Honesty About Our Egos

How many people would you say you know who are always honest about their egos? Who never get defensive when faced with the simple truth about their egos? Who never claim to lack ego in areas where everyone can see that this is clearly not true?

This is a major issue on the spiritual path. It’s a major issue for everyone, but I think it may well get to be an even thornier issue on the spiritual path simply because this path is all about going beyond ego, which is extremely difficult. Therefore, there is enormous pressure to simply make believe that we have gone beyond the ego. If we tell ourselves, and others, enough times that we have no anger and no fear, we start believing it is true.

Another reason for denying our ego as Course students is that we are all trying to believe we are holy Sons of God, not sinners. Admitting that you have some dark or vicious ego attribute seems to amount to reinforcing the darkness rather than magnifying the light.

Another reason is that we often confuse what the Course means when it tells us that we are perfect Sons of God. We think that perfection applies to our phenomenal selves, the self we experience ourselves as, when in fact it refers to a Self far beyond this earthly personality.

The core reason for denying our egos, however, is the simple fact that the ego always lies about itself. It doesn’t want us to look at it objectively. The Course speaks about this:

It sounds insane when it is stated with perfect honesty, but the ego never looks upon what it does with perfect honesty. (T-11.I.2:6)

In fact, the whole path of the Course involves looking at our egos straight in the face and undoing them. The road to truth involves actively searching out our ego patterns:

The search for truth is but the honest searching out of everything that interferes with truth. (T-14.IX.2:1)

Summary of the things we lie to ourselves about

Below we will look at a number of passages that imply a temptation to not be honest with ourselves about our egos. These are passages drawn from all over the Course in which the word or idea of honesty appears, usually not as the main point of the passage. However, in looking at these passages, a definite pattern emerges about what we lie to ourselves about. We lie to ourselves about:

  • Our attack—our meanness and hate, our unloving thoughts, deeds, and choices
  • The self-serving goals and purposes we are actually pursuing
  • How much we lack desire for salvation and God, as revealed in our unwillingness to do what it takes to have salvation and God
  • How we are not practicing because we don’t want to, though we tell ourselves that we are not practicing due to some Course-sanctioned exemption
  • The real experiential results of following the ego’s guidance

This pattern, simplified, comes down to this:

  • Our intentions are not as holy as we tell ourselves (they are more attacking)
  • Our desires are not as holy as we tell ourselves (they are less about higher things)
  • The outcome of following those intentions and desires is not as happy as we tell ourselves

Things we might be tempted to not be honest about

In the following passages, the Course speaks, usually by implication, about a number of things we might be tempted not to look honestly at. With each passage, I will try to pull out of it what particular thing it is talking about us deceiving ourselves about.

Watch your mind for the scraps of meanness….Watch carefully, and see what it is you are truly asking for. Be very honest with yourself about this, for we must hide nothing from each other. (T-4.V.14:1, 15:1-2)

Here, the word “honest” implies that there is a temptation to not be honest about our scraps of meanness. Isn’t this the case? We have mean thoughts about others, but don’t want to acknowledge just how mean those thoughts were. We want to make excuses for them, justify them, tell ourselves we had good intentions, or just plain look the other way.

When your mood tells you that you have willed wrongly, and this is so whenever you are not joyous, then know this need not be. In every case, you have thought wrongly about some brother that God created and are perceiving images your ego makes in a darkened glass. Think honestly what you have thought that God would not have thought, and what you have not thought that God would have you think. Search sincerely for what you have done and left undone accordingly. And then change your mind to think with God’s. (T-4.VI.3)

Here, the implication is that we might be tempted to not “think honestly” about the unloving thoughts we’ve had about our brothers—which is the meaning of the phrase “you have thought wrongly about some brother.” We don’t really want to look at those unloving thoughts. That is why we have to try to “think honestly” about them and “search sincerely” for them.

As you look upon yourself and judge what you do honestly, as you have been asked to do, you may be tempted to wonder how you can be guiltless. (T-13.I.7:1)

This passage implies that we may not want to judge what we do honestly, because when we do, we will have a hard time believing that we really are guiltless. Again the implication is that we will not want to look honestly at our unloving thoughts and deeds.

