Today’s topic should be pretty revelation-free because the topic at hand is simply so obvious, but that makes the topic no less important. The ego is built on two main pillars of the human animal body. By this, I mean the animal body inside of all of us really only cares about two things. It cares about:

  • Individual Survival
  • Species Survival

Individual survival is often expressed through the fight or flight mechanism with which all of you are familiar. Species survival is expressed through things like the sex drive because it forces us to seek out mates to have children and keep the species going. See? No spiritual revelations here. You already know this.

Yet, despite the fact that we know these mechanisms exist, somehow we think we can forget about them or think that we have moved beyond them. Yet everyday, we see these mechanisms at work from the woman going into a fight mechanism at the grocery store line because she is scared that she is being over-charged to the man who is propositioning every woman in the bar. If you look for these old mechanisms, you will find them virtually everywhere, including in yourself.

Because these instinctual mechanisms are part of our hardware (our bodies), it’s not surprising that they are the 2 primary pillars of our software (ego). Thus, as you go deeper in to your inner work and letting go of your ego, you are going to come face to face with your primal, unconscious animal body.

Individual Survival: Fear of Death and Fear of Pain

The animal body within us does not think, yet it drives our thoughts and our ego formation. The evolution of the brain really says it all. You have the brain stem region (reptilian brain), the limbic brain built on top of that (mammalian brain), and the neocortex built on top of that. They all interact with each other, and it’s pretty complicated. But those two older brain systems and all kinds of stuff in our bodies are still operating from the most basic interests, and if you want to drop into greater levels of freedom in living life, this inner animal must be confronted.

At the center of many of inner processes is the drive to survive, and a number of instinctual systems are created to force us to preserve ourselves. Hunger and thirst are uncomfortable feelings, and they drive us to get food and water. From those and many other instinctual processes, two very basic responses to life are found inside people:

  • The fear of death
  • The fear of pain

Clearly there is some overlap as pain could indicate the potential for death. But some people find death less scary than living in pain and having the fear of more pain. This is what makes some people think about or attempt suicide.

If you are suicidal or know someone who is, please use the resources on this link:

Suicide and Spiritual Emergencies

Fear Defines People’s Lives

However, both fears are within our abilities to master, and they need to be mastered as we evolve individually and as a species. So long as they are unaddressed, they define how someone’s ego sees themselves and life, and that defines how they respond to life. Those responses then build up certain reactions from others, and the ego creates further stories. The ripple effect into society is profound, and these unaddressed foundational fears have gotten out of hand for most people in my opinion.

Learning to neutralize these fears and deal with the physical sensations that arise in the body any time any kind of threat is perceived are two key and vital steps to deeper freedom in the body-experience.

Accepting Your Body’s Mortality and Frailty

Being at Peace With Pain

Species Survival: The Sex Drive and Protecting the Young

I don’t know the specifics of how the sex drive is wired in to the brain and body, but I think we can all agree that it is there for most people. Occasionally, some people are naturally uninterested in sex, and I suppose someone out there is studying the physiological differences that may be going on for someone to have no instinctual sex drive. However, the sex drive is a very powerful force for most people. It causes many people to get into relationships, and even if you don’t care about having children, the primary function of the sex drive is to do just that. That’s how it is with the animal body, although clearly we can have different ego goals than the body. That latter part is the gift of human evolution. We and our ego selves aren’t entirely dictated to by our bodies, and that gives us room to evolve further. I think it is important that we explore that room.

I am curious how much protecting the young and self-sacrificing for children is wired in to men and women. It’s something else that I’m sure I’ll be learning about at some point; as you can see, this post really is an on-going exploration for me. What does seem clear is that many parents can become irrationally upset when they perceive a threat to their children. It trips a fight or flight response for many parents. But is that a hardwired response? Is that social conditioning? Is that a projection of their individual fears of pain and death onto their children and therefore a kind of self-preservation? I don’t know. But the instinct to preserve a child is powerful. It’s like how we all know not to get between a mama bear and her cubs.

I also wonder about this willingness to self-sacrifice for children and where that is wired in too. I’m sure you have heard stories–or may have done this yourself–where a parent goes without food to ensure that her children are fed if a parent doesn’t have much food. I also wonder if this deep ability for self-sacrifice is what we tap into whenever we serve our communities as a whole. If this self-sacrifice behavior is an instinctual program, this is definitely one that we can continue to rewire in more conscious ways.

Return and Rest as Awareness

Despite the power of these core human functions, we do have a secret weapon. We have awareness. We can observe these responses even as we feel all the irrational feelings and uncomfortable body sensations. Furthermore, we can learn to neutralize these instinctual responses by not acting upon them. This kind of non-action is key to breaking down the old instinctual mechanism. Any time we act them out, then we reinforce them yet again.

To be sure, dealing with intense physical responses is not comfortable. That seems to be the mechanism for motivation that the instinctual animal body developed over the course of evolution. Before our genetic ancestors could reason out situations, the body had to find ways to keep itself alive. Making our ancestors uncomfortable was a way to do it. But now, it’s time to move beyond these fight or flight responses and other unconscious mechanisms, and your ability to just be is one of your greatest spiritual tools in assisting that evolution.

So yeah, not a lot of revelations in this post. Just a lot of questions. I hope they have encouraged you inwards though, and I look forward to any comments you may have. Here are a couple more blog posts on this topic to help you in your discovering and deconstructing of these two pillars of the ego:

The Animal Body Within: Retraining the Primal Instinctual Body

The Number One Ego Issue

Inaction and Non-action on the Spiritual Path


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.

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