SFG 1 Resources – Ego And The Search For God

Ego And The Search For God

(Posted on: August 31, 2015 by David McMillin)

[NOTE: While serving as mentor for an online version of “A Search For God” a participant who was also a student of ACIM (A Course in Miracles) asked the following questions: "Do you know if Cayce discussed much about 'ego' as used in the ACIM (course)? Is it correct to say the Cayce readings focus on 'body' since most of the readings begin with the sentence such as 'we have a body here'"? The second question is addressed in another article titled: The Cayce Physical Readings & ACIM.  Below is an edited and expanded version of my reply to the first question.  – Dave]


The short answer is that the term "ego" is defined differently in the Cayce readings and A Course in Miracles (ACIM). Cayce often used the term in a broader sense that allowed for a positive, spiritual basis for ego.

The choice, the self, the ego of each soul is that expression, that stamp, that image of the Creative Force, of the energy, of the God; which, is as the gift of God, making each individual entity aware, or conscious of itself and all its abilities to choose, to think this or that, to choose this direction or that direction.  (2990-2)

That is such a remarkable excerpt from the Cayce readings. Note that the term “ego” represents the self, the identity of each soul as a gift of God, stamped in the image of the Creator as a self-directed being. Of course, the will of each soul is that spiritual attribute that allows the soul to express itself in both positive and negative ways (however we may wish to define those terms). When the ego of the soul is expressed selfishly, it can be termed egotistical, and in modern common parlance simply lumped under the term of ego, without any awareness of the greater spiritual context or potential of the ego. Such a limited view of the meaning of ego is not helpful in A Search For God, or even as a viable model for mental health, as we shall see. But first we need to define our terms so that we can appreciate the positive aspects of ego in addition to the well-known dark side.

Ego Defined

A web search using Dictionary.com yields these definitions for "ego."

1. the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.

2. in Psychoanalysis. the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment.

3. egotism; conceit; self-importance.

4. self-esteem or self-image; feelings.

5. in Philosophy (often initial capital letter)

A. The enduring and conscious element that knows experience.

B. Scholasticism. the complete person comprising both body and soul.

6. Ethnology. a person who serves as the central reference point in the study of organizational and kinship relationships.

Notice that most of the definitions for ego are either positive or neutral. Only #3 ("egotism; conceit; self-importance") is negative. These are the ways the term ego is often used in the Cayce readings: The distinct, unique individuality of a person — the "I" of selfhood. Ego can reflect postive "self-esteem or self image (#4).  And the usuage of ego does have some definite historical connections with Freud's psychoanalytic approach to personality and mental health (among others things).  As noted, the ego does have its dark side when it is expressed in a selfish or self-centered manner (being egotistical) and that is found in some of the Cayce readings as well.

Psychology Of The Ego

As noted in the dictionary definition of ego, there is a definite conceptual and historical context for understanding the meaning of ego and how it relates to our sense of self, especially with regard to mental health. Linguistically, the term ego has its origins in Germany between 1780-90, from the Latin for “I” as found in the psychoanalytic approach created by Sigmund Freud.

The terms "id", "ego", and "super-ego" are not Freud's own. They are latinisations by his translator James Strachey. Freud himself wrote of "das Es," "das Ich," and "das Über-Ich"—respectively, "the It", "the I", and "the Over-I" (or "I above"); thus to the German reader, Freud's original terms are more or less self-explanatory….  The word ego is taken directly from Latin, where it is the nominative of the first person singular personal pronoun and is translated as "I myself" to express emphasis.  (Wikipedia)

Originally, Freud used the word ego to mean a sense of self, but later revised it to mean a set of psychic functions such as judgment, tolerance, reality testing, control, planning, defense, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory. The ego separates out what is real. It helps us to organize our thoughts and make sense of them and the world around us….The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions … (Wikipedia)

So the original latin meaning of ego is simply “I myself” which has been used to designate that part of the psyche that reflects our unique identity or sense of self as separate from others.  In Freud's materialistic psychoanalytic model, it represented the “reality principle” that mediated between the instinctual impulses of the “id” (biological or carnal instincts) and the social responsibility of the “super-ego.”

Since Freudian psychoanalysis was an influential system of thought during Cayce's lifetime, the readings did utilize some of the terms and concepts popularized by Freud. Thus the idea that mind has various levels (including conscious and unconscious/subconscious) and that dreams are the “royal road to the unconscious” (per Freud) are reflected in the Cayce readings. In this context, the term ego was also utilized in various ways, including its original latin meaning of “I myself.

