A Case of Mistaken Identity

by Allen Watson

The ego is a case of mistaken identity. We are the holy Son of God Himself, but we have denied this, repressed our awareness of it, and put it out of our memory. We have chosen a different identity, the ego, and we now believe the assumed identity is really who we are.

The process the Course is taking us through can be seen as a slowly increasing dis-identification from the ego, a stripping away of the layers of untruth concerning what we believe about ourselves, and what we believe we are. Along the way there are mistakes we can make that will hinder this process. This article deals with the essential problem of mistaken identity, some of the false solutions we try, and the actual solution recommended by the Course.

Our Problem Is Identity With the Ego

One of the many ways the Course describes our essential spiritual problem is to say it is "a mistake about…what you really are" (T-26.VII.11:14). That could be a good description of the ego: "The ego is a mistake about what you really are."

Our true Identity is the Christ, the holy Son of God. This has never changed. "The truth about you is so lofty that nothing unworthy of God is worthy of you" (T-9.VII.8:4). How, then, have we come to identify with something so much less than that lofty Identity?

It began, says the Course, when we decided to reject the Identity given us by God because this meant our being was derivative and not original; God was our Creator and we were not. We wanted a new identity, one we created ourselves. Of course this was not possible; how could we become our own father, as it were? But despite its impossibility we wanted it, and we believed we accomplished it.

All through the Course are references to our "Identity" with a capital "I." This refers to our true Self, as God created us, a Self which is "unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable" (W-pI.190.6:5). But we denied the Source of our creation (M-7.6:4) andsought to lose the Identity given us (W-pII.229.1:5). We denied our Identity (W-pI.191.2:3). We lost the awareness of our Identity (T-18.VI.2:3), actually forgetting what our Identity was (W-pI.56.5:3).

Not only have we forgotten our true Self and lost awareness of It, but to replace our true Identity we made an image of ourselves (W-pI.56.2:3; W-pII.283.1:1), which was the ego. This was a "terrible mistake" about ourselves (C-2.8:1,2). What was worse, we not only made this image of ourselves, but we then totally identified with the ego (T-4.III.4:1). We became convinced that the ego was us (T-13.II.1:4). Perhaps there seems to be some mysterious part of ourselves that does not always agree with the ego, but at best this gives us the impression of having some kind of split identity (W-pI.97.1:5), two "selves" at war with one another.

Our problem is not simply that we each have an ego; we actually think we are the ego. We identify with it. When our ego triumphs we feel good; when our ego is threatened we feel bad. When our ego does something despicable, we feel guilty. We are so used to identifying with the ego that we even try to overcome the ego from the standpoint of the ego, which is a bit like wanting to attend your own funeral. It can't work.

Most of us do not realize the extent to which we have identified with our egos. Many Course students tend to think of the ego as some dark power lurking within ourselves, with the "ourselves" being who we really are. That is not the picture at all. The very "self" we think we are, the individual distinct from other individuals, the "personality" bearing our name and wearing our body, the "me" that seems separate in some way from "you"—that is the ego. The "I" that seems to have a will separate and different from yours and from God's—that is the ego.

The ego is not our self; it is the unawareness of the Self. It is an illusion that arose to take the place of the Self when we blocked out our awareness of It. The ego is really nothing more than a dissociation from our true Self, and not a thing with any being in itself.

The Course talks a great deal about the ego just because we have identified with it; for most people, when we think of our "self" what we are thinking of is the ego, and not our true Identity at all. However, the ego does not really exist! It is an imagined identity, nothing but a mistaken thought about ourselves. "The ego is nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself" (T-4.VI.1:6). What we are is mind (W-pI.158.1:2). The ego is only a thought, or a belief, within that mind. It is an "error in self-appraisal:"

[You and the ego seem to] meet at a mistake; an error in your self-appraisal. The ego joins with an illusion of yourself you share with it. … The ego joins with nothing, being nothing (T-23.I.3:4, 5, 9).

