Questing and the Ego

FOR WEEKS it has been my intention to pull together all my Carl Jung notes on the ego into a semi-erudite article, to follow on from my earlier attempts on the Shadow and the Heros’s Journey. However, my overthinking quota is up for this week, so I’ll stick instead to my own observations.

The ego refers to that part of the conscious psyche that deals with survival and how we fit into the world. As we grow from childhood into adulthood, it generally becomes corrupted by the banishment of undesirable traits into the unconscious (the Shadow – I deal with this elsewhere). I suppose this is why the word ‘ego’ has such a bad press – it has come to be associated with unhealthy egos (dickheads).

In eastern philosphy, the ego is regarded as something that must be transcended in order for us to become enlightened. We are but specks and life is but a meandering river of infinite possibilities. Not everything is knowable.

Western philosophers, on the other hand, gave us the idea of the questing hero. Now it’s all about pursuing – and winning. Life is there for the taking, if you’ve got the self-belief to do it. The wealth of infinite possibilties resides within you and anything that is not knowable does not exist.

Both schools of thought are unrealistic because they cherry-pick (they are also not comparing like with like). Transcending the ego is nigh on impossible for most folks and overemphasis on control and self-determination takes no account of the fact that our lives are mostly dictated by the random and unexpected. Neither will equip us for the road ahead.

There is a time and a place for both ways of being. Even the I-ching recognises that there are moments in time when it is appropriate to act and others where you must sit back in the knowledge you have done all you can. It’s about knowing when to ride the waves and when to let oneself be carried by them. The problem with today’s culture is that the ‘answer’ often lies in putting the sea in a more convenient place.

It still amazes me how religiously some philosophers stick to one camp or the other. From personal experience, I would agree with Jung that in the transition to psychic wholeness, the ego becomes integrated with other parts of the psyche rather than killed off (which only creates more shadow anyway, so what’s the point?).

A healthy middle ground is achievable.

Being a self-professed Quester, I am keenly aware of the pitfalls of taking a ‘hero’s journey’ approach to life, such as taking it or myself too seriously or using it to set myself apart. If an element of ego were not present at all, then literally I would not be able to achieve the level of propulsion required to do something that goes against the grain (how much worse would my procrastination be without it!). As long as I am able to hold my hands up and admit to my mistakes, then at least for now I regard my own ego as being in a healthy balance with the rest of my psyche (there’s plenty room for improvement, believe me). This also involves knowing when it’s time to take a break, slow down and acknowledge when it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Dealing with the unknown and making things up as you go along is a lot of fun when you learn to let go of controlling the outcome.

It is only when operating from a position of protectionism and fear that the ego becomes unhealthy. For me a healthy ego is able to stand in its own power, while acknowledging and respecting the ability of others to do the same, on the understandng that all are equal in the service of the Whole. For want of a better word, this is Love.

Chocolat

CHOCOLATE is made up of over 200 individual chemical compounds. Some of them are pleasant-tasting, while some of them literally taste like shit. Combined, they make chocolate, well, taste lke chocolate. Needless to say, by the time it becomes a finished product, the compostion changes and a few other things are added or removed, but let’s forget about that part, or my analogy will fall down!

If you were to fiddle with the recipe of your favorite chocolate product on the basis that individually some of the compounds were real nasty, there’s every chance you would think it wasn’t chocolate any more.

Yet submitting the human personality to this cherry-picking exercise from birth is considered normal, indeed necessary for the functioning of society, with the result that we are no longer as unique or whole as we potentially were when we came into the world. We all have some experience of how this sad state of affairs pans out. For many, it creates a feeling of worthlessness, as they spend a lifetime measuring themselves against everybody else.

Psychosynthesis, or individuation, is a process whereby we can reclaim those aspects of ourselves that have been suppressed or lost. Each path is unique, there is no one size fits all. The journey is long and arduous but rewarding.

You may already be undertaking such a journey. Or maybe not. Either way, next time you turn to a rich, sticky, yummy chocolate dessert to make yourself feel better, with every bite you take, repeat the words “I AM the chocolate!” ( though maybe not with your mouth full 😆).