In modern psychotherapy and counseling, it is considered essential that a person have a healthy sense of self (self-esteem) to be fully functioning in relationships with others. This is called “ego strength.”  A person lacking in ego strength, may become like a doormat to others who are domineering (egotistical or ego-centric). This is why the Cayce readings insisted that the will of a child never be broken, else that individual may be vulnerable to abuse by others (even as an adult). Thus the Cayce readings are consistent with modern psychology with regard to good mental hygiene as well as spirituality as pertains to the proper use of the term ego.  If you choose not to use the word ego to designate the positive, essential aspect of the self and its identity, then what word or term would you choose as its replacement?  From the standpoint of understanding the readings' use of the term ego, we must at least undertand and appreciate the proper meaning of the term as established by history, tradition, clinical practice, and metaphysical context (in the psychic readings of Edgar Cayce).

Modern Context Of Ego In Spirituality

With this bit of historical, conceptual, and linquistic background we can now explore the spiritual implications of the meaning of ego within the context of the Cayce readings and another prominent modern spiritual approach. Let's begin with some excerpts from the Cayce readings that express a very distinct and direct association of ego with spirituality and even the Divine.

The “Real Ego” or “I AM Consciousness”

The Cayce readings insist that the rightful relationship of the soul to its Maker is that of the part to the whole, the personal “I AM” within the divine “I AM THAT I AM.”  

Or, as we have given as to how a soul becomes conscious, aware, of its contact with the universal-cosmic-God-Creative forces in its experience; by feeding upon the food, the fruits, the results of spirit, of God, of Life, of Reality: Love, hope, kindness, gentleness, brotherly love, patience. THESE make for the awareness in the soul of its relationship to the Creative force that is manifest in self, in the ego, in the I AM of each soul, and of I AM THAT I AM. (378-14)

In the Christian bible, Jesus said “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30). The “I” in this context is what Cayce called ego – the “I Am” within the great "I AM THAT I AM." This dynamic relationship is the “cause of BEING:”

That it, the entity, may KNOW itself to BE itself and part of the Whole; not the Whole but one WITH the whole; and thus retaining its individuality [ego], knowing itself to be itself yet one with the purposes of the First Cause that called it, the entity, into BEING, into the awareness, into the consciousness of itself.  That is the purpose, that is the cause of BEING.  (826-11)

Here is an excerpt from the Cayce readings that reinforces this relationship by defining the ego as the “I Am” or “real ego:”

For while we find body, mind and soul are phases of the experiences of an entity in materiality, these are but the manners through which the real ego or I Am manifests.  (1648-1)

A Course in Miracles

One of the best known and most influential spiritual resources created in the last fifty years is “A Course in Miracles” (ACIM) channeled by a clinical psychologist named Helen Schucman. With regard to our current exploration of the role of ego in spirituality, ACIM takes a particularly negative stand against ego as the supreme obstacle to spiritual awareness. In other words, it limits the meaning of ego to the third dictionary definition provided at the beginning of this article (“egotism; conceit; self-importance”). Thus ACIM regards the ego as a mistake in consciousness – a mental problem that seeks to perpetuate itself as the ultimate source of human misery.

From the perspective of the Cayce readings, there is some truth to this assertion. For when the ego loses track of God (or rejects God outright), then it is in a rebellious, soul-sick state that needs to be healed. And yet, the Cayce approach affirms that this is not the only possibility for the ego, which can also choose Cooperation with God without losing its sense of self (being totally absorbed into the Whole that is God). For anyone interested in comparative studies (or even in reconciling these points of difference between ACIM and the Cayce readings), here are a couple of suggestions.

Any time you see the words “I am” or simply “I” (in the human first person) in ACIM, that is what the Cayce readings call ego.

For example, notice the affirmation for ACIM Lesson 339 (“I will receive whatever I request”):

“Father, this is Your day. It is a day in which I would do nothing by myself, but hear Your Voice in everything I do; requesting only what You offer me, accepting only Thoughts You share with me.”

Or ACIM Lesson 264 (“I am surrounded by the Love of God”):

“Father, You stand before me and behind, beside me, in the place I see myself, and everywhere I go. You are in all the things I look upon, the sounds I hear, and every hand that reaches for my own….”

This usage of “I” or “I am” is consistent with the dictionary definitions of ego that we have considered above (particularly #1 and #5A). This is also consistent with some of the usage of the term in the Cayce readings.  