The ego is "nothing." It is not of the same order of reality as our true Self at all.We are not "two selves in conflict" (T-16.III.6:1). There is only one Self; the "other" self, the ego, is really nothing at all. "…the ego never was, and can never be" (T-13.I.2:4). The section on the ego in "Clarification of Terms," at the back of the Manual, is extremely forceful on this topic:

Where there was darkness now we see the light. What is the ego? What the darkness was. Where is the ego? Where the darkness was. What is it now and where can it be found? Nothing and nowhere. Now the light has come: Its opposite has gone without a trace. Where evil was there now is holiness. What is the ego? What the evil was. Where is the ego? In an evil dream that but seemed real while you were dreaming it. Where there was crucifixion stands God's Son. What is the ego? Who has need to ask? Where is the ego? Who has need to seek for an illusion now that dreams are gone? (C-2.6:1-18)

You Are Not Your Ego

Despite all the emphasis the Course places on the ego, on looking at it, understanding its devious nature and exposing its hidden strategies, it is extremely clear on this fact: You are not your ego. A few quotes will suffice:

The ego is not you (W-pI.25.2:2).

..you are not an ego, and…more than an ego must be in you (T-14.X.5:5).

..you and your ego cannot be identical (T-4.VI.3:6).

This should come as extremely good news to any student of the Course, particularly after we have begun to uncover the murder, rage, deceit and viciousness that lie at the heart of our own ego! The ability to separate between the ego and ourselves is crucial to self-forgiveness. In one telling passage, the Text declares, "When you feel guilty, remember that the ego has indeed violated the laws of God, but you have not" (T-4.IV.5:1). The ego is not what you are! The ego is a psychological cancer, an out-of-control thought within the mind. It does not define you. It is not your Self.

False Solutions

As we read the Course the disparity between what we seem to be and what the Course says we are becomes more and more apparent. The ugliness of the ego becomes ever more evident, and we become more conscious of our egos than we ever were before. We begin to face the question, "What can I do about my ego?" more and more frequently.

There are a number of ways we attempt to "deal with" our egos that simply will not work. Nearly every one of us gets caught up in one or more of these misguided attempts. Let's take a look at five of the main ones.

Suppression and Denial

When I first read A Course in Miracles and encountered some of the darker sections dealing with the ego and its thought system, my instinctual reaction was, "Not me!" When the Course told me I had a secret belief that I had crucified the Son of God (T-13.II.5:1), I didn't believe it. When it said my special love relationships were really based on hatred (T-16.IV.1:3; 3:4), I had a great deal of trouble applying it to myself. When it insisted that most of my thinking was ego-directed, I felt it must be talking about somebody else. Not me.

As I continued with the Course, however, I found its descriptions of the ego to be more and more tellingly accurate. Little incidents began to show me how well-hidden the ego was in my life. I remember one time when a fellow Course student was trying to convince me that I was deliberately distancing myself from another person. It took about three or four hours, but finally I realized they were right. At first, however, I was convinced that I was doing everything to be close with that person, and that the distance between us was the other person's fault. Even when confronted with someone who was very clearly pointing out my ego's behavior, I could not see it. I got quite hot under the collar about it, too! My friend told me, later, that it was like pulling teeth to simply get me to see what was very obvious to others around me. I felt the other person had hurt me, I was angry, and in very subtle ways I was cutting them out of my life, while giving the appearance of being very loving. I even believed I was loving. It was a very difficult self-revelation.

That kind of thing is known as denial, and the inevitable result of denial is projection, as was shown in the way I tried to blame the other person for the distance between us. The Course knows how we try to hide our egos from our own awareness. In discussing "The Laws of Chaos" (the principles governing the ego's thought system), it says:

You would maintain, and think it true, that you do not believe these senseless laws, nor act upon them. And when you look at what they say, they cannot be believed. Brother, you do believe them (T-23.II.18:1-3).

