Often many of our sufferings are the pain of ego-hurts and as such they are a deep cry for growth and transcendence. If negotiated well, we “fall upward” to the level of “true self” or else we fall down deep into “victim” state, depression, bitterness and resort to many immature behaviors. It is indeed a tragedy to live and die without realizing one’s unique self and the unique mission on earth. Even religious men and women, after making bold options to live consecrated life of poverty, chastity and obedience, may live their lives trapped in their “ego” and make decisions dictated by their ego needs. Vocationally congruent decisions are possible only at a level beyond “ego”. It is through spiritual awakening that we come to our “True self” and appreciate our uniqueness as persons and the unique mission we have in the world. One of the important moments of this awakening is to awaken to ones true “self”, an identity beyond the “ego” level of understanding oneself.
“Ego” and “self” represent two distinct levels of consciousness. Ego centered actions take you away from authentic and responsible approach to life while actions flowing from “self” expresses your authentic response to reality and resonate with your vocation. Marc Gafni enumerates twenty five distinctions between ego and unique self. The ability to make essential discernment between the qualities of “ego” and “unique self” is important for the awakening of true self. When we are not in contact with our true self and let our choices flow from there, it is unlikely that we will be able to act as disciples of the Lord in critical situations and moments of suffering. All of us are capable of acting from our sublime levels of existence even in the midst terrible human situations, when the beautiful art of growing in Christ is wrought by the Holy Spirit and the willing subject.
Look at the following distinctions made by Marc Gafni and see if your decisions and actions flow from your true self or ego. I have adapted some descriptions to make it more understandable to religious life.
1. Special or Not special
At ego level you think that you are special because you are better or worse than others. At the level of unique self you know you are special because you are yourself, a child of God, precious and lovable for who you are. You do not have to be like anyone else in order to be loved and accepted. you are free from any comparison or point of reference. Your specialness is your spontaneous experience of your essence.
2. Action or Reaction.
Ego reacts, self acts. The ego reacts to outside stimuli. “they make me angry”. Ego is moved my a freely arising though or desire. The self is moved to action by the power and joy of its own authentic original impulse. It acts out of love. In Christian terms, action flows from the self by the impulse of the Holy Spirit. I choose to respond in harmony with my identity as a disciple of the Lord in the midst of odds. At “ego” level, I am easily hijacked my irritations, prejudices and shifting moods.
3. Ego imitates, Self is original.
Ego is trapped in limitation and is forced to repeat learned responses. Within the closed circuit of security, ego indulges in constant competition which leads to compulsive comparison and dissatisfaction. The ego chews on repeated thoughts (for example victimism, hostility) and keep you chained to stereotype thinking. Look at the garden of your mind. At ego level thousands of thoughts that arise in your mind each day is mostly the same and often they are toxic. Same way of thinking leads you to same way of reacting which creates many addictive behaviors. To break the chain of repetition, you need to be your true self.
Originality emerges from your unique self which is grounded the mystery of God. Originality gives birth to action which transcends reaction. In spiritual theology, when Holy Spirit takes over (level of unique self), you will creatively respond to difficult situations and become capable of creative fidelity to your charism.
4. Satisfaction or Greed
Ego is driven by greed which is not the want of any specific thing to meet an objective need. It is insatiable want that creates perpetual anxiety and dissatisfaction. Insatiable want is the structure of the egoic mind which seeks more and more identity enhancers in things, positions and relationships to confirm one’s existence and importance. Satisfaction and ego are opposites. Give the ego everything, still it is unsatisfied. Give the unique self anything, and it will be grateful and satisfied, not resigned. Anything that comes its way generates gratitude and joy. Satisfaction and fulfillment emerges from the fullness of whatever the moment brings. Unique self is always grateful, ego is always complaining.
“Satisfaction comes from contact with Being and from doing your radical, intense best in the world of Becoming without attachment to outcome”. For unique self your very best is always good enough. For your ego your very best is never good enough and you remain unfulfilled and greedy always. Greed is the distortion of the quality of pure infinite desire which moves you to the deeper yearning to grow and be a creative expression of God’s goodness. This inner yearning coexists with fulfillment or satisfaction.
5. Enough or More
For ego there is never enough to go around. There is concern for what is wanting. There is need for more to feel good, to fill the inner sense of emptiness. Your unique self knows that there is enough and for what you really need and when you need. But the unique self strives for more not to fill the emptiness, but as the flow from the fullness of its being.
6. Ego story or Unique Self Story
awakening of the self requires that you distinguish between your ego story and your unique self story. Your separate egoic personality has its insatiable needs to maintain esteem, value and worth. It has many mechanisms to weave stories to look good and valuable and hide its drives for power, ambition and greed. Ego is good at making stories that portray itself as an innocent victim (“the poor me”) or a benevolent saviour (“the generous me”) and paint others into monsters to be done away with. You need to give up your ego story to own up your unique self story.
