If you live by your convictions, you are a prisoner (a convict) to your beliefs and have difficulty thinking outside the box (your prison) and being open to mystery, to the present mystery of Reality, to Reality, or just to what’s real.
It’s important to you – we might even say it’s mandatory – that Reality, just like your mind, is locked down inside clear categories, on a grid of values that are absolute and unchanging.
If instead you live by your aspirations, there is a longing in you for fulfillment, which shouldn’t be confused with happiness but refers rather to an experience of realizing your potential and becoming more fully human. Humanity has been evolving for many millenniums, and your own development has progressed through stages of growth, awakening, and self-actualization since birth.
The truth is, both of these forces are at work in you. One works to define you and the world around you, adding layers over time of identity and the habits of judgment and belief that hold your identity together and keep your world intact. The other works to transform you, along with the world around you, by activating the inner capacity and evolutionary aim of your human ideal.
To the degree that convictions lock things in place and aspirations break things open, these two forces are antagonistic to each other. Much of your pain or joy in life is how this antagonism plays out.
To really get our minds around this, take a look at the illustration above. Vertical and horizontal axes are arrows coordinating an upward and forward movement, to signify a larger organic process in play: growing out of the ground and following the inner aim of its ideal – in this case, a mature and more fully self-actualized human being.
The horizontal arrow moving from left to right correlates to the actual past and possible futures of development. And you – or your “I” (ego) in this conversation – are at the center, corresponding to the experiential present.
Coming to you from the left (or past) is the storyline of your development as a character – the main character of your personal myth. Just as earlier chapters of a story serve to define the characters who develop and interact with each other, your life up till now is the record of conditions, events, and choices that have conspired in the construction of a personal identity – who you are and how you present yourself to others.
Now, to help us understand what’s going on as we move to the right, let’s turn our attention to the vertical axis, from the temporal (horizontal) to a contextual orientation. Your existence is grounded in Reality and is a product or manifestation of other forces – not biographical this time, but generally biological. This is not about who you are as a personality but what you are as a living, sentient human being.
Your existence is “generated” up from this ground, which is why we call it your existential ground, the generative Source and Ground of Being. Simultaneously with your emergence from this ground, you have been surrounded by and involved in a larger web of beings and forces, on the broadest contextual scale known as the universe: the “turning-as/into-one” of everything there is.
The transcultural wisdom tradition known as the Perennial Philosophy or Sophia Perennis acknowledges this universal web as a vast community of beings: not a chaotic mess but a cosmic order; not a random arrangement only, but a harmonious whole – a community in the true sense of the term.
This community manifests in a highly sophisticated and complex way among human beings. Life and consciousness have evolved in you to the point of achieving self-conscious awareness, in the ego (“I”) that puts on masks and plays the roles of identity. Over time and across countless role plays your identity has taken on the habits of character, that star of your personal myth mentioned earlier.
Now, it’s important to see that in order for you to participate in and consciously belong to human community, you (along with others) need to become a self-conscious person with a character of your own. In other words, genuine community, which is transpersonal in nature, depends on the pre-existence, so to speak, of persons, of separate egos playing the game of identity.
Community, therefore, is not a mere collection of egos, but a higher wholeness (com+unitas: together as one) that forms as individual egos are able and willing to “get over themselves” for a life in mutual harmony. There is no possibility of going beyond (trans-) the personal without a personal ego already in place.
This is a main reason why philosophies that denigrate the ego as something to be denied, renounced, or extinguished actually impede human progress toward genuine community.
What these philosophies are reacting to is not the ego of normal human development, but the neurotic ego which refuses, and is to some extent unable, to go beyond the drama of personal identity for a transpersonal experience of unity.
Many don’t understand that the way through is not by attacking and defeating the ego, but rather by helping it become sufficiently centered and strong to be capable of getting over itself.
My illustration displays two orange lines (the color code of all things ego-related in this blog), a solid line beneath your ego and a dashed line above it. The solid line makes the point that consciousness cannot descend into its ground without first releasing the masks and roles of personal identity, along with the separate self-conscious ego that defines itself by them.
This may be where the error lies with those philosophies of ego-renunciation, in their confusion of the necessary release with an aggressive rejection of the ego.
The psychospiritual benefit of dropping out of ego consciousness and into the grounding mystery of what you (really) are is in the creative freedom it affords, for getting over and going beyond the limitations of personal identity, of your character and the convictions that otherwise hold your spirit captive.
With that freedom you can cultivate the spiritual aspirations that will fill your sails and take you to the farther reaches of human nature, and (through that dashed orange line) into the higher wholeness of genuine community and the liberated life.