How the Ego Generates Behavior

By George A. Boyd ©2021

Q: If the ego is a state of identity, how does it interface with actual behavior?

A: If you carefully analyze the structure of the ego’s identity and how this extends to actual behavior, you find the following layers, from the innermost to the outermost:

  1. Life narrative or story – Your ego is identified with your unique life experience, which spans from your first conscious memory to the present.
  2. Ownership – Your ego’s awareness of what it has or possesses. This includes both wealth and possessions.
  3. Ability – Your ego’s awareness of the skills it has practiced in its life. These are resources that the ego can draw upon, depending on what each situation requires.
  4. Esteem – Your ego’s assessment of how well it is doing in your life. In people who are depressed, esteem will be very low. In people who are narcissistic, esteem will be exaggerated.
  5. Support – Your ego’s assignment of people to zones of intimacy on your life, according to their importance to you. For example, your spouse or partner and your children might occupy the innermost ring; your close friends, the next ring; relatives and friends, the next ring; and co-workers and neighbors, the outer ring. Your rules for disclosure of what you deem sensitive or secret is based on which intimacy zone you have currently assigned them.
  6. Dreams and desires – This is what your ego tells other people what it wants be, to do, and to have. This is the ego’s reservoir of motivation that fuels your actions.
  7. Life organization – These are twelve areas in which you play different roles. [In my book, The Practical Applications of Meditation in Daily Life and Education, I suggest ways that you can inventory what you want to achieve in each of these areas of your life.]
  8. Roles – These are the major activities that you carry out in your life. For example, in the area of home, you might play the role of a homemaker. Your thinking, feeling, and behavior related to this role are integrated into this identity state. In the I Am statement Vipassana meditation, we teach in our Introduction to Meditation class to contemplate the ego, you tap into this level: you note the identity state in which you are currently operating, and what you are thinking and feeling while you are in this identity state. So, for example, if you were contemplating this I am statement for your role of homemaker, you might be thinking about what you need to clean in the house, what laundry needs to be done, and what supplies are getting low that you need to purchase the next time you go shopping; you might be feeling irritated with your teenaged son, who always leaves his bathroom in a mess—and you wind up having to clean it.
  9. Sub-roles – The ego groups each related activity associated with a major role under this main identity, and assigns these sub-roles unique I Am statements. For example, under homemaker, you might have the activity identification, “I am a dishwasher,” “I am a carpet cleaner,” or “I am a floor washer.”
  10. Direction of individual behavior – This is the egoic octave of volition. This carries out the individual behavior required to enact the activities of a sub-role—one action at a time. For your dishwasher sub-role, this might look like: pick up the white cup… clean it with the sponge… rinse it under the sink… place it on the fourth peg on the top shelf of the dishwashing machine… [And then you would repeat this behavioral chain for each item that needs to be washed in the dishwashing machine.]
  11. Translation of behavioral command into neurological interface – Similar to machine language in a computer, behavioral command is translated on the information ether into signals that produce the neural electrical cascade that generates physical action.
  12. Neurological response – with each behavioral command and its subsequent translation into “brain recognizable directions,” you would detect specific areas of the brain light up and neural signals are sent to the appropriate body parts to carry out the specific action. This is the aspect of behavior that we can measure with technology and testing.

Your desire or motivation for action at the egoic level springs from level 6. You adopt the role (level 8), and operate through sub-role (level 9) that contains the behavior you are aim to perform. The egoic octave of volition (level 10) translates this behavior into the individual actions that others can witness you do (level 12).

That’s how your identity can give rise to action: your actual observable behavior is predicated upon your desire. No desire; no action.

Going Off the Deep End into Cultism

By George A. Boyd © 2019

Q: You include several techniques for working on the personality in your intermediate meditation courses, the in-person Mudrashram® Master Course in Meditation and the by-mail and online Accelerated Meditation Program. How can I be sure I’m not fundamentally altering my personality, like what happens in cults?