The Quandary

I am by no means an expert in anything but when it comes to being me I am a fucking pro

I’ve sweated these past few days about how to write this post. I had intended to attempt to justify the course of action I am about to take, before then realising that I didn’t have to explain myself at all. Firstly, the circumstances that led me to this juncture are too complex to pack into a single post – secondly, I’ve over-explained myself already – and thirdly, too many spoilers! No amount of explanation can adequately convey what is the most finely sprung state of affairs you can possbly imagine (think tight-ropes, nooses and crocodile clips).

I have no doubt that many will look at my actions and think “What the ****?” Suffice to say that I have agonised long and hard over this and, given the specifics of my circumstances, it is the most appropriate action I can take.

It is what it is. Stay tuned …

M K MacInnes
5 October 2020

Secrets and Lies

YEARS AGO I was fascinated by my ancestry. I still am to a point, only I have other preoccupations to take up my time! Not only did I find out who my great greats were, I discovered their stories, was able to work out what their motivations, aspirations might have been. I saw them as characters in my own story, identified with their struggles. I even learned things about myself.

Other family members humoured me, as I asked pointed questions of anyone who might still be in the know. Until that was, I got to my parents’ generation. Then I might be met with a slight bristle, disguised as concern that in pursuing it I might accidentally self-destruct. Stranger still was the reaction when I wanted to talk about events from my own living memory, things that were mine to discuss. Suddenly, the language would turn to “Don’t you think you should just move on?” or at worst “Leave it alone. What’s the point of digging up the past?” At best I might be met with a blank expression.

What they failed to realise was that I already knew damn well their reaction was a projection of their own fear of having to face up to things that they themselves might no longer remember. And secondly, the past we leave behind never goes away. That time is a great healer is a lie – what fades only sleeps, wreaking havoc with our personalities and our relationships in ways to which we are oblivious. Unprocessed memories hole up in the unconscious part of our psyche and fester. And they grow. And they fester some more. And they grow some more. Until they act out because they can be contained no more. The only way to ‘get rid’ of them is to process them and integrate them into the conscious part of the psyche. Only then can we truly ‘move on’.

* * * * *

For the purpose of this article, there are two kinds of secrets – the personalty traits, emotions and memories we deliberately hide from others and the ones we lose or ‘forget. I will refer to these collectively as secrets. I should, of course, point out that it doesn’t necessarily follow that the content is traumatic or even painful. Positive memories too can be repressed or hidden, if they are deemed unpalatable either to society or to ourselves. But the psychic harm is the same.

In the case of secrets kept from others, a whole manner of methods can be used to maintain the facade. This might include outright lying, denial, omission and minimisation, even gaslighting. Not only can this have a devastating effect on the person on the receiving end of such tactics, it can also quietly take its toll on the perpetrator, until they are unrecognisable as the person they once were.
Forgetting is a form of repression, just one of a host of clever tactics employed by the psyche to avoid feelings of pain, shame, guilt or anxiety. Denial and rationalisation are others. This internal type of secret can be more insidious, since they are more difficult to identify but still show up in our thoughts and actions, if they are not brought back into consciousness for processing.

Of course, the perceived need for secrecy arises in the first place from being conditioned to cherry pick which parts of our personalites are acceptable to society and to ourseslves. But that is another article for another day.

The real problem with secrets, though, is that they are multi-layered, each one compounded by yet another. And another. Until the innermost core of the psyche becomes an immovable knot. Over successive generations, the knots become ever more tangled, as they digest us from the inside out.

The longer we carry our baggage around, the more havoc it wreaks; the damage done to our joints may be more than just an analogy. Unaddressed issues have a devastating effect on our mental and physical health and our ability to function properly. I am not saying for one minute that repression alone causes morbidity, but I am more than suggesting that it plays a part. All illness to some degree is rooted in the psyche; when all other avenues are exhausted, it’s the only place left to look.
Has recent history not taught us that secrets and unresolved trauma do more harm when kept under the carpet than they ever could revealed? Secrets kill. Lies kill. Repression kills. Unless it’s self-inflicted, they just do it very very very very slowly …

* * * * * *

But our forebears did just fine, this is a modern issue, I hear you say.

Bull. Shit. Where I come from, the majority of people born around the turn of the Twentieth Century had OCD, for godsakes, and it was accepted as normal! They were just as reliant on substances to get through, they just disguised it better.