We have an ingrained habit of denying that our egos are there. We get angry at someone and immediately brush it under the table, convincing ourselves that we are no longer angry. But the anger festers deep in our minds, poisoning our relationship. Denying our anger is not the recommended method of dealing with it. It always results in projection. We become unhappy, and blame the other person for our unhappiness, consciously or unconsciously.

Sometimes, as people start to expose their egos, they express shock at what they find. "I can't believe I was thinking like that!" I remember one time catching myself thinking how much better off I would be if a certain person died in a plane crash; I was appalled at such an unloving thought. I wondered how such a thought could be in my mind, when I am such a loving person. That sense of surprise when we catch the ego at work is evidence of our denial. The murderer has always been there; we've just kept him out of sight.

Some people go so far as to imagine that they've pretty well transcended their egos; they think they no longer have one. The almost infallible sign that this is not the case is that they usually feel compelled to tell everyone about it, and generally give off an air of smug, superior self-righteousness. The ego isn't going to vanish overnight just because you tell it to, any more than a lion will give up its prey because you say, "Shoo!" It will fight back. And a favorite defense of the ego is to try to convince you that it's gone.

The Course constantly asks us to look honestly at our egos, to "watch [our] mind for the scraps of fear" (T-4.III.7:5) and to hide nothing. It points out that, "No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected" (T-11.V.1:1). When we deny that we have an ego (or an ego reaction), we think we are getting rid of it. In reality we are protecting the ego when we do this, and guaranteeing that we can keep the ego reaction.

Thus, one of the paradoxical signs of progress in the way of the Course is that you begin to become aware of all kinds of murderous, venomous thoughts in your mind, thoughts you were never before aware of. The ego will probably try to convince you that the Course is making you worse instead of better, doing more harm than good, so that you will stop doing the Course. But that isn't what is happening. The ego has always been there; now, in the light of the Course, it is getting exposed. This is good, not bad. Unless it is exposed, how will you ever escape from it?

Venting the Ego

The next mistaken solution is the exact opposite of the first. If trying to deny the ego won't work, we think, what is the opposite? And so we may try venting our egos. If we feel angry at someone, we let it out. We rage and scream and fume at them. Or, perhaps, we may try screaming it out privately in a pillow.

There may be a certain merit in this kind of thing. The potential benefits of releasing our anger are three-fold. First, it is an excellent way to break out of denial. Second, it can temporarily appease the ego and quiet the emotions so we can work more calmly. Third, it can be an expression of breaking free of our fear and guilt about our own egos.

If we have been bound up for years in denial and suppression, it is good and necessary for us to become aware of the ego reactions we have been denying and covering up. If we have been burying our rage, releasing it can give us startling proof of just how deep and far-reaching it is. Yet, although it can be temporarily helpful, venting the ego does not actually resolve the problem. Really, it is just a way to become more aware of the problem.

Venting our anger can also give our minds a temporary reprieve from the turmoil of that anger. By releasing it, it takes some of the pressure off. We are then able to approach the problem from a calmer perspective. Here, too, the venting is merely a prelude to the actual healing work.

The primary reason we have denied and suppressed our ego's feelings is that we are afraid of them and guilty about them. Expressing those feelings can be a very positive indicator that we are now ready to own the feelings and be responsible for them, to look at them without fear and guilt.

Yet venting our ego obviously expresses the ego rather than dispels it. Venting anger is clearly a type of attack. And attack is the ego's life and breath. Many of us who have permitted ourselves to vent our anger have felt really good afterwards, almost exhilarated. It feels really good to "get it off our chest," and sometimes, quite literally, it will feel as if a heavy weight has been lifted from our chest. That weight was the bondage of our denial, the tight bands that were holding the rage in check. Breaking those bonds does feel good, yes. What, however, is feeling good when we let out our attack thoughts? The ego. Those very "good" feelings are just another level of ego response. It is the "good" feeling of a conqueror, the "good" feeling of someone who finally strikes out at his enemy and lands a really telling blow.

