July 9, 2017

"Yet there are risks to ego-dissolution too. It can be a very frightening experience, and we might struggle to integrate it into our ordinary lives."

"We could ‘unself’ in social contexts that are unsafe or exploitative, that push us into narrow, controlling and hate-filled dogmas. We might insist that our route to God is the only route, and everyone else is demonic. We might get over-attached to the ecstatic, and foolishly seek a spiritual life entirely made up of special experiences. A peak experience is just a peek – we still have to put in the boring, hard work to deconstruct our egotism."

The second-to-the-last paragraph of "Dissolving the ego/You don’t need drugs or a church for an ecstatic experience that helps transcend the self and connect to something bigger." The link goes to Aeon, via Meade, whose reasons for sending it probably related to some other paragraph. I'm skeptical about the idea that "dissolving the ego" is the best way to talk about transcendence. I tend to think: In whose interest is it to get us enthused about dispensing with our ego? That train of thought takes me to a very dark place.

ADDED: That made me think of a NYT Magazine article that I read in 1975 and have never forgotten, "Four out of 10 Americans in a survey report the experience of 'a powerful spiritual force which seemed to lift them out of themselves'; Are we a nation of mystics?"

31 comments:

Ralph L said...

I was going to mention "connect to something bigger," but this is a Sunday.

Laslo Spatula said...

""We could ‘unself’ in social contexts that are unsafe or exploitative, that push us into narrow, controlling and hate-filled dogmas. We might insist that our route to God is the only route, and everyone else is demonic. We might get over-attached to the ecstatic, and foolishly seek a spiritual life entirely made up of special experiences."

That is what happens when you don't listen to "Imagine" correctly.

I am Laslo.

M Jordan said...

Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Ralph L said...

special experiences
I went to a wedding at a Unity "Church" years ago.
The officiant kept repeating, "And now we come to that special time..."
No visible or aural indication that it was a Christian denomination.

Michael K said...

More Gramscian deconstruction of civilization.

Owen said...

Is this "unselfing" process like what happens when you delete your online history after a major media business threatens to doxx you?

Luke Lea said...

Death is the only possible path to heaven or hell. Or maybe we just go out like a match? In any case I think it is a mistake to talk about or hope for transcendence in this life. And peak experience is just bad prose. There are moments of beauty and happiness, some triggered by music and art, others by our encounters with nature, science, history, and with other people. The way to cultivate them is through hard work.

n.n said...

A near-abortion experience.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

The distinction Tibetan Buddhists make between the ego we need to function and the "self-cherishing" ego - the one that can lead to problems - helps me a lot.

n.n said...

Another way to deconstruct the ego is to establish [class] diversity (e.g. institutional racism, sexism) that denies individual dignity. Thus transposing judge by the "content of character" with judge by the "color of skin".

We've made great progress to reach the twilight fringe where normal is a "living" paradox.

Scott said...

You can't really disolve the ego, because if you did, there wouldn't be a self to notice that you had done it.

Diogenes of Sinope said...

We are Borg. You will be assimilated.

Owen said...

Luke Lea: "...And peak experience is just bad prose." Agree, especially when it was just to set up the pun on "peak/peek." Sheesh.

What the writer seems to be struggling to talk about is IMHO better known by other four-letter words. Flow. Play. Love.

When you pay full attention to whomever and whatever is there. Hard to do. And while doing it, there is no editor talking to us about the Experience We're Having. Which makes it hard to describe or even remember (because the most-noticed memories, the ones we often work with, are verbal, based on little stories our editors tell us about what we're doing). IMHO the memory is there, it's just not in a form we can easily share or talk about.

See also: "emotion recollected in tranquillity." Poetry can approximate some of that. Music also (and can also anchor/summon that state).

IMHO.

Fernandinande said...

He had a deep sense that the Universe is ‘alive, conscious and full of purpose’.

"I hope some animal never bores a hole in my head and lays its eggs in my brain, because later you might think you're having a transcendent religious experience but it's just eggs hatching." -- Apologies to JH

Henry said...

What is very odd in that article is that it only talks about the most dramatic form of egolessness -- the ecstatic experience. Many Buddhist teachers, especially in the Soto Zen school, deliberately downplay the striving for nirvana and align samadhi, profound meditative consciousness, not with ecstatic insight, but with total awareness.

Charlotte Joko Beck quotes Suzuki Roshi: '"From the ordinary point of view, to be enlightened would seem pretty dull." There's no drama in it whatsoever; there's just simply being here.'

tcrosse said...

"Tell me, Master. How will I know when my ego is dissolved ?"
"Who wants to know ?"

Fernandinande said...

tcrosse said...
"Tell me, Master. How will I know when my ego is dissolved ?"


You read about it on the internets.

Paddy O said...

Christianity doesn't emphasize ego-dissolution, though it does emphasize ego-relativization. We don't lose the I, we enter into a community with others, where their I becomes integrated as a cohesive community. That's the goal, though clearly not the general experience. The ego battles for priority or, absent that possibility, seeks to find meaning in something else that claims the capacity for identity-granting. Which is why there's so much authoritarian tendencies and legalism in religious groups, because there's always those who confuse humility with ego-transference, letting someone or something else give meaning and purpose and orientation.

