This new series on Jung and Yoga explores the common threads between Yoga Philosophy and Jungian Psychology. As we merge East-West concepts, you can better understand how both can lead to a more fulfilling life. This episode explores the concept of “ego” in both Jung and Yoga Philosophies. We discuss:
- The three ways the ego creates suffering
- How the ego is set up for survival but not spiritual transcendence
- How to work with your mind to recognize your ego and begin to change the direction of your life
Debra Maldonado 00:30
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I’m Debra Maldonado. I’m here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We are about to enter a new series. The topic is Jungian yoga, combining East and West philosophy. One of the things we’ll discuss today is the ego. But before we begin, I want to remind you, if you’re watching us on YouTube, click the button in the corner and make sure you subscribe to our channel. If you’re listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, or any other podcast service, go to our website, click on Subscribe and make sure you get every episode of Soul Sessions. Today’s topic is The Three Ways the Ego Can Either Make You or Break You. It’s an East-West perspective.
Rob Maldonado 01:32
It’s part of the series of Jungian Yoga, where we look at East-West. Obviously, by the West we mean Jungian psychology primarily, but we can also look at other things like neuroscience, compare and contrast some of these elements. We all arrive at the same place if we look for the truth. The truth is always the truth, whether we approach it from the scientific perspective, from the yoga perspective, or any other way, we reach the same conclusion. Let’s look at the ego. I’d like to dedicate this series to people experiencing autoimmune problems, or autoimmune disorders. Some of the latest statistics indicate that about one in nine women, and one in 12 individuals, both men and women, experience autoimmune problems. Hopefully, some of these ideas help you deal with the problems that come up.
Debra Maldonado 02:50
A lot of what we deal with on a physical level are deeper psychological, emotional patterns that we are stuck in. I love the story that you have to share. That gives people an idea of what is the ego.
Rob Maldonado 03:09
I thought it was Hermann Hesse that had written this story, but I don’t remember where it comes from. It’s a story of a young man who wants to study with a guru, it takes place in ancient India. At that time, the system was that you’d approach a guru, probably take a present, maybe some kindling wood, and offer your services as a mentee, an apprentice, so that you could learn from him the deeper aspects of meditation, the Upanishads, yoga. This young man approaches an old guru who lives in the forest in a hut. The guru takes him on and says “Your job is going to be to bring water, keep the fire running, make sure everything is in order, so by and by I’ll start teaching you what yoga is about.” The young man starts to get impatient because a lot of the work is simply carrying water, chopping wood, making sure everything’s set up for the guru. He’s always asking “When are you going to teach me meditation? When are you going to teach me about the mind?” The guru says “Be patient. We’ll get to it. Go get me some water from the special stream a little bit further than the typical source of water.” The young man takes his jug and goes to fetch the water from this stream. While he’s gone, he finds a stream, he’s filling the jug with water and hears ruckus, trumpets, horses, elephants. He goes to investigate. Sure enough, it’s a procession of a princess who’s riding an elephant and all her entourage, musicians, jugglers, horses, elephants, marching down the road. He’s so intrigued by the vision and her beauty that he forgets about his errand and follows the parade. He follows the caravan into the city. By and by, he gets a job and becomes successful so that he’s able to court the young woman, becomes her lover. They have a great affair together, he’s wealthy, successful. He acquires all the trappings of our modern world. By and by, he starts to lose these things. The relationship goes sour, he loses his wealth, money, abundance. He gets to a point where he’s at the end of the rope, decides to go and throw himself in the river, pretty much giving up on life. He falls asleep right before he’s about to throw himself into the river. When he wakes up, his guru’s splashing water on his face, waking him up. He had gone nowhere, his guru had given him this vision of what life would be like pursuing the world, complete with all of the experiences, both highs and lows. That was one great lesson he learned from the guru.
Debra Maldonado 07:38
I love the idea that the impatience is related in your life, you’re reading spiritual work, or you’re working with your mind to create your life. There’s that impatience, where are the goodies? Then we end up chasing that external, to feel good. We forget about the reason why we wanted to read the spiritual work, we wanted to understand ourselves. A lot of people sometimes get lost in that thinking “I’m going to use the spiritual principles to get material things.” That’s where the ego got you.
