The Dead Ego Army
The Difficulty of Living
It may happen in the course of life to find yourself dealing with feelings and moods that are difficult to live with such as anxiety, depression, obsessive thoughts and so on.
More generally, it has happened to everyone to feel drained of energy, exhausted and unable to face the difficulties and challenges of life with the right amount of determination and, why not, indifference.
This feeling of annihilation in front of the complexity of existence is often caused by a bad perception of reality, which is constantly reinterpreted by our ego, to the point of creating, sometimes, a narrative of events completely imaginative and dissociated.
The continuous process of reframing reality is a salient and important feature of our being, what Freud defined as the ego's intermediation between the primitive drives of the id and the moralistic superstructure of the Super-ego, and it is fundamental to responding in a coherent and socially acceptable way to the endless pressures of various kinds that we receive every day from outside and inside ourselves.
The ego responds to the inherent need to survive in adverse and problematic conditions, allowing us to respond effectively to the challenges we encounter on a daily basis.
But where does the practical function of the ego end and where does that pathological dimension that is proper to its dominance in our living begin?
The Ego Trap
In fact, the risk is that the continuous reworking of experience leads to the creation of a personal story to which we adhere in a univocal and total way, unconsciously believing that this gives us personality and coherence, thus sheltering us from doubts and uncertainties that are intrinsic to our partial and limited nature.
In a society completely devoted to the muscular and tangible performance as the contemporary one, the egoic hyper-narration becomes a seemingly indispensable life preserver to stay afloat in the magnum sea of events. We feed it daily on the street as well as on social networks in the belief that it is our shield in front of the terrifying amount of information and input disordered and confused.
Unfortunately, this excess of narration only fuels our fears and uncertainties, increasing our degree of adherence to the ambitions and expectations of others, making us finely inlaid mirrors and terribly fragile, on the verge of shattering every time the environmental stresses change or increase in intensity.
Performance anxiety thus ends up becoming chronic, feeding, depending on each person's character, overly narcissistic and self-referential personalities or terribly insecure and unsuited to the pace of life today.
In any case, man ends up losing his original dimension and contact with reality, completely ensnared by a partial and drugged perception of events, hostage of an intellectual function that ends up damaging him instead of preserving him.
What Am I?
At a certain point of my existence I was forced by a seemingly inexplicable inner pain to become aware of this hallucinating state of affairs.
I was then twenty-five years old and I was struggling tremendously in almost all aspects of my existence: from university to social relations, life seemed overshadowed by a perpetual and sudden eclipse that had taken away all space of expression from my inner sun.
I spent a good number of hours in psychoanalysis, not deriving immediate and tangible benefits, but throwing a germ of understanding on what had been my conception of life up to that point.
All of a sudden it seemed to me that everything I had carried forward with passion and conviction up until then did not belong to me in the slightest: I had made my own a million of other people's demands in order to gain consensus, sailing perpetually below the coast in order to avoid the bad weather of the open sea.
"But then, what am I, really?"
This question haunted me, and still does, cruelly, for years.
I felt as if awakened from a long decades-long sleep, a hostage finally redeemed from the world of dreams, thrown without even a water bottle in the middle of what seemed to me to be the Tartar desert.
I had finally unmasked the masterful plot woven by my ego during all those years, I was half a foot out of the Matrix, but it only filled me with dismay and fear: I was annihilated by the idea that all the cornerstones of my existence were a mere mental projection.
But I had taken a significant first step along the path of awareness.
Is There a Solution?
The death of the ego, which I am still far from having witnessed, is the only way to stop and step sideways from the chaotic and senseless highway in which we live our messy existences.
It means reconnecting with reality, with the universal energy in which we are immersed and of which we are a reflection without realizing it, moving from a limited and particular dimension to a global and wide-ranging perspective.
Existential pain, which seems to be the most atrocious of sufferings, can thus become a blessing since it is the viaticum through which the universe invites us to return to it, renouncing our personal and conditioned narrative
"Monks, everything burns! And what burns, O monks?
Sight burns, O monks, shapes and colors burn, visual consciousness burns, eye contact burns, and whatever sensations arise in dependence on the eye's contact with its objects-whether perceived as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral-also burn. By means of what does it burn? It burns by the fire of attachment, the fire of aversion, the fire of confusion. It burns, I tell you, because of birth, old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, distress and discouragement."
In this famous passage of the Sermon on Fire, the Buddha invited his monks to understand the ephemeral nature of personal experience, perennially conditioned by the intermediation of the mind, unable to grasp the real scope of things.
To get out of this vicious circle in which we are condemned from birth, the only way would seem to be that of acceptance and honest observation of reality in its current state, without idealizing it or voluntarily depriving it of the personal meaning we have given it.
In doing so, all the interpretative charge we have given to events should manifest itself, which, consuming itself in the fire it feeds, should finally free man from his egoic constructions, thus allowing him to fulfill himself in a complete and universal way.
The Dead Ego Army
It is this existential fire that I see burning above the busts of the soldiers from David's Dead Ego Army, at the center of whose flame is an eye that seems to be turned toward the vault of heaven.
These soldiers allowed the purifying fire to burn their heads completely, without in any way escaping the pain that this process most likely caused them.
After finally witnessing the death of their ego, symbolically represented by the skull they hold firmly in their hands, they can finally enjoy the view of the universal consciousness manifested through the eye opened in the center of the flame.
The dense array of soldiers is portrayed in the famous lotus position, with the lower part of the body covered by a robe reminiscent of the kesa of Buddhist monks, the torso erect in a hieratic manner. Everything seems to be a warning to maintain a correct physical and spiritual posture in life, a call to meditation as a cathartic tool to go beyond the personal self.
The melted remains of the garment on the chest and shoulders are reminiscent of the remnants of a spent candle; this is an invitation to completely consume one's ego in order to return it to its original function of merely guiding practical aspects of daily life.
The concentric perspective of the gray base on which the soldiers are seated mirrors that of the sky streaked with white and dark blue veins. The whole evokes a feeling of space-time circularity, as opposed to the linear one artificially perceived by man.
Keeping the bar straight on the course of awareness is probably the most difficult challenge to which man can be called.
Great is the temptation to turn back, to re-enter the sheltered cove of the gulf, where the well-circumscribed limits of the known make life a seemingly safe and profitable affair.
But soon the tranquility of the calm gave way to the tedium of immobility, making both sailors and officers frustrated and nervous about waiting inconclusively.
At a certain point, one must have the courage and determination to leave the safe harbor and aim the keel, without delay, towards the horizon line, where sea and sky seem to merge firmly.
Facing the hardships of navigation on the open sea requires a unique discipline and sense of self-denial, proper to those of a soldier who has taken an oath of honor, to oneself and to the truth in this case.
That's why, in order to march with firm feet along this path, one must also become a bit of a soldier, because only with the strength of discipline can one defeat that inner demon that consumes us more and more every day, trusting that sooner or later we will witness the death of the ego.
Text by Oliver Maria Pascoletti
Translation by Clare Vibert Woodhouse
SN 35.28: Adittapariyaya sutta - The fire sermon