Venting the ego can be a helpful step if it is understood to be preliminary to actual healing. The three benefits I have mentioned–undoing denial, calming our minds, and letting go of fear and guilt–are all preparatory to the real healing process, which involves honestly, calmly, and without guilt, observing our egos, and bringing them to forgiveness.

Trying to Fix the Ego or Make It Nice

Well, if we can't deny the ego's presence, and letting it out of its cage doesn't really change anything for the better, perhaps we can fix it up and make it nice. Maybe we can't get rid of the feeling of anger, for instance, but perhaps we can admit it is there, and yet still not act on it. In other words, we try to civilize the savage and make it behave. We try to behave as we think we should, without entirely wanting to do so. For instance, having read in the Course that "Anger is never justified" (T-30.VI.1:1) we decide that, therefore, we should not be angry. So we try to act as if we aren't angry, even when we are.

The Course briefly discusses this false solution and points out that the only result is strain (see T-2.VI.5:1-10). You are doing what you really don't want to do (being nice) and not doing what you would like to do (kill). "This arouses a sense of coercion that usually produces rage, and projection is likely to follow" (T-2.VI.5:7). Surprise! This is really just another form of denial. It isn't complete denial because you are at least aware of your anger; it is denial at the behavioral level, while you try to leave the emotion untouched. It produces the kind of rage that can suddenly explode into violence after having been bottled up for years.

You simply cannot fix up the ego or make it nice. Speaking of our specialness, which is a key aspect of the ego, the Course says, "It will forevermore be unforgiving, for that is what it is; a secret vow that what God wants for you will never be, and that you will oppose His Will forever" (T-24.III.4:6). The ego is the ego; you can't change it. It will always be unforgiving; it will always attack; it will always try to gain at the expense of others; it will always foster guilt in others and in you; it always seeks our death ("The ego wants you dead," T-15.I.3:3).

If we can't change it, then what can we do? Many of us end up here feeling a deep despair and hopelessness. After months or years of trying to change our egos, trying to educate ourselves and cover the ego over with a veneer of civilization, we find it continues unchecked. We thought we had plugged all the avenues of release, but the ego finds a leak and squirts through, spoiling everything (and blowing our image of niceness). The ego seems to be unstoppable, and we feel like total failures.

Without realizing what we are doing, we are still identifying with the ego. The ego has no power at all, unless we give it that power. The only reason the ego is still active is because we want it active; it draws all its power from us. The despair is still a cover-up, a pretense, another form of denial, a way of saying, "I can't help it, I'm a victim of my own ego."

Fighting Against the Ego

An extension of the previous mistaken response, trying to fix the ego, is fighting against it, trying to stamp it out. Recognizing that the ego is unfixable we resolve to kill it. Of course this is a form of attack, which won't work!

This often takes the form of a feverish spirituality. In olden times, monks used to spend hours daily flagellating their bodies with whips, trying to beat out the devil or the lusts of the flesh. In modern forms of Christianity, while the whips are gone, there is still much talk of the "battle" between flesh and spirit, the need to subdue the flesh, to sacrifice the self, and to "die" to the world. In New Age circles, our fight against the ego seems to have gone a bit more underground, more commonly taking the form of obsessive spiritual seeking, running from one workshop to the next, one book to the next, one guru to the next. While we may have dropped the battle terminology, our spiritual seeking is pervaded with a sense of struggle and frustration.

One form taken by our ego-fighting is excessive self-discipline, trying to force ourselves into spirituality. Course students may obsess about whether or not they are doing the Workbook lessons correctly. We may work ourselves into a frazzle trying to meditate more frequently, more regularly, and for longer hours. We may take extreme measures to try to break any bad habits. And generally, the whole enterprise is surrounded by a dark cloud of guilt, of not doing enough, not being good enough, not advancing fast enough; through it all there is an air of mournful desperation.

