The ego is really the evolution of the animal. Everything you see on the playground, everything you see on Monkey Island, everything that you see on the news is not different than the animal. The animal is interested in survival, mating, protecting boundaries, territoriality, possession, grabbing things, hording things, pridefulness, bragging…
The human intelligence didn’t come in as a new, different kind of brain. No. Not at all… We just added a forebrain to the old animal brain. We didn’t eliminate the old animal brain. The amygdala–all these deep things that make you hate the guy who cuts in front of you in traffic is still very active, right? Flash! Up comes the rage and the adrenaline before you even have a chance to think about it.
So the brain is structured to serve the animal… The ego, then, is selfishness, self-centered; and the animal instincts become elaborated through the intellect. Now man has an intellect, so he can extend his animal nature in more sophisticated [ways]. It becomes more sophisticated in its expression, but it’s still nothing but the animal instinct out there… The motivation is still that of the animal: to be better than another, to be able to beat them, to be richer, to be more admired, to be the alpha male, the alpha female of the pack. Juggling for position in small groups… That’s pre-school, right? That’s the animal… Of course it wants to kill people that cut in front of it in traffic. Of course it does. They deserve to die! (laughter)
To re-contextualize the ego–to see it’s true nature and how it arose–you don’t have to feel guilty about it. You don’t have to crush yourself because–How could I have said that? How could I have been so cruel? Because you’re a vicious little dinosaur inside.
David Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D.,
The Way to God: Positionality and Duality
– Transcending the Opposites,
recording of a lecture given 04/2002
Most of the people I know are involved in self-improvement. They read spiritual books, meditate, practice yoga, try to eat well, go to the gym, go to therapy, take classes, sit in 12 Step groups. Many of them practice some form of daily self-examination–checking their behavior to see that as much as possible they are not behaving from selfish motives; noticing where they have been cruel or judgmental and then trying to make things right, amending their behavior. For some it seems like a full-time job, this push for perfection. And almost without exception, these same people live with a harsh inner critic who rarely acknowledges growth but instead points out every imagined transgression; or projecting that same judgment out onto the world.
The ego’s job is to judge, to keep score. It does it whether we give it permission to do so or not. Living from the amygdala, it receives information from our senses before our forebrain does, and so reacts to the world before we have an opportunity to choose an appropriate way of being. It is harsh, judgmental and mean. It sees only separation, never oneness. It sees us always as one-up or one-down, and it runs a catalogue of all the ways we are better than or worse than; and for every one of these uninvited flashes through our mind, we judge ourselves. Continually. Harshly.
For some of us, this can be hell.
It is a spiritual truism that everyone always is doing the best they can. This includes me, right now. This includes you, right now. We are worthy of life. We are worthy of love. We are worthy of joy. We are here in this life for a reason, and we are meant to live in such a way as to discover that reason. We do this by moving in the direction of life and permission, rather than in the direction of death and judgment. By knowing ourselves as that which is worthy, rather than seeing ourselves as that which is not. By recognizing in each moment of our day that we are not this animal nature. We are that which lies behind it. We are not these negative reactions to ourselves and to the world, but rather a force of love and light in the world. We let this negative chatter run its course, but we cease listening to it. We cease taking its assessment of us as valid in any way.
What we are is beautiful beyond measure. And this world, too, in spite of its hardships and its ugliness, is beautiful beyond measure. Each moment of this life is a gift. For us to remain sitting in judgment, of ourselves or anyone else, is to refuse this gift. How sad is that?
Today, when I find myself listening to the voice of the Inner Critic, I will thank it for sharing and redirect my attention to the world around me. When the voice tells me something negative about one of my fellows, I will look at her for evidence of her lovability. For evidence that she, too, is a child of God, worthy of every good thing.