Sometimes a self-help book tries to be too many things. Beyond the Ego: Where Love, Joy, and Peace of Mind Await You, may be one of them. Written by David Mutchler, an author described as having earned an overwhelming number of degrees in education, philosophy, psychology, and social work, with advanced studies in religion, it is essentially a spiritual tract with a thin veneer of behavioral science writing. The book is very much in the self-help, pick-yourself-up-by-your-psychic-bootstraps-and-stride-into-happiness genre. But, it’s also an attempt to place the enterprise into a psychological framework by positing a general theory of human behavior and motivation that rests on a simple dichotomy between ego and Spirit (whose first letter is capitalized throughout the book).
Ego is the bad guy here, a brimming pool of selfishness, spite, defensiveness, emptiness, and whatever negative term you want to add. We have to transcend ego to get to Spirit, which is pure happiness, Mutchler tells us. This is essentially his book’s thesis, with some explanation of the mechanisms he encourages the reader to use to get from ego to Spirit. We live in “uncertain times,” he says, and this makes us feel isolated and competitive. We look for answers outside of ourselves when we should look within and go back to where we come from — which, apparently, is Spirit.
Spirit, as defined in the book, is equivalent to pure consciousness and comes from a single source of divine energy. Ego, on the other hand, is limited consciousness, because it’s not who we are. In the author’s words, “Consequently, and over time, an ever-widening gap has developed between who we are—ego—and who we really are—Spirit. The result is a growing state of tension for humankind that makes life stressful, disconcerting, and oftentimes miserable.”
The explanation of Mutchler’s perspective begins with the Big Bang, and tries to connect quantum physics to human consciousness. There are also brief descriptions of different types of subhuman consciousness, including material, plant, and animal, presumably meant to set the stage for human consciousness, the main topic of the book. Consciousness, however, is not something the author wants to break down. He tells us: “But remember, consciousness is purposely not defined in this discussion. To define anything is to limit and confine, and we want to do neither. We want simply to stay open to what consciousness is and let our understanding of it unfold as we work our way through its various levels of expression.”
Considering that science started with classification and definition, the above statement is a little startling.
The word ego, meanwhile, is derived from the Latin for I, and in Freudian theory was the arbiter between Id and Superego. In popular usage it refers to a heightened sense of self importance. But according to Mutchler, these are all mistaken concepts. Instead, he defined ego as a “state of consciousness.” Yet since he won’t define consciousness, we’re left without all the information we need. Is he saying that ego is consciousness, and consciousness, ego?
Whatever this ego-consciousness is, it isn’t a positive thing, he tells us in subsequent chapters. It makes us claim superiority to quell our unconscious sense of inferiority. It makes us project blame on others, and thrives on suffering and bad news. It’s judgmental, acquisitive, and entitled. It’s a jealous, envious drama queen that will do anything to survive.
In the next section, the combat between ego and Spirit takes on Manichean dimensions; it’s clearly evil versus good. Ego consciousness is likened to hell with almost unlimited destructive powers. “Collectively ego consciousness threatens to destroy mother earth and her ability to sustain us,” Mutchler writes. Love is Spirit’s weapon in dealing with the ego. In the author’s words, “ ‘Talk’ to your ego, assure it that dying isn’t necessary. It needs only to transition to another state of being….”
Being aware of ego is, Mutchler writes, the way to transition. How to do this? Look for situations where you feel upset, the author says, as ego thrives on suffering. “Each time you notice ego intruding into your thoughts, behaviors, or emotions,” he posits, “you are stepping directly into the world of Spirit.” As ego recedes, you become more open, friendly, moral, and ethical. If you spot ego in others, he says, you’re less judgmental.
The most useful part of the confused book, therapeutically speaking, focuses on how we describe our ongoing lives to ourselves. This section is very much in tune with contemporary cognitive therapy. The author states that there is a language of the ego and a language of the Spirit. Ego language is deeply ingrained and has been with us all our lives, though it is not the original cause of our suffering. This so-called ego language, Mutchler writes, “plays a large role in sustaining ego consciousness and perpetuating human suffering.” A few examples from a long list of words is “Disgrace, Regret, Shame, Worry.” Spirit language on the other hand is positive, life affirming. It includes “Peace, Joy, Happiness, Harmony.”
Awareness of our ego language and changing it is, according to the book, a major means of moving from ego to Spirit. To this end the author provides pages of judgmental adjectives and their less judgmental alternatives.
After all of this, the final section of the book, called “The Choice Is Yours,” talks about death in the style of a Hallmark condolence card.
The essential message of Beyond the Ego can be reduced to one line: Be less selfish and you’ll have a happier life. The book’s most salient aspect is the focus on language as a means of perpetuating unhappiness. But it is not a real behavioral science book, and leaves too much out.
Beyond the Ego: Where Love, Joy, and Peace of Mind Await You
Balboa Press, 2012
Paperback, 208 pages