It’s not me––it’s the ego!

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

After James’s and my backlash incident (Blog of June 8th), I thought a lot about how the ego operates. Then in the Workbook Companion, I read what Allen wrote in relation to Lesson 151 [emphasis mine]:

We who study the Course are used to the idea that we project our guilt and anger onto others. Here, however, the Course introduces the idea that there is a way in which our egos project themselves onto us. The ego doubts. The ego condemns itself. The ego alone feels guilt. Only the ego is in despair (see 5:1-6). But it projects all of these things onto us, and tries to convince us “its evil is your own” (6:2). It plays this trick on us by showing us the world through its eyes, and introducing the things of the world as evidence of our evil, our guilt, our doubt and despair. The ego is desperate for us to see the world as it wants us to because the ego’s world is what proves to us that we are identical with the ego. For instance, it leads us to evaluate our own spiritual progress and to find ourselves wanting; it induces us to despair. Why? Because it [the ego] is feeling despair. It knows (without admitting it) that it is going to lose. This is why spiritual despair so often strikes after a major spiritual advance. The ego feels despair, and projects that despair onto our minds, trying to convince us the despair is ours rather than its.

What this is saying has finally penetrated after all these years. It’s not me experiencing all these unpleasant feelings––it’s the ego! I am quite excited about this idea and see endless possibilities for using it to undo the ego. Allen talks of the ego projecting its feelings of “doubt, condemnation, guilt, and despair,” but I suspect that all unpleasant, unloving feelings could be the projection of the ego onto us.

One of the problems with these feelings, whatever they are (fear, anger, despair, frustration, impatience, grief, guilt, doubt, anxiety, etc), is that they seem so darn real. When I feel fearful, for example, it sure seems that the fear is real. Its intensity and the difficulty I sometimes have in getting rid of it seem to attest to its reality. What happens though, if when fear strikes, I ask myself, “Who is afraid?” and then say to myself, “I’m not the one who’s afraid––the ego is! It’s afraid to lose me to love!”?

That reminds me of one of my students, who, in the midst of suffering, suddenly heard, “Who is suffering?” He went on to realize that since he wasn’t a body, he couldn’t suffer. With that, the suffering disappeared. (I wrote about this miraculous experience in a blog in February 2009). So, if I ask, “Who is afraid?” the answer must be, “the belief that I am a body,” and what is that belief but the ego?! And since the ego is nothing but a belief I have, surely I can exchange that belief for a true belief, a belief in myself as a holy Son of God who can’t be afraid, “cannot suffer, cannot be in pain; … cannot suffer loss, nor fail to do all that salvation asks” (191).

Since “my mind holds only what it thinks with God,” I can’t experience fear or any other painful feelings. So the real question for me to ask in every situation in which I feel anything other than the one real feeling––love––is “Who is feeling …?” Then when I answer, “It’s not me, it’s the ego,” it seems as if all the seeming reality and power of those feelings dissolves, because I am essentially refusing the ego’s projections. Or, if the feelings are so strong that they don’t disappear, then at least I can remind myself that I am not the one really feeling them. It’s just me thinking that I am a body and identifying myself with or as those feelings.  It takes the wind out of the ego’s sails if I can call it like it is.

I’ve been working with this for a couple of weeks now, and am finding it so helpful. Just this morning, I succumbed to fear over the state of my health. I felt as if the lessons I was reviewing were meaningless, and I was resistant to practicing, and then I heard,

Ask what is meaningless, Mary: the Word of God or the words of the ego. It is the ego that would tell you that the Word of God is meaningless, for otherwise, it is meaningless. You have become aware of the “dynamics” of the ego. Now it is up to you to render it powerless.

That was enough to motivate me to get me back on track, which I did by asking, “Who is afraid? Who is resistant here?” and reminding myself that it wasn’t me, it was the ego. It helped that our practicing of these review lessons is meant to put us in touch with our true Self.

I’m working with a couple of students who are experiencing bouts of anxiety, and they are practicing this idea of it not being them but the ego who is experiencing anxiety––the anxiety of losing them to love. They are finding that it is helping a lot. I am also encouraging them not to say, “my anxiety” but “the anxiety,” and not “my ego,” but “the ego.” It may seem silly, but I do think that as long as we say “my,” we are saying that we own whatever follows that pronoun. I don’t want to own feelings of anxiety! Whatever we identify as ours, we also tend to identify as us.

James is quite taken with this comment from (T-4.IV.7:4):

The disheartened are useless to themselves and to me, but only the ego can be disheartened.

In addition to asking himself the “Who is …?” question, he’s been using this statement, substituting “disheartened” for whatever unpleasant or unloving feeling he has at the moment. For instance, “The anxious are useless to themselves and to me, but only the ego can be anxious.”

I am so grateful to Allen for his comments about the ego and its projections onto us. Isn’t it sneaky! Perhaps removing our projections from others will lessen and eventually stop the ego from projecting onto us––or maybe it’s vice versa!


Mary Anne