The ego and how spirituality & mental illness are linked: ‘Breaking Down is Waking Up' continued....
Today, I’m continuing on the theme of spiritual awakening and its relationship to mental illness, and discussing a few more of the take-out points of Dr Russell Razzaque’s amazing book ‘Breaking Down is Waking Up’.
The answer, when it comes to recovery from any mental illness, is always going to be multifaceted, and this is what people are going to have to realise; there is no magic answer to achieving full mental wellness or (if you so desire it) spiritual awakening and self-actualisation – it involves a combination of many, many, factors all of which need to be put in place and constantly nurtured, and repeatedly renewed and worked on.
So that people can understand how the hell I’ve managed to get to where I have in my progression out of mental illness, I’m adding a short timeline to this post, just to try and add some sort of clarity.
I’m also doing it because I know that people will want to know about this in the future and by that point I’ll have moved on and then I can just direct them to these blog posts instead!
So, this is where I’ve got to in my recovery so far, and these are the methods I’ve adopted in my journey (sometimes hideous battle) to get here…
Episodes dealt with by escaping in sleep and brutal suffering and waiting out the depressions in agony.
Drawing on aspects of resilience, determination, persistence, and patience. Sacrificing material things and unintentionally (because of illness) detaching from the ego.
Learnt that bibliotherapy could help to halt my thoughts, give me some temporary relief from the hell of my own mind, and somehow prevent me from taking my own life and stay alive.
Finally find genetic link to thyroid conversion problem. Correct medication. Some sort of foundation of stability created.
Mood stable for the first time in nearly 20 years but self-confidence obliterated as a result of prolonged and severe illness.
Confidence regained by revisiting past learnings combined with a progression of small steps and slow integration back into society with a focus on patience.
Regain former passions in a very steady and progressive way.
Appreciate profound change. Left with residual confusion and questions such as:
"Who is this person now? What are my true interests? How am I only interested in the basic forms of living? How did this change occur? Is this really who I am? Where do I go from here?"
Continue to work on renewing confidence and education through reading from as many sources as possible. Education is key!
Realise importance of holistic or ‘all-round’ approach to mental wellness. Look into:
Nutrition & exercise - cutting out the crap now I want to live – addressing physical needs
Reconciling with past. (Recognise ego involved and unhelpful here). – addressing emotional needs
Continued self-development through reading and self-education – addressing intellectual needs
Going anticlockwise on the Wheel of Awakening – addressing spiritual needs
Recognise importance of the holistic approach – continue developing, reflecting, learning, progressing, and awakening from within - addressing holistic needs
Breaking Down is Waking Up
Recently, I have been working on trying to understand this new version of myself that isn’t interested in anything except retaining stability, self-development, and continued growth through the holistic approach to mental wellness.
Reading Russell Razzaque’s amazing book ‘Breaking Down is Waking Up’ has really helped me in this regard, and today I’m discussing some of the psychology behind what this doctor believes is inherently important to all of us as we journey through our lives.
I am familiar with some of the psychological theories from the studies I did at university (degree lost as ketamine infusions kind of decimated that dream) – too painful to go there my ego can’t handle it!
Anyway, Dr Razzaque’s focus tends to lean towards Freud’s psychoanalytic theory which states that the mind is made up of three components which are the ego, the id, and the super-ego. However, in addition to this he obviously discusses the involvement of spirituality and religion; a role which Freud rejected, but his colleague Carl Jung was passionate about including.
Jung introduced the idea that spirituality and religion were somehow linked to the unconscious mind and another, later psychologist called Carl Rogers stated that the approach to healing should always be ‘person centred’ – this is the one I’m always banging on about when I say that we all need to be the:
“Experts of ourselves.”
None of this is easy to understand, but basically Dr Razzaque has taken parts from each of these three psychological theorists and, combined with his humanity and extensive knowledge of psychiatry, has used them to create his own theory and understanding of the human mind.
He’s so clever it’s ridiculous!
Ego, id and super-ego
These theories need to be, at least in part, understood before reading the book (it helps anyway), so here’s a basic explanation of the three theoretical components of the mind:
The id – This is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories.
The super-ego – Is responsible for operating as a moral conscience.
The ego – Is the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.
This theory goes some way to explaining why the ego is so adept at being in conflict between the id and the super-ego.
There’s so often a fall-out between a person’s instincts, what they believe their morals to be, and then this other part of a person that is trying to nourish and appease both at the same time!
You can start to see how things can go awry!
This, to me, forms the very basis and crux of mental illness – it is like you have completely fallen out with yourself and there is such a huge internal battle going on that it ends up causing you such mental anguish that you get to the point where you just simply can’t live with yourself anymore.
