Here’s one of the most important things I’ve learned about relationships: If we do not understand our worth and respect our right to be different, our relationships will be seriously impaired because others will not understand our worth or respect us either. But if we accept the natural entitlement that belongs to every soul, and if we can learn to trust our soul’s processes enough to stand firm in the face of misunderstanding and opposition, we can more easily bridge the divide between ourselves and others.
While we might sometimes feel that people we know and love are being deliberately perverse, at bottom, few are truly motivated by a need to create difficulties for us, but simply believe our differences mean that we are wrong and they are right. This blind spot has nothing to do with our true worth and everything to do with the walls every ego builds around itself from an early age.
If we understand this, our next challenge is to see the other side of our relationship story. The uncomfortable kicker is that if we are offended by those with whom we are in conflict, it is not necessarily because there is something terribly wrong with them. Just as their inability to accept us as we are is not necessarily due to our flaws but to their inability to see and respect our differences, so our inability to accept them as they are is, in large part, due to the walls we have built up around ourselves. Ouch!
The foundation for this kind of prejudice is buried in our psyches at birth and we begin to build on it around the age of three when we realize that others are not extensions of ourselves but separate beings. This awareness creates our ego, an edifice we design and construct by selecting the beliefs, qualities, goals, attitudes and values we like while rejecting those we don’t. Nobody does this on purpose or is even aware of doing it. It’s simply a natural stage of ego development that becomes habitual, and if hiding our fuller selves behind our walls does not cause problems and suffering for us we may never discover them.
Sometimes we reject others who remind us of qualities we have disowned. At other times we befriend them because something in us is attracted to their differences. Either way, the challenge is to heal the either/or divide which both egos in any relationship have created. If we can accept the truth that we are as ignorant and fearful as others, we can change our focus from criticizing them to knowing ourselves. Then our ego’s walls begin to soften and crumble and the authentic heroic journey begins.
Lowering our defenses and baring the truths of our souls creates a healing elixir which is a mixture of understanding and compassion for ourselves and others. This magical potion is the only lasting solution to transforming dysfunctional relationships. Accepting our truths and speaking and acting on them with kindness and restraint is powerful medicine. As we dispense this medicine step by step, day by day, we become visible proof that it is possible for the human ego to change and mature, thus becoming more attractive and inspirational to others who, in turn, are motivated to change.
The beloved American actress and singer, Pearl Bailey, wrote: “”You never find yourself until you face the truth.” To that I would add, “…and you never find others until you find yourself.”
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Ego and God-Image: Part VII
Intellectually the Self is no more than a psychological concept, a construct that serves to express an unknowable essence which we cannot grasp as such,
Your post is very timely. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
It also brings up sort of a paradox for where I am right now. Your description of the wall building fits me to a tee, as far as “normal” ego-development walls are concerned. Add to the mix all manners of abuse and walls became not only natural to build, but necessary, even welcome. And as I am discovering, most of the walls have to come down in order for me to allow myself to be touched—heart and soul and mind–touched, and to touch others. The work is slow, for the most part, brick by brick, chink by chink. Other times the walls crumble as fast and as dramatically as they must have in Jericho. Like when I first started reading your blog. Many walls fell, revealing hidden gardens and treasures. Some walls remain, however, and I am learning to look at them as blessings—like the guard rail in your dream; like the protective embrace of the earth transformed into brick and mortar. Sometimes I sit atop the walls and watch. Other times I lean against them and weep, knowing there is something on the other side, but I am too afraid to climb. Still other times I revel in the solitude behind the walls and write in rivers of words, for paradise, after all, means “an enclosed garden.” I say all this to say, I am still learning which walls need to come down, which need to remain; which need to remain and yet be hopped over or dug under. There are no easy answers, especially when walls start crumbling without any notice, when the earthquakes of healing wave through and I find myself standing in the light—the light of your wisdom and words, or the light of others. I am learning to step through the wreckage and breathe. The gardens are still there. I needn’t fear losing them. Indeed, they are easier to share once the walls come down. Other times the walls go up without me realizing it, like I accidently hit the “shields-up” button on the Enterprise…Luckily, I am open enough today to learn how to learn. And for me, it is not just emotional or soul walls—it’s mental walls also—old ideas and paradigms need to come down too. I am slowly learning that, while the walls can be fascinating, and strangely refreshing to the touch with their ancient coldness; beautifully constructed with various marbles, schists, and granites, they are still walls—wailing walls, walls to protect, walls to divide, walls to hang paintings and put windows and doors. It is a lot to sort out. But the rewards of intimacy, of true connections, soul to soul, heart to heart, mind to mind…are so worth the struggle. Thank you for being one Joshua’s most lovely and beautiful horns.