In honesty, is it not harder for you to say “I love” than “I hate”? (T-13.III.4:2)

This passage implies that we may have a hard time being honest about how much hate we have, how much easier it is to say “I hate” than “I love.”

Your next consideration is the one on which the others rest: Why is the choice you make of value to you? What attracts your mind to it? What purpose does it serve? Here it is easiest of all to be deceived, for what the ego wants it fails to recognize. It does not even tell the truth as it perceives it, for it needs to keep the halo which it uses to protect its goals from tarnish and from rust, that you may see how “innocent” it is. (W-133.8:1-5)

This is an interesting passage. It comes from a discussion in Lesson 133 that gives four criteria for deciding if a particular thing you chose was a choice for everything or for nothing. This third criteria involves asking yourself why you chose that thing. “What purpose does it serve?” It then says that here is where you will be most tempted to lie to yourself. Why? Because chance are you chose it for the sake of your ego, for some purpose that was not so innocent, for some purpose that was attacking, yet your ego wants to stay looking innocent in the midst of that not-so-innocent choice. It wants to keep its halo in your eyes so that you will continue to pursue its goals. Again, what we will be tempted to deceive ourselves about is the attack within us. This is backed up by the fact that the criterion following this is: do you feel guilty about the choice you made? If you do, that is the evidence that the purpose behind your choice was attacking, was of the ego.

The exercises for today require much more honesty than you are accustomed to using. A few subjects honestly and carefully considered in each of the five practice periods which should be undertaken today will be more helpful than a more cursory examination of a large number….Name each situation that occurs to you, and enumerate carefully as many goals as possible that you would like to be met in its resolution. (W-24.3:1-2, 5:1)

Here we are asked to take a situation and then enumerate “honestly and carefully” as many of the goals we are hoping will be served by this situation’s outcome. Why do you think it takes so much honesty to look at these goals? Isn’t this the same idea as the last passage? We don’t want to really look at the goals we are actually pursuing. Why? Because they involve attack. They involve elevating ourselves. They involve our vanity and pettiness. They involve serving our ego, our image, our body, and disregarding the interests of others.

Ask yourself honestly:
Would I want to have perfect communication,
and am I wholly willing to let everything that interferes with it go forever? (T‑15.IV.8:3-4)

Why do we need to ask ourselves this question “honestly”? Obviously, because we might be tempted to answer it dishonestly. We might say “Yes, of course I want perfect communication and of course I want to let everything that interferes with it go. Yes! I want God!” when in fact we don’t really want these things. Isn’t that what we do? We say, “Of course I want God,” and then wonder why we don’t experience God. Then we start assuming that He’s not holding up His end, since obviously we have done our part.

How can one be sincere and say, “I want this above all else, and yet I do not want to learn the means to get it”? (T-20.VII.2:7)

This is really the same issue as the last passage, isn’t it? We say “I want God above all else,” and then we, for some reason, don’t do what the Course tells us we must do in order to have God. But when we don’t do what it tells us, do we then go back and say, “Maybe I don’t want God as much as I thought?” Usually not. We say, “I do want God above all else, but I just had so many things to do today. I simply didn’t have time to seek God.”

But learning will be hampered when you skip a practice period because you are unwilling to devote the time to it that you are asked to give. Do not deceive yourself in this. Unwillingness can be most carefully concealed behind a cloak of situations you cannot control. Learn to distinguish situations which are poorly suited to your practicing from those which you establish to uphold the camouflage for your unwillingness. (W-Re.3.In.3:1)

Here you are not doing your practice on the hour because the Course has said that if circumstances do not permit, you don’t have to do the practice at that time. Yet your real reason is that you just don’t want to give the time. So you actually arrange the situation to appear to be “poorly suited to your practicing.” You have engaged in a planned self-deception so that you don’t have to look at your unwillingness to practice.

The last two passages have a subtle similarity. In both cases, you don’t want to do what is required in order to gain salvation, but then you don’t want to look at the lack of desire that is entailed in that.

It is emphasized again that while complete inclusion should not be attempted, specific exclusion must be avoided. [The practice involves looking randomly about you and saying, “I do not see that_____as it is now.”] Be sure you are honest with yourself in making this distinction. You may be tempted to obscure it. (W-9.4)

Here you are supposed to look randomly around the room and apply the lesson to anything your eyes alight on. You are told to not try for complete inclusion-including literally every object in front of you-but you are also told to not engage in specific exclusion-not using something because you don’t want to apply the lesson that particular thing. What you will be tempted to do here is to do specific exclusion in the name of not trying for complete inclusion. You’ll exclude some object that is sacred to you, but say to yourself, “Well, the Course did say to not try to include everything.”

