My mother and I got into a conversation a couple of months ago. We've gotten into more of these lately, as we are both tracking on a deeper developmental path. This particular chat meandered on a number of soul stretching topics, from meditation to emotional regulation, eventually wrapping up with a long dissection of the Wizard of Oz as a metaphor for ego. In the time since, I've found myself returning to this conversation with colleagues and clients, finding it a useful peacemaking metaphor for self.
My mom had been asking me about practices to still the mind and quiet the soul. It's a particularly relevant question in our family as overactive brains seem to be hardwired into our heritage. For myself, I had recently returned from a ten-day Vipassana meditation course. Which, if you're not familiar with, is 12+ hours of meditation a day in total self-imposed silence and relative isolation. For my mom, she's been engaged in similar spiritual practice but was being taught a path that the ego was baggage, that it should be sidestepped, shunned and avoided.
It was here that she brought in the Wizard of Oz as a metaphor for being, with the Wizard being the character operating behind the curtain, causing all manner of big and scary illusions. In the original Oz story, Dorothy and her companions travel to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard. Dorothy is seeking a way home to familiar territory after being carried into Oz by a storm; the Tin Man is looking for a Heart; the Cowardly Lion for Courage; and the Scarecrow for Brains. When they finally meet the Wizard, the curtain behind his illusions is drawn and he is exposed for the sham that he is.
Which sounds like a plausible explanation for our relationship to ego. We find ourselves searching for these very qualities as we move through our own lives. We are looking for our connection to heart, for more incisive rational thinking, and for more courage to act out our truest callings. And, who among us hasn't heard the soul's call to find its home; a resting place that resonates with our deepest sense of belonging? Getting in the way of all this are our time-worn patterns, our personalities, the unseen limitations of our conscious self -- our ego. From this perspective, the immediate course of action is to pull back our own curtains; expose our Wizards of Ego for the shams that they are and banish them from the realm.
But here's the thing: that's not how the story goes.
Not many people know that the Wizard of Oz is only a single book in a series of fourteen. When I was young, still in my single digits, I had the treasured experience of having my grandfather read nearly all of these fourteen books to me during summers spent at the cottage. Over the course of many afternoons, snuggled into him, a little boy's pleading refrain of "just one more chapter, grandad?" could be heard from the back room. He was my mother's father, and during my conversation with her, those memories of him flooded back as I filled out the rest of the story for her.
See, the Wizard of Oz was never a bad guy. In the absence of Oz's true ruler he kept the kingdom together. He didn't do it with the intent of being authoritarian or instilling fear. He didn't do it out of a vain pursuit of power. Indeed, his commitment to defending Oz's citizenry from the malicious evil of the Wicked Witch was just as strong as Dorothy's. He did what he did out of love for the realm. In the absence of proper leadership he was thrust in the role. Unchecked and with no real magic of his own, he had to do the best he could. He became larger than life. He created illusions. His power was deceptive.
In subsequent books, Oz's rightful ruler was restored to the throne. Princess Ozma is depicted in the books as an immortal young faced girl, beautiful in her wisdom, elegant in her infinite grace. She is loved by all of Oz's citizenry, deeply revered and respected by all of its major characters. She is fair, thoughtful, just, and full of unconditional love for every piece and person making up her kingdom.
And the Wizard? He wasn't banished. Quite the contrary. He went on to become one of Ozma's most trusted and clever advisors, remaining quite often by Dorothy's side as her and her companions embarked on new adventures across the Land of Oz. He, too, was restored to his rightful place, his illusions shrunk by the ascendancy of Oz's rightful monarch to her throne.
We are so quick to dissociate from the parts of ourselves which become ugly, scary, and distorted illusion. When we discover and pull back the curtains of our own Wizards of Ego, the tendency can be strong to put him back in his hot air balloon and send him to whence he came.
This, however, is a move of dissociation.
For our Wizard will never go away. He's the part of us that's built our experience of meaning making throughout our own lands and journeys in the world. The Wizard of Ego becomes unmasked for the distorted being he is when we are tasked with facing our own inner challenges -- our own Wicked Witches -- a challenge that requires the marshaling of resources and a journey to the central Emerald City of the soul. In this unmasking, and through the journey itself, many of our powerful qualities emerge and are returned to us be they Courage, Heart, Brains, or whatever we've been telling ourselves we've lacked.
Princess Ozma is the timeless, immortally youthful representation of our Essential Self. Even though technically a princess, her beauty is often described as boyish; a blurring of the masculine and feminine. She is wise, she is loving. With this return of the Essential Self to the throne, all parts find their place, are met with love, and are integrated into the whole. The Ego is acknowledged and honored for his efforts in protecting the realm. He, too, is met with unconditional love, integrated into the cast of characters which support and care for the land.
From this place, the characters of Oz find endless adventures in various configurations. Challenges and evils are still experienced, but they are met from a place of a more balanced unity and with the sense that each character is in his or her natural station.
This, in short, is a move of association. It is one which asks us to face our patterns of personality honestly, without distortion, with the honoring realization that everything our ego has done for us has been out of love and protection. Only then can we move to a more integrated way of being, with all of our archetypal actors restored to their proper places under the rule of our most beautiful Self.
There's a reason it's called the Marvelous Land of Oz.