Transpersonal Theory & the Astrological Mandala: An Evolutionary Model by Gerry Goddard
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Stages on the Outward Arc—Level II


Wilber's Account of the Mental-Ego: Washburn's Account of the Mental-Ego


Wilber's Account of the Mental-ego

Beyond primal stage-level I lies the domain of the self-reflexive mental-ego, an interiority standing in epistemic relation to a thoroughly objective world experienced as entirely other. As stage-level I is rooted in the axis of the horizon (1/7), stage-level II is rooted in the axis of the meridian (4/10). Wilber describes the essence of such an emergent self-sense:

Where the uroborus was a pre-personal self, where the typhon was a vegetal self, where the membership-self was a name-and-word self, the core of the ego is a thought self, a self-concept....A 'healthy ego', as psychoanalysis puts it, is a more-or-less 'correct self-concept'" — more exactly, "....a constellation of self-concepts, along with images, phantasies, identifications, memories, sub-personalities, motivations, ideas and information related or bound to the separate self-concept. (1980, p.31)

Around age seven, the mental-ego differentiating itself from the body is able to transcend the simple biological world and to a certain degree operate, through Piaget's 'concrete operational thinking', upon the biological and physical world using the tools of simply representational thinking. "By the time of adolescence—the late ego/persona stage...the self simply starts to differentiate from the concrete thought process" and hence can "to a certain degree transcend that thought process and therefore operate upon it." In this highest of Piaget's stages—'formal operational' thinking—"one can operate upon one's own concrete thought—i.e. work with formal or linguistic objects as well as physical or concrete ones." (1980, p.35) The ego concept is accompanied by the emergence of the super-ego (our 10th principle) where the child's interpersonal relationships with the parents (which at this level of mental-egoic structuration is clearly the 4th principle) become intra-psychic structures. There is an ability to take on abstract roles as internal dialogue, to become 'script bound', or "programmed by the internalized directives" (1980, p.33)—clearly the interior Cancerian fourth principle.

At any point of the ego's development, any aspect of the self that, if represented in consciousness would be perceived as overthreatening, can be suppressed. These suppressed aspects we call the 'shadow' and the resultant fraudulent self we call the 'persona' (after Jung)....The ego itself is built and constructed by the learning and combining of various personae into an integrated self-concept [the performative Leonine 5th principle issue]...The difficulty arises when one particular persona (such as the 'non-aggressive good boy') capitalizes and dominates the field of awareness, so that other legitimate personae (such as the 'healthy-aggression' or 'assertiveness' persona) cannot enter consciousness. These split off facets of the ego self thus become shadow..." (1980,33,34)

In approximately the second millennium B.C. the mental-egoic structure began to emerge as consciousness broke free of the Great and Chthonic Mother to establish itself as an independent, willful, and rational center of consciousness. Thus, the thoroughly male hero myth becomes the myth of the period—for the Greeks, the victory of Zeus over Typhon the youngest child of Gaia which established the reign of the patriarchal gods of Olympus. But according to Wilber, just as we saw with Washburn, rather than differentiating from the Great Mother, the ego repressed and alienated her, separating man and nature, ego and body. However, Wilber fails to give a satisfactory reason why a 'natural' and optimum process of differentiation would have unfortunately turned into a repression. But our model, incorporating Washburn's Jungian and object relations account, provides clear reasons for such a repression. The mythology of the Great Mother was absolutely repressed from subsequent mythology. Consequently, we have inherited what L.L. Whyte calls the 'European dissociation', the dissociation of mind and body. The beginning of this repression and gradual replacement of the Great Mother with the male heroic pantheon (with female as secondary), decisively corresponds to our ninth Sagittarian principle, constituting a transition to the establishment of the absolute patriarchal, institutionalized structures under the Capricornian tenth principle.

Because of increasing self awareness, the old membership structures were no longer sufficient to maintain society. Memory allowed the self to rise above the fluctuations of the body. In terms of Wilber's Atman Project idea, "The ego was the new substitute self, and like all substitute selves, it had to pretend to fulfill the desire for some form of cosmocentricity, immortality, and everlastingness. And the ego did just that with its own thought processes....The self sense in flight from death, abandoned the body, the all too mortal body, and took substitute refuge in the world of thought." (pp.199,200). Hence, concepts, ideas, and memories satisfy the new demand for permanence and immortality.

The transition from Stage I to Stage II marks the movement from the membership sense of cyclic time to the egoic sense of linear time—the trajectory of a history which is going somewhere. Consequently, "since nature/body is the referent of seasonal time, and since mind is the referent of historical time, the severance of the mind from the body meant a corresponding severance of history from nature." (p.204) With the sense of death intensified by linear time, the ego needed more time and fashioned the illusion that it would live to dominate its future. But not only was there a revolution in the mind but also, as Becker and Brown knew, there was a revolution in the body, a deadening and repression of the life of the body in that the duality of mind and body (the rational ego and the bodily mechanism) cannot be sustained. But with the advent of the mental-ego all sorts of new distortions and oppressions arose; central among them was the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy which is recapitulated by the individual through the Oedipal dynamics.