Rob Maldonado 08:18
It works at so many different levels. Certainly, the idea of life being like a dream as well. We experience all these incredible experiences but they’re really occurring in our mind. That’s embedded in there. Let’s talk about the ego because, especially in Jungian yoga, there’s a big overlap and some differences.
Debra Maldonado 08:43
Freud used the term “ego”, there’s a lot of people that use that terminology, different systems, but Jungian yoga, very similar in some ways.
Rob Maldonado 08:55
If we reduce it to what are the functions of the ego in general, first of all, its primary function is physical survival. It helps us survive in the physical realm, it’s a really good survival strategy, we’ll talk why. The second one is social adaptation. It helps us fit into the world. The third one is, it gives us a sense of self. Let’s look at those three elements both on the Jungian perspective and the yoga perspective.
Debra Maldonado 09:31
How would you define ego? It’s not a permanent part of your brain or body, it’s an idea or function arising from you being alive, having this aspect of yourself. Same as digestion, ego is a function of having a body.
Rob Maldonado 09:52
Very much so, although it feels to us very real and most of the time we don’t question it. We assume there’s this me, that I that is doing things and experiencing things. But when we examine it through Eastern philosophy or Jungian psychology, we understand it’s nowhere to be found. It’s essentially an emergent property that appears to be there. Solid real, but it’s more of a function like you said.
Debra Maldonado 10:22
Let’s talk about the physical survival. It’s tied to the body and the senses.
Rob Maldonado 10:29
From the yoga perspective, the ego drives the senses, or takes in the information gathered through the senses and gives us an experience of the world. But yoga says “That’s not a real experience, it’s an apparent reality.” The world that our senses construct from gathering all that information is an apparent reality, very similar to a dream in that it’s our own, or inner, construction. Jung says something very similar. He says the ego as the center of our conscious mind, meaning our waking mind, takes in all the information and helps us survive by telling us what’s pleasant and what’s unpleasant.
Debra Maldonado 11:41
The senses receive information through our brain. Our mind, which is not the brain, it’s also a function of being alive, we have this personal mind that uses the information from the senses, from past memory to associate it with something. It’s very subjective in a lot of ways. There’s things we all find pleasant and unpleasant. But every single person has their own library of sensual pleasures and displeasures.
Rob Maldonado 12:15
One of our advanced students was asking me this morning: if a person experiences distrust early on in life, does that become the way they project onto the world? Would they distrust the world? That’s right. The Jungian model would say, when you experience betrayal in your life, or you interpret it that way at least, it might not even be there, but your mind interprets it as “Someone betrayed me, so I can’t trust others”, that emotional imprint stays with you for the rest of your life, unless you do inner work.
Debra Maldonado 13:11
It will play out if you don’t make it conscious.
Rob Maldonado 13:13
The Jungian model would be that you will project it outward, you will see it out there as the way you interact with the world.
Debra Maldonado 13:26
Western psychology talks about cognitive bias. You see the world as you believe it is there. If you believe the world is distrustful, you will look and notice at all the places where you end, even have experiences where it creates more distrust, more reason to barrier, so you’re working against yourself. A very simple example for anyone is when you go to buy a new car, all of a sudden you see that car everywhere on the road because it’s in your mind. Whatever you’re holding in your mind, especially things you push away, actually you’re giving it energy, your ego presses it out, because we have to watch out for this, let’s be careful. If you’re walking down a dark alley, your ego’s going to pay attention to any weird sound because it could be an intruder. Then every little thing scares you. This dark alley is scary because you’re putting distrust and fear into the situation. We end up in the survival mode in life.