Notice how similar these last two passages are:

OVERALL PATTERN LESSON 9 REVIEW III
In your practicing, the Course tells you that you don’t have to do a certain practice under certain circumstances You shouldn’t attempt complete inclusion. You don’t have to apply the lesson to every single thing in the room. You don’t need to do the hourly practice if circumstances do not permit.
You, however, have a resistance to doing the practice. That is the reason why you are not doing it. You don’t want to apply the lesson to certain objects that you have an emotional attachment to. You don’t want to give the time to doing the hourly practice. You have things to do that are more important to you.
But rather than admitting that you are refusing to practice due to resistance, you tell yourself that your not practicing falls under the exception rules provided by the Course. You tell yourself that you are not applying the lesson to that particular object because the Course told you to not try to include everything. You tell yourself that you are not practicing this hour because the Course told you that you don’t have to do the hourly practice if circumstances do not permit.

In other words, you have lied to yourself by moving your practice from the category it really is in—”I have resistance to doing it”—to the category of “the Course told me that I don’t have to do this particular practice.”

Think also about the many forms the illusion of your function has taken in your mind, and the many ways in which you have tried to find salvation under the ego’s guidance. Did you find it? Were you happy? Did they bring you peace?

We will need great honesty today. Remember the outcomes fairly, and consider also whether it was ever reasonable to expect happiness from anything the ego has ever proposed. (W-66.9:2-10:2)

What happiness have you sought here that did not bring you pain? What moment of content has not been bought at fearful price in coins of suffering? Joy has no cost; it is your sacred right. And what you pay for is not happiness. Be speeded on your way by honesty, and let not your experiences here deceive in retrospect. They were not free from bitter cost and joyless consequence. Do not look back except in honesty. (T-30.VI.8:4-10)

These last two passages are about the same thing. Both talk about how we deceive ourselves about how much our ego pursuits paid off. We are prone to looking back and telling ourselves, “That was great,” when it really wasn’t. We lie to ourselves about the real experiential result of following the ego.

Exercise

Think of something that others have been trying to tell you about your ego but which you have been defending against, denying, refusing to admit. Alternately, is there some ego pattern in yourself that you have been seeing evidence of but refusing to really acknowledge and look at and deal with? Please write it down here:

Now ask yourself: Is it possible that you have been deceiving yourself in this area?

If yes, can you see how the following quote applies to this self-deception?

Holiness can never be really hidden in darkness, but a person can deceive himself on this point. This illusion makes him fearful, because in his heart he knows it is an illusion. As with all illusions, he exerts enormous efforts to establish its validity. (T‑1.31.2:3-5)

Can you see any of the “enormous efforts” you have been exerting?

The self-deceiving must deceive, for they must teach deception. And what else is hell? (M-In.5:4-5)

Do you see any ways in which deceiving yourself about this has led you to deceive others?

Can you see how this is hell? How it is hell to be living a lie?

The Course urges us to not beat ourselves up about our egos, but to look calmly upon them. “Let us, then, look upon them calmly, that we may look beyond them” (T-23.III.1:4). So let’s do that with this ego pattern—look on it calmly in order that we may look beyond it.

When you look calmly on this, how does your perspective change?

This is the goal—to look upon our egos as neutrally and objectively as we look upon a rock in the wilderness. When we can stand apart from our own egos and look upon them as if they were meaningless objects outside of us, then we have taken a huge step toward not identifying with them.

Realize that by not giving in to your ego’s desire to hide itself under lies, you are teaching yourself that you are not an ego:

The ego, under what it sees as threat, is quick to cite the truth to save its lies. Yet must it fail to understand the truth it uses thus. But you can learn to see these foolish applications and deny the meaning they appear to have.

Thus do you also teach your mind that you are not an ego, for the ways in which the ego would distort the truth will not deceive you longer. (W-196.2:2-3:1)

Finally, say to yourself, “That is true [that I have this ego pattern], but that is not me. That is not who I really am.”