When the first person “I” or “I am” is self-centered (selfish), then the Cayce readings may call it being “egotist” (egotistical) or simply “ego” (as in the ACIM).  

As has been given from time immemorial, seek to know thyself.  Not as an egotist but the ego within self, the I AM consciousness … (440-20)

In this example, the negative, self-centered of ego is called being an “egotist” and yet in the same phrase the positive, spiritual potential is emphasized (“the I AM consciousness”).  Note also in this excerpt the encouragement to “know thyself.”  “Know Thyself” is the second lesson in ASFG.  That is why I created the exercise for that lesson titled “Know the Healthy Self” (and the related layers of resources for this important aspect of self knowledge).  Knowing the healthy self is a positive experience in A Search For God: To know yourself to be yourself (a healthy ego) and yet one with God.

Harmon Bro addressed the distinctiveness of the Cayce approach to the ego (in contrast to ACIM) in a Venture Inward article dealing with the the "Great Gulf" between the Cayce readings and ACIM:

… Cayce joins his contemporary, Carl Jung, who saw the great challenge of individuation, or full becoming of personhood, not as one of abandoning the ego, but as having the ego reach its full potential of decision-making and creating, yet doing so in a process of yielding autonomy to the deeper Self, which is the individual's counterpart of the Christ. Ego plus Self, in proper relation, is the drama, not ego obliterated by Self, which can lead to chaos in the psyche, and ultimately insanity.  (Venture Inward, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1992, Volume 8  No 6, Page 24)

Thus the Cayce readings do not automatically and inherently associate ego with a negative sense of self (as portrayed in ACIM). Rather, they use the term ego accurately in historical, conceptual, and linguistic context for when those readings were given – and do so with a spiritual purpose – to define the ideal relationship with the Creator and all other human beings.

Howerever, in contemporary, casual usage (nontechnical or nonclinical) the word ego has increasingly assumed a very limited and negative meaning which is also reflected in some modern New Age metaphysical writings (including ACIM).  Thus in common usage, ego has become almost entirely synomymous with “egotistical” or “ego-centric.”  Maybe we need a new term to designate the positive, essential (from a mental health and spiritual perspective) quality that has historically been associated with ego.  But since we can't go back and change the word ego in the Cayce readings (where ego is used precisely and accurately to indicate a potentially positive, intrinsic quality of the soul), we will never understand those readings if we follow the modern simplistic trend to designate ego as something entirely negative and to be completely eliminated from the psyche.

The Problem

To understand and apply the Cayce approach to ego in A Search For God is challenging. It requires a flexible, open mind and willingness to acknowledge the inherent potential for good within each individual that we meet (and even within our own self as we seek to consciously experience and express our oneness with God).

As noted in the previous section, the problem with regard to the Cayce approach to spirituality is that there are numerous readings that speak of the ego in positive terms – much as we have seen in the dictionary definition of the term itself and in the historical, conceptual, and linguistic aspects of the ego.  Do we simply say that Cayce was wrong in those readings?  Do we chalk it up to semantics and regard it as a problem with language?  Or is the problem even deeper – a conceptual confusion in what it means to be a healthy self in the Search For God?

The readings consistently endorse a relationship with God in which the individual becomes one with God yet retains a sense of individuality (ego, in the healthy definition of that term):

For each soul has and does become aware of its separation from the Father, God. It seeks not justification in itself but through the promises in Him to again come into that presence, that consciousness, that oneness in such a manner as to know itself to be itself, yet one with that Creative Force or God – even as He.  (1610-2)

For the Lord thy God is One; and the soul, the entity, is that portion that may be – with the application of self – made one with the Creative Forces or God. Yet it is capable, with that gift of eternal force within self, to KNOW itself separate but one WITH the Creative Forces.  (873-1)

The following of those sources, forces, activities that are in accord with the Creative Force or first cause – its laws, then – is to be one with the source, or equal with yet separate from that first cause.  (262-52) 

Thus we are to know ourselves to be ourselves, separate yet one in our relationship with God.  Or as Jesus put it: “I and the Father are one.” That is the solution to the problem … and it is addressed in every lesson in A Search For God.

