|From xkcd.com (https://xkcd.com/566)|
Living with an Ego is – really and literally – like living in the Matrix. It’s basically an artificial world – a facsimile of reality that you interact with an misinterpret for reality itself. The Ego essentially functions as a barrier between you and reality – a barrier that interprets reality for you. And it feeds you a fundamentally distorted view of what reality actually is. Living with Ego you do not experience reality directly – you experience a dramatized version of reality – a story about reality with subtle (and not so subtle) changes here and there. And those changes have a "purpose" (or at least an effect) – which is one of driving you to expend energy in very specific ways – ways that reinforce and strengthen the Ego.
Because – like in the movie – the Ego also uses you as an energy source. It cannot continue to exist without being regularly "fed". And it essentially gets you to feed it by making you expend energy in specific ways – by making prompting you to do things like worry, or hurt, or fight, or hate. It feeds on the energy you produce through these activities – and it essentially uses its place as a filter between you and the world to trick you into doing them. It tricks you into putting effort into activities that produce something it can use to recharge itself – to sustain itself. It exists because it steals energy from you – but it has to manipulate you into expending that energy – you have to give it willingly. Not knowingly (you would likely never do it knowingly) – but willingly, i.e. through your own choice – through your own will. It therefore adjusts your view of reality to essentially provoke you into providing it sustenance. Because without that, it would cease to exist. It would “die”.
But really the word “die” here is a misapplication – because the Ego it not actually alive. Because also like in the movie, the Ego is artificial. It was constructed – was actually created by Man himself. Our own Egos are constructed by each of us ourselves and collectively (in combination with all of accepted society). Further, Ego is by nature mechanical. It cannot do anything that you have not taught it to do – that it has at one time or another been programmed it to do. We have unfortunately though been very good programmers – we’ve essentially built and almost perfect artificial intelligence – something more adaptable and capable than any programmed device known today. It is still artificial though – it is our creation – and cannot be as intelligent as we are. It cannot be as great as its creator. Therefore once you see the Matrix, nothing the Ego can do can beat you – once you decide to fight it, it just simply cannot win.
Living with the Ego is essentially living with unending suffering. In the movie, when the little guy tried to bargain with the Agents to turn on his friends in return for being hooked back up into the matrix (with an added guarantee of a return to ignorant “bliss” and a “good” life in the artificial world) there was no real motivation (within the “reality” of the movie – I don’t think) for him not to do this. In the Matrix, he didn’t have to feel hungry, or cold, or uncomfortable – because within the Matrix those feelings could be offset with programming – with adjustments to the fantasy world. Really, it seems like he was kind of justified. Life outside the Matrix kind of sucked, just practically, and life within it could be “good” for the right people – with the right accouterments and material possessions, etc. Life within the Matrix could seem good at least – in a way that would “seem” to be better than the reality. Maybe something would feel “off” – like it seemed to for Neo – maybe it would feel a little “wrong”. But it was not horrifying. Living in the Matrix was not awful.
Removing the Ego (in this world) though is not just removing yourself from a half-decent fantasy and entering a bleak, dystopian world. While living with the Ego, we are always suffering – constantly, at all times. The Ego feeds on our energy – and that feeding is painful to us. Physically painful. It would have made more sense if – in the movie – being “hooked up” to the Matrix actually caused constant, physical pain – like if the hookup itself constantly stimulated the pain centers of the brain and made the subject feel like they were constantly cramping, or constantly stinging. Not a whole lot maybe – and maybe not even all the time. Maybe just a little bit most of the time, with some times better and some times worse. But enough so that being in the Matrix meant unending torture – unending discomfort. A better representation would have been if, when someone being removed from the Matrix, they finally realized that some discomfort that they had been experiencing – has always experienced – was just…gone. That it was not necessary – not an intrinsic part of human existence. That it was instead just a consequence of being hooked into a machine that was constantly feeding on them – constantly stealing their energy. It would relate more if being "hooked up" was always, without fail, unpleasant in some fundamental way.
