A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

13 In the Service of the Ego I

Last week I promised to discuss the methods by which earthly food may become spiritual food. I admit this was a bold promise, and, indeed, this week, I find that I still couldn't get it all in--we'll have to have one more installment of this next week. The problem is especially difficult and large because one of my main problems is a negative--for years, I have been impressed (or depressed) by the fact that so many people use what ought to be spiritual food as fodder to feed their famished carnal nature. Yes, we all fall short of our potential, we all are sinners, and we all seek the truth so that we may transcend the natural propensities of our sinful flesh; but sometimes our literal consciousness mistakes truthful virtue for just another kind of sin in sheep's clothing--so we MUST find ways to catch ourselves when this happens.

Today we will review some basic principles of psychology in order to approach this subject in a rational manner; the main villain in today's scenario is the ego.

For now, let's begin where we left off last week:

John 6:27
27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

Last week I repeatedly mentioned this: it must be admitted that some things have only carnal value, while other things have only spiritual value--but sometimes the same THING can be possessed of both carnal AND spiritual qualities, depending on where the attention of the devotee is directed. Verily, verily I say unto you, the temporal or eternal value of a thing is determined not by the inherent quality of the thing itself, but, rather, by the attitude of the observer towards it; the spirituality of the observer transforms a thing from one consciousness state to another by an act of will. In other words, if some big-shot priest writes a large treatise on some religious subject, full of highfalutin' righteous-sounding jargon, designed to justify some dogmatic proposition or other, but he composes it not in the service of higher truth, but rather in the service his own the ego, this treatise becomes merely an earth-bound bauble, sounding brass, one more pitiful evocation of carnal nature; meanwhile the humblest peasant meditation on a lily of the field, in all its spiritual glory, may be of infinite value, and may resonate throughout eternity.

What this tells us is that even when we are seeking God, our seeking can go astray.

C. S. Lewis wrote:
“God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way.”

Asking God to give us what WE want when WE want it, because WE have figured out that HE owes us what WE want, is what I call living in the service of the ego. The ego is this mass of attitudes and memories and concepts that define our conscious appreciation of ourselves. We could not exist without it--that is to say we could not exist on the material plane without it; so many physically real things are part of our daily lives, that to deny their existence might be spiritually liberating, but I'm afraid it would liberate us right out of this world, and into a discarnate state of existence. Good, fine, but don't forget God put us here for  a reason, and dealing with the mundane world is one of our tasks, like it or not. Therefore, the trick is to deal with the world, but not be OF the world; not to buy into the world's illusions of substantiality, ESPECIALLY what appear substantialities of truth. The primary proposition of this address is that there are ways to distinguish the spiritually true from the spiritually untrue.

This problem has been a constant obsession with me, all my life, because determining where real spiritual truth is, is one of the primary tasks in evaluating art. I have spent my life developing a truth meter in my head and heart in order to tell when a piece of music is telling the truth and when it is bearing false witness. I used to be much more rigid about it, and I used to much more clear about what was a great piece of music and what was a crummy piece of music. Indeed, I used to mistake my own prejudices and opinions for ultimate authority, and it gave me great pleasure to announce, with pompous dogmatic pride, that this is a great piece and this is not a great piece. I was very full of myself, and worked hard to acquire virtue in the service of my own ego.

The following is an excerpt from my auto-biography which reviews how, as a young man, I perceived musical truth:
"I had always craved the real— the intuitive stuff from higher dimensions that transforms the mundane into the heavenly—the REAL real, the durable truth, the lasting truth. And I was no lazy hypocrite either: I worked hard, searching inside myself for the "truthful resonance" of every sound I heard in my head. From the very beginning of my musical life, I weighed every written note on a delicate inner-balance meter—a "truth-meter" which examined every phrase, every sonority for naked, unadulterated statements about the way things really are. I ruthlessly subjected myself to the strict rule of the truth-meter, cutting out, with burning laser beam, every false detail of my own inner image. My need for a perfectly sequential chain of logic, (that characterizes the Asperger mentality), could not tolerate the least lapse in connectivity between one musical thought and the next. It was the linking between ideas that legitimized the gestalt; without the inner connectedness of the material, the sounds were rusty artifacts, broken bottles with nothing inside. When the ideas followed one from the next, in perfect order, the life force that flowed through the whole shone into the world with the living energy of higher intelligence. It was this higher intelligence I craved, since music was the only language that made sense to me, and I would not speak half-truth gobbledy-gook to myself. I was hard on myself, and I was honest with myself. I had no choice—I have never been able to lie.

