There are very few areas of debate within modern spirituality guaranteed to enflame passions more than that of the personal ego. On the one hand many feel that the ego is the most self-destructive of human traits whilst others deem it to be vyaly important in the armory of psycho-spiritual self-protection.
In her book The Sacred Ego: Making Peace with Ourselves and Our World, Jalaja Bonheim. PhD approaches this somewhat delicate subject in somewhat more sympathetic terms. Within the book she offers a positive evaluation of the ego from the start and does so with reference to what she feels is its important function within a world that is fundamentally changing itself at an alarming rate.
Whilst much pain and tragedy in our world comes as a direct consequence of the effects heaped upon it by rampant egos, according to the author, what we need in order to deal with the problem and challenges of this age is not so much a negation of the ego but a new vision of ourselves.
As she states in the introduction to her book,
If we approach it (the ego) with an attitude of respectful curiosity, then maybe we can learn something new about it.
In part one of the book Jalaja considers the opportunities that can present themselves when we operate our ego directives from deep within the heart rather than from the head.
Here she calls into serious question the wisdom, or rather the lack of it, of allowing an education system—one based upon the principles of power and domination, to dominate the process of mental development and over that of emotional growth with its necessary strengthening of social relationships and community networks.
Jalaja expands upon the role that thinking and reasoning with the heart plays and cites several examples of the benefits derived from working from that most important of centers. Most importantly she believes that doing so enables us to operate as a foundation for peace in this strife-ridden world.
The author follows this up with a critical appraisal of those who fail to understand the real function that the ego plays and its operation as an offshoot of what she refers to as the ‘tribal ego’.
It is the tribal ego which, much like it’s singular relation, is primarily concerned with survival—the trouble is that both the individual and tribal ego were formed way back in history and fail to serves us today in the way that they once did.
When exploring the tribal ego in depth the author looks back at its various roots, the way that it has evolved and the complex web of habits, instincts and beliefs that underpin tribal groups that once again fail to serve us well in this age of global interconnection.
From these, often archaic tribal mechanisms, spring counterproductive elements such as belief, addiction, racism, and fundamentalist judgments—all of which act at the core of our need to wage wars and to resort to violence in order to resolve conflict.
In the third and final part of The Sacred Ego, the author takes a look at the anatomy of the human ego.
Starting with a look at control addiction—something which the author believes is rampant in our society, she also explores the many negative sides to the modern ego; including such characteristics as arrogance, greed and aggression.
Another negative aspect to the modern ego is that of its addiction to thinking which, as a consequence, robs us of our right to peacefulness. In returning to an earlier theme in the book the author suggests that the development of a closer connection with the heart can negate some of these effects.
One of the ways the author suggests these problems can be resolved is through celebration with its advantages including the generation of healing energy, the forging of a deeper connection to community, the affirmation of positive values and the renewal of a sense of hope, courage and revitalization of self.
The Sacred Ego closes with questions designed for further contemplation and discussion, exercises for individuals and groups to follow, glossary of important terms used throughout the book and an index.
What becomes most apparent from reading this book is that in so many ways the current war waged on the personal ego is utterly detrimental to the process of changing our world for the better.
As the author strips down and identifies the various aspects to the global ego, the tribal ego and the personal ego, so a story emerges of a world that needs to redefine, integrate and unify all of these important elements of human existence and not to work to destroy them.
The authors arguments are persuasive—there evidently is nothing wrong with these egos; it is simply that they no longer serve us very well and have now, in the main, come to control and dominate every aspect of our lives.
C G Jung is often quoted in this regard and his words of wisdom bear repetition here—for what we ignore or suppress ultimately enters our shadow world and, given enough time, will return to haunt us.
The author recognizes the fact that this process has already taken place within our society and that in many ways the modern spirituality movement, with its emphasis on light and love, actually forms part of the problem and not its solution. It is refreshing to read that the author understands that the racial unconscious has a very powerful life of its own and that it (the darkness) which is in such a desperate need of being resolved and integrated by spiritual workers of all kinds.
This is the sort of subject area that the author enters into and so, as a consequence, the book is necessarily dark and sombre in parts. It does highlight the immense work that needs to be done to resolve these ego problems and in this regard the book is a powerful antidote to a great deal of woolly-headed nonsense found in today’s heavily Eastern-influenced philosophy.
The Sacred Ego is a book that makes bold statements, is full of challenging assertions and is not afraid to trample over hallowed ground. For that alone it is highly commendable but as a quality piece of spiritual commentary it is up their in terms of presentation, engagement and sheer audacity. You could almost say that it is a book with a refreshingly matured ego.