My grandmother, with the benefit of hindsight, though only second hand knowledge, had all the hallmarks of undiagnosed mental health issues. This was compounded by having to soldier through the aftermath of a stillbirth before having her next child plucked from her by a man too embarrassed to have spawned a ‘dud’. After a fortune spent on specialist care, as long as it was elsewhere, the little girl was raised (in a loving environment, thank God) by her unmarried aunt, thus paving the way for my grandparents to adopt a ‘whole’ one. A woman who pretended not to smoke or drink, she maintained the illusion of piety, while in all likelihood using my father as a human shield to avoid intimacy with her husband. All the while, my father’s entire extended maternal family were sworn to mortal secrecy over his adoption while she fretted over his every move.

His adoption wasn’t the only one. Eight years before I was born, the family of the pregnant girlfriend he left behind in Glasgow threatened to kill him if he came anywhere near, let alone marry her, and so yet another generation was given away. No doubt, getting my mother in ‘trouble’ and subsequently doing the decent thing had echoes of a past he was trying to fix.

Did my grandparents take the opportunity that presented itself to come clean? No, they did not. Instead, my grandfather arranged for his cousin in Glasgow to forge my father’s birth certificate, so that when he married, the lie about his origins could be maintained. The later accidental revelation that he was not who he thought he was and that he had been ‘abandoned’ by his natural mother was the beginning of the slippery slope that would lead to my father becoming a first degree alcoholic and an abuser and ultimately to his ignominous death on a pavement with a full bottle of whisky stuffed in his coat pocket. Until some spiteful piece of work opened his big gob over a few whiskies, from as far back as early childhood he had never understood my grandfather’s jibes that he was something that had crawled out of the gutter.

My father at his core was a compassionate, sensitive, creative individual, who had the misfortune to have his true self knocked out of him, like most of hs peers, by the time he reached puberty, then latterly his identity ripped from beneath his feet. The boy who played truant just to go visit Elsa the Lion at the Kelvingrove Museum, his true nature would occasionally show through only when intoxicated or changing his mind in the throes of drowning a miaowling ball of kittens. My father’s life, in effect, was a complete fabrication, because his authentic self was hidden even from himself. For the record, his real name was Eric Abernethy, if he’d stood up to his adoptive family he could have gone to Art School and my parents’ shotgun marriage was technically illegal.

I came into this world on top of a pile of deceit and I doubt very much I’m the only one. Every family has a story like this somewhere along the line, whether they know it or not. How can we kid ourselves that our predecessors were mentally tougher than us? Resilient yes, but often lacking moral courage where it mattered and driven by motivations that have not changed one iota in millennia. I hardly think it was my father’s interests he was protecting when my fine, upstanding grandfather asked the Registrar to commit a criminal offence. The prevailing culture, I have to add, was that the sin was in getting caught; it didn’t matter what you did, as long as nobody knew about it. As for Dad, the first twenty-nine years of his life (from his point of view) wasn’t just a lie, it was a fully-fledged cover-up from which he never truly recovered.

* * * * * *

I have learned from personal experience that the only way to achieve true healing when dealing with lifetime trauma and personality disorder is to dig and this is borne out in the work of psychosnalysts such as Carl Jung. For me, writing a memoir provides a safe and structured framework through which unprocessed material can be exhumed and restored, without the need for professional intervention. This extends not only to trauma but to situations where my own actions and intentions were less than stellar. This requires a degree of honesty first with myself, and ultimately openness with the people who inhabit my psychosocial environment. And there is no room for victimhood or blame. When all the pieces are reassembled, I am both victim and perpetrator, yet neither of the above.

And yes, confession is good for the soul (though I would argue that the practice of confessing to a priest while maintaining a facade to the majority only props up the culture of secrecy). Allegedly, a tribe in Africa have got it sussed, holding mass confessionals where tribe members spill their troubles and misdeeds to all and sundry. I can no longer find the story but the upshot of it was that their health record was enviable. The other plus of communal confession is that you no longer face exposure to exploitation or blackmail. Losing the fear of what will happen to us if our innermost secrets are exposed by going public allows us to operate with complete interpersonal free will.

* * * * * *

It is said that there will come a time when all will be revealed. That time has probably come, if only because we live in an age of easy access to information and a ready supply of scandal. Each new revelation in politics or entertainment brings with it a sense of inescapability, as well as a growing recognition that the cultural secrecy racket creates far more problems than it solves.

