In a world full of giant egos wanting more more more, it is refreshing to find people with individuated egos who want more powerful experiences and less stuff. An individuated ego is a balanced ego: it is an ego in balance with other egos, in balance with the environment, and most importantly in balance with Soul. Here are six powerful strategies that have the potential to turn the tables on our overreaching egos while also contracting our souls into the here and now.
1.) Cultivate an ego interdependent enough to enjoy the journey:
“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
Life is a journey, and the best way to enjoy that journey is to become someone who can immerse themselves in the experience in an interdependent way. An ego dependent (or codependent) upon things going a certain way in order to enjoy the journey, will rarely ever find joy. Similarly, an ego overly independent and focused upon itself being perfect or the center of attention, will rarely find joy. But an ego with the capacity to understand that it is merely one ego in a vast sea of egos, one self in an infinite cosmos of interconnected selves, and one dewdrop on Indra’s Net, will have the capacity to discover immense joy on the journey. This is because the ego, the self, becomes balanced with Soul and the truth of nature and the cosmos (interdependence) becomes manifest.
2.) Cultivate a soul powerful enough to empower the ego:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what this world needs are people who have come alive.” –Howard Thurman
We live in a culture of victimization. As such, we live in a culture filled with victims. Most of these victims are unaware of their victimization. Like Noam Chomsky said, “The general population doesn’t even know what’s happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” Indeed, they are so dumbed down by political propaganda and anesthetized by advertisements spewed out by a product-first person-second consumerist machine that they can’t even think straight, let alone live healthy lifestyles. Worst of all, they don’t realize that only they have the power to transform themselves into heroes. One way of transforming ourselves from victims into heroes is to cultivate a soul powerful enough to empower the ego. This is a top-down approach to empowerment. It requires daily practice, consummate discipline, self-affirmations, and a fake-it-until-you-make-it attitude, but it is possible. And in a culture of victims, we need more heroes, even if they are faking it. Better a victim faking heroism, than a potential hero remaining a victim. And besides, there’s always the chance one could accidently become a full-blown hero. Like Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
3.) Cultivate an ego robust enough to serve others:
“Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another and can illuminate thousands of other hearts.” –Leo Tolstoy
Service to others is the height of being a compassionate human being. Ego tends to serve itself, but we can flip the tables on this propensity and use the ego as a tool to serve others instead. It is both very easy and very difficult. The sycophants living unsustainable fear-based lifestyles are our greatest obstacle. But we cannot allow their unreasonable disregard to dissuade our reasonable courage. Stay strong. Keep the oxygen mask on yourself. Help others secure their own oxygen mask and then teach them how to keep it on. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a future for us all. Like Marianne Williamson said, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the right to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” When we want others to become more conscious of their lives, it is both in order not to become tyrants ourselves, and in order that new possibilities might be opened to the liberated conscious of others and through them to all humankind. Like Mary Oliver said, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell others.”
4.) Cultivate an ego individuated enough to be a gift to the world:
“Give up defining yourself, to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.” –Eckhart Tolle
There has never been another you in the history of history. Appreciate how special you are. A huge part of individuating is the ability to let go of what we cannot control and improve upon what we can. The key to individuation is realizing that codependency and independency are the two extremes of interdependency, which is the natural state of the cosmos. Being independent is healthier than codependency, but interdependent is healthier still, because interdependence is the self-realization that all things are connected and that we, each and every one of us, are a devastatingly unique aspect of all things. Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” The more we understand this, the more we become self-actualized. And the more we become self-actualized, the more capable we are of deciding how we’re going to change for the better. And the more we change for the better, the more likely we are to become a gift rather than a burden to the world.
5.) Cultivate a soul playful enough to enlighten the ego:
“In all chaos, there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order” – Carl Jung
Playfulness is highly underrated in our culture. Work is ridiculously overrated in our culture. As such, we are surrounded by overworked and depressed people. Work hard, play harder is one way to remedy the situation. But that only works if the work we’re doing is soul-work. Soul-work is difficult to come by in a world built upon work that ensnares the ego into thinking it wants things that it doesn’t actually need. The entire infrastructure of our materialistic, dog-eat-dog, corporate man-machine is built upon the idea that competition trumps cooperation. This is a glaringly dangerous cultural myth that must be transcended if we are to survive as a species on this planet. By cultivating a playful soul we are more likely to fall into work that nourishes our souls. This is because playfulness opens us up to our own unique creativity and capacity for personal fulfillment. One of the keys to happiness is keeping the passion, love, and joyful exuberance of life in the moment: carpe punctum (seize the moment) leads to carpe diem (seize the day) leads to carpe vita (seize the life).
6.) Cultivate a soul flexible enough to launch the ego into action:
“To know and then how not to know is the greatest puzzle of all… so much preparation for a few moments of desperate play. To learn how to unlearn.” –Philip Guston
There’s a famous koan written by the 1st century Zen Master Linji Yixuan stating, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” This is an act of a proactive soul flexing its muscle over an ego that’s attempting to pigeonhole itself into a particular belief structure. What we’re “killing” is the idea that enlightenment is achievable. If we believe we have achieved enlightenment then we need to “kill” that belief and keep meditating. This is because there is no permanence. Permanence is an illusion. Everything is constantly changing. Even if we think we have all the answers, those “answers” must still be questioned. This is the urgency inherent within the koan. A true master “achieves” enlightenment, “kills” it, and then keeps meditating. He or she does so in order to keep learning, to remain spiritually flexible, and to keep enlightening. Indeed, to reinforce the journey truly being the thing. A true master realizes that life is one big joke. The difference between a spiritual master and a layman is the former makes sure he is laughing at the joke, whereas the latter is unaware that he is the butt end of it. Alan Watts said it best, “Like they say in Zen, when you attain Satori, nothing is left for you in that moment than to have a good laugh.”
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.