Yesterday, I began sharing what I am relearning as I read the story of Peace Pilgrim. My blog was about making a decision to change but then struggling in that space between willingness and actual change.
She explains this strange phenomenon by the idea that there are really two of us dwelling inside ourselves. She names one ego and the other conscience. The ego, she says is our lower self, our conscience our higher self. Here is how she talks about their difference:
“Your lower self sees things from the viewpoint of your physical well-being only – your higher self sees your psychological or spiritual well-being. You lower self sees you as the center of the universe – your higher self sees you as a cell in the body of humanity. When you are governed by your lower self you are selfish and materialistic, but insofar as you follow the promptings of your higher self you will see things realistically and find harmony within yourself and others.”
A wise person taught me that the ego has a practical function. We sort of “create” an ego as children to protect us in the world as we observe it as children. It can be a good thing, but it can be a bad thing, too. While our ego can protect us in the environment we are born into, it may be useless or even a hindrance in other environments we find ourselves in later. Here are a couple of examples: If one experiences diminishment or bullying by a sibling, a child may take on a tough “I don’t care” attitude. This attitude may cause reactions in teachers and other people in authority when they go to school. Another: A child may be told over and over again by a parent that they never finish anything they start. This may lead them to become obsessive about finishing what they start even when it is deemed wiser to abandon a project. The first person’s ego might be saying “I am strong, no one can hurt me.” The ego of the second may be saying, “I am persistent and faithful even if those around me are not.” The ego is there to protect.
What happens (and I think this is God’s plan) is that the ego will begin to cause problems. In the first case, one may be stand-offish, driving even trustworthy people away. In the second case, one may turn into a controller and bear contempt for those who don’t work with them to complete the projects they are married to. This, too, can drive people away. The person may be left exhausted having to complete their projects alone.
Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of surrender. I think that it takes an act of surrender for a person to be able to step out from under of the control of their (protective) ego and to trust that they will be alright without it. It feels like jumping off a cliff, actually. The two scenarios I shared are from my own life. I first had to come to see how this ego I had created was causing more harm than good. It was messing up my relationships and I lost a job over my bullheadedness at pushing my own agenda. Somewhere out of a little corner of me, there dwelt a true self waiting to come out. I believe that this true self was the light of God within me, waiting to be born.
Surrender sort of punches the ego in the face, knocking it out for a time, while the real self has a chance to grow and get its feet under it. Having a community of friends to help me do this was vital. For me it was a 12 step program, but it can be any group of people that see and love the real you and stand by as you struggle to be born. The midwife image has been used to describe such a community.
Peace says that the body, mind and emotions are instruments which can be used by either the self-centered nature or by the God-centered nature. There is a constant struggle, she says. I know this, too. But I have come to like my real self much better than the old ego self. There are still moments when I have to make a decision where to yield. But I can tell you with confidence that yielding to the true self…that which is God within…is always the way that leads to serenity.