Rather than ego-dissolution, Christianity should orient away from egocentricty and towards a form of exocentricity, a way of orienting oneself with and among others, looking for the best and contributing to the whole. This isn't about losing or abandoning oneself, but about truly finding peace in being who one really is. Humans at our core are social beings, with true isolation being one of the worse punishments.

We can't find fullness only in our self, without dissolving the community, and we can't find fullness in other people, as they can't sustain the weight of that, and we can't find fullness in other tasks or things, as those are insufficient to our whole self, and will ultimately come to an end at some point.

Some people try to find self-orientation in sexuality, money, power, but these create dissonance as egos compete. So finding a source of meaning that has the capacity for holistic orientation and dissolves the need to force our meaning and power on others helps our ego find rest and renewal. We become who we are among others also finding that way, embracing fullness rather than dissolution.

Though, that said, the path to fullness often involves a death of self, a dissolution that leads to a new path of resolution. We can call that moment salvation, but it's a re-orientation of experiencing our self and others in new ways--love--not a single moment of being picked for the winning side.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Paddy O pretty much said what I was going to say, and a whole lot more.

That said, I had an experience similar to Evans in that I had an ecstatic religious experience, converted to Christianity, had the feeling "wear off" and eventually became an atheist. It wasn't until I explored the intellectual underpinnings of Christianity that I came back to the faith.

Also, there are probably 50,000 different denominations of Christians. I have debated with other Christians at church sponsored by the church on whether or not you can enter heaven sans Christian belief. I took the side that said yes, because I am the one they come to when nobody else wants to argue a side of an argument and I am willing to take any side of an argument in order to give an idea a fair hearing.

So I would say his characterization of Christianity as a whole is rather biased.

madAsHell said...

I tend to think: In whose interest is it to get us enthused about dispensing with our ego?

....and how much does it cost?

mtrobertslaw said...

"The philosopher Bertrand Russell, for example, also had a 'mystic moment' when he suddenly felt love for people on a London street."

I think Russel actually said he "suddenly felt love for women on a London street".

Ralph L said...

No, Mtrobertslaw, he suddenly felt love for Bertrand Russell on a London street.
And I don't mean masturbation.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Ralph L said...
No, Mtrobertslaw, he suddenly felt love for Bertrand Russell on a London street."

Russell was a great mathematician who loved humanity in the abstract. Like many leftists, he wasn't so kind to human beings in the flesh.

While touring America, he stayed at the home of a Chicago physician who was one of his admirers. Russell seduced the man's daughters.

grackle said...

A peak experience is just a peek – we still have to put in the boring, hard work to deconstruct our egotism.

“Peak experience” is a term created by Abraham Maslow and has absolutely nothing to do with the dissolving of egos – in fact, quite the opposite. Maslow found that peak experiences are the one thing that the mentally and emotionally healthy all have in common. A peak experience is at once a barometer of health and a recharge of the emotions. It was seen by Maslow as both a symptom and a cause of emotional wellness.

J2 said...

Wow, you guys are scholars.

My first thought: Acid is groovy.

David said...

I wonder how that poll would turn out today?

n.n said...

Rather than dissolve your ego, it is useful to curb your ego. The prerequisite for civilized society with optimal individual liberty is the ability of men and women to practice self-moderating, responsible behavior.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

I work with someone who has something that might be called an exo-ego. All the feelings of self-praise and self-loathing that most of us process internally, he works out verbally in the form of definitive statements addressed to others. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I'm the person he trusts the most so I hear the lion's share of these baffling, seemingly irrational statements. It took me years to realize what he was actually doing (I'm not a psychologist but apparently I play one at work). Once I understood that, I realized that he isn't crazy, though he certainly would sound that way to one who didn't know him well.

Leigh said...

"Exploitative" -- exploitive
"Orientate" -- orient
"Commentate" -- comment

Bring back real words!

Fernandinande said...

Are we a nation of mystics?

I was just reading this post -

In response to Westerners who laugh at shamans and the like, [Stanford neuroscientist Robert] Sapolsky argues that our own society is afflicted with equally stupid stuff, ranging from religion, which he calls “Westernized irrationality”, to New Age crystal fetishes. He also claims, based on the similarity of religious behavior and schizophrenic behavior, that religion is a human construct founded by “schizotypals,” and many religious people are on the “spectrum of schizotypalism”.

William said...

When I was young, I believed in God and received the Eucharist. It was a pleasant experience, but, for me anyway, it fell far short of blissful. Still, I'm glad I know what it feels like to be in a state of grace. You rarely get that feeling in the secular world.,.....When I was in basic training, there was a lot of close order drill and sleep deprivation. It's the only time in my adult life when I felt merged with the group. That experience wasn't blissful, but I wouldn't characterize it as unpleasant either.......My ego will be dissolved soon enough. I see no point in hurrying the process.