The concept of ‘ego death’ is similar to the ‘sinner’ concept in Christianity in that both assert our default nature is bad rather than good. Being a ‘born sinner’ and the concept of ‘ego death’ creates the impression that there is a worth less part of our selves that cannot be made better and must be shed.
But is it really as black and white as this? Being a born sinner only makes sense when taken in the context of karma carried over from life to life, but it’s never explained in these terms because we are supposed to believe in the single pointless life. So it’s an example of a half-truth paraded by mainstream religion.
Some new age spiritual sources (and the most obscure for some reason) say that this part of the self that sins, the ego, is really the part that is ‘in error’ (as they put it). That the self suffers and sins due to its own ignorance of the true nature of itself. If we see ourselves in this way instead, it invites hope and a motivation to improve that ego part which sins rather than scapegoat it for execution.
But really taking on board that our true nature is divine and that we have just seriously lost our way and fallen for the dog-eat-dog survival traps of this reality, does change the complexion of things entirely. Suddenly you can taste yourself as being something far better with far more control.
This is very self-empowering so no wonder it’s kept so secret and hardly ever brought out into the light. Those good souls who do reveal this are always the most obscure people who have researched and practiced ancient forms of spirituality and even come into contact with the higher dimensions and gained spiritual insights.
Some well known spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle have said they have experienced ego death as a permanent state but can this be possible when our consciousness has the ego built in as an integral part of the whole self? (See Carl Jung’s theory of personality). What is more likely is a temporary disassociation from ego that can be felt as a lightness of being, crystal clear clarity, free from any worry or fear, and a beaming universal love for life.
Ego death portrayed in TV and movies
Human culture and society is full of irony. One of the biggest ironies is that the media – so often cited as a leading cause of the decay of morality and religious belief – actually slips up now and then. But you have to be alert to spot it.
All generations of people have a set of cultural values which they cherish that were specific to their time. It could have come from a social movement, a collective sensibility, or a popular expression of ideas such as our mass media products like TV shows and movies. These media products, which in subtle ways and sometimes quite obvious ways, seem to hint at, or leave bread-crumb trails to spiritual values make you wonder if they doing this for effect or was it an unconscious admission – like a Freudian slip.
For the Generation X and Millennial generations, many cite The Matrix movies (especially the first one) as having lots of spiritual clues and indeed there are some very real moments in that movie which people quote and apply to life challenges like ‘going down the rabbit hole’ and ‘taking the blue pill or the red pill’.
There is currently a popular movie (early 2017) called La La Land which many people of Generation Z have enjoyed its treatment of the consequences of choosing fame over love – representing the choice between living by ego or living by soul.
So in the midst of this blog about ego death I encourage you to reflect on your favourite and signature shows and movies that left a deep impression on you – not just the surface drama, action, one-liners and glamour – but the clues about the meaning and purpose to life and spiritual values.
For my generation (late baby boomer) there are TV episodes and movies I watched during my impressionable years that portray good examples of facing ‘ego death’ in an individual and collective sense and what the consequences turn out to be.
The following three examples of a movie and two TV episodes have surprising insights into ego consciousness. The plot outlines show:
• the arrogance of assuming you have less ego than everyone else and having to face down your dark side
• the discovery and struggle over the duality of ego consciousness – Good versus Bad
• what comes of trying to cut off, reject and abandon a part of yourself.
(science fiction movie – MGM, 1956)
A routine visit by a federation ship to an outpost planet reveals the only inhabitants, a scientist and his daughter, live in a compound that was once part of an ancient but advanced alien civilization that had mysteriously vanished.
The ship lands on the planet not far from the compound and the captain and doctor of the crew meet the scientist and daughter. But their stay is marred by deaths and battles with an invisible monster that attacks the crew in the night.
As the captain tries to get to the bottom of what’s killing his crew, he finds out from the scientist that the aliens had built a machine that removed the need for all instrumentality and allowed them to create anything “by mere thought”. Yet there was still no explanation about what was killing his crew.
Meanwhile the doctor sneaks off and takes a dangerous brain boost from an alien machine. The captain finds him after he has taken the boost and before the doctor dies from the overdose he reveals he knows what wiped out the aliens. He said that after all the population had tuned into this mind machine they began to use their minds for everything. What they didn’t realise was that all their conscious mind had tuned in and that included the dark side of their nature – the Id.
Manifest as the invisible monster, the Id had eventually killed the entire alien civilization. Because the aliens believed in their own superiority to the very end, it never occurred to them they might still have a primitive part to their psyche which had never been reclaimed. They had simply forgotten it existed.
The captain astutely realised that if the aliens were long dead, then what was powering the mind machine now? Confronted with the realisation it was the scientist himself, a battle of wits ensues between the two men and the scientist ends up facing the invisible monster square on and denouncing him. For that he died and the Id was absorbed and his daughter and the crew were saved.
The Enemy Within
(episode of Star Trek TV series – 1966)
When the captain returns to his ship in the transporter, a malfunction causes him to re-materialise into two of himself. One is meek and mild, the other is violent and arrogant. At first it’s not realised as the meek and mild captain materialises first and everyone leaves the transporter room.
Unbeknownst to them another Captain Kirk materialises seconds later and he is mad and malevolent. The episode revolves around them discovering there is a bad double on the loose and the good captain tries to catch him. In the process the good captain discovers he lacks the oomph of his usual self and has trouble making decisions.
The doctor investigates and reveals the bad double may be his darker half – the part of him that holds fear yet has ego strengths. They realise they have to merge the two captains and manage to corner the bad captain.
After an emotionally moving stand-off the good captain captures the bad captain and they go back to the transporter room to materialise back into one person.
What is shown poignantly is how the good captain comes to the painful admission he must merge with his evil side as neither of them can do without the other.
The evil captain viciously insists to the very end that he doesn’t need his good self. A touching scene is when the evil one pleads with the good one and says “I wanna live!’ To which the good one with pure compassion says ‘You will live in me!’
Skin of Evil
(episode of Star Trek Next Generation TV series – 1988)
A rescue team beam down to fetch two of the ship’s crew trapped on a planet after their shuttle crashed. But they are blocked by a strange oil slick type creature that slithers along the ground and blocks their way every time they try to move towards the shuttle. The creature kills one of the crew and tries to scare the others by rising into a blobish shape from its puddle and speaking to them in an echoing deep voice.
They try to communicate with it, but like a street kid, it torments them and says it killed their crew mate for fun. One of the crew tries to reason with him that killing doesn’t really satisfy him as he just wants to keep terrorising people and killing.
Finally they learn the creature was the mental garbage from an advanced civilization of titans. They had the ability to focus all their evil nature into a sentient blob which they amputated from their collective conscience and abandoned on the planet. It happened so long ago the creature only became more enraged over time and a complete menace to anyone unlucky enough to cross its path. The rescue team manage to outwit the creature and beam back to the ship but were left wondering if they should have left it there for some other unfortunate party to encounter.
Spiritual concepts are presented in many forms of expression not just the religious books and bible studies and religious texts. I do not suggest they take the place of one of any of the greatest books ever written, such as The Bible, and other respected religious teachings – but they are worth recognising in our cultural expression as it enriches our ability to apply spirituality with practical understanding to make our lives for the better.