A: We can characterize seven major levels of work on the personality, together with the methods that are used to access each layer. These are briefly described below.

  1. Your actual experience – this is your moment-to-moment experience in the present time—what we call the zone of the Conscious mind. Mindfulness, being present and observing your mental activity objectively, taps this level. The deeper form of mindfulness, Vipassana, in which you actively process and release the material arising in the present time, also operates at this level.
  2. Your story about your experience – this is your ego’s attempt to show itself to others in a favorable and positive light. At this level, you seek to appear logical, right, and acceptable in the eyes of others; you may present yourself to them as successful, competent, and expert, even though you are not. This is the layer in which you encounter your defense mechanisms. Psychodynamic therapies interface with your ego at this level, accessing both your owned personal narrative and your disowned “shadow.”
  3. Your emotional reactions – This includes your emotional “conclusions” about what your experience means. This influences your self-image. This layer is the emotional truth that you feel beneath the false impressions you convey to the world through shaping your appearance, what you disclose to others, and what you tell others about yourself. Humanistic therapies tap this level.
  4. The network of beliefs associated with your emotions – This makes up your essential “programming” that colors your mindset. This is the perceptual set through which you view the world and what seems possible to you. You can change this programming through autohypnosis and affirmation. Cognitive behavioral therapy works with the limiting, self-sabotaging, and misery-creating beliefs you harbor at this level, and attempts to reconstruct them. As you uproot this conditioning that separates you from your Soul, you can begin to align your personality with your authentic Self and connect with your Soul’s creative expression and purpose.
  5. Changing selected beliefs to conform to a doctrine or philosophy – Cults and mind-control groups use this method to control your personality and to make it obey a set of moral or ideological principles. This might take the form of living up to ideal behavioral standards, obeying the commands of the group leader, or conforming every aspect of your life to a prescribed lifestyle. You may be indoctrinated to hold beliefs acceptable to the doctrine of the group. You may be “brainwashed” to re-identify with a new sense of personal identity. You may be manipulated to give up your personal life entirely and live only to carry out the leader’s agenda and the group’s mission.
  6. Spiritual detachment – At this level, you enter an altered state of consciousness in which you re-identify with a spiritual essence—nucleus of identity, spirit, or ensouling entity—and regard your personality as unreal or dream-like. Here, you detach from your life entirely and pursue spiritual development. In some groups, receiving a new spiritual name, taking monastic vows, or abandoning personal ambitions and dedicating your life to spiritual practice accompany this new state of identification.
  7. Dissolution of your personality – In some spiritual traditions, you may be trained in practices that actually turn off the personality and interfere with its ability to function. The aim of these practices is to dissolve the ego and personality so that you ultimately realize your Oneness with the Divine.

Cults co-opt many of the methods used at layers one through four—such as focusing on issues, hypnosis, affirmation, and shaping beliefs—to establish you in a new state of identity. They indoctrinate you in their belief systems and philosophy with an aim to control you. They may have you remain in a trance-like altered state of consciousness to have you separate and disidentify with your personality.

In Mudrashram®, we teach methods in our intermediate meditation courses to allow you to interface with levels one, two, and four. We show you these methods to enable you to connect with your authentic Self and your Soul, to express and actualize your unique gifts.

Once you adopt modalities that move you into zones five through seven, you enter the territory where you begin artificially controlling the personality to follow another’s agenda. This occurs in cults and spiritual groups where you learn your personality is flawed, evil, or an illusion; you are urged to conform to an ideal lifestyle or live in an altered state of consciousness.

If you steer clear of shaping your personality according to religious doctrines and other people’s values, you will avoid going off the deep end into cultism and fanaticism. Honor what is actually within you and work with this. If you complete this inner process, your personality will become an instrument of your own Soul—not a slave to someone else who controls you.

If you are exiting a cultic group and you are trying to make sense of what happened to you—and you want a structured way to approach this—you may wish to consider signing up for our Cult Recovery Program.