In Wilber's way of describing it: "The Oedipus complex is directly concerned with a shift of the Atman project from the body to the mind: a transformation from seeking unity via the body (in emotional-sexual intercourse) to seeking unity via the mind (in communicative intercourse)." (p.239) Both sexes begin with fusion with the Great Mother and move through the membership to ego stages where the "Great World Mother increasingly gives way to the individual and circumstantial mother," a purely separate individual within a triad of child, mother and father (this skirts over the very important gender issues which we shall look at in chapters 11 & 12). According to Wilber, the 'separation of the parents' where the child 'falls in love' with the parent of the opposite sex and feels rivalry with the parent of the same sex corresponds to the body-ego period. But bodily unity is not possible so "it is precisely by getting left out of this body unity that the child is forced to construct a higher order unity, a unity that is not of the body but of the mind." (1983, p.223)

According to Wilber, the male child identifies with the father while the female child identifies with the 'individual mother' (a verbal and mental being distinct from the chthonic Great Mother)—a mental accomplishment through concepts and roles. Now the super ego is finalized as the voice of both parents; the mental father and mother (solar masculinity and solar femininity). This is where (still according to Wilber) things go awry since women as the solar feminine were marginalized from participation in mental culture. Rather than the 'unnatural patriarchy' being a product of pure sexism, it was a mixture of natural body level differences and 'unnatural inclinations'. The superego becomes largely patriarchal. The world of the fathers is the world of collective values. "Because historically the body was equated with femininity and the mind with masculinity, then the inward and psychological dissociation of the body from the mind meant an outward and sociological oppression of the feminine by the masculine." (1983, 232) Gradually male individuals came to imitate kings, and the right to property (for males) came to define personhood.

The father's property was protected, not by his muscles, but by a corporate consciousness embodied in law....The father, legally possessing property, became for the first time in history a legal person, a 'legally recognized self-consciousness' or ego....What was deplorable, but perhaps initially unavoidable, was not that the egoic 'I-me-mine' became legally recognized, respected, and protected, but that this right was not extended to more people. Not that father was a person but that mother wasn't..." (p.274)

So the optimum mode of being at the mental-egoic level is that of free egoic exchange which in fact becomes distorted and disrupted through repression, a surplus repression leading to a splitting of the ego into personae which are acceptable and unacceptable— hence the shadow and subpersonalities. But "Self-esteem cannot occur if the ego is dissociated into acceptable personae versus shadow personae, for then one cannot accurately or honestly recognize oneself, and therefore one cannot accurately and honestly recognize others." (p. 277) These terms clearly reflect the central relation of the Leo fifth principle denoting social confidence and self esteem and the Aquarian eleventh principle denoting group participation and belonging. "The ego begins its reconciliation with the shadow by learning to correctly interpret the symptoms (depression, anxiety, etc.) in which the shadow is now hiding....the ego has to accept authorship of the text of the shadow and accept ownership of the communications coming from the shadow." (p.278, 279)

This repressed shadow is a combination of the collective eighth principle and patriarchal repression under the tenth principle which informs the Stage II mental-ego. Ownership takes on the foundational form of property which socially defines the person as a mature form of responsible ego while conferring a distortion which leads to an amplification of aggression, war and repression. "But man alone of all the animals has a property in his person, and thus a new form of aggression: man alone will lash out blindly to defend his egoic immortality status and 'save face' (save the mask)." (p.286) Here Wilber is describing the distortion that Stage-structure I still inflicts upon the development of Stage-structure II up to the 5/11 axis. In the next phase beyond 5/11—Wilber's centauric phase which lies beyond the mature ego and corresponds to our astrological 6/12 phase—Wilber needs to demonstrate, if his model is to be consistent, how such a corrective integration can take place of a 'natural' process which just 'happened' to have become distorted.

This brief paraphrase of Wilber's account of the mental-egoic stage-level describes the transition from our Stage-level I to our Stage-level II. In Stage-level I, as we moved from phase 1/7 through 2/8 and 3/9, there were endless nearly horizontal cycles of development taking place within the first band (on the vertical axis) of the Great Chain of Being; the band we label the 'Primal level.' The advent of the patriarchal establishment of the state and the mind/body, self/world, dualistic mental-ego is symbolized by the meridian, N/M, as it intersects the lower level of the second band on the vertical spectrum which we have termed, after Wilber, the 'Mental-egoic' level.

