We are just a single thread ignorantly thinking we are a tapestry and miserable when the universe does not agree. This is the delusion of ego.
This delusion comes from an aspect of our evolutionary creation. Our psycho-physical make up is designed to navigate the difficulties of survival; the ego is part of that make up. Human mind creates defensive shortcuts that initiate automatic mechanisms to protect the human body. Primal fear in the pituitary gland rushes blood to the legs, adrenaline to the muscles, races the mind and creates a condition for the body to fight or flight from danger. It is a primitive response created and designed through millions of years of evolution. However, when our survival from lions, tigers and bears decreases it does not decrease the instinctual responses. The same reactions that we have in the jungle are still used in the boardroom and bed room.
The ego is more complex than just its primal essence. It also organizes, unifies functions, and establishes cognitions. These skills create habits, mannerisms, concepts, recognitions into cogent mental patterns. The ego, in this way is able to integrate potentially contradictory experiences and make sense of them. It is these habits and mental conditionings that establish the mental patters of personality and self-view.
The combination of primitive evolutionary instinct and environmental habituation create the psycho-physical conditions of emotional response. These conditions are ingrained into the concept of who we are that it is nearly impossible to look beyond them, and beyond the very comforting concept of “self.” In the Western concept, the body may wither and die but the identity must remain forever.
Understanding that the mind is just one aspect of the body and yet separate from the body is confusing and therefore often discarded. To most man is not born into existence but eternally waiting for a vessel to fill for a short ride here on Earth. In this way, all creatures are measured equally in spirit: from the idiot savant to the brilliant, from the handicapped to the Olympian. The affirmation that “I” is a spirit bound by the body, but separate and perfect without it allows for a compassionate concept of the universe. It is also part of the delusion of the ego to make sense of the world around us into something logical and acceptable.
The ego’s creation of “I” has put us at a disadvantage. It keeps us focused away from the curtain supposedly containing the man pulling levers and ropes, because when we pull it back, we see that there is nothing there. Our personality, concept of self, and “I” identity is a construction of convenience so that the body may survive. While being ignorant of that truth may seem blissful, the reality is that it is the cause of all mental suffering.
This is why we must embrace right view and see that “we” exists only in the context of our current existence. We must realign of our viewpoint: from ourselves as the only protagonist, our story as the main plot, our unmet expectations and failures as the only plot twists; to were we are in an epic tales of billions of protagonists, subplots and each character selfishly believes themselves the single hero. Only those who can remove themselves from the stream of consciousness writing – as a participant of their own tale into an engaged third-person observer – of the full story may understand the truth of their character.
The secret to sublime happiness is to pull back the curtain and investigate the mechanics of ourselves. We assume that we are what we are, without any understanding of what that means and – if we did—if it is true. We ignore the melancholy of a lack of self-actualization through the distractions and cravings of the universe around us. Meanwhile we continue to think that we are the heartrending hero in the story of universe.
Delusion is the view that “I must be able to distinguish myself from others in order to relate to others.” This view perpetuates and reinforces the story of the ego and concept of self we cling to in order to understand how to engage in the world.
Ego believes in separation because if we are not separateness there is no ego. The ego fights for its very survival in every emotion, the most effective way it has to manifest itself physically. How we “feel” about the world is way we connect ego to the universe.
“That feels nice. That is good” is a combination between our awareness and our ego. “That feels nice” is our awareness consciousness, but “That is good” is the value created by our ego consciousness.
The same breakdown is true in the following train of thought. “My spouse is spending less time with me. The time spent with my spouse is pleasant. I want to spend time with my spouse. I don’t like being alone. What is wrong with that person? They are my spouse and should be trying to make me happy?”
Can you see where the ego took over the conversation? Can you recognize the rising of emotional states that dig deep into our instinctual and primal ego? Do you see how the thought thread moved from an observer, who could deal with the situation wholesomely, and turn into craving, assumption, value and eventually suffering?
When our “awareness” is numb or ignorant to what the “ego” is doing, we find ourselves turning on parts of our primal emotions and responses, which feeds and reinforces the unmindful assumptions and judgments which creates inappropriate responses and unhappiness.
Many faiths and spiritual practices define the path to happiness as the destruction of the ego. The assumption then would be that an “enlightened” person would be detached from the universe without suffering, as if the person had an emotional lobotomy. This is NOT the case. The purpose of enlightenment is to become totally conscious of our relationships with the world; and, more importantly, ourselves. Understanding and maintaining awareness of our true relationships with the world, we can appropriately engage with the world around us.
The result is that we become more humble, compassionate, liberated and content.
The appropriate engagement is the key to happiness. There are no small characters in the epic story. Understanding the arising and passing of emotion allows us understanding of when that arising is appropriate or not. Understanding that the ego is a delusion does not diminish the wonder and value of our current existence.