Resources

  • The Healthy Self – This video comes from a lecture I gave at Asilomar in 2011.  The audio was recorded and I inserted my Powerpoint slides over the audio track to create a video.  It is a pretty thorough analysis of the healthy sense of self that the Cayce readings advocated with the phrase know yourself to be yourself, but one with God, one with the whole. 
  • Venture Inward Article – Harmon Bro's entire article ('Great gulf' perceived between Cayce and Course perspectives – NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1992, Volume 8  No 6, Page 23) is an excellent resource for understanding the fundamental differences between the Cayce approach (as exemplified in A Search for God) and A Course In Miracles.
  • Reading Excerpts on Ego – Below is a collection of excerpts from the Cayce readings that discuss ego. To be sure, many readings do point out the shortcomings of selfish, personal ego (self-centeredness). But it is important to note that the ego is not inherently bad or evil. Only when it is selfish and rebellious does it present a problem. Furthermore, a healthy ego (sense of self) is essential for full companionship with God and others, as noted very eloquently in the excerpts below:

The choice, the self, the ego of each soul is that expression, that stamp, that image of the Creative Force, of the energy, of the God; which, is as the gift of God, making each individual entity aware, or conscious of itself and all its abilities to choose, to think this or that, to choose this direction or that direction.  (2990-2)

As has been given from time immemorial, seek to know thyself.  Not as an egotist but the ego within self, the I AM consciousness … (440-20)

For while we find body, mind and soul are phases of the experiences of an entity in materiality, these are but the manners through which the real ego or I Am manifests.  (1648-1)

The will then to do, to be one with that Creative Force and thus fulfill the purposes for which the entity entered this present sojourn, is an evidence of the conditions just stated, if one accepts the fact that God is and that the ego, the thought of self is His offspring.  This is the accepting of the fact that ye always were, ye always will be; dependent upon the relationship or upon what ye do with thy will.  (3376-2)

For the imprint, the soul, the spirit of each entity is a part of that great whole, that "I AM" by which the individual ego would seek to pattern itself.  (1796-1)

KNOW, self is the only excuse.  Self is the only sin; that is, selfishness – and all the others are just a modification of that expression of the ego.  But so close is the ego, the I Am, to the GREAT I AM, THAT I AM, that the confusions of duty and privilege and opportunity become so enmeshed in the experience of the entity.  (1362-1)

So, the activity should be such that the self, the ego, the I AM would present same to the God, the Father, the Universal Influence, the Creative Energy, the I AM THAT I AM, in such measures and manners as to be a glorifying of that the body, the entity, the soul would present as its portion of the whole.  (262-87)

Personalities always cause contention, confusion.  For, there is ever present in the mind of EVERY individual his own ego, his own I AM.  When these are at variance, they cause the personality of every individual to become confused – one with another.  (1931-4)

In ANY influence, will – a self, the ego, the I Am – is the greater force TO be dealt with …  (311-3)

Or, as we have given as to how a soul becomes conscious, aware, of its contact with the universal-cosmic-God-Creative forces in its experience; by feeding upon the food, the fruits, the results of spirit, of God, of Life, of Reality: Love, hope, kindness, gentleness, brotherly love, patience. THESE make for the awareness in the soul of its relationship to the Creative force that is manifest in self, in the ego, in the I AM of each soul, and of I AM THAT I AM.  (378-14)

The crown of life here means being aware of those abilities within self to know that the self, the ego, the I, is in accord with, is aware of, the divine protection that has and does come to each and every soul that fulfills its mission in any experience.  (442-3)

The TEMPLE, then, is of the God-portion of every entity, and there the spirit of truth, of helpfulness, of hopefulness, may meet with self, the ego, the I AM, that is of the Creative Forces – THROUGH the MENTAL application of self.  (516-3)

(Q)  Who comes to me when my consciousness is partially submerged, and how can I be receptive to, or understand their message?
(A)  Who better than thy better self, or that thou hast been or hast taught or thought in thine inner self?  It is the remembering, as it were, the vision of thine inner self. What more wonderful can there be than to know that self's own ego, self's own I AM with the spirit of truth and life, has made aware within self that thou hast been called by name?  (707-2)

These, while not all, give an outline of reactions of this particular entity from the astrological aspects, – though not in the term that is oft used, for these are only urges.  And what one does about an urge in relationship to that the innate soul or ego has chosen for its ideal depends upon whether there is growth or retardment in the experience of the entity.  (1942-3)

This body has long suffered from loneliness within. This, then, has been the submerging of the ego, or self within. This when aroused by spiritual, mental or material things, becomes rather as a shock – to the mental self.  For the body in its mental self is well balanced.  But to have that balance out of line gives to the physical a different approach to all the experiences of the body.  Thus the emotional or nervous upsets.  (3102-1

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