It’s finally arrived. You open your eyes slowly, and scan the smokey destruction scattered around you. The haze, the billows of fumes, the thick taste of chemicals on your tongue – everything is unpleasant.
There are piles of broken buildings in front of you. Old foundations now lie on the ground. You peer closer at the new mounds lying ahead, and beyond, and you recognise some of the old things that once were.
This is the end of the world.
But let’s be clear.
This is the end of your past world.
The ruin sprawled on the dirt, crumbled and destroyed, was once a part of you. It was once a belief you believed. A structure you clung to. A foundation you based all your decisions on.
It’s definitely your end. The end of a version of yourself. A final goodbye to an ego’s momentary manifestation.
To let go of the past is the way forward, to breathe in the present is all there is.
As you stand there shaking off the heaviness of the moment, you realise it’s time to say goodbye. Farewell to the part of you that has been cut off, the you that is forced to die through the nature of life and the way things are.
Undoing the things of old do not destroy you. They destroy a version of you. The truth is that destruction, letting go, and loss are a healthy and normal part of the cycle of life.
These parts of life aren’t to be reveled in or worshiped, but instead should be respected and allowed their place. Growth comes inherently from things we may think are base, ugly, abnormal, or unpleasant. To reject growth because of unpleasantness or what we don’t like will invariably leave us in a place of stagnation.
Carl Jung writes in his commentary of The Secret to the Golden Flower:
The way is not without danger. Everything good is costly, and the development of the personality is one of the most costly of all things.
This is the end of the world, and the beginning of so much more….(there is more to you).
Existence offers us many experiences, and to say one must experience only joy, or one must experience only suffering, is a narrow and telescopic view on the big picture. Humans must embrace the totality of their psyche, to savour life more thoroughly and to achieve one’s amazing capacities – mentally, physically, and socially.
In The Portable Jung, Joseph Campbell, a professor of literature, puts it this way:
Jung’s concept is that the aim of one’s life, psychologically speaking, should be not to suppress or repress, but to come to know one’s other side, and so both to enjoy and to control the whole range of one’s capacities; i.e., in the full sense, to “know oneself.”
In regards to you, let’s examine the rubble before we turn aside. What is this other side?
Acknowledge the rest of You.
Jungian theory supposes that every mind has several archetypes, or parts of the mind, other than just the conscious mind’s archetype (the ego and the facade). These other areas of the mind are present whether you like or not, whether you know it or not.
The ego is more or less the conscious culmination of all a person is aware of – the conscious thoughts, memories, and emotions that exist in your awareness. The ego is almost divorced from the whole psyche, in the sense that it is a part of something more (the self) but does recognise the rest of its wholeness. Through the process of individuation does the ego begin to soften and allow a journey into the deeper realms of its own psyche. This is the end of the world, so to speak.
The picture above, from the book The Middle Earth by Israel Regardie, shows a good Jungian depiction of how the psyche elements interrelate. The other main archetypes (parts of the mind), according to Jungian theory, are the persona (projection of ego), and the unconscious shadow and the anima.
The process of individuation is moving beyond yourself.
Everyone has an ego. The ego is the identity you believe and are aware of. The facade you wear borrows from your ego. There are those who say life can be lived without an ego entirely, but I don’t think this is accurate. Instead, it’s more accurate to say you can transcend your ego in moments that come and go – you can allow acknowledgement of the hidden parts of your psyche in moments of objectivity and discomfort.
You thought you knew who you were, but in actual fact, you only discovered the conscious part of yourself. A quote often wrongly attributed to Jung is, “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” I’m not sure who said this, but I think it reflects truthfully the nature of individuation and growing beyond one’s ego.
Hidden underneath are the other parts of you, your unconscious and repressed, your instinct and habit, your identities and animas, that all influence your egos, identities and projections without your realisation.
The rejection of your conscious mind as your whole identity or to put it another way, the objective awareness of these hidden parts of you and how they manifest in the world around you as brokenness, destruction, change or loss.
You may be tempted to say, “This the end of the world! this is the end of me! this is the end of what I know….”
And this is ok. The momentary loss of identity or disturbance is the beginning of transcendence of ego, when you can as Edward Edinger says in his book Ego and Archetype, “….redeem by conscious realization, the hidden Self, hidden in unconscious identification with the ego.”
A fire uses what it has.
Change can be considered destruction. It can be triggered by something unpleasant or unsettling. But change is far from destructive. It is, in fact, neither good or bad.
