Ego Ergo the Unconscious Mind

Enlightenment is the end of suffering.

~ Buddha

In his best-selling book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle describes the nature of human unconsciousness and dysfunction simply as what is false in us. 

The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly,” Tolle explains, “Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly — you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion.”

The mind and the ego, in this sense, share a symbiotic relationship, with the mind being the instrument and the ego its voice. The ego is the instigator of the incessant noise that fills a large portion of our daily lives. The ego preys on the weakness of a dysfunctional, unconscious mind. This noise then manifests itself into very real, very dysfunctional behaviors that ultimately lead to pain and suffering.

We come to believe we are our minds and thus identify wholly with the stories it tells us. As Tolle explains, “Pain is inevitable as long as you are identified with your mind, which is to say as long as you are unconscious.” Unconsciousness leads to suffering. Thus, as long as we continue to live unconsciously, trapped under the thumb of a dysfunctional, egoic mind, we will continue to suffer.

When I first came across these words years ago, they failed to register. In the depths of alcoholism and anorexia, my mind, therefore my ego, was the predominant force in my life. I cowered to it. Believed it. Every choice I made, every action was dictated by it. My ego served itself. And I served it. 

I was not open to change because without my egoic mind I truly believed I was nothing. Fear of nothing is a powerful suppressant for change. It’s also a powerful motivator for staying right where you are. Even if right, where you are, is locked within a destructive cycle created by a dysfunctional mind and perpetuated by its powerful voice. 

How do we break that cycle?

To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only the past and future are considered important.

~Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Presence disrupts the ego. The noise that flows unconsciously through us, that separates us into the dichotomy of past and future cannot withstand the power of presence. 

My past defines me and my future holds that elusive happiness I continually seek are the two most insidious lies the ego feeds us. 

I fell for those lies over and over again. Without my story, as dysfunctional as it often was, who was I? I believed in it so emphatically, that I often wove in the stories of others, taking them on as my own to further strengthen the fabric of my perceived identity. In this sense, I took what was truly not mine to take in order to perpetuate my addictive, destructive behaviors. I manipulated truth to serve my own selfish needs. 

At the same time, I blamed others, circumstances, and life itself for my maladaptive behaviors. I was in a constant state of seeking. Incessantly searching for future happiness, future peace. That next thing, whatever that thing was, would be the answer. And when it was not, I fell back into past behaviors that numbed my disappointments and suppressed my despair.

The cycle was constant and in my mind unbreakable. Until it was broken.

The present moment holds the key to liberation. But you cannot find the present moment as long as you are your mind. 

~ Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Awakening from the mind.

According to Tolle, and to spiritual guides like Buddha, the path to freedom from the mind and to peace lies in awakening from it. 

Buddha  says, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” 

Tolle reminds us “The single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind.”

Most importantly, Jesus tells us in John 8:32, “When you know the truth, the truth will set you free.”

An awakened, enlightened mind then, is one rooted in presence and centered in truth. Truth is the key and presence is the pathway. 

In my own experience truth did not hit me over the head in a blinding moment of clarity. Disidentifying with my mind did not occur rapidly. It happened slowly. One painful step at a time. 

It was in those first small windows of presence that stillness and silence, blessed silence, occurred. That silence, as short-lived as it often was, was my first taste of freedom from my mind. Freedom from my ego. 

As I journeyed further into recovery, those moments of consciousness and presence grew. That consciousness was my awakening. 

Awakening from what? From my mind. I began to recognize the frailty of my ego. The fallacy of its voice and of the lies it perpetuated. You are nothing without me. You are not enough. You need me to survive. On and on and on it droned. 

Most importantly I recognized my culpability in the power it had held over me for so long. Consciously or unconsciously my choices had ceded it that power and my destructive behaviors resulted from that capitulation. 

That was a hard, but necessary admission. But also a freeing one. Because inherent in that admission was the most vital step on my journey: acknowledging truth

Truth exists whether I want it to or not. It withstands attempts to thwart and manipulate it. It requires nothing from me but knowing that it’s there. 

“When you know the truth, the truth will set you free.” I continually return to John 8:32, because knowing the truth became the lifeline that pulled me from the depths. It is the anchor that grounds me. It will always be my greatest weapon against the bondage of an egoic mind rooted in the world and determined to enslave me to it. 

“For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you,” Ephesians 5:14.

Anything that becomes visible is light. Knowing is the same. Knowing the truth is the brightest light. The everlasting light. The light of Christ in us. It quiets the voices, dispels fear, overcomes all obstacles, and slays every dragon. There is no equal to its power. Not in this world. 

Once I experienced truth, the shackles fell away. The cage was unlocked. I stepped out of bondage into freedom. Freedom from addiction. Freedom from the past. Freedom from the future. Freedom from ego. Freedom from my mind. 

I moved fully into being. Into presence. Into the holiness of God. Which compelled me to acknowledge the simplicity of mankind, of which I am a part and the light of Christ within me. A light that was placed there long before I was born. A light that ensures me that I have nothing to fear. Ever. That through His blessed presence within me and His unconditional love for me, I will overcome the world. 

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

~ 1 John 5:4

Image from Adobe Stock Images | Licensed for use

We all build prisons, unconsciously.

We bleed unconsciously, 

love and live unconsciously. 

Without awareness we search and search.

For what? That does not matter.

For suffering lies in the searching.

In resistance to what IS.

In the constructs of more, of yesterday, of tomorrow. 

Once we become aware of it, even if for just a breath,

that’s the beginning of consciousness, of presence, of being. 

Being is NOW, in this moment.

Accepting what IS without judgement or want.

Without criticism or labels.

Without resistance or fear.

Being, my child, is freedom in its truest form,

and it happens now, right where you are.

JN Fenwick (© 2021)


Author’s Note: I have been there too. In that cage. For so long I lived in it and the darkness nearly consumed me. I share with you now that I broke a thousand times before I finally fell because that’s what it took. You ask me how I made it through the darkness? I fell to my knees. Allowed His grace to cover me. He took my hand and showed me the way.

For every soul out there hurting, lost, afraid, unsure how to break the chains, I am praying for you, as so many prayed for me. May His grace cover you. May you find courage in His strength. Forgiveness in His mercy. And hope enough to reach out for His hand. I promise you, He is there.