Question from a reader.
I've been reading Nicoll commentaries vol. 1.
He talks about how essence continues to grow at expense of personality. I was wondering: is what is meant by personality, exactly, "ego" as it's called in a lot of other places?
This idea is easily misunderstood in an outward way; that is, what usually hears it and interprets it is personality.
Personality and essence are not so much opposing forces (which it kind of sounds like here) as entirely different creatures. Each one is a creature; that is, in addition to Eckhart's quite precise meaning of the word (creations of God) they are organisms, much like living animals. They are joined in the body, and are symbiotic. That is, actually, on this level they definitely need each other because they ought to be mutually supporting each other's growth, and personality is the outward being through which essence manifests its inwardness towards an outward world.
The difference between them is that essence is spiritual; it begins in and is of God, and touches Him at its most intimate point; whereas personality cannot do this, because it belongs to the natural world.
Essence has a completely different nature than personality, and personality (which thinks very highly of itself and would never believe what I'm about to say) can't conceive of or understand it.
They are as different as eyes and ears; you can't teach an ear to see yellow and you can't teach an eye to hear b flat minor. Being-your consciousness- can do both at the same time. So essence is the organ that touches God; personality is the organ that touches the world; and Being stands between the two.
But they don't quite know one another's worlds. When essence is strong, personality seems mystifying; and when personality is strong essence is entirely theoretical. One has to have been wholly in both, with a thread to the other, in order to understand this. Dwelling in essence is like coming home. You won't meet too many people who have actual experience of essence; but it's an unmistakable manifestation. It is the difference between being alive and being dead, in the way that Christ used the terms.
The reason essence needs to grow is that it's badly atrophied; personality dominates because we are so outward. The idea of going strongly inward to combat that, however, is mistaken, because there ought to be a balance; and personality being as strong as it is, if you try to fight it or force it, it will win. That's because of its allegiance to ego. Ego is more or less the muscle or power of personality; it is what imparts force, and the more it believes in itself the greater a force it can produce.
To say essence grows "at the expense" of personality is first to presume essence grows at all; and it usually doesn't. The organic sense of Being is closely tied to essence; it is the force or motive power for essence and is thus the polar opposite of ego.
Another way of putting this would be to say there is an outward ego connected to personality, which is a mechanical muscular reflex of force against the outer world; and there is an inward ego connected to the active sensation of Being; which is why Gurdjieff said that the organic sensation of Being creates your individuality.
The outward ego is natural and dies with the body. The inward ego helps create what lasts after death. One is turned outward, facing away from God; the other turns inward towards Him. This is part of what conscious egoism means- it is inward egoism, as I have just described. Perhaps this helps clear that up a bit. The term is heard in the Gurdjieff Work, but a precise understanding can be hard to come by, especially when it is simply latched on to by personality without any real experience of active essence. Many speak of these things without an exact understanding... often no understanding at all. They are just repeating things they have heard. It takes years of being in relationship with one's active essence in order to begin to understand the question correctly.
When essence grows-a more accurate expression might be to say it awakens- it is only at the "expense" of personality to the extent that personality acquires a balancing factor. It's still there... You still need it. It can help you by becoming a major tool in understanding your own nothingness; and so rather than attempting to overcome or banish ego, it's a good idea to engage it and turn it to useful purposes.