You de-identify yourself of your ego story by looking at it from outside, by objectifying it. Identify the root motivations and dynamics that are at play in your ego story. Choose to live without your begging bowl of sympathy and admiration from others. Then there is space for the story of the uniqueness of your unique self.
7. Joy or Fear
The natural fragrance of your unique self is joy. It is the by-product of living your unique self story. But ego is often plagued by underlying fear or depression. The happiness of ego is often short lived, conditioned, heavier and circumcised. Joy is lighter, freer and contagious, often verging on the ecstatic. You may not have known Christ, if you do not have experienced the pure joy of being loved and loving.
8. Open Heart or Closed heart
When ego’s heart breaks, it closes up and become bitter. It may snatch the moment to plait a story to hide the pain. When the unique self’s heart breaks, it opens up into greater love. For ego interiority is just a concept to play with the mind. Interiority for the Self is infinity intimacy and presence. Suffering and love go hand in hand as you suffer because you love.
9. Eros or Grasping
Ego is not erotic. It cannot celebrate the dance of life. Unique self lives in Eros. To live in Eros means to live with fullness of presence and with a felt sense of wholeness. It is to yearn urgently and ecstatically without grasping. It is to experience interiority, the feeling on being on the inside. Ego lives with the feeling of being on the outside. It fragments, grasps and never present to the other. The unique self donates quality presence to the other. For self, life is a dance (celebration), not mathematics (calculation).
10. Authentic Freedom or Pseudo-freedom
Ego is a slave that wants to be free. For ego autonomy is freedom from external influence to do what it wants. Unique self is free. Freedom is to live your uniqueness to the full and give your deepest gifts in the world. When you are longing to be free from a relationship or a work, stop for a moment and look into the root of the egoic demand for freedom. Feel into the emptiness, feel into the hole. If you can let it happen and stay with your discomfort which lies at the root of your longing to b free of the external factor, the emptiness may begin to fill with being and presence with your Unique Being. You will be connected to your own personal essence and will be in a better position to take an authentic decision.
11. King or Servant
Ego is the servant pretending to be a king. Ego thinks it is God but does not really believe it. It acts as God, making itself the criteria of what is good and true. The Unique Self knows its divine ground and acts with majesty, audacity and grace.
12. Victim or Player
Ego makes big story out of limitations and shortcoming of others and cling to its wounds. It revisits it and keeps the wound alive. It cannot forgive and let the wound heal as it is to lose the story. If at all it forgives, it is conditional and tactic, not a sacrament. Unique Self forgives freely without giving up its truth. The unique Self is never a victim, it is a player in the great story of emergence. The little story of the ego is replaced by the great story of the Unique self. Ego is punctured by suffering and failure. The self is awakened to its best gifts in suffering.
13.Betrayal or Loyalty
Ego betrays, while the Unique self is loyal. In the egoic mode you are prone to give into fear and give up your convictions and proclaimed fidelities to persons or institutions. Difficult moments prove the shallow integrity which egoic state represents. Unique Self expresses its integrity and commitment in moments of trial and persecution. It acts from its deepest truth. Ego runs away from persecutions, unique self is capable of laying down life when called for.
14. Authentic friendship or manipulative relationship
In ego mode, you relate with people to boost your self image. You enjoy friendship with successful people and help friends who are down as long as they suit your egoic needs. But you will find deep delight in the success of a friend. When you are in Unique Self, your deepest heart delights in your friend’s success, even if there is nothing in it for you at all.
15. Bigger or smaller
When you are in ego mode, people are slighted in your presence. When you walk into the room, they are made to feel invisible and you grab attention to yourself. They feel depleted and insignificant. When you are in your unique Self, people feel bigger as you walk into the room. Your presence make them feel their value and worth. They feel your desire to love them and give t them.
16. Yes or No
your ego retreats backwards when it comes to giving and emptying oneself. It says, “No” and even when there is an “yes” from ego, it is because it is afraid to say “no”. Your unique Self is always expanding and saying “yes”. Even when you say No, it is at the service of a more authentic “Yes”.
17. Justice or Injustice
Ego is easily outraged at what is done to it, but rarely feels the same at what is done to someone else. The Unique Self is not particularly outraged at the injustice meted out to its own person. It is hurt and outraged by any and all injustice. The ego often fights large causes of injustice as a way to bolster its grandiosity. Unique Self fights the battles of injustice in its own backyrd, even when there is potential for collateral damage it its own power and status.
18. Responsibility or Excuse
The ego rarely assumes responsibility and makes lot of fuss about it when it takes responsibility. It makes conditions and quarantines itself against taking responsibility for potential failure. “I have already told that it will not work” or “I was forced to do it”. Unique Self is able to take responsibility spontaneously, lightly and with full gravitas. Unique Self can assume responsibility for its own rightful anger at injustice. The ego advises others “to take responsibility”, but when its turn comes, it wallows in the real or imagined offences it has suffered.
