Over one hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of the superego, an internalized component of the human personality, the product of socialization, which both judges and tells us what we ought to be. This what-we-ought-to-be component has become known as the ego ideal, the ideal image of the self that we expect ourselves to become. Our ego ideal dictates our notion of success: what our bodies should look like, what our skills and abilities should be, how others should view us, what level of education we should have, what kinds of relationships we should be in, how many worldly goods we should accumulate, how well we should be able to meditate, etc.
How well we do at actualizing our ego ideal becomes the basis of our sense of self-worth. Our judgment of personal success or failure rides upon how well our actual life “measures up” to our idealized expectation. If we are “on course” we “feel good.” If we don’t “measure up” we may judge ourselves to be “failures,” sentencing ourselves to an emotional state of deflation, experienced as depression. Alternatively, we might inflate our ego, assuming the persona, or mask, of our ego ideal. In fact, our ego might be capable of truly convincing itself and others that this is, indeed, its true identity. This might result in grandiosity, or attempting deeds way beyond one’s true ability. This is when we can expect dreams warning us of falling off a steep precipice or being in a plane crash, etc., all signs of the dangers of inflation.
In the psychiatric diagnostic world this dilemma of ego inflation and deflation, with its possible swings, is described in variations of bipolar disorder. Psychoanalytic resolution of the ego/ego ideal relationship ultimately rests upon an acceptance of ourselves as we truly are, for what we are truly capable of, which may only in part, or not at all, reflect the internalized ego ideal. Successful treatment would result in a more realistic modification of the ego ideal to fit the ego’s true capacities. Nonetheless, even with this modified self-judgment we continue to live in an internalized paradigm fixated on self.
The seers of ancient Mexico would definitely concur with Freud about the profound impact of socialization upon our perception and interpretation of ourselves and our world. For these seers, our awareness is staunchly fixated upon the self, causing all our available energy to be monopolized by self-importance, whether it be in the form of self-worth, self-esteem, or self-pity. For these seers this fixation of awareness on the self creates veils, which narrow our ability to perceive and experience all there is to see, for instance, a world of energy, the true nature of reality. For these seers, most human beings live and die in a world of self-obsession that shuts us out from reaching our true potential. That potential is not measured as some form of a socialized ego ideal. That potential is simply the freedom to perceive, unencumbered by the self, which spends all its energy worrying about how well it is doing, or what it is entitled to.
These seers discovered that the number one key to unlocking the true potential of the self, to discover total freedom, is to embrace an enduring practice of suspending judgment. This orientation asks that we seek always to know the truth, without any consideration of the value of the self for its performance. For instance, if I made a decision, took an action, that resulted in an undesired outcome, my goal would be to examine the full truth of that process with a detached curiosity and quest for understanding. I might discover that I had forgotten some important detail or acted hastily, causing the “failure.” However, the “failure” would not extend to myself as some kind of measure of my worth or as something for me to feel bad about. This does not negate the absolute examination of my level of competence and how that might inform me in future actions, but it, in no way, is attached to my value or level of self-importance.
For these seers this is the critical point: to avoid constructing a definition of self based on competence and performance. These seers indeed seek to be impeccable in all of their actions; however, they attach no significance in terms of self-worth to the outcome of those actions other than knowing the truth of them. They seek to totally eradicate the self; the self too is a veil blocking total freedom. To eradicate the self, from the seers’ point of view, means freeing the self of the encumbrance of self-importance, becoming a being free to perceive what is. In this manner they accrue valuable energy for expanded perception, rather than spend it on the construction of the self, with its all-consuming self-importance. In the process of constantly shooing away self-importance, we are in fact working on the ego, which becomes a tool to actualize our true potential. This is one reason why the seers place so much value on the petty tyrants in our lives. Petty tyrants are beings who challenge our attachment to our self-importance to the max, and offer us the opportunity to arrive at the ability to laugh at ourselves, rather than get caught in the clutches of victimhood or the fixation of self-pity.
For the seers of ancient Mexico, if we never “achieve” anything in this world other than the ability to suspend judgment, we have indeed achieved the most important thing there is to achieve in this world. Suspending judgement allows us to break the fixation of self-importance, dismantling Freud’s ego ideal, which opens the gateway to expanded knowing and infinite possibility.
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Until we meet again,