    Of course, my white hot truth-meter was equally scalding when I turned it on the music of other composers—it was a false statement detector, scanning every moment, of every piece of music I heard, for saliency, authenticity, humanity, spirit; and it was never fooled by the cleverness, or the depth of pedigree a of a musical statement. I had so thoroughly sensitized myself, in my private inner discipline, to see through the appearance-value of a thing to the heart of the thing, that my hunger for truth was only satisfied by musical statements, from myself or anybody else, about the way things REALLY are. The affirmative power of music was my only reliable comfort, when I stood alone on the pale horizon, facing the vastly inscrutable paradox of existence.

    I rejected the idea of general truth in favor of personal truth; I understood that only from the personal orientation could the literally-articulated-self diffuse into the collective self. Other people might possibly be able to jump from the experience of the collective artifact straight into the collective consciousness, but, for my Asperger brain to ascend to a higher mind state, I had to take all the steps in their proper sequential order, i.e.; I had to start at the center of my conscious self and move outward, through a series of quantum leaps, to the higher mind, the collective mind. I measured every note's relationship to the heart in precise increments. To me, the innermost heart was the only true origin of music. Truth was ancient, and grand, and glorious, and would not fit on the covers of the tabloids."

You can see from this that even as a youth I was craving the spiritual food that does not perish, but it may also be seen that I was attempting this from the most puritanical of perspectives, and was very caught up in serving the ego at least as much as searching for imperishable truth; at that time, imperishable truth only meant truth that would not squirm around and shift and change under close scrutiny.

Deepak Chopra says:
“The ego relies on the familiar. It is reluctant to experience the unknown, which is the very essence of life.”

I wanted truth that would remain stable like a rock, a haven in stormy seas, unassailed by movement or evolution. To me, ultimate truth was truth that stayed the same today, tomorrow and forever. I wanted to be born again every time I heard a piece of music, but, all too often, my literal consciousness was definitely blocking avenues to higher dimensions by rejecting the possibility that the truth of higher dimensions might not be the same tomorrow as it was today. I had not learned the lesson from Dante that I, now, never tire of quoting:

"Not that there was more than a simple appearance
In the living light which I gazed upon
And which is as it has always has been;

But my sight grew stronger
As I  looked; and so the static face of God
Transformed itself with every change in me."
I had not yet learned that spiritual truth evolves as I evolve, and that I was evolving all the time.

Well, I've grown up a lot and am a lot more tolerant than I used to be, but I WASN'T wrong--there IS a border between truth and mediocrity. I tell my students about the quantum leap all the time: if enough energy enters an atom to excite an electron to go faster and faster until it reaches escape velocity, the electron will jump into a higher orbit, and it will never fall back; this is called a quantum leap. We have talked about the moment of psychological re-centering when an intuition restructures our experience in a flash of time. These moments do happen, and it would do us good to learn to generate these moments in ourselves through acts of will, and to recognize them when they happen spontaneously through grace.

Much of the following deals with some basic terms from psychology, many of which were coined by Sigmund Freud, so I thought it would not be amiss to provide a review of Freud's basic model of the mind since we will be referring to it for the rest of the sermon.

Freud's Division of the Mind by David B. Stevenson '96, Brown University:
"Freud understood the mind as constantly in conflict with itself, and understood this conflict as the primary cause of human anxiety and unhappiness. . . Freud's investigations into internal conflicts such as this led him to an eventual division of the mind into three parts, three conflicting internal tendencies, the well-known id, ego, and super-ego.
This division, it is important to note, is not the separation of the mind into three structures and functions which exist in physical partitions in the brain; they are not even truly structures, but rather separate aspects and elements of the single structure of the mind. Although it is convenient to say, for example, that the id "demands" immediate gratification, the mind has no three distinct little men who engage in a constant fisticuffs of conflict. The personification of these elements merely serves as a convenient guide through a complex psychoanalytic theory.

The id, the ego and the superego function in different levels of consciousness: indeed, Freud's theory of the mind hinges upon the ability of impulses or memories to "float" from one level to another. The interaction between the three functions of the mind represents a constant movement of items from one level to another."

[Sidebar: The idea of "floating from one consciousness state to another relates directly to my idea of the multi-dimensional character of the human personality,  which we have discussed several times in the past; in particular, it pertains to the idea of conceptual re-centering of the intuitive response, or, as we have referred to it before, the EPIPHANIC response, a psychic  event which we will review momentarily.]
As the baby emerges from the womb into the reality of life, he wants only to eat, drink, urinate, defecate, be warm, and gain sexual pleasure. These urges are the demands of the id, the most primitive motivational force. In pursuit of these ends, the id demands immediate gratification: it is ruled by the pleasure principle, demanding satisfaction now, regardless of circumstances and possible undesirable effects. If a young child was ruled entirely by his id, he would steal and eat a piece of chocolate from a store regardless of the menacing owner watching above him or even his parents scolding beside him.