And relief perhaps, not just for those on the receiving end. Jusk ask any high profile con artist about how much mental energy is required to remember which lies have been told to whom.

In the wake of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal of the 90s, I always had the distinct impression that in the long run Clinton felt better for the exposure, that somehow he didn’t have to pretend anymore, had to look over his shoulder a little less. And I trusted a politician with nothing left to hide a little more. Charlie Sheen fought tooth and nail to prevent his HIV diagnosis becoming public. Once it was out in the open, any reputational damage came more from the lengths he went to than for having it. In either case, the burden of denial and eventual relief must have been immense.

In the end, revealing is healing. Far better to spit it out. And if someone, or something, is holding a gun to your head, look them or it square in the eye and politely say “Bring it on”.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020

Reality check 2020

Young woman wearing virtual reality glasses

WHEN I published my first short story collection, Close Call: Short and Bittersweet, I dedicated it to ‘the two Gerries, without the shadow of whose memory this my first book would never have seen the light of day’. My brother asked me who the other Gerry was and I told him it was a reference to our late mother’s schizophrenia (she was a Gerry too). Well, that was only partly true. My choice of words was designed to be ambiguous. So in effect, I lied.

There are things even my closest friends and family never knew about me that I’ve lugged around for years. I may have dropped little jigsaw pieces here and there, that is when I did feel inclined to discuss it. But the bigger picture was so mind-blowing and at times surreal that even when I tried, I could never find the words. The only way was to write it. And that has taken years and many false starts.

My biggest problem was never the writing but the perceived risks of attempting to get it published. It describes a unique inner journey and under normal circumstances, the right publisher would bite my hand off. However, it is loaded with legal implications and I can’t very well pass it around in the expectation of confidentiality. And I can only disguise my characters up to a point without killing the story. Particularly as it has an ethical and spiritual angle to it, it has been my goal all along to act with the best intent towards the individuals who co-created it. Which is all very well if you can get hold of them and they are not surrounded by a metaphorical barbed wire fence.

Another dilemma I faced was deciding who my readers were. The closest genre would be ‘spiritual memoir’. However, a wider readership, for whom some of the themes I touch on would have little or no appeal, might have altogether different motivations. I would rather sell fewer copies to a smaller audience, for whom the subject matter is meaningful and potentially life-changing. It is something of a paradox that to get people to read it at all, I have to play to the crowd.

And so for the past several years I have danced around the invisible elephant in the room. Pissed in the wind, if I’m honest, by trying to produce ‘other’ stories while the real, the important, the infinitely more sellable work grew arms and legs (two sequels are already underway).

That I now find myself about to publish the first couple of chapters in order to get the ball rolling and generate income to get myself out of the proverbial is deeply unsettling. I have had to weigh up not only my interests and those of my master catalyst but those of society at large. For a start, the full version of my story offers insights that may be helpful in gaining a better understanding of PTSD, possibly even Alzheimers, and I have a duty to share what I know. Having suffered a neurological condition for the last two years, I am only too aware of the role of the psyche in self-healing. Which brings me to the inescapable truth that in order to fully recover, and safeguard my mental and physical health, I must tell my tale. The risks of doing nothing outweigh the risks of doing something.

With the most recent plot twist in our collective fortunes, the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found myself staring at an opportunity – and justification – to act. With recession imminent and my options to keep a roof over my head running out, that’s one almighty stick. The carrot is the global appetite for stories of self-healing that capture the collective imagination – and potential readers have time on their hands. I have known for at least the last decade that telling this story was the sole reason for my very existence. If our hour of direst need is not the time to bring it to fruition, then my entire life will have been for nothing.

The course of action I am taking now, touch wood, is the most significant hurdle I am likely to have to deal with. Before a publisher will stake their reputation on it, I have to remove at least some of the risk. I will almost certainly need the broad shoulders of an established publisher to pull this off in the longer term.

Over the years I have remarked that the best analogy for my life is walking a tightrope with a noose around my neck and crocodile clips around my balls (I don’t have any but you get the drift). If I make it to full publication, you will discover just how accurate that statement – and warranted my occasional use of profanity – really is.

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M K MacInnes
June 2020