This perhaps would have made the movie more boring by removing a source of conflict ;), but this is the reality of living with Ego. You can see part of it right now – if you look. You can actually see the Ego feeding on you. Around the heart, or in the solar-plexus – somewhere in your chest or belly. Maybe you’re having a pretty good day – not really worried or hurt or pissed-off – in which case it will be very subtle, just a vague feeling of discomfort. Or maybe you’re having a really bad day – anxious or depressed or angry or all three – and it will be like a knife, wrenching and sharp and deep. This is the Ego feeding. This is what living in the Matrix means – this is what it feels like. It can be difficult to see, because it is always there and always has been, as far back as you can remember. So it feels normal – it feels like it should be there – it feels like it belongs there. But it doesn’t – it’s unnatural. And it’s unnecessary. And once you’re disconnected – once you’re out of the Matrix – it stops – and you are free.
And something else that is different. The Matrix was an actual, physical thing. It existed. And the Ego (fundamentally) does not "exist". It's just a set of thought constructs that we accept and perpetuate - it is fundamentally an illusion. It helps me as I work sometimes to anthropomorphize it – to think of it as something real, even as something with intent. But this is fundamentally just a thought exercise. The Ego itself does not have existence or intent – it's just an artifact. (But again, it helped me to think of it in the short term as "something", in case it does for anyone else as well. :)
Taking the Red Pill
Ah if only I had a red pill – something I could give everyone or anyone – and boom – the Ego would be gone, and they could feel the difference – feel for a moment what it is like to be unhampered by that constant, worrying pain. Escaping from the Matrix – the Ego – is unfortunately not that simple. It is such an accepted part of our lives – everyone’s lives – that even considering that it may not be necessary sounds like the rantings of a madman (or madwoman, in this case :).
But this (I assert) is the reality. We live our lives in an artificial construct designed to make us unnecessarily produce energy for the sole purpose of reinforcing said construct so we can feed it more. It is a useless and unnecessary task – one that is never completed and we are never done with. It just goes on and on, day after day, for no reason except “because” and “it’s always been this way, so it must just be this way”.
Getting out of the Matrix may not be as easy as taking a pill – but the method is still relatively simple. Escape is accomplished by starving it – by denying it the energy it needs to survive until it withers and dies. There are many ways to stop that flow. One is by not engaging in the activities it needs to turn your energy into something it can consume – by not worrying or hurting or fighting or hating. This can be harder to do without an element of “faith” – a “belief” that those actions are “wrong”. For me it took the gathering of a lot of initial evidence supporting the hypothesis to get to a place where I accepted it enough that I could just “know” that those activities were useless in the end, and resist the Ego’s machinations attempting to coax me into doing them. So this may not be the best method for the outset then (it wasn’t for me, I needed more evidence :). You can also do it by “seeing the code” – seeing how the Ego manipulates you into feeding it. This way is also difficult at the outset though as it requires an immense amount of energy, and the Ego robs us of so much that we do not normally have enough available to us initially to see it all at once. This method worked better for me (I live for analyzing things), but logic alone for me was also not enough in the end.
Instead, a different, perhaps more accessible way to do it is by just watching the sensations – by recognizing them for what they are and just watching them, without judgment. By just observing them – dispassionately, without engaging – we stop the flow of energy – and the Ego begins to die. Simply watching sensations as the come, intensify, and – eventually – fade, they begin to come less and less. And eventually, when enough energy has been withheld long enough – they will come no more.
I’ve practiced this (really in all of the ways outlined – but mostly by sensation watching) – and while I am not yet totally free of sensations, they have lessened to a very significant degree. My life is much more pleasant than it used to be – to such a degree that I cannot even really communicate it. It’s like I was being tortured almost all of the time – like I was always uncomfortable – never getting any real relief. And now, while I’m still sometimes tortured, I have good lengths of time where I am free of it – where I am not at all uncomfortable. And these times get longer and longer as the days go by – as I continue to practice starving the Ego I become more and more unencumbered – more and more myself – more and more free This is the promise – this is what the ancients mean by nirvana, enlightenment, and even (I think) heaven. It is simply freedom from an artificial construct – freedom from the cycle of suffer-flail-repeat. Again - the Ego cannot be as great as its creator. Once you see the Matrix, nothing it can do can stop you. Once you decide you want out, escape is inevitable. But it can a PITA sometimes getting there. :)