Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Living Your Myth 3: Transcendence and Clarification of the Ego

By James Curcio

Living Your Myth series.

In part one, we looked at what complete control one's narrative can play in a person's life - up to the point of death - and ask whether this kind of mythic, literary commitment is a good or bad thing. Of course, that kind of question cannot be definitively answered, only pondered. 

In part two, I talked about transcending the ego, and what a load of horseshit that phrase so often is.

"So often"? Yes. "Transcending the ego" can mean something, but it so rarely does. After discussing this with some people, it seems to me that I wasn't clear enough in my terminology. 

So that, apparently, is part three: clarifying what the hell I meant in part two. (Hey, it's a blog and we're running a piece almost every day lately. What do you want from me?)

My feelings about transcendence and ego aren't some kind of resentment. These terms are used to manipulate and dupe people. All myths can be used to this purpose, though it is contextual whether that "manipulation" is a good or a bad thing. 

"Good" or "bad"? Yeah. That you'll have to sort out for yourself, one moment to the next. They aren't universals. 

I've nearly seen transcendence as a problematic idea - at best - which is why I worked on fleshing out immanence. (No pun?)

Immanence is usually seen as being the dialectical opposite of transcendence. I have come to see it more as a solution to the problem of transcendence, or rather the problem which the idea of transcendence itself seeks to resolve. This problem is one of a generalization in regard to goals. Should we "transcend" life, or should we take it as "immanent," that is, seek the sacred or what we would otherwise seek to find through transcendence, in life. This ceases to be armchair philosophy the moment we can make this jump and realize that it very much has to do both with how we parse the world, and how we behave within it. 

So, this is a problem of psychological or spiritual orientation. If you take an entirely materialist perspective of the world, it is not a problem that would even occur to you. 

Part 1 of the Immanence of Myth is, among other things, a form of attack against the ideas of transcendence and the absolute, though only to the extent that they are used to block out immanence, manifestation, and actual experience. Carl Jung said "religion is man's way of dealing with a religious experience." Of coping. It renders the experience in clothing we can cope with. It is a narrative, a patchwork of myths that draws the outline of what was initially a natural occurrence. 

Religion can so quickly descend into abomination for this reason. 

When people say "they have transcended their ego" I tend to raise an eyebrow and give them a bit of a wide berth until I see what exactly they mean by that. It makes me uneasy, because it means one of two things, and from one of them standing, one of them is not good. 

The first seems progressive, radical. They are engaged in an evolutionary act, "shooting the moon," and seeking to grasp at or be bothered by the particulars of their life, to exceed, and excel. And yet, by virtue of being alive, they will never actually transcend ego. "Ego" is just a myth, but that which it represents is a precondition of self-consciousness. 

But from this arises the second possibility. If someone has really "transcended," why would they proclaim their transcendence, and for that matter, why are they sticking around? How does it become a core doctrine of the self help movement? Why do you want me to give you $19.95 to help me transcend my ego? Go and watch that video of Adi Da in part 2 again. I know, it's kind of tedious if you're not impossibly high. (Hint, hint.) But pay attention to his rhetoric. Listen to the hushed "oohs" and "aahs" of the audience, and the shift he makes when he begins speaking as the voice of God, that which knows what everything is

That is transcending ego? 

The closest I can imagine to true transcendence would be the mythic old Taoist sage, a Lao Tzu, wandering the mountains. (Lao Tzu only means "old man," or "elder teacher.") And to be true to its own tenets, it is almost a wonder that Taoism ever became an -ism. Such a Taoist sage would have no desire to start a cult of any kind. 

Like I said, and I know I kind of left this hanging in part 2 (blog posts are sketches), ego has many different definitions. 

InvisiBoob (with cat)
In the perspective of ego as "center of the self," that sense which travels through our lives and says "me," regardless of what might change, I see no reason to look down on that. Why should we? Be proud of yourself. Make yourself someone worth being proud of. Go easier on yourself. Work harder. Remember you're going to die every moment and try to live more. Those are things an ego can do. How are any of those bad? 

As I said in part 2, the issue isn't the ego, as I see it, but rather its opacity or transparency. In other words, where do our thoughts or ideas stop, what barrier do they come up on, what skin? Where does our center of concern fall? What fears and desires obsess us? We don't need to annihilate them, but we can see ourselves in them. 

That's the level we're operating at, and I think that's why people call something or someone "shallow" - that metaphor represents something right? Something is "shallow" or "deep"? Why is depth the natural dimension to employ in this metaphor? It feels to almost like if you've got water with light reflecting into it, how deep does the light penetrate? But the water goes all the way down, whether or not the light penetrates a mere inch or for miles. 

I agree with the Osho video I included with part 2 (and he borrowed it from Whitman who borrowed it from?) that contradiction is just a sign of flowing, of growth. But I don't think these two, immanence and transcendence, really present a contradiction. 

To end at the beginning, in part one, we talked about Yukio Mishima. Some might see such an act of Seppuku, beyond any moral consideration, an act of transcendence. However, it was the absolute fixation on the ego and the narrative that it dictated which was so strong, so extreme, that it demanded its own head be cut off. You see, we've made Yukio Mishima, which is a pen name by the way, an implied double, an it. We've rendered him into his character. And it was his character that demanded he die. 

Is this the same with Hunter? I don't think we'll ever know. 

How will it be for us? What is our "character"? What does it demand? Is it more virtuous to adhere to those demands, to grasp them firmly with both hands and "love them violently," (like Charlie Sheen, or God willing, not like him) or to transcend them? That's for all of us to determine. Virtue is another myth for us to contend with in our own way, not to foist upon one another. 

Asking these questions alone is not living your myth. But it can be a good first step. 

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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