The id will not stand for a delay in gratification. For some urges, such as urination, this is easily satisfied. However, if the urge is not immediately discharged, the id will form a memory of the end of the motivation: the thirsty infant will form an image of the mother's breast. This act of wish-fulfillment satisfies the id's desire for the moment, though obviously it does not reduce the tension of the unfulfilled urge."

[Sidebar: In this case we are using the term "wish-fulfillment in the same sense as the term "end condition" as it applies to intuitive re-centering. Both terms refer to a mind state projected into the future at which our mental efforts are attempting to arrive.]
The eventual understanding that immediate gratification is usually impossible (and often unwise) comes with the formation of the ego, which is ruled by the reality principle. The ego acts as a go-between in the id's relations with reality, often suppressing the id's urges until an appropriate situation arises. This repression of inappropriate desires and urges represents the greatest strain on, and the most important function of, the mind. The ego often utilizes defense mechanisms to achieve and aid this repression. Where the id may have an urge and form a picture which satisfies this urge, the ego engages in a strategy to actually fulfill the urge. The thirsty five-year-old now not only identifies water as the satisfaction of his urge, but forms a plan to obtain water, perhaps by finding a drinking fountain. While the ego is still in the service of the id, it borrows some of its psychic energy in an effort to control the urge until it is feasibly satisfied. The ego's efforts at pragmatic satisfaction of urges eventually builds a great number of skills and memories and becomes aware of itself as an entity. With the formation of the ego, the individual becomes a self, instead of an amalgamation of urges and needs.

While the ego may temporarily repress certain urges of the id in fear of punishment, eventually these external sources of punishment are internalized, and the child will not steal the chocolate, even unwatched, because he has taken punishment, right, and wrong into himself. The superego uses guilt and self-reproach as its primary means of enforcement for these rules. But if a person does something which is acceptable to the superego, he experiences pride and self-satisfaction.

The superego is sub-dividable into two parts: conscience and ego ideal. Conscience tells what is right and wrong, and forces the ego to inhibit the id in pursuit of morally acceptable, not pleasurable or even realistic, goals. The ego ideal aims the individual's path of life toward the ideal, perfect goals instilled by society. In the pursuit, the mind attempts to make up for the loss of the perfect life experienced as a baby."

Having reviewed the basic Freudian vocabulary I now want to shift our discussion to a more spiritual plane. We begin our examination of some of this source material with Steiner. This is from a Wikipedia article on his most famous book, ‪Philosophy of Freedom‬:

Steiner observes that the key question concerning the existence of freedom of the will is how the will to action arises in the first place. Steiner describes two sources for human motivation: our natural being, our instincts, feelings, and thoughts insofar as these are determined by our character - and the dictates of conscience or abstract ethical or moral principles. In this way, both nature and culture determine motivations that play into our will and soul life. Overcoming these two elements, neither of which is individualized, we can achieve genuinely individualized intuitions that speak to the particular situation at hand. By overcoming the dictates of both our 'lower' and 'higher' sources of experience, by orchestrating a meeting place of objective and subjective elements of experience, we find the freedom to choose how to think and act.

Freedom for Steiner thus does not lie in uninhibited expression of our subjective nature, but in the conscious unification of this with the objective constraints of the world."

[Sidebar: The idea of "orchestrating a meeting place of objective and subjective elements of experience" is the crux of the matter; the whole process of evaluating experience as either spiritual or carnal depends on our ability to distinguish the spiritual from the carnal. How we take the various levels of experience in hand and reconcile them into an integrated experience is the subject of this discussion, and must be looked at closer and closer if we are to derive any meaning from these comments.]

"Steiner coined the term moral imagination for the inner act which results in free action. He suggests that we only achieve free deeds when we find a moral imagination, an ethically impelled but particularized response to the immediacy of a given situation. This response will always be individual; it cannot be predicted or prescribed. This radical ethical individualism is, for Steiner, characteristic of freedom."

[Sidebar: We remind you that the intuitive epiphanic response cannot be "predicted or prescribed." Unlike the ego, which depends on rigidity of thought--stability of literal meaning--spiritual truth defies all the devotee's efforts to control or direct the direction of the information stream. People determined to pin down the sayings of Jesus into neatly contained, fixed little boxes, will ALWAYS fail, because spiritual truth cannot be controlled by the literal mind--it takes the language of the heart to accomplish this. What Steiner calls the "moral imagination" is just another way of referring to the mysterious working of the heart on mundane issues and realities. Furthermore let me remind you that the conclusion arrived at by the heart are nearly always a surprise. It must be noted that staunch dogmatists HATE surprises.]