To explain all of this I’m illustrating this post with some of the text from Dr Razzaque’s book, splitting it into headings, and then highlighting some of the passages that I deem to be especially important.
It’s quite heavy but also so, so important, so please re read it if you need to, or come back to it in the future to refer back to.
Also don’t just read this post – buy the book – it’s so incredibly enlightening and fascinating!
What is the ego?
The term ego, of course, was first coined by Sigmund Freud. He too used it, in some respect, as a means of conceptualizing our individual sense of personality. And by delving deep into it, he helped us understand just how much work we are having to do to maintain the ego all the time.
The ego, he said, is in constant compromise between two fundamental and opposing forces that define our life experience: the id and the superego. The id essentially comprises our instinctual drives that are biologically determined, and the superego is an opposing force that centres around conscience, social awareness, and guilt.
“Our sense of self is constantly buttressed by both these forces, as we endlessly try to figure out who exactly we are. And so, we are locked in an almost futile struggle to define a stable sense of self.”
Conclusions shift constantly like a ship on stormy seas. Today I am this, tomorrow I am that. Today I like this, tomorrow I like that.
Freud’s descriptions, I believe, were extremely valuable in helping us to understand the perpetual strain that our notion of ego is under. Add to this our constantly changing bodies and drives, and the ever-evolving societal roles we are faced with throughout life, and it’s no wonder that our ego requires so much energy to maintain.
This is why Freud also acknowledged that this sense of self we concoct is indeed, basically, an unstable entity. ‘The ego is not master in its own house,’ he wrote.
The ego’s primary characteristic is the sense of separation that such an identity creates. And the inevitable consequence of this is judgement. That from which we feel separated is experienced as ‘the other’. And so, in seeing the world through our egos, we see a world of separates. The only perception we understand is one in which everything is separated out from everything else.
Analogy of the ego and the id
I read the following analogy while researching for this post and I liked it so much that I’ve included it here. It helps to understand the conflict between the ego and the id:
Freud compared the id to a horse and the ego to the horse's rider. The horse provides the power and motion, while the rider provides direction and guidance. Without its rider, the horse may simply wander wherever it wished and do whatever it pleased. The rider gives the horse directions and commands to get it to go where the rider wants it to go.
The sense of ‘self’ or ‘I’ as we develop
“The sense that ‘I am here’, and ‘You are there’ becomes increasingly concrete as we grow and develop. And as we grow older, this sense of being an ‘I’ that is ‘here’ looking out upon a world out ‘there’ continues to evolve in complexity, with layer after layer of detail heaped upon the notion of ‘I’.
“These include likes and dislikes, tastes and traits, beliefs and convictions and all manner of personality facets that make us feel individual. And as this happens, an ever-winding narrative evolves, telling us the story of who we are and what we’re like. This story is our ego.”
Ultimately, all actions become interpreted as actions done by the ‘I’. So ‘chewing’ becomes ‘I chew’, ‘walking’ becomes ‘I walk’, and so forth. Indeed, our very notion of existence becomes wrapped up in the ‘I’. So that simply ‘being’ becomes ‘I am’.
The ego is essentially an idea–a perspective–generated by our brain, but it is the most pervasive and powerful idea of all. Indeed, it becomes the very focus of all our inner machinations, and it starts to exert a gravitational force around itself. A vicious cycle of thought thus emerges, as our brain descends into an endless whirl of chatter.
“Through the ‘I’ it can now pontificate, judge, assess, reminisce, analyse, project, plan and ruminate every minute of our waking lives. And because it becomes so dependent–literally addicted–to the ego idea, it must constantly continue to prove and justify its existence as the centre of the only reality it now perceives.”
The resources of our brain are thus dedicated to maintaining it, with a never-ending firing of neural circuitry fuelling the constant chatter.
“And that is how most of us exist, trapped in a cyclone of complexity and clutter, because the bottom line is all about the ‘I’. The brain is so invested in the ‘I’ that the very language we develop is centred around it.”
You will note while reading this that there is no way that I can write about the ‘I’ without using phrases that implicitly validate its existence–even in this very sentence, for example, ‘you will note’ and ‘I can write’.
“The notion of the ‘I’–the ego–is the primary lens through which our entire perspective on reality is filtered, from the way we communicate to the way we think.”
It also performs the function of putting a cloud of associated feelings and concepts around everything we encounter. We know this because words trigger off all sorts of responses within us, even when they are used in purely abstract form, for example just words on a piece of paper.
