TikvahBlog: Ego vs Self+
In the study of anthropology, psychology, and story-telling around the basis for and of human existence, there is a protagonist who struggles with that ‘little voice in the back of their mind’ that says they are too old, too young, too big or thin, incapable, etc. We know and have experienced this on a daily basis, it tells us that we need to distract ourselves with something else. Carl Jung describes it as a little black dot in the middle of the self: our ego. In Jung’s theory, the ‘self’ suggests that it contains the ‘collective unconscious’ and all its aspects. This would be an expression of the archetypes in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Thus, the ‘self’ is the environment where creativity comes from. Campbell describes the ‘self’ as being connected to the Divine Ground, saying that whatever greater force is out there, if you try to tap into that Divine Source, it will be presented to you. This is where the idea that creativity and inspiration, as well as the ability to explore and learn, comes from.
So what is the point of all this? Take a Creative, such as an artist, illustrator, musician, etc., they are trying to surrender their ‘self’ to the ‘greater self’ or ‘Divine source’. This is where our ego comes in and says, “Now, do you really want to do that?” The ego may also say, “The outcome of the creative activity will produce nothing.” Or “Who do you think you are, tapping into something greater?” Like that dream in Guys and Dolls, “Sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat!” The idea here is that the ego produces resistance and tries to stop you from connecting at a deeper level. Regardless of your level of creativity, we have all experienced this and have fallen to our egos. We all hear, “Do something else with your time” because the goal of the ego is to maintain the status quo through its control over you.
A critical understanding is that the ego cannot see beyond the material world. When the body dies, that’s it, all done and dusted. The ego believes that your physical self can be hurt, destroyed, and broken, and when this body dies, we die. So the ego will seek to maintain that order of things, no matter the cost. This is why being creative is so risky to the status quo, as the connection to a greater self can’t be broken or corrupted.
This is why the fear of failure is so powerful. History is full of stories about risk. Take, for instance, Joan of Arc, who, despite being quite religious, was accused of heresy and burned at the stake. The Salem Witch Trials, as a timeless example of, ‘If I speak out… I too could be burnt at the stake [metaphorically] because the ideas I am creatively coming up with could [figuratively] be ripped apart.’ Setbacks within any creative path are part of our life’s story, such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, which more than ten publishers rejected. One of my favorite books, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, followed a similar path and, in the end, was awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature. In tech design, there’s Steve Jobs as another example, and the list goes on and on.
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Creativity or tapping into the Great Divine is about sheer tenacity or a belief in the lack of any other alternative. The show must go on, but why must it go on? Because I have learned that we all are characters in a much larger drama. Will failures happen? Yes. But they are necessary steps to a deeper providence of existence. Putting the ego to the side and letting creative moments work themselves out is in accordance with the Great Divine.
I have discovered that this is the way we become co-authors in our lives, and what others or my own hand may intend for harm, God intends for good. Thus, we will have survived the test of ego versus self. It’s worth the risk.
The video below expresses these ideas in another way. Give yourself permission to be creative | Ethan Hawke
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