Maybe ego is nothing more than our misguided sense of specialness? Our attempt to define ourselves to meet some deep yearning to know that we matter.
Ego gets such a bad rap (well certainly within the spiritual community). Get rid of it! Kill it! Somehow, we know that defining ourselves in relation to others isn’t going to cut it. It is inherently unsatisfying. And yet, it seems like the most obvious way to establish our identity and seek our own significance. Achievements bring some temporary satisfaction but they never seem to last.
I matter don’t I?
That sense of our own importance can’t be denied. Perhaps we experience it as a sense of being born to do something significant and important. Or in the seduction of a belief that we were someone significant in a previous life. Or, perhaps our specialness takes the form of feeling more badly treated than anyone else. Some hard edge that lets us know who we are in relation to the world, history, our family or culture. An identity, how we define who we are.
A closer look at ego
I’d like to take a closer look at that part of us, ego if you like. That part of us that is desperate to matter and yet goes about it in all the wrong ways. I’d like people on a spiritual path to get really interested in ego rather than trying to get rid of it. It is a fascinating mechanism. How we identify is fundamental to our existence. It’s like the core processor of a human life. Squashing the natural desire to feel significant, to know that we matter and that our life is important doesn’t seem very sensible to me. And yet, some of us are starting to sense that defining ourselves by where we fit within the hierarchy of the external world is an empty pursuit.
Once we’re done with defining ourselves
Our trajectory from birth to death takes us through complete dependence for our survival, immersion in the construct of our culture; family, nation, time in history. (We learn the rules and find a way to survive, maladaptive or not, as we define who we are in the world.) But, then what? What happens once we have made that definition (whether we’re satisfied with it or not)? The period between having made that definition, and the end of our lives offers us a much greater calling to align with what can’t be defined. To become much more acquainted with the mystery of life.
Speaking for myself, ageing has taking me into the territory where defining myself in the external hierarchy of the world has lost its gloss and is much less important. But, at the same time more important from a different perspective. It feels incredibly important to express my ‘mission’, my deepest longings, to honour the things I love, that I stand for. To come into my authentic expression rather than confining myself to the expectations of the culture and time within which I find myself. Life is now more than the things that I have to do to survive.
A stable base
When our life is defined by where we fit in the outside structure of the world, we are inherently unstable. Very little of it is under our control, neither is any of it particularly predictable. All the insurance policies, superannuation, empire building, estate portfolios – are sandcastles. In time, they will all wash away. We can have a great time creating them (just like when we’re playing on the beach) but in the end none of them are lasting. When there’s nothing other than sandcastles to make us feel safe, life is a struggle and gets tighter and tighter.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ego and having a clearly defined identity. It’s just not all there is to us. Rather than getting rid of all that effort we’ve put into defining ourselves in the world to fulfill some sense of importance, perhaps we can just put it in perspective? All we will ever do in the world is temporary. It will all come to an end. When we only know ourselves as the expression of life that it always changing we will constantly feel threatened. If, however, we can come to know ourselves as the consciousness that the changes arise in, we can recognise and honour our unique differences and come to know that we are always ok, no matter what.
Not in the future, here and now
I think we all sense that there is more to us than the fleeting and changeable experiences that make up our lives, as enjoyable or difficult as they can be. Generally, mystery has been the stronghold of religion throughout history. Holding off the ‘more to us’ as a promise that you might discover at the end of your life if you are good and worthy. I love this quote by Jean Klein:
To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be. The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.
Not about doing
I think the most salient phrase in that quote is ‘to allow it to be’. Becoming acquainted with ‘being’, discovering the ‘just as it is ness’ of the movements of life is freedom in the now. Not held off for the future. When we live our lives as if the passage of time is all there is, the closer we get to the end of it, the scarier it becomes. There IS something more, the timeless is available in this moment and we can drop into it at a moment’s notice. Not to change what is happening in the stream of time that we’re a part of. But to replenish ourselves and to gain perspective and help us to meet it.
We are each indeed special and unique expressions of life. And, that ‘something more’ or that ‘something missing’ is right in front of us, here and now. It’s always been here.
Can we forgive ourselves?
I think we should forgive ourselves for our pettiness, for needing to compare ourselves to others. For our judgements, our aggravations and irritations with others, our rigidly held opinions, our fears, our insecurities. For needing to be right and make others wrong. For our need to protect and defend ourselves. They are all just aspects of the identity that we are growing out of. As we embrace mystery, that which cannot be defined, they lose their sting and become just movements within our Consciousness. The ground within us that never changes. What was background becomes foreground and the distractions and disturbance from the movements of life become less important. No violence, no force required, nothing to get rid of, just a reframing.