…………“To attain knowledge, …………..add things every day.
…………..To attain wisdom, …………..remove things every day”. ………………………………………….Lao-Tzu
The world view that has shaped the psyche of the ‘developed’ world for the past three centuries relies on the premise that the world, nature, lower species or even kinsfolk are a ‘resource’ we are entitled to exploit for the fulfilment of our own needs or pleasure – as long as we are strong enough to do so of course. This kind of thinking is very empowering until it dawns on us that, if everything around us is a resource, then it also implies that … we equally are … !!!
As the hunter becomes the prey, an underlying awareness of insecurity, and with it, a craving for protection arises in the heart. We start working harder, forcing ourselves to do things we do not value for the sake of achieving what we believe will give us the security we long for; we build systems that provide for our safety and well being but to which we become bond and outside of which we are unable to survive; we distance ourselves from nature and teach our children the way of self-preservation, competitiveness, separateness and insensitivity.
This is the way of the ego – the way of fear, domination and misery.
The consequences of this model are well documented today – a surging inflation of destruction, injustice, frustration, despair and suffering going parallel with the unrestrained, unashamed, proliferation of means of pleasure and self-gratification; a merciless exploitation of what is innocent, beautiful and authentic for the sake of profit; an almost systematic pollution of the sacredness of life and humaneness all done in the name of the callousness that has been declared as being the essence of our nature and against which, we are told, we need to be protected by laws, religions and guns.
Many of us have opened our eyes and heart and, to a certain extent, rejected the absurdity of this way of life. Some of us still argue that we do not have such a destructive ego but ‘they’ do: the capitalists, the destroyers of the Amazon forest, the corrupt politicians, the drug lords, drunk husbands and human traffickers. And this is true, ‘they’ do, not us. We love and enjoy life – our life; we take good care of our family, our garden and even our neighbours; we are a morally sane bunch of individuals yet, to what extent do we still unconsciously, or out of cheer carelessness, participate to the masterwork of the great destroyer – the ego?
The big problem about our egos is that they are camouflage experts and seldom operate in the open. They dwell in the shadows of the subconscious mind and from there, weaves the illusion that, ‘this is the way things are’, ‘the way things have always been’; they whispers ‘you can’t’, ‘you have needs’, ‘you are weak’ whilst plotting for control and doing everything in their power to delay the awakening of the self-king and its inevitable return on the throne.
Although the ego is actually a ghost deprived of existence, very few people realise that it is an enemy – our one and worst enemy. By enemy, I mean something like doubt, low self-esteem, mistrust, apathy or ignorance or all those things that only come into existence when their positive opposite subsides. Their only power resides in making us believe that they are real, that they are here to stay whilst they actually are transient mirages and unsustainable lies.
Whilst the experience of being is real, self-explanatory and fulfilling, the sense of identity generated by the ego is an unsatisfying mental construct developed and operated by our conditionings and controlled by them. It is a label we impose on ourselves from the ‘outside’; a definition of what we think we are or should be based on what we have been conditioned to believe we need to be in order to fit and be accepted. Ouch! This is a rather long sentence. I tried to simplify it but chose to leave it so it forces you reader to go through it twice, slowly, consciously, ‘seriously’…
So what is the ‘ego’ really?
It has been widely described as a false sense of identity based on self-image (the way we define ourselves) rather than on what we factually are. It is the image in the mirror that we confuse for ourselves; it is the image in the mind that we confuse for ‘I’. The self doesn’t have an image; it doesn’t need to be limited by definitions, labels and value judgments; only the ego does.
The basic working of the ego is to build a sense of being through attachment to form and identification – I am a man, a woman, an Indian or American; I am black or white; I am an engineer, a lawyer, a teacher or a street sweeper; I am the owner of a Ferrari, an Apple Macintosh or a restaurant; I am the boss; I am young, old, rich, poor, clever, dull, fat or thin; I am a virtuous person, a sinner, a good guy or a bad guy or a desperately confused mix of the two, etc.
Those identification are fed by whatever supports or justifies them: money, things, people, expertise, position, experiences, tradition, habits, addictions, reputation or the amount of knowledge you possess, ‘being chosen’ or even ‘being humble’ which is more commonly found in spiritual adepts.
The more an individual identifies to what they have or do, the more they define and value themselves in comparison to others and end up being caught in a cross fire between feelings of superiority or inferiority. Relationships turn into a struggle for attention and being ‘more’; the mind is helplessly caught in thoughts of gain and loss; it measures, calculates and floods the entire field of consciousness with wants, don’t wants, hopes and worries; the heart is cluttered by envy, jealousy, resentment, frustration and fear.
Fear is the worst motivator in terms of personal effectiveness; the worst advisor in terms of decision-making and an assassin of love – if love can ever be killed. It makes a person narrow-minded, petty and obsessed with territoriality and the rule of ‘mine’.
But what is probably the most remarkable achievement of the ego is to make us buy into the idea that the more we own, the more secure we will feel. Oh, it seems so obvious! And it works for a while. But the moment a new item is added to the list of things that constitute our self-esteem, fear arises: the awareness that we can – and will – loose it. The whole world turns into a threat and depression or control are the answer.
From the moment you realise that you are not your ego and dis-associate yourself from its demands, the journey of life becomes easier, more meaningful and infinitely more satisfying. Never ever again do you dream of swapping your life for anyone else’s, whoever talented, rich, beautiful or ‘successful’ they may appear to be.
- Your priorities are not anymore about achieving, accumulating or looking good but about the way you feel and make others feel.
- You start to see reality as it is and not as you wish it could be.
- You live in the present and respond to what comes in front of you with more wisdom, benevolence and a spontaneity that wins friends and foes alike.
- You see inner and outer possibilities that you could never have imagined previously.
- You do not do things anymore because you know you will be praised if you do them but because you choose to do them.
We say ‘choose’ but this is not really like that: you do not really choose anymore but rather do things according to the innate principles of your own nature, your personal ‘dharma’ because if you want to keep the feeling of being in harmony with yourself and with greater whole, this is the only way to go.
This is the way of the heart, the way to dissolve the ego because the heart is the only part of ourselves which is genuinely concerned by what exists beyond our own interests and needs.
And another thing about the heart is that it is also connected to the intimacy of our inner soul and knows the language of feelings, empathy and benevolence.
There is a light there which, when allowed to shine, spontaneously dispels the shadow.