Episode 39: Right-Sizing the Ego – Balancing the Finite Self and the Infinite Self

The Journey of Integral Recovery Podcast

Nov 24
Right Sizing the Ego - Balancing the Finite Self and the Infinite Self

Episode 39
right-sizing the ego:
balancing the finite self and
the infinite self


In the depths of my addiction, I believed redemption, healing, and forgiveness were reserved for people who had something worthwhile to contribute to the world. I had heard plenty of stories about people who struggled with drugs, alcohol, or behavioral addiction, and then recovered and led meaningful lives. Whether they changed the world in a big public way, or through more personal contributions, was not nearly so important as the fact that they had something worth contributing. And that, I believed, was something I would never have.

Recovery wasn’t something I deserved. I had caused too much pain to my family and friends. And even if I managed to stay sober, I had destroyed any chance I may have once had of being a functioning member of society. My very existence was a drain on the world, and I felt it would be best to bow out. My sense of self-worth was non-existent.

On the other end of the spectrum, many addicts suffer from delusions of grandeur. An exaggerated view of one’s own importance, competence, and rightness whip the winds of addiction into a hurricane of destruction. And why would such a person ever listen to the counsel of a therapist, let alone a group of addicts? Why would such a person, certain of his own power, ever deign to relinquish it by tempering the ego?

The twelve step model of recovery, as practiced in Alcoholics Anonymous, works to humble this inflated sense of self-importance. For those with no self-worth, though, it can be a nail in the coffin of healing; the antithesis of what’s needed to heal, grow, forgive, and recover.

In both situations, our struggle is with ego. It’s no coincidence that both psychology and spirituality have explored the topic of “self” at length. Not only do psychologists and theologians not always see eye to eye with one another, they disagree among themselves, as well, as various schools of thought compete in the marketplace of ideas. And while the debate may lead to progress and knowledge in the long term, it creates confusion for the addict seeking recovery. For the addict seeking recovery, this can be fatal.

Through committed, daily practice of a personal, contemplative, inner spirituality, we may have the insight of our own divinity. Consciousness becomes conscious of itself; aware of the fact that consciousness is all there is, and all there ever was. We may realize that “I am that, and always was, and always will be.” Not only that, but if God (or consciousness, or Buddha nature) is all there is, then we’re all God.

This insight, born of mystical “state” experience, is the beginning of awakening, and it represents an important turning point in our spiritual development. But it’s not the end of the journey. Having recognized the insight of non-duality and oneness with “capital S” Self, we must then learn to reconcile this infinite cosmic identity with the ego self that still exists in the world.

The gift of contemplative spirituality and non-dual insight for the addict in recovery is that, by learning to hold the finite self and the infinite self together, the ego “right-sizes” itself. The balancing act reminds us, when we struggle to see our value, that we are not other than one with the divine . And yet, should we feel overly self-certain, we remember our fallible, finite selves, who say and do foolish things and make plenty of mistakes.

As we balance the push and pull of the finite and infinite selves, we discover that the tension breeds creativity. We learn to bridge the gap between the relative truth of our lives and the absolute truth of who we are. We acknowledge the role of Self in our good work, which keeps us humble. And we allow ourselves to feel proud that we have done noble work. As we work to close the distance between the two, we recover. We heal. And we move closer to what we are already…but not yet.

Episode Resources:

Strong Medicine - NEW RELEASE - by iAwake Technologies and Nadja Lind
Integral Recovery: A Revolutionary Approach to the Treatment of Alcoholism and Addiction (SUNY series in Integral Theory)
The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions-More Inclusive, More Comprehensive, More Complete
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Second Edition
Profound Meditation Program
Profound Releasing
Stealing Flow: Complete Brainwave Suite for Flow State Mastery (iAwake Technologies and Doug Prater)
Deep Recovery – a guided meditation from iAwake Technologies

In this episode:

