t be surprised if you start speeding down the white waters and feel out of control – after all, you got into the boat! In just the same way, if you enter the world on its own terms, you tend to have to abide by its rules. So you give yourself to the world, to its physicality, its pleasures, its materialism, and its individualism. Sometimes, like Faust, you even give or sell your soul too and everything inside becomes empty, everything appears to be outside, and the outward fullness is matched by the internal emptiness. Being bound in this way results in suffering, the misery of heart-dissatisfaction, and the continuous longing for fulfillment. Importantly, not all types of binding are restrictive, as for example spiritual binding, which far from being restrictive is ultimately liberating. We will return to this later.

Another aspect of the fearful manifestations of ego-processes is self-contraction. Self contraction is the fundamental activity of the ego-self to preserve its isolation, as it reacts to a separate world of “other” beings, events, and objects that it defines as “other.” This results in the constant action of limiting, controling, and repulsing genuine experience, relationship, and compassion. For while the darkness of unconscious repression, forbidden thoughts and fears, repressed emotions, anger and bitterness remains in the majority of humanity, we will persist in creating heroes and villains. The only way out of the contemporary, amoral, violent and un sacred world is for us to take up inner work, either psychological, spiritual, or both, to relieve ourselves of our unhappiness. This unhappiness is released into the world as psychic unconscious darkness and it creates a scapegoat culture in the unconscious projection of blame and worship, guilt and victim mentality. The victim must discover the attacker inside herself, the prey the hunter, the injured the assailant. Each is dependent on the other in the realms of the opposites or from the prevailing point of view of duality. Each necessitates the other; each is supported and in a sense exists through the other. You can ponder the truth of this by meditating on the dynamics of darkness and the stirrings of the victim and the assailant deeply within. In time you can come to a direct apprehension of the unity of the victim and the assailant.

As long as we remain governed by the ego-processes of separation and division, of being bound and of self-contraction, we are doomed to suffer from restless dissatisfaction and the lack of fulfillment.

The pattern of suffering includes our inability to possess the objects of desire. We see the objects of our desire as if through a thick glass screen and we are condemned to throw ourselves at the screen in an attempt to reach these objects. But desire is a failure in itself, and 12 it is a con. Desire brings you to disillusionment, dissatisfaction, and despair. Desire is the fallacy that if you get what you want, you will be happy. But you can never be happy through desire. You can never even want what you want when you get it. Desire feeds off itself. If you really wanted what you have, desire would come to an end. The trick desire plays on you is that when you get your desired object you don’t want it anymore. Of course it doesn’t look like that. You don’t experience it that way, because if you did, desire would be “found out.” The way it works – and you will recognize this if you are honest – is that you always want to improve on the desired object. You want to add to it, take bits away from it, improve, embellish, and adorn it. Or you want more of it (or less of it), or you want others to have it (or not have it). You can never be content, never satisfied, and never happy, following desire. So why can’t desire make you happy? Because true happiness is not the outcome of desire, it is a consequence of being natural. There is nothing you have to do to be happy. It is like breathing. There’s nothing you have to do; it is simply your birth right. Your true nature is awareness and your being is eternal consciousness. Now when you get that, you will be happy – without desire. But today, desire is one of the central motivation of human beings throughout their life, and in parallel perhaps one of the strongest source of discontentment, complaint, and dissatisfaction.

Another aspect of our suffering is expressed in our perpetual addiction to the activity of searching. As perpetual seekers, we experience frustration, futility, despair, disappointment, pointlessness, and defeat (in that order). Like the reflection of the moon in the lake, however many times we dive into the lake and swim toward the moon, we will never reach it. Neither will we ever reach our true state while we try to reach or gain truth from the point of view of lack and unreality.

This article is an excerpt from Richard Harvey’s book Your Divine Opportunity.


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This article was published on this site in November 2023.

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