The Course does emphasize our need for mental vigilance and diligent practice. The Workbook contains scores of admonitions not to forget the daily lessons, and clearly attempts to inculcate a consistent mental discipline. And yet, in discussing its practice instructions for us, after advising us to be diligent about starting each day right, the Course gives some advice we all need:

And if you find resistance strong and dedication weak, you are not ready. Do not fight yourself (T-30.I.1:6,7).

It tells us we find the place of inner peace, "Not through destruction, not through a breaking out, but merely by a quiet melting in" (T-18.VI.14:6). Fighting against the ego simply makes the ego seem more real to us. It strengthens, rather than weakening, the ego. Trying to coerce spiritual growth is counter-productive. There is no stressed-out way to peace.

Often it seems as if there are two opposing selves, locked in mortal combat. "The body exists in a world that seems to contain two voices fighting for its possession" (T-8.VIII.2:1). We feel split down the middle. I recall a diagram from a Christian Adult Sunday School that was meant to depict the conflict between flesh and spirit. It showed a man with a rope tied to each arm, and two donkeys pulling in opposite directions. What a perfect picture of the torture this view of ourselves can bring! We feel as if we are being torn apart, and if the "flesh" won't go away, we wish the "spirit" would.

Although you are one Self, you experience yourself as two; as both good and evil, loving and hating, mind and body. This sense of being split into opposites induces feelings of acute and constant conflict, and leads to frantic attempts to reconcile the contradictory aspects of this self-perception (W-pI.96.1:1-2).

The Course assures us that, "You are not two selves in conflict" (T-16.III.6:1). It says:

Two selves in conflict could not be resolved, and good and evil have no meeting place. The self you made can never be your Self, nor can your Self be split in two, and still be what It is and must forever be (W-pI.96.3:2,3).

"The self you made" is, of course, the ego. It is not your Self. And your true Self cannot "be split in two." We are told to affirm, "I am one Self, united with my Creator" (Lesson 95). There is no conflict going on, except on the part of the ego. Illusion is in conflict with truth, but truth conflicts with nothing; it simply is.

There is no need to fight the ego. If you do not support it, it will quietly fall down to dust; it has no power of its own. To fight it is to support it. When you become aware of your ego, do you feel a knot form in your mind, a sense of panic, a terror that you won't be able to get rid of it? Do you mentally cringe and think, "Oh, God! My ego is at it again?" If so, you can be sure you have the disease of fighting the ego.

Whenever we feel we are in conflict with our ego, it is really nothing more than two illusions fighting one another, different aspects of the ego engaged in a mock battle. We are wholly in the ego arena. Spirit has no need to fight or to defend itself. The Voice for God is a quiet voice of peace.

The Course advises us, " Never accord the ego the power to interfere with the journey" (T-8.V.6:4). If we do not stop to fight it, the ego cannot hold us back. It is an empty threat. We can smile at it, amused at its posturing, and pass on.

Loving the Ego

A very popular form of false approach to the ego, especially in New Age circles, is loving the ego. In this approach, the ego is confused with our wounded inner child, who needs only to be held and loved–and perhaps indulged in its tantrums or childish cravings. I do not mean to disparage working with your inner child. This can be extremely valuable, as I know from personal experience. The ego, however, is not your inner child. The ego is not your friend (T-15.1:3:1, 3), and it regards your spirit as its "enemy" (T-4.III.3:1). It is not merely hurt and confused, it is murderously insane (T-7.III.2:6), a deranged killer out for vengeance (T-16.VII.3:1,2).

The attitude of gentle forgiveness and lack of all condemnation we may show towards the inner child is also appropriate in regard to the ego. Not judging the ego is a key component of the proper way of dealing with it. But tolerance, in the sense of condoning or allowing the ego's thinking and behavior, is not appropriate. Our intent in dealing with the ego must be to disengage ourselves from it, to deny its place in our minds, and to refuse to accept its hatred as a valid part of our identity. Our Identity is Love, not hate and fear.