“Through language and logic our ego, therefore, manages basically to keep us lost in our heads.”
All this, of course, has its valid uses. It is what makes us such a creative and innovative species, but the problem is that, for most of us, it is also something that we can’t control. As described in the previous chapters, the mere act of observing your thoughts will impress upon you that they are not under your constant control.
“Yet many of us remain embedded in the notion that this constant cloud of thoughts is who we really are–it is the core construct of our identity. It is this tendency to fuse with our thoughts that makes us prone to emotional disturbance, psychological turmoil and mental illness, in a way that is unique to our species.
As our sense of ego constantly gyrates, it drags us into cycles of happiness and sadness, positivity, and negativity, hope and despair, and everything in between. It’s a self-perpetuating merry-go round; a compulsive cycle, that leaves us feeling like we’re teetering on the edge of mental breakdown half of the time. That’s why so many people are secretly afraid of becoming mentally ill because the vulnerability is actually very real. This is what creates the dark side of the human condition.”
An illustration of this is the fact that there is:
“no consistent record of any species, other than humans, experiencing mental anguish to the point of deliberately and voluntarily taking their own lives. So, ego is an inherently unstable structure, yet it is what we base our lives upon. It represents who we think we are, and it constructs the binoculars through which we view the world–binoculars that become so intoxicating that we fuse them to our eyes and buy into the notion that there is no way to experience reality other than through them.”
“The secret of life is to die before you die, and find that there is no death” - Eckhart Tolle
Recognising and appeasing the ego through the process of meditation
Dr Razzaque explains that through meditation we can, not only recognise that the ego is present but also appease it sufficiently so that we can access an authentic experience of joy.
I’ve never heard anyone explain the process behind meditation before, which is why I don’t really do it! However, having learnt the theory behind it all, I’m now much more likely to give it a try! When identifying and appeasing the ego, Dr Razzaque encourages to:
Just sit still and notice it. This is a gentle trap for ego, as I can almost guarantee that your thinking brain will spring into action.
When it does, then just watch it. Every time you notice you’re thinking, just watch your thoughts like bubbles. None of them are you. The real you didn’t want any of that. The real you just wanted to sit still and observe the breath.
Try and return to the breath as often as you can till the three minutes are up. Doing this helps you realize that the thinking function–and the ‘I’ it produces–is not the whole you. It is a part of you, but it is the part that thinks it is all of you. When in fact it isn’t. And it is the simple act of paying attention to the seemingly mundane that will help you deepen this realization over time.
“Meditation exercises are designed, artfully and gently, to dethrone ego from its position of dominance, and return us to our original state of integrated being. And embedded within this is the authentic experience of joy.”
Many people who have meditated for a while have had such experiences, and they are so powerful and some-times overwhelming that this is seen as something that is not just quantitatively different, but qualitatively different from anything they have ever known before.
And these experiences often stay in the memory for a long time afterwards. Anyone who has had such experiences can recognize their authenticity immediately upon hearing of them from others.
Indila – Ego
This has all been quite heavy this morning, so I am now signing off on a much lighter note.
Weirdly, the French singer who I have been listening to for hours on end this year, sings a lot about the subject of the mind, the conflict within it, and this ‘war within ourselves’.
I don’t know if it’s just coincidental, but there have been an enormous amount of influential French philosophers and great thinkers over the centuries too – they seem to be far more willing to go to these places, more so than the historically repressed English are anyway!
Maybe this is why I'm drawn to France and the French language? Who knows - far too much analysis for one day already!
Anyway, one of singer ‘Indila’s’ tracks on her album 'Mini World', is even called ‘Ego’ and she’s singing about all the kind of things that Dr Razzaque mentions in his book.
It’s a very powerful chanson, sung in a mixture of English and French and I’ve added it at the bottom of the page for people to listen to and appreciate.
She is telling the story of how we need to:
“Libéré, libérons-nous de nous-mêmes”
- or - ‘Free ourselves from ourselves’, as well as:
“Libère ton esprit. Écoute chanter le monde, le seul combat, auquel je crois, c’est contre moi, moi, moi, moi, moi!”
– which means: ‘Free your mind, hear the world sing, the only fight, I believe is the one against me, me, me, me, me, me!’
Now that I understand how ego is creating this ‘war within ourselves’ and is in constant conflict with the id and super-ego, I’m going to appreciate and connect with this song on a much deeper level!
Tomorrow, I am going to include an explanation of Dr Razzaque’s ‘Wheel of Awakening’ – the psychological journey that we are all revolving on – the journey of the ego...
...so be sure to check back in!
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,