PS. The picture of the two dogs is utterly priceless. 🙂
Yes, the wall metaphor is paradoxical, for sure, as is the Joshua horn metaphor, although I know, of course, that you meant it in the most positive sense. Thank you for the compliment, and for your discernment about the many uses of walls.
For sure, there’s a lot of stuff behind our walls that needs protecting; we can’t open up to everything that wants to come in. Nor can we let everything out. It’s only the childhood walls — those built by fear and unknowing that hide our true selves from our ego consciousness and the world, and those that prevent us from venturing out of our prisons to live fully and freely — that need to come down.
Meanwhile, the most delicate and vulnerable feelings and sensibilities of our true selves must be protected from toxic invasions by outside forces with utmost care. This is where the Joshua horn image becomes paradoxical. On the one hand it suggests the importance of acquiring the strength and consciousness to tear down walls that hide our secret potential for evil so that we can see it and control it. But on the other, traditional organizined religion tends to interpret it as meaning that we need to destroy everything and everyone outside ourselves that does not conform to our prevailing god-image because our beliefs are the only correct ones and all others are evil.
To me that’s like saying we need to kill the inner dragons that challenge our ego’s omnipotence. I’d rather rewrite the old Biblical story into a new one about reaching out to teach and befriend the otherness we fear instead of trying to destroy it. But, of course, when the original story was written, people did not yet have the psychological awareness to see their own inner evil or imagine that their perceived outer enemies were projections of it. This is not to deny the reality of evil in the world — it’s there and we all need protection from it — but only to say that it is the people who are unaware of the reality of their inner evil that inflict it on others.
I’ve been reflecting on your comment over the last couple days. Yes, I really did mean the horn metaphor in the positive sense. In this case in the sense of the power of the creative (Joshua’s musical, yours written) ability to announce the arrival of new possibilities. And I am so much more interested in befriending the dragons and those behind the walls as you know. In fact I identify with them quite a bit. However, I must admit that when I looked at the Jericho story (after having not it read it for decades, literally), I felt very sad for the people within the city, but I also felt sad for the ones marching around blowing trumpets. In fact, I discovered that I can also identify with Joshua and his band of priests doing their death march as well. I used to be a religious (and racial) zealot (in my case, these poisonous attitudes were directly related to my abuse—horrible after effects of fear and unprocessed rage/shame) and would lock people outside of myself if they were different. It has taken years of deep, inner work to move through and past the walls of my fear-based prejudices. I have though, and that’s the good news.
There is one thing about the Joshua story however, that I find oddly amusing and telling (and I think it fits with what you’re saying): Joshua’s battle plan wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t for his spies stopping by a prostitute’s house on the way to Jericho. They end up asking for her help and she says yes, and ultimately, the work of the prostitute turned believer/spy helps Joshua win the battle. I take this to symbolize that the righteous, religious zealots have a lot to learn from the average “sinner.” Not only that, but the very fact that they want to destroy the city at all is because it is a mirror of themselves. And mirrors can serve as strange, thin, walls that can keep us trapped inside ourselves. Joshua’s excuse for destroying the city was that it was in the way of the Promised Land. I find that a very tragic part of the story indeed. They were so enflamed with their own unloved and un-integrated shadows that they couldn’t find it within themselves to walk around the city. It was in their way so they just had to knock it down. If only they could have embraced themselves as readily as they did the prostitute, then perhaps they could have embraced the people within the city who were really, as I said before, reflections of themselves. (Emmet Fox would say cities in the Bible always symbolize your own mind.) The people on both sides of the wall had deeply ingrained and tragically limited beliefs.
One thing is certain though, as the muse inspires images in my writing, I need to be careful which ones I decide to use. Some of them are unknowingly quite loaded. Thank you for seeing through the horn image to my, most definitely, friendly intentions.
Your wisdom about protecting the tender parts of our souls is very moving, as are your insights about needing to befriend the ones hiding behind the walls, is quite timely.
Yes, we all have an inner Joshua/warrior, priest/zealot, harlot/sinner, wall-builder, wall-tearer-down, fearful victim, and god-image that urges us to move forward. The cities, people, and symbols of the Bible and scriptures from every religion are all parts of us and it is up to us to discern between the healthy and beneficial and the unhealthy and harmful. Only then will we be able to freely choose to do the right thing on our journey to consciousness.
Doing my best to stay conscious,