Rob Maldonado 14:30
That’s the point why it’d play out that way. Because it would help us survive. We would not need to be enlightened, we would not need to know anything about our own mind. Just follow the principle that whatever we experienced early on, that’s what we should expect from the rest of our lives. If we follow that principle, it helps us survive because if we survived the initial experience, there’s a likelihood we will survive the rest, because we learned how to adapt. But the limitation if we follow that principle, is that we’re going to be limited by our initial experience for the rest of our life. We are going to live the rest of our lives as if we were in that initial early environment of childhood. We know that’s not the case, things change, there’s more opportunities, etc. But we won’t see them because of that conditioning.
Debra Maldonado 15:41
Where yoga brings in another element from Eastern philosophy, and Jung brought in is that it’s not about just changing those conditions. It’s about realizing you’re not the ego. In traditional psychology, it’s all about rewiring the ego, changing the ego, making the ego better. What Jung and yoga have in common is that we want to transcend the ego, we don’t want to just shine up the ego, we want to realize what the ego is doing, so then we can make a choice outside of it.
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Rob Maldonado 17:10
The second part is social adaptation. Once we survive, once we’ve established we’re able to make it in the world, we’re able to find food, shelter, all lower ranks of the hierarchy of needs, the second level of hierarchy of needs is social adaptation, we want to be accepted, to be part of the group, we want to be seen as important elements or people that are contributing to the group, to the tribe, to the society. Jung says this is the construction of the persona. The persona is the mask that allows us to do that.
Debra Maldonado 18:02
The persona is socially constructed, where the physical is more about survival and sensing pleasures initially. But then we learn we have to survive socially, in our family as children, in school as we grow up with our peers, and finally society, find a mate, find work, people like us. The social part is actually more of what the ego sees also as survival in a way because it feels that if I don’t have people like me and care about me, I don’t fit into society, it’s a threat to your survival on a deep level.
Rob Maldonado 18:47
Evolutionary-wise, as social creatures, we survived as a group, we did not survive alone.
Debra Maldonado 19:00
This is not about “I need a healthy self-esteem, so people like me for me being liked.” That’s why we feel bad when we get rejected. What does Jung say about this idea? Persona is, what he talks about, this masks we wear to fit in, that’s not really who we are, the ego creates it.
Rob Maldonado 19:25
The ego has to use that principle of good and bad or desirable and non-desirable, or adaptive and not adaptive. It says “The adaptive elements of who I am, my characteristics, my talent, my skills, I’m going to use them to construct a persona, a role for myself that I can identify with, I can present to the world as this is who I am.” But, he says, that’s only a mask because that’s not the totality of our true self.
Debra Maldonado 20:05
We can’t show who we are because if we have a conflict with what is acceptable, there’s that value conflict that we have of “People will only like me if I present this type of persona.”
Rob Maldonado 20:18
What happens to the stuff we push away? Jung says it goes into the unconscious mind. It’ll stay there until you do inner work, it’ll persist there, it’ll trip you up because you’ll be projecting not only your conscious assumptions about the world but your unconscious assumptions as well, maybe more so because you’ll think “I got rid of them, I pushed them away, I didn’t need them in me.” But they didn’t go anywhere. They went into the personal unconscious mind.
Debra Maldonado 21:01
There’s a layer of conditioning which is survival, the social conditioning is another layer on top of that. It’s not just changing behavior and seeking pleasure. It’s about “How do I seek pleasure?” and that conditioning of “I can’t keep boundaries, I can’t be mean, I can’t reach certain financial goals because it wouldn’t be accepted by my family, they don’t like rich people. I have to be mediocre in my income.” All these things affect our love relationships. I see a lot of people who get married just because their family wants them to be married and sees that as a success. They’re in a marriage that looks good on paper but they’re miserable because it’s not who they are. They’re pretending in the relationship. This social aspect of the mask causes a lot of pain, it is one of the things that breaks us in a way. I don’t want to say we’re broken, but it hinders our happiness, it hinders our ability to have really true love.