Washburn's Account of the Mental-ego

While for Wilber, the mental-ego is simply the next stage, the next deep structure beyond the body-ego, for Washburn, as we have seen, the mental-ego is founded on a primal repression of the dynamic ground and a primal alienation of the Great Mother. According to Washburn, with adolescence, a Cartesian ego emerges—a purely incorporeal and psychomental subject. Adolescence is a period of sexual, interpersonal, intellectual and moral awakening. There is an arising of new bodily drives and sensations and a cognitive shift from Piaget's concrete operational to formal operational thinking. This allows a concomitant raising of ethical understanding to the level of universal moral principles and ideals but also disposes the adolescent to both cynical relativism and naive idealism. "The adolescent unlike the latency child, is given to introspection. Newly emerging feelings and fantasies draw the adolescent into the world of inner experience, [Cancerian 4th] which the adolescent explores with a fascination equal to the curiosity with which the latency child explores the outer world." (p.99)

The Cartesian self-reflection of the adolescent is a source, at first, of existential security providing an immediate sense of the existence of a thinking inner subject (3rd and 4th principles). But just as Hume and Sartre have observed the inaccessibility of the self behind the process of thinking, "Cartesian self reflection tends to undermine its own self-certainty" becoming a source of existential anxiety, an anxiety of nothingness. Consequently, compulsive inner dialogue becomes characteristic of the mental-ego in both adolescents and adults while identity is also sustained by being something in the eyes of the world, exactly the performative and achievement oriented Leo fifth principle in relation to eleventh principle peer group recognition and belonging—or even through a converse 'outsider' identity, the rebellious Uranian quality of the eleventh principle. Here we see emphatically a developmental movement from the 4th/10th to the 5th /11th phase.

Adolescence is more about experimenting with a variety of identity possibilities rather than forging an identity which is the task of early adulthood. In addition to the need to establish a sense of being in the face of the anxiety of nothingness, the adolescent is also driven to establish a sense of justification and value in response to a sense of guilt; guilt arising from the struggle for independence from parents (outer) and for independence from the superego (inner). In the latency child the superego and ego ideal coincide, (the eleventh not having yet differentiated beyond the tenth) so the struggle with the superego, (being a superego-selfideal 'conformist' parental structure) necessitates that the adolescent create new ideals of selfhood with consequent moral unease and guilt (here is the consciously 'rebellious' activity of the Uranian/Aquarian eleventh principle).

Commitments to a primary other, to a primary social function—job, career, child rearing—and to life-styles, social classes, interest groups, poilitical parties, and churches mark the transition from adolescence to early adulthood (this is symbolized by extending the cycles beyond through the entire circle within the vertical mental-egoic band—see explanation in chapter 6). The identity project is motivated at the beginning by the need to overcome feelings of nothingness and guilt (4th) through seeking worldly being and value (5th); but later, more positively, by the need to engage one's faculties, develop one's talents, express one's character altogether establishing and fulfilling oneself in the world through the actual work of identity construction (symbolized by the entire cycle within deep structure-level II). This involves a progressive reintegration of the superego and ego ideal which have become split as the experimental 5th/11th adolescent self breaks out in antagonistic fashion against the pull of the conventional and familial 4th/10th structure, Cancer/Capricorn, which through astrological consensus, are the signs of the parents operating at the mental-egoic level . The superego becomes discipline (our Capricornian tenth principle) which, in Washburn's terms, as the 'propelling cause,' 'pushes' the project from behind, while the ego ideal (our Aquarian eleventh principle) as its 'telic cause' pulls the project from ahead through aspiration.

Although Piaget's formal operational thinking is the usual cognitive mode of the mental ego, Washburn takes the position along with recent cognitive-developmental theorists that forms of postformal cognition—evolving, contextual, holistic, inventive, pragmatic, and relativistic—are also possible for the mental ego. This is recognized as a transitional stage which begins to draw upon non-egoic resources and in particular upon the autosymbolic process, an essential ingredient of transegoic cognition. "As the vehicle of the adult ego ideal, the identity project promises wholeness and enduring happiness. This promise is not fulfilled." (p.111) It is not fulfilled either if a person 'fails' or if a person 'succeeds'. Resting on primal repression and primal alienation, it is impossible for the mental ego to achieve a sense of wholeness. Eventually, failure or success leads to disillusionment in the identity project itself. The question, "Is this all there is?", a sixth principle self-reflective question following the expressions and exploits of the ego, indicates that the positive motivations behind the project begin to wane while the original negative motivations again come to the fore. Again internal dialogue increases in response to rising unease and disatisfaction, but now the dialogue becomes an attempt to rationalize the past. One response is the excessive self-centred narcissism of the midlife crisis; another is depression, with roots in the existential rather than the purely psychological dimension.

Though initially the basis of egoic independence and development, with the further maturation of the ego the dualistic infrastructure of the mental-egoic stage now becomes an obstacle to further development since "the mature ego no longer needs for the sake of development to be protected from nonegoic potentials or from radical interpersonal intimacy." (p118) We see here, an existential crisis arising at the 6/12 stage which, as the end of stage-level II, is powerless in itself to break beyond the deep structure of the mental-ego based as it is on the primal split of Stage I (Q1/Q3): hence, Washburn's call for "a radical change that breaks through or dissolves primal repression-primal alienation and thereby leads to both intrapsychic and interpersonal integration, that is, to wholeness." (p115) This, of course, points to the beginning of our Return arc, a transition from phase 6/12 to phase 7/1—but this takes us ahead of our story.

In chapters 7 and 8 we've been concerned to demonstrate a general correspondence of the first six axes of the Outward arc with the stages of individual and historical development—the prepersonal and personal stages—in the somewhat varied accounts of Wilber and Washburn. Now we are in a position to illuminate further the essential archetypal logic of the astrological mandala.

Continue to Chapter 9