"We become aware of the outer nature of the world and its inner nature in radically different ways: our sensory perceptions inform us about the outer appearance of the world, while our thought life penetrates its inner nature. This division is particular to and defines human experience. Steiner suggests that we actually have the capacity to overcome the dualism of experience by reuniting perception and cognition. When contemplating our own thinking activity, we are perceiving that which we are thinking, and thinking that which we are perceiving. Steiner suggests that freedom arises most purely at this moment, when free ideation arises out of ego activity; this is, for Steiner, spiritual activity. . .

Steiner seeks to demonstrate that inner freedom is achieved when we bridge the gap between our perception, which reflects the outer appearance of the world, and our cognition, which gives us access to the inner structure of the world. He suggests that outer freedom arises when we bridge the gap between our ideals and the constraints of external reality, letting our deeds be inspired by the moral imagination. . . "

[Sidebar: Thus, it may be seen that Steiner wants us to USE the ego to motivate higher cognition, therefore creating imaginative realities whose purpose is to synthesize or integrate the energies of both flesh and spirit into each other.]

"Steiner emphasizes that thinking is unique in our access in it to the true inner reality of the world at least in one corner. We can be conscious of our thought processes in a way that we cannot be of our feelings, will or perceptions. Because of this, we can be sure that our thoughts are truly what they seem. Naive realism could be said to be true of them. Our feelings appear still as percepts whose interpretation is not a matter of perception. Furthermore, we correct our perceptions (for example, when these include perspective distortions) through our conceptual framework. Thinking is thus necessary if we are to properly interpret our perception."

[Sidebar: The idea of "perceptual distortion" must be sufficiently appreciated by the devotee such that he is constantly on guard against it. We must watch out literal expressions like a hawk for the corrupting intimations of ego.]

"Steiner also emphasizes that modern science depends upon these same two elements of perception and thinking. Perception alone is not science, but is at best the gathering of data. Only when we group and analyze a mass of perceptions can we obtain scientific clarity about it. On the other hand, mathematics is a kind of thinking in which thought itself forms the perceptions; no sense-perceptions are needed to form a basis for mathematical principles. Mathematics could be said to be a science of the inner side of things, in which we need not know anything about their outer appearance."

[Sidebar: Mathematics is a systematic entity that exists as an identity only in the abstract world, the world of ideas; it therefore offers a good example of how the spirit world is interrelated to the physical world. For instance what is 2? Well, we certainly can tell 2 shoes, or 2 eyes, or 2 tiger tanks, but what essentially is 2? In order for 2 to exist in our mundane world it must act on some THING in our mundane world. Likewise all kinds of other abstract entities (or shall we say, “energies”?) only exist for us when they act upon or, shall we say, interact with, physical entities.]

"Though our experience leads us to the illusion of dualism, in reality we are experiencing two sides of a single phenomenon when we perceive it and think about it: two sides of a single, unified world. There are limits beyond which our understanding does not presently go, but both our perception and our thinking can be extended beyond their present abilities. The telescope and microscope offer us radical extensions of the range of our perceptions; we can look to extend our powers of thought as vigorously as we have extended our powers of perception. Steiner thus challenges the philosophy of his (and our) time: it is not enough simply to define the limits of possible knowledge; it is necessary to work to extend these as well."

The “extension of perception” is what I mean when I invoke the discipline of ATTENTION.  I think of the WILL as a force that can act on any entity, physical or spiritual, on which it focuses its attention. Therefore, when I have spoken these many, many times about ATTENTION, I have been speaking, indirectly, about the WILL. Thus, when we “pray unceasingly”, or work to generate an epiphany, the operative energy is the WILL directed by ATTENTION in the direction of whatever end condition is foreseen. By “extending our perception” we are exercising our will to raise mundane realities into spiritual realities. Steiner is agreeing with the proposition  I have made, many times, that we must work to keep our perceptions at a high level of sensitivity so that we do not mistake merely convoluted verbal expressions for divine truth.

So, having arrived at a halfway point, I have NOT discussed very much how earthly food may become spiritual food, but merely emphasized the mechanism by which earthly food may NOT become spiritual food. The ego and the id, those twin whining babies who constantly crab at us for immediate gratification, attention, and, most of all, stability, are the sources of all our failed attempts to rise into the spiritual plane. We know they are there, and we know they try to deceive us--but there is one one more person who knows this--Satan knows this, and he will try his damnedest to use them to mislead us and confound us, while at the same time filling us with a sense  of false virtue. Next week we really will take a look at some of the mechanisms we can use to don the whole the armor of God.

Let us pray: Jesus, we admit the perils that accompany the flesh in which we must reside day after day. Give us the patience and the discretion to recognize the white water of self as it churns us toward the precipice of false truth. Throw out the lifeline of your Word, and let us bury our faces in its comfort and security, even as we move ever upward. Amen.

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