The American ego warrants scrutiny. Without question, we adopt it—directly or subliminally. We heed it and we protect it. Though it’s only a figure—there’s no ego “there,” it feels like something foundational and crucial to who we are and, indeed, the bigger the ego, the more a bruise hurts.
Studied, understood and managed, the American ego is a remarkable function, a tribute to the rich range of the human brain. It is integral to the self-possession we require to fulfill our responsibility for creating our opportunities and determining the course of our lives.
Dysfunctional, however, it can hide the value of what is alive, connected, intimate, natural and whole. When we face the demand for the originality and mobility of our thinking, the oversized American ego is a default position, a protective and defensive mindset. As a result, we limit our possibilities and our lives suffer.
There’s more. When dysfunctional and inhibited, the American ego is often fearful—of embarrassment and rejection, of imperfection and contradiction, and of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with open and honest communications. And we pay a price for harboring our timidity, often with unaccountable feelings of confusion and loss.
However, when we take up the opportunity and challenge of autonomy, we acquire a most precious possession—the self-possession to live a life as meaningfully rich, contributory and expansive as the reach of our commitments, imagination and affinity.
Although our study has led us to recognize the dysfunctional ego’s effect on our cognitive independence, our efforts go beyond an examination of the conditions and circumstances that give rise to it. We set out to master the art of thinking freely. For it is, in fact, our cognitive oversight that processes and directs our self-possession.
In this study and practice, we put together a reconfiguration of the ego. Thinking freely is central to it. This is where we get our authority. This is where we exercise our creativity in the design of our lives. This authority is the basis of our self-possession and our self-determination.
Indeed, wielding this cognitive mechanism—thinking freely—is more than the means to satisfy our aesthetical and ethical sensibilities, although it is that. It is the means to be in possession of ourselves, to invent and reinvent, i.e., to set and reset, progressively who we are. Life is less stressful and far more rewarding when we marshal the full force of our nature to support both our authority and the social, thoughtful and moral responsibilities that become a positive factor in the possibilities for others.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.