Psyche and Ego

“I don’t know what an ego is – I have never met one anywhere”, James Hillman once remarked contributing to a talk about Jung’s Red Book. It made me laugh, because neither have I. He was making the point that attempting to conceptualise and literalise psychological experience is ultimately a mistake, arguably leading to more damage than understanding and support of the human soul. Whether what we call ego is the centre of consciousness and how far it is responsible for mediating, moderating, and adjusting the sensual input and level of awareness with regards to the outer and inner, the instinctual and intellectual, the collective and the individual worlds, may be an interesting academic debate. From the point of view of the unconscious the only factor that concerns it how far you are equipped to see and sense on its behalf, i.e. for a human being to consciously put their material senses in the service of its imagination. The great paradox when it comes to the primal psyche namely is that while it is itself an instinct and perpetually produces images, it is unable to see or sense them, and you can just feel how utterly delighted it is when you do it on its behalf. It is very similar to the natural world in this way, in that Nature produces the most intricate creatures and living organisms, the survival of which it will relentlessly drive towards, yet of which it itself is nevertheless entirely unconscious. I have always been a bit bewildered when academics suggested that the ego is a servant to the Self, when in effect, the psyche is entirely at the mercy of the ego. How far the unconscious imagination and its instincts are consciously considered in civilised life wholly depends on whether the human senses are able to perceive it and to what degree and in what way they will engage with it. I do not agree at all in this regard that the unconscious generally has more power than consciousness. It is very important to remember that what we call ego is much closer to, I would go as far as to say it is even a product of, matter. The senses that determine conscious awareness are physiologically and neurologically conditioned, with a wide spectrum of individual variations, whereas the content of unconscious imagery is a product of the autonomous force of the primal psyche. In reality, there is no master and minion relationship going on between the primal psyche and civilised consciousness in the slightest – it is rather a working relationship between the primordial psychological and the contemporary materially conditioned aspects making up human consciousness. Since I am, by nature, compelled to live in the unconscious for most of the time, whether and how I use my ego is nevertheless not a question that consciously concerns me, really. The most stabilising and sane way to live for me is to relate to the outer world as much as I can by way of my instincts and imagination – as long as I stay grounded and attached to my senses, the conscious attitudes and decisions I adopt have worked and made sense for me. It is a lot though, I must admit, always being conscious of the movements of your instincts, which never stop working. Some days, I do get tired or bored or my mind tells me that living equally in both worlds is getting too much, and so I will hold against psyche’s drive to drag me into its musings. There are times when I argue ferociously with the unconscious, telling it that it is asking too much of me in that moment - my senses can only process so much at a time - or that its demands are not appropriate. Sometimes, the psyche seems to forget that you are only human, and this seems to happen especially when you are so much like it. It is not malicious at all, however in those instances, the unconscious treats you as if you are it, and then you have to re-establish the boundary. We have an understanding in this regard, the psyche and I, that if I ever felt it was messing with me, trying to dominate, corrupt, or possess me in a way as to wholly identify myself with it so that I would become unrecognisable to myself or my family, I would resort to drug-based interventions to shut it down. I love the psyche, but I never felt I depended on it; I greatly enjoy our being together, but I can well imagine being happy living an alternative life without it. So far, albeit arguing violently often, we have remained respectful and on good terms with each other, largely, because I never employ my rational, wilful mind skills as much as I start talking to the images themselves (which is not a literal, audible talk, but an instinctual communication, which is always silent), I see what happens and intuit the most suitable imaginal response. Despite the intensity of the relationship, none of my inner experiences have ever seriously clashed or affected my life in the outer social world, even though the two autonomous realities are absolutely worlds apart. I really don’t know how far “my ego” has to do with bridging that gap either. All I know is that my inner and outer experiences co-exist comfortably, that I see them both for what they are, and that there is a lot of respect there for each unique reality, even though there is no true union of sorts. I do not know why, but I simply do not mind that this magical marriage of my inner life and the outer world is lacking. I do not feel that I could consciously or wilfully enhance or change the relationship anyway, and so I just carry on with what is consciously and instinctually available to me. There are days when I feel like thinking very hard to make sense of what goes on in the outer and inner life; most of the time, I nevertheless follow my gut. There are only few people I trust to provide sound advice, and even though I ask them for their guidance frequently, I oftentimes ignore it just the same. The choices are predominantly guided by my senses nevertheless – I have come to feel where and how far I can go with myself, to calibrate and adapt inside and out wherever possible as my worlds move, and time goes on. Always encouraged by the understanding that life as I know it, just like the ego, is not conceptual, but always sensual and contextual in reality.