Last month, Firdaus from Delirious Daddy commented on a movie review I did on the Guy Ritchie film, Revolver, over two years ago. He asked for more on the topic of letting go of the ego. His comment led me to the statistics section of the site, where I found that this post is my most popular post…ever. Over 20% of my total audience in the history of the site goes to it. Most people are finding my post after Google searching for clarification on Freud’s model of the psyche. So, I have a follow up post to the original Let Go of My Ego post. Hopefully it will answer some of Mr. Firdaus’ questions and also provide readers with more of what they very clearly want in terms of content on this blog.
I originally planned to post this right away, but it was the same week as the Sandyhook shooting, and I thought it might be insensitive to put up, considering the title of the film is Revolver, and considering I’m essentially recommending this film for personal development knowing it is chock full of gun violence. I do have opinions about gun violence, but this post is not about any of that.
This post will most definitely contain plot spoilers, but as I mentioned in the first post, it’s such a deep film, you could watch it several times, and still miss important details. I know; I’ve watched it several times in the writing of this second post, and I’m still not covering everything. Reading these posts should not spoil watching the film, but if you like getting the details fresh, it’s best not to read either post until after watching for yourself. Also, it’s best if you read the first post, well…first, because it provides brief/basic plot and character description.
What is the Ego?
In one of Jake’s first interactions with Avi and Zack, Zack’s character tells Jake, “Wake up, Mr. Green.” I think it’s important to note that he says this to Jake several times throughout the film. In this way Zack is being clear and honest from the absolute beginning as to what he and Avi are doing for him. Their ensuing dialogue is as follows:
Avi to Jake: “You can’t see what’s right in front of you.”
Zack: “Wake up, Mr. Green.”
Once the driving forces of the plot are going, and Jake Green begins to notice his role in the bigger picture, he narrates the following:
“There is something about yourself that you don’t know. Something that you will deny even exists until it’s too late to do anything about it. It’s the only reason you get up in the morning, the only reason you suffer the shitty boss, the blood, the sweat and the tears. This is because you want people to know how good, attractive, generous, funny, wild and clever you really are. “Fear or revere me, but please think I’m special.” We share an addiction. We’re approval junkies. We’re all in it for the slap on the back and the gold watch. The “hip, hip, hoo-fucking-rah.” Look at the clever boy with the badge, polishing his trophy. Shine on, you crazy diamond. Cause we’re just monkeys wrapped in suits, begging for the approval of others.”
This, friends, is the ego, balancing the base desires of the id, while also meeting the social mores of the superego. It is what tells us we’re special, and we do it in so many ways. As students, we attribute our self worth to our GPA. In the corporate world, we find our self worth in how many people we’re managing or how close we are to the CEO’s position. Culturally because we’re capitalists and ultimate consumers, we define our self worth by how much stuff we have or how successful we are, typically defined by someone else equally obsessed with the same pursuit. Keeping up with the Jones’ (or the Kardashians, or the Real Housewives, or Honey Boo Boo) gets at the heart of what the ego is.
But none of this answers the question, “Who am I?” You are not your GPA, and what does that matter anyway? I’ve met salt of the earth people who may never make it into college, as well as scoundrels with advanced degrees. You are also not your career, though that’s typically one of the FIRST things we use to categorize and judge/compare others, isn’t it? Maybe instead of our first question to someone being, “So, what do you do?” it should be, “So, who are you?”
Practice: Can you answer that question for yourself? Who am I? Give it a try. Maybe make a list. I’ve got mine on my bathroom mirror so I can confront it often. See how your answers change over time with greater reflection and introspection. See how many of those definitions you can remove.
Distinguishing the “ego” from the “self”
After reflecting on “Who am I?” you might find that your definitions of “self” usually fall into some type of ego fulfillment. If that is so, then what is the “self”? Typical Western psychology would suggest that a healthy sense of self is one that can successfully function in the midst of challenge; one that can create; and one that can be both autonomous and altruistic. By this definition, the healthy sense of self is indeed the ego that successfully negotiates the balance between desire and socialization. But this definition comes from within a culture that is ego-driven, so doesn’t that make it circuitous?
A Buddhist perspective of the “self” seems to be one more aligned negatively with self-absorption, and attachment to ideas, thoughts, or feelings about the self, mistakenly taking those as the actual self. Therefore the ultimate goal in many meditative practices is to identify all the ways we cling to our sense of self so we can let go of it. The Buddhist concept of not-self is this discovery.
Revolver identifies the egotistical sense of self and an abandonment of that pursuit close to Jake’s epiphany:
Avi to Jake: “You’ve heard their voice for so long, you believe it to be you. You believe it to be your best friend. Where’s the best place an opponent should hide? Do you know who Sam Gold is, Mr. Green? He’s all up here? Pretending to be you. You’re in a game, Jake. You’re in THE game. Everyone’s in this game. And all of this is his world. He owns it. He controls it. He tells you what to do and when to do it. He’s behind all the pain there ever was. Behind every crime ever committed, and right now, he’s telling you that he doesn’t even exist. We’ve just put you into a war with the only enemy that ever existed. And you, you think he’s your best friend. Where’s the best place an opponent should hide? In the very last place you ever would look. He’s hiding behind your pain, Jake. Embrace the pain, and you will win this game.”
Avi and Zack’s Rules of the Con:
- The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.
- The only way to get smarter is to play a smarter opponent.
- First rule of business, protect your investment.
- There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of your enemy.
- The only real enemy to have ever existed is an eternal one.
- Your friends are close, but your enemy is closer.
Jake Green’s Lessons on Letting Go of the Ego
- Jake Green (narrating): “One thing I’ve learned in the last 7 years. In every game and con, there is always an opponent. There is always a victim. The trick is to know when you’re the latter so you can become the former.”
- Before we can let go of our ego, we have to observe where we are in the game.
- Jake Green (narrating): “When you’re winning, who thinks about losing? But when you’re faced with what I’m looking at, a new and cold reality dawns—a fact that we like to ignore. You cannot win. The only prize they guarantee when you play this game is that you will lose. It’s only a question of when.”
- Once you realize where you are in the game, then realize there is NO WINNER.
- Jake Green (narrating): “I know I can’t take it with me. So why the pain? Why the fuck does it still hurt?” Hang the old brain up for a while. It’s just been getting me in trouble.
- Pain comes from holding onto things we know don’t really matter: (greed, fear, etc.)
- Take Zack’s advice: “Wake up.”
- Take Avi’s advice: Your opponents and fears hide behind your pain. “Embrace the pain.”
Do the short practice identifying who you think you are. Then, give yourself time (months even!) to see how this changes you. Maybe right now you’ll define yourself as “one who procrastinates.” Maybe this is “true,” but is this really who you are? Maybe confronting this definition of yourself regularly will help you not procrastinate.
Over time, try to let go of all the ways you identify yourself (roles, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, judgments). What’s left? How do you define it? How are you a different person? Using the above example, do you procrastinate less? Why does something like time management matter if you’re letting go of defining self as procrastinator?