Rob Maldonado 22:16
Again, because it’s a mask, it’s not a genuine way of showing up in the world. It functions like survival, which is necessary because we need to survive. The persona is a function of ego that helps us fit into the world, get a foothold in the world and say “I can make it in the world with this persona, I present myself in this way. My job is to keep the unwanted aspects of myself hidden.” Most of the psychological-emotional energy goes towards propping up the persona and pushing away the shadow, the unconscious, or keeping the undesirable aspects of our personality in the unconscious.
Debra Maldonado 23:13
Like the woman who was asking about trust, if you push away trust, you have to be a trustworthy person but you push away someone who’s not trustworthy, you’re going to end up seeing it out there. It’s repeating that, I’m not going to be like them, I’m going to be a trustful person, so people can trust me”, but you end up getting people that let you down all the time. It works in that projection again. What does yoga philosophy say about the persona and the ego in the social aspect of our psychology?
Rob Maldonado 23:51
They don’t necessarily talk about the persona. But they do say that the way we present ourselves at the social level is exposing us to the conditioning effect of the environment. We know this from psychology as well, not only Jung, but Skinner who did a lot of the work on conditioning. Anytime we take an action, if we’re attached to the results of the action, we’re conditioned by the results, if we get a positive, we get what we set out to get, we’re rewarded, therefore it increases our likelihood of repeating that action.
Debra Maldonado 24:43
The guy initially saw the happy music, he was like “This feels good, I’m gonna follow that good feeling.” Then he created all those things. But when it started getting bad, he started pulling away. It can make him happy, but it can make him miserable.
Rob Maldonado 25:01
It’s the dualistic nature of the reward, positive or negative. If we don’t get what we intended through the action, it’s a punishment, it’s not reinforcing, therefore, our likelihood of repeating that action decreases. Think of all the actions we take in a day, let alone a whole lifetime, they all have a conditioning effect on us, they mold and shape our behavior to the point where we’re not making free choices. We’re acting out of our past conditioning.
Rob Maldonado 25:41
That’s what in yoga philosophy they call samsara, or karma. If you look at what’s karma saying, it’s not saying good and bad karma, like we’re used to thinking about it, although we can think of conditioning in those aspects. But it’s really the sum total of your past actions, they left a conditioning imprint on you. Therefore you’re not really free, you’re acting out of conditioning. Yoga is designed to set you free from that conditioning, burn up your past karma.
Debra Maldonado 26:22
Does yoga philosophy say do not seek pleasure, do not create wealth and relationships in your life? Discard it, abandon the ego altogether? What’s the difference? Or is there a similarity between Jungian psychology and yoga philosophy? You’re an ordinary person, you want to have money, you want to pay your bills, you want to live in the world as a householder, how does that work?
Rob Maldonado 26:54
There are two types of yoga presented initially in the Gita, although there’s a lot of schools now with different types of yoga. The idea was that you either renounce the world, go off into the Himalayas and find a cave, or a monastery and isolate yourself from the world. You’re dropping this social persona, very similar to Jung’s idea of you have to be able to transcend, to let go of that social persona. That would be one way, the raja yoga, which is meditation, an inward self-inquiry. The other one would be, and this was an innovation in spiritual technology at that time, the idea that you could continue to act in the world but you renounced the fruit of the action. Not the action itself, you took the action, you did the best you could with the action, but you weren’t interested in the results, negative or positive, you saw it as completely neutral. What that does, it eliminates the conditioning power of the action. You could continue to take action in the world, you could be a householder, continue to have a job, etc, and still develop your spiritual life through yoga. Because you were acting with non-attachment to the fruits.
Debra Maldonado 28:55
You can care about the results. If someone has this desire to help humanity, make the world a better place, it’s not like you don’t care because then why would you act, but you get your ego out of the way, you’re saying “I want to create this condition, but it’s not reflecting the good or bad in me”. Or else it’s like a roller coaster, you’re high when things are going well, you’re low when things are going bad. Just like our friend who ran away with the parade, when things were going well, it was great. But he was so attached that it caused him great misery. The higher the desire and the joy from that desire, comes the depth of the despair from not having it, you’re creating this duality. But if you enjoy doing what you love, “I’m actively taking action to make the world a better place”, it doesn’t matter what the results are. You are already successful in your action. There’s no attachment. What the ego does is it says “I am the person that changed the world, I am the do-gooder that’s doing all these good deeds.” That is a trap a lot of people that want to help others fall into. I have to be the good, all-knowing person, have to have all the answers. You get attached to that. Am I making an impact or am I not? It’s all about the ego.
