The task given to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings is to destroy the great ring, whose true master is the Lord of Darkness, an unseen force which binds all of Middle Earth in darkness. It is referred to by all of its keepers as “My Precious”. Each of them says “ it came to me; it’s mine; my precious”. But they were all of them deceived, we are told by the narrator. It seems that the ring has an invisible power over them. They become increasingly self-possessed, narcissistic and insular. Without realising it, the power of the ring takes control. Without their knowing it, it is the ring that owns them and keeps them bound in ignorance.
What is the meaning of this metaphor? So many of us resonate with the epic story of the Lord of The Rings but without examining the hidden meaning. The simple truth is plain to see and yet for the most part we don’t see it. Perhaps, like Bilbo, who seems blind to the destructive power of the ring, we too are, in truth, held in darkness by an invisible force? This sounds mystical and mysterious. Surely in the modern world of science and reason we should not believe in fantastical stories of evil forces at work unbeknown to us? But look a little deeper. Is there a hidden root cause to the suffering, the greed, the selfishness that we witness almost everywhere? In the past humans have objectivised that darkness. Externalised it. Given it names as if it were an entity out there in the world, a personification of darkness – the devil and all his works. In our modern times few today would say there is an external force of evil but we do externalise the darkness nevertheless. We say it is the multi-nationals, the global financial system, the deep state. We say it is selfish billionaires who hoard their money. We blame the far right or the far left. We blame the oil companies and the pharmaceutical companies.
Maybe we are looking in the wrong place? Perhaps these outer manifestations of darkness arises from much nearer to home? The metaphor of the Lord of Rings can be explained when we look at the range of characters who become possessed by the ring. We have great kings of men, we have simple, homely Hobbits, we have, powerful warriors, who would use it to destroy evil. Even the very wise are wary of it. They understand the corrupting power of it. So finally what is this mysterious dark power? The answer is in the words spoken by the various keepers of the ring. “It is mine”. “It came to me; my precious”. The darkness arises in all of us from the mistaken belief in “Me and Mine”. And that belief is indeed the most precious thing (we think) we possess. Those of us who are on the path of consciousness refer to it these days as “ego”. Or more typically we say “my ego” otherwise people say “my life” or just “me”. Either way we externalise self into an object – a thing – called me. And the world outside self we say is my world, my life, or just mine. It is so unconscious that we rarely notice. Even though we may have read books and studied psychology and be familiar with the term ego. The deep seated sense of me and mine is invisible to us most of the time. It is a belief that is core to our existence. We have confused and conflated existence, which is pure being with an invented object – me.
We seldom appreciate the consequences of that one error. All of the darkness of the world is based on that one delusion. All the selfishness, judgement, racism, all the lust for power and pleasure at the cost of others, is based on it. The endless seeking for more and more money and possessions too. Those of us with good intentions, which is nearly all of us, examine ego, examine “ourselves” and do our best. We try to be the best we can be. We try to understand ego, its curious motivations and dysfunctions. We think we are more conscious perhaps? We think we are above the power of its evil. But if you catch yourself thinking the Capitalists are to blame for the evils of the world then you are still in its power. If you find yourself judging others you are still in its power. There are few, only a very few, who have truly transcended ego. So what is its true nature and how do we transcend it?
Let us take a closer look at the use of language. There is a clue in the way we use language surrounding it. We say my ego – “I am working on my ego” – I have resolved that aspect of my ego in counselling. In that expression of thought the subtle belief in me and mine is alive and well. In the Lord of the Rings Gandalf says that Gollum both loves and hates the ring as he both loves and hates himself. Isn’t that true of each of us? Isn’t that why the story resonates with us? Hidden deep in the language itself is the blunder we all make. The blunder is that we truly believe that there is a person called me that we love and hate at the same time. We never really challenge that belief. The best and most sophisticated challenge comes from the intellectual quest into the ego – the so called “work we do on ourselves”. Unfortunately, as worthy as that self-work is it masks the hidden belief in me as a person, it creates another layer of the very ego it is trying to uncover. The very act of inquiring into the mechanics of “my ego” perpetuates the deeply held belief that there is a true me that is doing the investigation. Even as you read this the intellectual part of you, the thinking mind, will say – I know that, I understand that. I realise the ego is a construct. And it is true that the thinking mind does understand that – at the level of thinking. But the deeper level of understanding is not there. We do not live it – as a living reality. Our living reality is that there really is a me. Cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am, we say, and the thinking part of the mind agrees.
We don’t realise that the thinking part of the mind is not all there is because we spend every waking moment inside of it. Even if we have a meditation practice, the practice itself is wrapped inside a mental container. Most meditation practice in any case is not meditation. It is a deepening of the thinking mind that produces some interesting and useful effects. Techniques such as guided imaginations into the forest or a beautiful beach have a therapeutic effect. Meditations that bring in the energy of the fifth dimension (and above) bring an expanded awareness but also can bring in new layers of ego identification in subtle ways. You may find yourself thinking – my teacher can experience the tenth dimension so why can’t I – I must try harder!” Deep relaxation and scanning the body at deeper and deeper levels is also good. Then there are meditations involving mindfulness, paying deep attention to a feeling or a life situation or a relationship can open up new awareness that is valuable. Meditations that have us bring loving kindness to those we love and to “difficult people” is a way to bring a new awareness of our heart’s capacity to love. It is all good! However, it is not really meditation, the purpose of which is to transcend the thinking mind and to come to a place of pure awareness. A place where there is no mental interpretation happening, where we are not seeing crystal caves or angels or beings of light from higher dimensions but instead the thinking mind has lost itself in its own being and has ceased to think or imagine anything. In that place of simplicity the mind comes to rest in its own nature and experiences itself as joy. That is different from saying there arises the emotion of joy. It is not an emotion, which arises in thought. It is a direct experience that awareness of awareness itself is made of the substance of joy. The ancient rishis of India called it chit-ananda, bliss-consciousness and the realisation that that is ultimately all there is: sat-chit-ananda.
By the daily exposure of the mind to pure awareness there comes a gradual, very gradual, awareness that the “me” and “mine” world that we inhabit is not real. Each day a step further down the road to dissolving the ring of power. Your daily meditation practice must take you there – to pure awareness. This realisation – the realisation that there is no me – is not an intellectual knowing, not a knowledge of the thinking mind but a deep knowing that pervades all. It is knowledge at the level of being. Then we start to live in the present moment. Then the possibility of healing the body comes. Then the understanding of dysfunctional behaviour dawns. Then awareness of higher dimensions and higher beings begins. Then comes loving kindness. All these are outcomes they are not the practice. You cannot get there from here. You cannot reach loving kindness by practicing loving kindness. First you must destroy the ring!