Most changes we experience are what the Stoics call indifferents. They really don’t affect you, and if they do, it is not a good or bad thing. Rather than assume apathy at this point however, take a moment to embrace this other Stoic thought.
“A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.” Marcus Aurelius.
This is – use everything as a fuel, and grow from everything.
Have you experienced a change recently? Loss? Uncertainty? Have you tasted death recently?
Death of your own pride? Death of your own words? Death of your own thoughts, or beliefs, or foundations?
There is power in these things. Loss equals space. Uncertainty equals freedom. Death equals new life. This is the end of the world which equals the birth of a new world.
This is you standing in front of this wreckage – ideas and thoughts you once held high and paraded around for everyone to see. Now they lie silent, discarded, dead. Come to terms with that. Come to terms that letting some things go, especially within yourself, is a good thing.
A soft ego is a full life.
I’ve held onto the idea of rigidity and certainty for too long. The revelations through the falling away is a kiss of life.
Allow yourself to acknowledge something outside of your ego. You are not your feelings. You are not just your thoughts. You are not only what you “experience” (what you are aware you experience). This can be a hard pill to swallow sometimes. But understand that a world is out there that you have not met yet. Even within your own mind.
A rigid and unyielding identity will stifle you. Keep you tied down. Hold you to expectations. Siphon your energy. Steal your effectiveness.
Often ego and persona trick you into thinking it’s honour, or courage, or the right thing, but no – what you are doing is just conforming to a part of yourself that cannot look outside the box. Everyone is guilty. But not everyone tries to truly face the dark unknown – what lies beyond the ego in order to grow.
This picture you are surrounded by right now, of a broken world smoking from the ground up, is far from pessimism or morbidity. It is the realistic courage of moving forward. You can outgrow your old self, find new meanings in life that you may have ignored before, upgrade your value systems.
In fact, you must.
You turn your body, carefully. Your face brightens as the sun falls on you. The 180 degree turn puts the destruction directly behind you. The expanse in front of you catches your breath. The horizon, the mountains, the space free of anything – none of these resemble the past and they all welcome something new. You catch your breath with awe, the tingling sensation of potentials stemming from your toes all the way up to your eyebrows. The taste of the new world is refreshing and all the energy you thought you had lost comes flooding back.
The new is ready to come into being. The new is ready to exist now. Your new self is on an expedition, the exploration of an unknown terrain.
No one ever lives without ego. But we can aim to go beyond our ego. Our ego is not inherently bad or evil, but stagnation and narrow-mindedness of the ego is dangerous to a happy, effective life.
Now it’s time to step forward. How should you go?
Let’s view the terrain and the dirty practicality of it all.
Ask yourself these questions and answer them genuinely:
- Can you step outside of your identity and still feel comfortable?
- Are you creative? If you had no chance to create anything for the next 6 months, are you lost? Gone? Irrelevant? Creativity is a part of you, but not you.
- Are you bubbly and friendly? If you have a bout of depression or sadness do you feel not yourself? Does temporarily losing that put you off unbalance?
- Are you smart? Clever? High-achieving? If you had an unfortunate accident that halted all your achievements, all accolades, all expressions of your intelligence, would you still be you? Who are you anyway?
- If you base your identity on others or how you act with them or how they see you, and you lose that, how does that make you feel? Are you the fixer? The helper? The rescuer? The lover? Who do you identify as? When someone doesn’t find you helpful, or find you enough, or see you as how you identify, are you stopped in your tracks emotionally? Does it suck?
Identity is a strong framework our minds work along, and detaching from those limitations is freeing. Whether you focus on the external more (extroverted), or the internal more (introverted), dismantling the attachment of your Self to these egos is the key to contentment and success, to true success of living a good life.
A place of destruction can be a place of stability, where we realise we are not what our identity creates for us, presented as reality. We are much more.
The growth beyond constantly needing to identify with who you THINK you are is empowering.
Life happens to us and we may be displaced. Saying to this type of change, This is the end of the world, is actually ok.
This is the end of the world is the end of your temporary perceived self-image, your ego. Let it burn, even if only temporarily. Face the new world.
Lean into the detachment and feel the peace of knowing you are not bound by who you think you are, the ego.
You will still have the ego – always – no doubts about it. But practice destroying it in ways of growth. Practice stretching your values beyond the confines of your identity.
It’s only a small thing, but it’s powerfully effective. Welcome a new version of yourself for a new reality.