Rob Maldonado 30:34
Attachment itself strengthens the false sense of ego, the false sense of I. The false sense of self, or the initial sense of self we grew up with is a persona, a mask we’re wearing, a role we are playing in the sense that there is no real I the way we experience it. The ego gives us a sense of I, or a sense of self. But it’s nowhere to be found. It’s not a real, solid, true self in that it can’t be seen, it can’t be defined in any way. If you ask a person “Who are you, reveal yourself to us”, all they point to is identification, external thing, their own bodies. There are people who believe “I am this body, that’s all I am. When the body dies, I no longer exist.” Those are not satisfactory answers to the question of “Who am I?” because there’s an awareness there. Ask somebody “Do you exist?”, if they say “No”, who is the one saying no? The only obvious answer is “Yes, I exist.” You’re hearing the question, you’re answering the question, there was a presence. There’s an awareness that can’t be denied. Yoga philosophy says “That’s the true self in you.” But that realization of true self can only be achieved through cultivating awareness, through letting go of the false identification of persona ego, in Jungian terms.
Debra Maldonado 32:52
A simple way to think about it is the movie screen, the plain white screen is the self. The characters playing a role in the movie of our life is an illusion. When we take that away, we’re still the self, like the boy who went away had the movement of the movie, but when the movie went away, it was still that blank screen that is pure potential, it doesn’t have a name and form attached to it, it’s always there. That feeling of having that sense of “There’s a part of me that’s everlasting, unlimited, pure potential.” Not identifying as my ego is pure potential, and I as Debra am unlimited, it’s more like, that’s the truth. You don’t need confidence for that, you don’t have to build up your ego’s confidence to really reclaim your power because you understand that what’s there, has always been there, and will always be there.
Rob Maldonado 34:00
The first teaching in Patanjali, yoga sutra is that yoga is the distilling of the modifications of the mind. That’s a rough translation. What it means is that, in order to get to that pure awareness, the true self, you have to let go. This is the idea, the surface ripples in consciousness or awareness, the thoughts that create the false sense of I. If you can’t let go of that, if you believe “I am the I because I’m the one that’s thinking and doing”, that’s a false perception. You’re back to ego, to believing you are the false persona, the false sense of self. Meditation in this sutra is essentially a way of getting to that pure awareness, dropping below the surface of the modifications of the mind, this disturbance on top of the water, going deep into the presence of stillness so that you could experience your true self through Samadhi, through Nirvana, through this experience of beyond thought, which is strange for Western psychology, because Western psychology is essentially based on the idea, at least initially, that the mind was the object to study. Then it became about behavior and these external observable things that could be measured. But essentially, it’s the same idea, especially in Jung, he’s saying, if you hold on to that false sense of I and believe you’re the persona, it’s going to make you neurotic. To him, neurosis was living out your complexes. It would be equivalent to living out your karma in yoga. As your karma ripens and is expressed in your being as you continue in your life, you’re simply caught up in your past.
Debra Maldonado 36:40
It’s like you’re a passenger in this, the ego’s driving, you’re just going around the same bends, and you feel powerless to change.
Rob Maldonado 36:50
We see great agreement between these two, one ancient Eastern philosophy and the other one more modern, Western psychology. What you get to win as you examine the mind is that the I, the ego, is false. It’s necessary, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s not a bad thing. It’s not something we want to get rid of. But it only leads to a sense of survival, of social acceptance, this sense of self that is temporary.
Debra Maldonado 37:35
In Jungian psychology, he talks about building up the ego the first half of life. Can you talk about that?