We look upon the ego's anger, fear and hatred, and we say, "This need not be" (T-4.IV). Our attitude towards it is not hatred, nor is it love; it is neutral. We look upon the ego as neither bad nor good. We see, rather, that the ego is simply meaningless:

Yet each temptation to accept magic as true must be abandoned through [our] recognition, not that it is fearful, not that it is sinful, not that it is dangerous, but merely that it is meaningless (M-16.10:8).

Rather than "loving" our ego by indulging it, we are instructed to become increasingly intolerant of it in our minds:

Watch your mind for the temptations of the ego, and do not be deceived by it. It offers you nothing. When you have given up this voluntary dis-spiriting, you will see how your mind can focus and rise above fatigue and heal. Yet you are not sufficiently vigilant against the demands of the ego to disengage yourself. This need not be (T-4.IV.6:1-4).

The True Solution

Our problem is mistaken identity. We have identified with the ego, and think we are the ego. We cannot deny this. We cannot cure it by giving the ego free rein. We cannot fix up the ego. Nor can we fight it. What, then, can we do? How is this case of mistaken identity to be resolved, and our true Identity in Christ be restored to our awareness?

Responsibility

The first key step is responsibility. We must become willing to be responsible for our own egos.

Do not be afraid of the ego. It depends on your mind, and as you made it by believing in it, so you can dispel it by withdrawing belief from it. Do not project the responsibility for your belief in it onto anyone else, or you will preserve the belief. When you are willing to accept sole responsibility for the ego's existence you will have laid aside all anger and all attack, because they come from an attempt to project responsibility for your own errors (T-7.VIII.5:1-4).

Anger and attack, then–the most obvious evidence of ego–are simply ways our mind is trying to palm off responsibility for the ego. When we are willing to be responsible for it, there will be no more anger and attack. Being responsible means, very simply, that we stop placing the blame for the ego on something outside ourselves, whether that be circumstances ("I'm depressed because my boss fired me today"), or other people ("I'm angry because she is seeing someone else"), or God ("Why did God allow my friend to get sick and die?"). Workbook Lesson 70 makes it very clear: "… nothing outside yourself can hurt you, or disturb your peace or upset you in any way" (W-pI.70.2:2).

The beginning of wisdom, in the Course, is the realization that "I am doing this to myself" (T-27.VIII.10:1). When my ego flares up, I am doing it, not anything or anyone outside me. I am responsible for my own ego. No one else is in my mind thinking ego thoughts. Just me.

Once we are willing to take responsibility for the ego, we can begin to safely observe it. You can't solve a problem if you aren't willing to see it. Suppose I suddenly flare up in anger and speak harsh words to someone close to me. If I blame my anger on the other person, making their actions the cause of my anger, I can't even see my own ego. All I see is "their sin." If I am willing to be responsible, to understand that, for some insane ego reason, I chose to be angry instead of loving, then and only then will I be able to have my own unloving choice healed. And only then will the Holy Spirit be able to show me the call for love in my brother, right in the place where I have perceived attack.

Observation

Yet although I am solely responsible for the ego, the ego is not me. I am the thinker thinking the ego thoughts, but I am not those thoughts. This is a crucial distinction because it opens the way to freedom from guilt. It allows me to observe the ego within myself, and to take responsibility for it, without being guilty about it. I made the ego, and therefore I can dispel it. I can step back from the ego and say, "This is not what I want. It is a mistake. I now choose differently." As Ken Wapnick has so often said, the whole key to the Course lies in our ability to look at our own egos without judgment.