19. Paradox or Splitting
Ego perceives reality in splitting. It always sees dualities: Others are friends or enemies; actions are either good or bad. It cannot hold paradoxes of life nor look at things from others’ perspectives for extended periods of time. The Unique self can hold paradoxes of life. Sacred outrage and equanimity live in paradoxical harmony within the Unique Self.
20. Past or Present
The ego lives in the past or in the future , confusing them with the present. Thus it confuses past with present. As it cannot be present to the now, ego cannot create intimacy. To make real contact, you must be personal and present. Only the Unique Self can make contact. For the Unique Self, the present moment consciously includes the past and anticipates the future.
Living in the past as if you are in the present makes it difficult to act effectively and lovingly in the present situation. Besides, past remains unredeemed and unhealed. Theunique self does not confuse past with present. When past comes up in the present, it recognizes past as past and it can use the present moment to heal the past. For Unique Self the patterns of the past have no true power in the present.
21. Special Relationship or Open as Love
The ego seeks the “special relationship” to cover the pain of emptiness and consider the “special relationship” better than all other relationships. The Unique Self does not limit love to one person. Unique Self lives open as love in the world.
22. Love or Fear
Isolated ego is the root cause of various forms of death and destruction and all sorts of human suffering. It arises from fear and search for power and security. The ego feels its vulnerability, its limits and powerlessness. The ego then look for ways to assert power at all costs. It is the ready ground for the acting out of all forms of shadow. The unique Self does not harbor separate identity and it knows the oneness of everything and can identify with its distinct path in the seamless quilt of the Uni-verse. Then fear dissipates and love returns. It is the encounter of two unique Selves that lead to personal love, commitment, intimacy, contact, accountability, compassion, and personal love does not require two separate selves.
23. Eternity or Death
The ego strives for immortality it can never achieve and seek it through projects of control and conquest. death is feared and shredded at all costs. It seeks immortality enhancers in money, power and pleasure and eventually succumbs to the fact that ego is not ones true identity and what is immortal is the Unique Self. In fact the intuition of ego about immortality of self is not wrong. The Unique Self experiences authentically what ego longs for as it recognizes that it is divine and therefore eternal.
24. Pleasure: Delusion or Divine
Money, power and pleasure, when experienced at the level of ego appear separate from the divine field and trap the person into the clutches of grasping and striving. it leads to addictions and idolatry. At the level of Unique self, they are experienced as touching the divine. Pleasure from the place of Unique Self is experienced as divine caress reminding you that the world is sane and good. At the level of ego pleasure is narcissistic and drives the person to seek more and more without finding satisfaction and someone else pleasure makes you feel your lack. The same pleasure experienced from the consciousness of Unique Self expands your heart and consciousness into the Love-intelligence, love-beauty, and love-pleasure of all-That-Is. You are satisfied by even the simplest pleasure, and you delight in the pleasure of others. Pain and Suffering does not diminish the capacity to experience deeper and more subtle joy of all that is well.
Money and power in the grasp of ego drive you to accumulate goods you do not need and control of others to boost one’s own imagined importance. Money and Power at the level of Unique Self offer opportunities to deploy them gracefully and skillfully for the greater good of all beings. Separate from the divine field, money, power and pleasure are misdirected in their goal and misused to as identity enhancers of ego. Death uncovers the inherent folly of such a pursuit. Eternity and finite goods of the world are reclaimed and given their due place at the level of Unique Self.
25.Ego story or Unique Self story reloaded
Your egoic story can be taken away by the circumstances of life. Your unique Self story can never be taken away from you. The apparent unfairness of the world can never take away your Unique self away from you. You embrace life as it unfolds before you and weave it into something beautiful for God and beneficial for fellow humans.
It is not fair to treat ego as a villain to defeat your growth into wholeness and holiness. Your ego has wisdom to offer you. It holds truths that in their clarified form belong to Unique Self. The core truths of Unique Self are distorted by your ego’s fear, contraction and shadow. When you are able to de-identify with your egoic self, you glimpse your true Self. Then ego will be able to take its authentic place at the service of your mission in life. A religious person is able to live his vocation meaningfully amidst challenges and suffering when he/she finds her vocation grounded in his/her unique self. Awakening to the True Self can happen through practices of meditation, prayer, ethical practice, personal suffering or joy, transpersonal depth psychology etc. The gifts of the ego can be harvested at the level of Unique Self. The energy of the various passions can rightly flow into the ocean of Love when you are at your “unique self” mode. it is at the level of your “unique self” that you can truly live your unique vocation and unique mission as an authentic response to the call of God.
– Based on Mac Gafni, Your unique Self, the Radical path to Enlightenment, Integral Publishers, 2012.
Prepared by Mathew Vattamattam