Rob Maldonado 37:45
If we consider that the ego is necessary for survival and social adaptation, we see that the first part of our life should be dedicated to building up the ego and a strong persona. He says that if you don’t have a strong ego, you will not be able to do individuation in the second part of your life because it requires a strong sense of self, an assurance in your capacity to do those preliminary things which is survive, be socially adept, do your work in a social setting, but then also to transcend it, to go beyond that.
Debra Maldonado 38:32
Someone who is struggling with money and survival, scrounging, or their health is in the place where they don’t feel like they’re in control, individuation or letting go the ego might not be the stage they need to be at. The first stage for them would be to find a sense of self that can hold their life together. If they feel like their life is a mess, like you have no control over it, they need to have some sense of control. Is that the concept? Like I can get a job, even though I hate it, but I can get it, go out there and meet people, and maybe a better start to that relationship by wide, there’s no helplessness to yourself.
Rob Maldonado 39:21
In yoga philosophy, the first stages are not about meditation and going into transcendental states of mind. They’re about living a moral life. You have to be stable in body and mind. It begins with Yama, moral certitude, moral education, then you go into asanas and pranayama, you start to work with a mind-body, so that it’s healthy and stable, you have a good platform, then transcend it, go into deeper states of awareness.
Debra Maldonado 40:19
For those who wants to begin this in their life, “How do I let go of my ego, how do I transcend it?”, I was thinking of a great exercise for you. Think about an area in your life where you’re discontented, whether it’s relationships, money, career, health, or even lack of passion in life, lack of purpose. Sit with this question of “Why am I discontented? What do I think is gonna give me happiness?” I’m discontented because I don’t make enough money? If you had the money, what do you think that’s gonna give you you don’t have now? Discontented because I don’t have the right relationship? What is that relationship going to give you you don’t have now? What is the health gonna give you? You’ll start to see an ego attachment, become aware of it. That’s always the first step, to be aware that the things you desire, and how the ego is desiring them, is facing outward. It’s not about an internal state, it’s something outside of me is going to give me something internally. That is the opposite of Jungian yoga. Both philosophies agree that internal creates the external. When you’re feeling discontented, you’re looking to the future, you wish things would change, you’re caught up in ego.
Rob Maldonado 41:53
We see in yoga, the aim or the main practice is meditation. A lot of people think asanas, but asanas are considered a preparatory stage, so that it can get to meditation, so that you could be in good health when you meditate. Jung uses a similar technique, but he calls it “active imagination”. He’s more interested in what is the unconscious mind going to give you as far as symbols that point to your transformation, to your inner work, to help you transcend the ego. Through active imagination, it was a way to cultivate that communication between the conscious and the unconscious mind. Very powerful techniques that, if done correctly, and practice, lead to that transcendence of your false self.
Debra Maldonado 43:02
I would say both are about turning inward and a meditative state and practices to really question, self-inquiry in yoga, meditation, but also the act of imagination in Jungian dream work, obviously. The intelligence within you has the answer versus the answers outside of you. That’s the way to make your ego in the first part of life. Then we want to change it, we want to transcend its grasp because if we keep hanging on, we’ll go to the end of our life chasing the parade. Then we’ll understand this isn’t really what gives us happiness. We all owe it to ourselves to find that happiness inside first. I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times before. “How do I find it?” This is the way. You first have to identify with the true self, not the ego. Next week, we’re going deeper into the Jungian yoga philosophies and talking about the unconscious mind. We’re gonna go deeper into what we introduced a little today.
Rob Maldonado 44:22
Just to recap, the ego is good for survival. We don’t want to get rid of it. But we want to understand that that’s not where we want to stay. It’s a growth process, the second stage is social adaptation function. It helps us develop a strong persona, a sense of self, being in the world. Thirdly, it gives us a sense of self which helps both with survival and social adaptation. But it also gives us a reference point on which to learn who we are and what our life is about. But we don’t stop there because it’s about transcending the ego that both Jungian psychology and yoga philosophy is about.
Debra Maldonado 45:15
We’ll see you next week for another episode. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel or our podcasts service. We will see you next week. Have a fabulous rest of your day.