Those who may doubt that we possess demonic elements in our consciousness simply have not paid attention to the contents of their own thoughts. They take them for granted, without realizing that most of them come from outside ourselves.
Mostly what we think as adults comes down from centuries of tradition. Few people think outside that box. Advertisers and political pollsters study this intensely, and categorize the way we think according to our particular cultural background. That shows us clearly that most of our thoughts simply repeat and justify what we have been conditioned to think and believe as true. This is true not just for ethnic groups, it is true for religious groups, and the sciences, in general. All these fields forbid thinking that is beyond the limits they as a group set and approve of.
Despite the I Ching’s having been edited and corrected by the various dynasties to encourage the Chinese public to conform to their views, its core text still speaks quite plainly about the need to dissolve our connection with group thinking.” Line 4 of Hexagram 57, Dissolution/Dissolving, is but one example; it states that this is necessary in order to get in touch with our inner truth.
Group thinking is not something we have consciously adopted. Each of us has been conditioned to believe, throughout our childhood and adolescence, that the values and dictums of our culture are what we are to accept and follow. Having our own thoughts is even presented as something risky and dangerous. We experience the opposite as true when we begin to connect with the wisdom of our inner truth: we find ourselves at peace with others, whereas group thinking encourages competition for dominance, which ultimately is the source of conflict, and the stifling of true thought.
We tend to think of our thoughts as spontaneously occurring, and as “ours.” We cannot imagine that they could be totally foreign to our true nature, or as imposed upon us by others, or that they may be something we need to free ourselves from. Once, when I became news editor of our college’s weekly newspaper, I began to realize how much the “news” about things dominates and shapes our thinking. Much later, through working with the I Ching, I began to be more aware of what were truly my own thoughts, as opposed to those I had unthinkingly adopted from my culture.
Recently, during a moment of self-observation, I noticed that thoughts belonging to the ego have a different sound from thoughts that are my own. They also seem to come from a different place inside me — from the back of the mind. There is also a noticeable difference in the quality of the sound. Pure thought, I noticed, is “up-front,” modest, and plain speaking. It lacks the pretentious quality of ego thought.
Ego thought, in its “pleasantest forms” (as in indulging in self-congratulation, or even in grandiosity) has a blustery, pompous sound. In its unpleasant forms we can hearing whispering, as when the voice is tempting, or suggesting to do something that would not feel fitting; or it can be commanding, as in making complaints, or casting judgments; it can be demanding that we DO something; it can be whining and cause us to endlessly indulge in self-incrimination when we feel guilty about something; it can indulge in self-righteousness or vindictiveness when it wants to blame or punish someone. The voice addresses us as “you,” when it is in a blaming mode. This indicates clearly that the thought is coming from outside us, i.e., from the collective ego.
Two meditations in my early years with the I Ching made me aware of the foreign nature of certain thoughts. In the first meditation, I was knocked off a stool on which I had been sitting. Looking around, I saw a man about four feet tall, dressed in lederhosen, shiny black shoes, and a Swiss hat with a feather in it. Since he looked pleased at his prank, I asked him why he had done it. He replied, “because you shouldn’t be resting on that stool.” I did not realize he was an imp until a short time later when I saw him in a second meditation. This meditation began with a rather nasty phrase being said. Looking for its source, I realized the voice had come from this same figure that was now only 6 inches tall. He had said the phrase while running across a doorway, intending to disappear into another room before I could notice that he was the source. I recognized that he was trying to put that thought into my head. However, I was now standing beside what I later recognized to be a “Cosmic Archer”; I realized that in glimpsing this imp, I had been looking down the length of an arrow, just as the arrow was being released by the archer, killing the imp.
These two experiences made it clear to me that the tiny, barely heard voices coming from the back of my mind were coming from one or more demonic, ego elements. As time went by, I identified various of them as “imps, demons, and dragons.” Still later, as my co-author, Hanna Moog and I were writing I Ching, The Oracle of the Cosmic Way, we identified still other types of demonic elements.
Very recently, I awakened in the middle of the night to the activity of a demonic element we came to call “a doubter.” One doubt after another was blitzing through my mind, attempting to make me doubt something I knew to be true. Once a doubt was inserted, it was followed by phrases that sought to “prove” the claims connected with the doubts. My mind was kept at work, finding reasons why the doubts might be true. Later, I also felt a certain pressure to spread these doubts and the fears they had created, to others. Clearly, my mind had been taken over.
Interestingly, while thinking about this, certain characters in Shakespeare’s plays came to mind. I realized that they were given the role to express these back-of-the-mind types of thoughts; they flatter, slander, contrive, and are two-faced. They clearly are different from characters that have more balanced thoughts. In King Lear, for example, the “evil” daughters speak in flattering tones to their father until they get what they want, then they say their evil thoughts aloud and proudly. In Measure for Measure, the character Lucio is a particularly good example of an ego that indulges in gossipy, lascivious, and judgmental thoughts. In the Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff is driven out of town by two women who cleverly expose his schemes. Other examples abound in Shakespeare’s writings. In modern times, I Claudius, by Robert Graves, looks into the back-of-the-mind thoughts of the Roman Emperors: Augustus and his wife Livia, Claudius himself, and Nero.
The reader who is skeptical about demonic elements must certainly be aware that he, too, has experienced unsavory back-of-the-mind thoughts that he would be embarrassed to convey to others — thoughts that, on further examination with the help of the I Ching, he finds as not coming from his true nature. Such feelings of embarrassment indicate that we have in some way lost our dignity. Unfortunately, embarrassment is the beginning of efforts to hide the existence of such thoughts from our conscious awareness. This allows the ego to gain an even greater dominance over us.
Recognizing the tones of voice the ego uses to insert itself into our thoughts is the first step in breaking the ego’s dominance, and to recognizing that the ego is not “us.”