[1:18] What does it feel like to have established a direction and a paradigm of recovery that has impacted so many people’s lives?
[2:20] The key is that it’s not about me – it’s all about having something to give to the world that matters. When we ask to be shown a path for the right reasons, we’re able to make a difference in the world.
[3:30] What’s the relationship between our small (personal ego) selves and our larger infinite selves (god, buddha nature, true self)? How do we hold the small self with humility and prevent the ego from getting overinflated when we’re cultivating a direct line to spirit?
[4:46] For Dr. Bob Weathers, one of the foundational ways to maintain this balance is to always be cognizant of the fact that when we’re doing our best, we’re just allowing something to flow through us. Whether we’re teaching, writing, or playing music, we’re tapping into something that’s flowing through us, but isn’t “us” in the ego-self sense.
[5:19] When we get attached to an agenda or an outcome, that flow and that allowing of grace grinds to a halt; the connection to our gifts is hindered by our personal agendas and desire to control our results. When we feel the need to prove ourselves or “show off” what we can do, that flow and spiritual connection are gone.
[6:22] There are developmental pathologies connected to having spiritual experiences without adequate level development to form a context for that experience. When a person at an egocentric level of development, for example, has a powerful spiritual “state” experience, they can return to waking consciousness with the belief that they (meaning the ego self) are god, causing a dangerous amount of ego-inflation.
[6:52] The key distinction is that yes, you are god, but so are we all, and the way we interpret and understand this directly corresponds to our stage/level of development.
[8:00] For some of us in recovery, it can be incredibly challenging to strengthen the ego. For those who think little of themselves, a little bit of ego inflation isn’t a bad thing…as long as we keep practicing and keep doing the work, it will balance out and “right-size” itself.
[8:42] There’s an important distinction between “godly pride” and “personal pride”. It’s okay to be proud, to feel that godly pride, when we’re acknowledging the good we’ve done in the world and the difference we’re making. So long as we remember that it’s not about us or our personal inflation, that sense of godly pride can help us continue of the path of recovery, growth, and doing good work.
[9:18] The glimpses of connection to spirit can be a powerful force for repairing a battered personal ego for those who suffer from low self-esteem or a hyper-self-critical nature. Yet, in spite of those glimpses pulling us forward and strengthening our ego, we continue to recognize our all too human failings. The difference between the two – who we are in the “small self” sense and who we are in the “infinite self” sense – can be a powerful motivator to continue the work of developing into our best selves through practice, work, and contribution.
[11:04] Realized Eschatology – an idea from early Christian theology summarized by the phrase “already…but not yet.” There’s a way that we’re already “that” – already divine, already perfect – and always have been and always will be. But at the same time, we’re not yet that. And in that discrepancy lies the balance between the finite and the infinite self.
[12:01] Even if we have a stable connection with nonduality, we’re still our ordinary fallible selves. We still make mistakes. All our problems don’t disappear as we stabilize our connection to the infinite, but that connection gives a foundation to return to and to keep the personal ego in balance.
[12:42] When we move into our old, reflexive judgements of ourselves (or others), holding the sense of divine mercy can keep us from falling down on our faces. Remembering divine mercy can allow us to forgive ourselves for failing to meet the high standards we aspire to, yet remembering to allow the space for god’s mercy can be a difficult task; one in which we strive for progress, not perfection.
[13:54] Remembering divine grace is a fruit of practice (and especially forgiveness practice.) As we continue our practice and our development, we cultivate and strengthen the part of ourselves that doesn’t forget who we are.
[14:38] Creativity practice, too, forces us to confront the gap between our small selves and our infinite selves. It forces us to confront our shame, our fear, and our self-doubt, and to live at the edge of our developing courage and personal growth.
[15:25] Ira Glass and the gap between where we are and what we aspire to be – the gap between what we’re actually creating and what we aspire to create. As long we continue to show up and lean into the gap, we continue to develop and move ever closer to what we can be.