The errors of the ego are just that: errors and not sins. "Son of God, you have not sinned, but you have been much mistaken" (T-10.V.6:1). It is crucial that we look at the ego, clearly see its mistakes, and take responsibility for them. It is equally crucial that, in so doing, we not perceive the mistakes as sins, and thus make ourselves guilty. If we believe we are the ego, guilt is unavoidable. There must be that clear distinction. "I am responsible. I am thinking these thoughts. But the thoughts are not me. I see they are mistaken and no longer want them." In making that distinction between "me" and the ego, I can look at those thoughts without guilt. Sins are permanent; mistakes can be corrected.

The Workbook advises us to "Watch [our thoughts] come and go as dispassionately as possible" (W-pI.31.3:3). "Dispassionate" means "neutral" or "detached." Dispassionate observation of the ego can seem to be a very precarious state of mind, one difficult to attain or maintain, especially when first beginning. Learning to become uninvolved in our own thoughts is an art, not something quickly learned. In trying to be honest about our dark feelings, we can easily fall back into mere venting of the ego. Instead of simply observing the anger from a calm place in our minds, we lose ourselves in it. Observing anger means being separated from it, standing apart. It is no longer, "I am angry," but, "I have a feeling or thought of anger." One is aware of the anger, and simultaneously aware of being the observer, detached from the anger and neutral to it.

Conversely, observation can degrade into denial. Instead of stepping back, simply observing the anger while allowing it to be what it is, we overreact, shying away from it, perhaps belittling its importance (and it is important because "All thinking produces form at some level," T-2.VI.9:14), and kidding ourselves that the quick glimpse of it we allowed ourselves is enough. Observation means looking our fear and anger full in the face:

It must be seen exactly as it is, where it is thought to be, in the reality which has been given it, and with the purpose that the mind accorded it. For only then are its defenses lifted, and the truth can shine upon it as it disappears (W-pII.333.1:3, 4).

Finally, observation can become polluted with guilt. Guilt is a clear indicator we are looking at our ego with our ego, instead of with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. "Only the ego can experience guilt" (T-4.V.5:5). Bemoaning our sins and feeling anxious and ashamed about them is not observation; it is self-judgment. True observation is done without judgment. This is virtually impossible without the assistance of the loving Presence of the Holy Spirit. His light alone can shine away our darkness.

But what you hide He cannot look upon. He sees for you, and unless you look with Him He cannot see. The vision of Christ is not for Him alone, but for Him with you. Bring, therefore, all your dark and secret thoughts to Him, and look upon them with Him. He holds the light, and you the darkness. They cannot coexist when Both of You together look on them (T-14.VII.6:5-10).

When I can calmly observe my own ego, without judgment, I have already disengaged myself from the ego. The ego cannot see itself; if I am seeing it, "I" must be something other than the ego! The Course identifies this ability to separate oneself from the ego as something crucial: "This is a crucial period in this course, for here the separation of you and the ego must be made complete" (T-22.II.6:1). The ego believes it is impossible to change, and impossible to see yourself (and everyone) as one hundred percent innocent. What you are knows that it is possible. From the ego's point of view, no reaction but anger is possible, and no response to one's own anger is appropriate but guilt; your Self knows that only love, not anger, can be justified, and no response to anger but love is truly possible, because your Self is love. When you can separate yourself from the ego, you can stand back, look at it, and say, "This is not what I want, and it is in my power to choose differently."

You can look at the ego with a gentle smile instead of a frowning condemnation. You can see that your anger is a foolish mistake, a faulty problem-solving approach, and not some malevolent blight upon your soul. It is an error to be lovingly corrected, not a demonic possession worthy only of death and hell. You will see that your ego response comes from a belief that it is possible to be separate from God, to be other than the Love as which God created you. You will realize how impossible this is, and you will join the Holy Spirit in laughter at the funny idea.

