In parts one and two of this set of three posts, we have examined how the development of the individual, the ‘self’, is a different process from the development of our young bodies, and relies upon our departure from ‘oneness’ in the womb towards a reaching for individuality – a process that eventually matures into what psychology calls the ego.
From a psychological perspective, the scientific definition of the ego is in terms of a ‘self-image’, increasingly strengthened and stabilised as we grow through childhood. Various problem conditions, from aberrations to pathologies, are related to how well this ‘self-image’ takes hold and becomes the centre of our ‘me’ existence in the adult world. Narcissists, for example, often reach senior positions because of their extreme need to define themselves by projecting their self-worth onto what they do, rather than what they are. More rounded psyches are grounded in true relationship, whereas the narcissist relies upon a perceived and constant reflection of their own worth in the world around them.
Western civilisation places enormous value on the achieving of individuality, particularly emotional and physical individuality; and glorifies financial independence above all else. Success in society is generally equated with such independence.
Here we have an increasingly agonising divergence: the world’s spiritual traditions have, for millennia, equated individual progress towards a spiritual state (one that is more real) with the diminishment, and, in some cases, the complete annihilation, of what we now know as the ego… the very centre of western culture’s mark of achievement.
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