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.
We can take the view that the ancient knowledge of the inner states of our ‘selves’ is past its sell-by date and that modern thinking, based on science, is much more in tune with the truth of things. The majority of the population do just that, if they think of it at all. Many see spirituality as religion, only, and conflate the latter’s diminishing importance as mirroring its relevance – a view understandably fuelled by the constant headlines from the extremes of fundamentalism.
But absolutely none of this makes us happy… or even fulfilled. Something is missing if a person living a simple life in humble conditions can get more from life than those with an array of possessions and achievements.
The conventional response by those believing themselves on a spiritual path has been to attack our way of life. Only radical philosophers like Gurdjieff dared to consider that we might actually be on a perfectly valid spiritual path of our own.
The egoic nature of the western world has not stopped people from being caring individuals. Political societies might cycle through a lack compassion, but there is always a great degree of kindness in the family units that comprise them. The hunger for the personal truth and meaning that drives us may well be of a different nature. What if the ego’s development were necessary as a ‘fuel-tank’ for another journey? Suppose that the seeming negatives of the egoic self, with its anger, selfishness, avarice, pride, lust and the rest of the well-categorised deadly ‘sins’, were really signposts to what was missing – in effect the way home…
We’d have to want to be ‘home’, as in somewhere else, inside ourselves, of course. But if we are truly at the point where increasing our store of what society views as the stuff of happiness was simply producing more angst, then where else is there to go?
The key is not to find someone else’s truth; it is to find our own. The value of what psychology has given us lies, ultimately, not in the production of stable egos – though that is an important goal for anyone in whom that vital stage has not crystallised; the value of it lies in the clarity it has provided for the inner meaning of those ancient traditions and their relevance to those who would find their own spiritual path, today.
The founders of the Silent Eye gained their experience within a varied and mixed background of mystical traditions ranging from Rosicrucian, to Qabalistic to Fourth Way. We had all experienced the real power of people working together in a group aimed at ‘raising the consciousness’ of each individual, without drugs, so that we could begin to perceive deeper realities. We established the Silent Eye School using a core set of teachings that combined everything we knew to work, including mystical drama, and based it around a symbolic variant of the enneagram – a nine-sided kind of star that has evolved to describe and illustrate how ‘nature’ works the world and, latterly, how psychology’s map of the inner human maps into the heart of this. Only our synthesis of this is new; all the components were there before, though not in the form we gave them for our symbolic and inner three-year guided journey which is at the heart of the correspondence course.
Our journey begins with this quest: to find and understand the ‘gap’ between the western self as described by psychology and the ancient wisdom of the ‘no-self’. Our goal as been to show that the value of the egoic nature can be preserved, but that its nature has to be healed rather than polished. Instead of retaining its desperate role as the ‘captain of the ship it must keep creating’, it can now relax into knowing that it is really only a picture – an image of our outer reactiveness, useful in terms of its skills, but redundant in terms of its knowing the answers about our real coming-into-being.
Those answers lie in a personal journey which unzips the ego, carefully and with love, using its restlessness (and suffering) to point to how those elements of unease are generated, in each part of its psychic anatomy, by a lack of something else. That something else eventually takes shape, and that is where the enneagram has its unique value – it acts as a map of the homeward journey, a journey in which the real characteristics of a true Self become apparent, requiring no validation from the material world. This newly discovered entity, which many call the Soul, is perfect in its individuality; is supported in its vivid feeling of being truly alive; and is secure in knowing, beyond question, that it is already a child of those formless realms spoken of so long ago…
Other posts in this series:
©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017