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The Higher WE

by Andrew Cohen

Ego is a very big problem. In fact, ego is the only problem. For the next stage of human development, for the evolution of consciousness, for the evolution of enlightenment itself, ego is the only problem. And I think we may have forgotten what a mighty adversary to higher development ego actually is. But that's understandable. In the narrow, personal context in which most of us live, ego is the fundamental emotional and psychological locus with which we are identified.

What is ego? Ego is the deeply felt sense of being separate and superior. Indeed, it is an emotional and psychological compulsion to see and feel the self as being separate from and superior to the other, the world, and the whole universe. It is that locus point where the sense of individuality is also a sense of alienation, where the experience of autonomy is also one of isolation, and where even the experience of freedom is always shadowed by a deeper sense at the core of our being, by a sense of bondage, limitation, and hopelessness.

In the postmodern era, from a developmental perspective, the ego has reached its apex as the individuated self-sense. Never in recorded history have so many attained such a high level of individuation. The separate self-sense, no longer embedded in survival consciousness, tribal consciousness, religious tradition, or even impassioned nationalism, has, for many, finally begun to liberate itself from its social or collective moorings. From a vast evolutionary perspective, this is indeed a profound achievement. But the only problem is that this same self-sense has now become an island unto itself. For many of us, individuation is the end of the developmental process. And as a result, most of us at the leading edge are stuck at this very high level of development—this extreme individuation—and are largely oblivious to it.

Since the cultural revolution that began in the 1960s, there has been nothing less than an explosion of interest in the evolution of consciousness. Eastern spirituality met Western psychology, and a plethora of old and new ways, paths, techniques, and therapies for transformation have emerged. Many have taken root and others continue to develop. In this context, the understanding that ego, or separateness, is the root cause of all unwarranted suffering and misery, individual and collective, is almost a truism. But do we really recognize the fact that ego is the root cause of all unwarranted suffering and misery? I don't think so.

In fact, the more we evolve in our understanding of the human condition and awaken to our potential for freedom, the more we hear the message that ego actually doesn't have to be a problem at all. The common refrain from many leading voices in the East-meets-West consciousness revolution is “the more you fight against ego, the more power you give it” or “the more effort you make to transcend ego, the stronger is the identification with the very thing you want to transcend.” Generally, we are told that the path beyond ego is through accepting it, or through what's called self-acceptance: acceptance of who we are, of how we are, of what is, etcetera. We stop resisting the truth of who we are, and it is in this profound acceptance, which includes the ego, that transformation will occur.

There is no doubt that the practice of self-acceptance will help us feel better about who we already are . . . but whether that approach will actually enable us to evolve to a higher level of consciousness and a more profound engagement with the life process is another story altogether. Ironically, I think a big part of our collective predicament at this unique time in history lies in the very nature of the high level of development we have reached. Our profound degree of individuation, or narcissism, existing within a worldview that cannot perceive anything higher than the postmodern ego itself, makes it very difficult to see how extreme our identification with ego actually is. And in such an environment, even the experience of higher states of consciousness won't necessarily illuminate our predicament.

I believe that for most of us, the only solution to this evolutionary cul-de-sac, the only way to our own higher development, lies in the context of human relationship, relationship based upon a breakthrough to a shared experience and recognition of consciousness beyond ego. Of course, consciousness beyond ego always means the state of enlightenment itself. So what I'm referring to is the shared experience and recognition of enlightened consciousness, where the shadow of ego or separate self-sense is entirely absent. In this experience of intersubjective consciousness beyond ego, a momentous leap occurs. It is a leap from I to We, from extreme individuation to a living context of intersubjective nonduality—a higher We consciousness in which all parties experience simultaneously their own individual and collective transparency while remaining fully and completely themselves.

In this higher We consciousness, we recognize, perhaps for the first time, why ego is the only problem, the only obstacle to the fulfillment of our imminent evolutionary potential. In a living context of intersubjective nonduality, ego stands out like an unwelcome intruder—a self-centered presence inherently destructive to a unified field of awakened consciousness. From our current state of extreme individuation, or narcissism, the leap to the higher We is the only logical next step for us to take. But for this critical leap to become an actual, permanent stage of development, and not just a temporary state, nothing less than a heroic willingness to transcend ego for real must be cultivated. In truth, most of us are happy to experience the ecstatic intoxication of ego-transcendence as a brief vacation from the ordinary, from what the Buddha called samsara. But few are willing to pay the price to let go of ego once and for all and forever so that what may have begun as a brief vacation becomes one from which there is no return—Nirvana.

The definition of ego in evolutionary terms is inertia. In an evolutionary context, in the leap from extreme individuation to the shared experience of consciousness beyond ego, inertia is expressed as an irrational refusal to change, to let go, to evolve. In all but the extraordinary individual, the forces of inertia are usually profound and often intractable. And because of this, it almost always requires a cataclysmic crisis and a personal reckoning of ultimate proportions to shake the individual's consciousness free from its hypnotic enslavement to the fears and desires of ego.

As long as the fears and desires of the ego remain the fundamental locus of our attention and the impulse to evolve is but a faint murmur in the background of awareness, nothing less than overwhelming force will bring the ego to its knees. The force of what? The force of impersonal absolute love that sees no other and recognizes only itself. In that love, our own higher conscience is awakened and screams relentlessly for our unconditional surrender without compromise. And it will keep on screaming until we all have finally transcended the need to be separate.


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