In gentle laughter does the Holy Spirit perceive the cause, and looks not to effects. How else could He correct your error, who have overlooked the cause entirely? He bids you bring each terrible effect to Him that you may look together on its foolish cause and laugh with Him a while. You judge effects, but He has judged their cause. And by His judgment are effects removed. Perhaps you come in tears. But hear Him say, "My brother, holy Son of God, behold your idle dream, in which this could occur." And you will leave the holy instant with your laughter and your brother's joined with His (T-27.VIII.9:1-8).

Forgiveness

And so we move into the final key for dealing with the ego, the goal that responsibility and observation have been leading up to: forgiveness.

When we are able to take responsibility for the ego and to observe it without judgment, we will be in a position to see our own anger and fear as a call for love. Why am I angry at my spouse? Because I perceive her, or his, actions as unloving, and I want to be loved. In the insanity of my ego I believe that, somehow, getting angry, blaming and making them guilty, will produce the love I so long for. Of course attack only produces more attack; my actions are insane. But it is also insane to feel guilt for my actions; they are, really, nothing more than a call for love. A mistaken form of calling for love, to be sure, but still a call for love.

The Course insists that everything falls into two categories, either love or a call for love. As we become responsible for our egos and begin to observe them, we are learning to reinterpret every manifestation of the ego as some form of a call for God: " See in the call of hate, and in every fantasy that rises to delay you, but the call for help that rises ceaselessly from you to your Creator" (T-16.IV.11:6). Perhaps you persist in being drawn into sticky romantic relationships, seeking for someone to make you happy; perhaps you notice you are constantly lusting to acquire more and more "things." Perhaps you have a hot temper. As you are willing to take responsibility for these things ("I am doing it to myself") and to simply observe them without judgment, the judgment of the Holy Spirit comes to replace your own. You will begin to see how each of these things is a call for help, a desire for completion, a reaching out for love. The call, the desire for completion, the reaching out are not wrong! The implementation of them is mistaken, that is all. How can you condemn yourself for calling for help? Your so-called "sins" are actually prayers from you to God, saying, "Help!"

You are not the ego. You are the holy Son of God who has forgotten his Identity, crying out for help in the only way you have known until now. You have convinced yourself that attack would get you what you want, attack would bring you love and completion. Now, you see you were mistaken. But you also see that you have the power to make another choice. You realize that all your errors have not changed who you are. You are still God's loved and loving Son. In identifying with love you will find your true safety and completion.

You will identify with what you think will make you safe. Whatever it may be, you will believe that it is one with you. Your safety lies in truth, and not in lies. Love is your safety. Fear does not exist. Identify with love, and you are safe. Identify with love, and you are home. Identify with love, and find your Self (W-pII.5.5:1-7).

3 Comments

  1. Nicci Barker
    Posted December 30, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    thank you brother. when i release mistaken ego thoughts about a brother or sister and open to my Inner Teacher for correction, and the experience of their infinite innocence arises and fills me with Love, an interesting thing then happens: the ego runs quickly around and comes in through the back door, co-opting the experience for itself. it is as though the ego thought system has over the years developed a momentum of its own . . . i now tend to always catch this as it happens, and feel a sense of gentle humor about its persistence. the ego thought system gives me a great deal of opportunity for observation. endless Love allen, nicci

  2. Nicci Barker
    Posted December 30, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    . . . and in gratitude and acknowledgement of the immeasurable help that ken wapnick has given me over the years in deepening my commitment to this path . . . God bless. nicci

  3. Henry Wadsworth
    Posted December 31, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Wow. Thank you so much for the clarity and vision you bring to this article. Such a great synopsis of what the ego is about, the many ways we deal with it unsuccessfully, and how we can shift to the path of love and forgiveness. It helped me to see how I have taken an ego perspective on aspects of my Course work – pushing too hard on discipline with resulting guilt etc., and reminded me to move towards observation, guidance and forgiveness rather than struggle with my ego. This really turned me around. What a great way to start the New Year. And so we help each other to the Light. Thank you, brother, and thank you for being in the Spirit.

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