[16:38] Albert Rothenberg, a creativity researcher at Harvard who developed the theory of homospatial process (bringing two things into the same space to create something new), can provide insight into holding the small self in humility while holding the grace of big self. By combining these ideas and these states of being, we move closer to what we can be. Holding humility and godly pride together, in tension, we can become the truest expression of our creative essence.
[18:23] When our ongoing practice provides us with moments of depth and infinite beauty, we can take that sense of connection, love, and limitless freedom and bring it back into the small self. In that place, our grief, our pain, and our resentments fade away, so when we bring them back and allow them “flavor” our ego self, we transmute our garbage into gold.
[20:22] Like the alchemists of old, we transmute the “lead” of our lives and allow our practice, through connection with the infinite, to transmute them into gold.
[21:12] Recovery, spiritual development, healing, and addressing our shame are all ongoing journeys. The process continues to unfold every week in the podcast and every day through our practices. We don’t always see our own progress, but others can. And often, we need others to be our mirror in order to show us how far we’ve come.
[22:40] The first day John and Bob met, Bob shared the his story with courage and honesty, including the deepest shame he held over the consequences of addiction. John’s wife, Pam, extended compassion and forgiveness in a powerful and meaningful way by not excusing the actions, but rather, honestly asking whether or not he was doing the work of getting his act together and engaging in a committed way with the work of recovery.
[24:15] The work of recovery requires our deepest commitment. It’s not just a matter of cleaning up the external consequences of our addictions, but of digging deep and cleaning up the inner psychological demons, both the ones which caused and the ones caused by our addiction. The grace and forgiveness Pam offered Bob, and the healing that came with it, hinged on Bob’s sincerity in the work of engaging and transmuting those demons.
[25:47] Those who act as our mirrors provide us with a powerful tool for the restoration of ourselves and our spirits; a way to remember and acknowledge our own inborn and always present divinity when we’ve lost sight of it through our shame and our disconnection. The best mirrors, too, hold us accountable for our continued growth.
[26:50] When others set a high standard for us, in an encouraging and supportive way, it inspires us to live up to it and do the work necessary to recover our “original face” and become what we can be; who we truly are.
[27:15] Real forgiveness isn’t found in a simple dismissal or a refusal to acknowledge the severity of our mistakes, but rather it’s found in accepting the truth of the past while remaining focused on what we’re doing now, today, to live differently.
[29:10] When we extend to others the sense that it’s okay to be who we are and to own our past so long as we’re doing the work to recover, we encourage growth and healing in a way that only becomes possible through that kind of honesty. When we see that others will accept us, we become better able to accept and forgive ourselves.
[30:30] Along with self-acceptance, the encouragement and support of others lends us the courage to dig deeper into our issues and do the work of healing shadow issues that have held us back, kept us stuck, and threaten our recovery and development. When we dig in and do that work, we can transmute those shadow issues and personal struggles into our greatest assets and greatest teachers. They become tools for evolution and deeper connection to spirit.
[32:19] So many of our egos have been so beaten down that when they begin to inflate, it’s often a necessary first step. When we do good, we feel good. When drugs are no longer a crutch, we need another tool to create good feelings within ourselves, so feeling the “godly pride” of doing good in the world, and allowing it to strengthen our egos in a healthy way, is often times necessary to keep us on the path.
[33:31] “If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand.” – Lao Tzu
[34:18] “If we turn our attention to Self [with a “’big S”], the Self will turn its attention toward us.” – Carl Jung
[35:12] There’s humor in healing – we need to be able to see our suffering with a light heart and acknowledge the cosmic absurdity. When we can laugh at ourselves, we can learn to let go. And often, the best “mirrors” can help us with this as they call us out when we’re taking ourselves too seriously.
[35:49] When our cups are already full, though, (meaning our egos are over-inflated), then we won’t learn what we need to learn.
[37:05] When we fill our cups with love, though, and with the divinity of which we are all a part, the divinity and the love are what overflow, spilling out into the world.

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11/24/2017, 39:44, 27.2 mb (Audio)

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