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Friday, July 9, 2010

How do I get rid of the ego?

"How do I get Rid of My Ego?"  I saw an internet video the other day with this as the title.  I did not watch the whole video, but what I saw talked about the need to rid ourselves of the ego.  The ego, the video said, causes many problems in the world, and we would all be best served by getting rid of it.  This is a common theme in many contemporary spiritual teachings. The ego has become the pariah of  new age spirituality.  Its as if, if we could just all get rid of our egos, everything would be fine.

So, how do you get rid of your ego?  You don't.  Don't even try.  Here's why.

To me, the question "How do I get rid of my ego," is analogous to "how do I get rid of my mouth?"  Many people have challenges in using their mouths.  They either don't control what they take in through their mouths, or what comes out of their mouths, or both.  But the problem isn't the mouth.  We don't say "how do we get rid of our mouths?"  Such a question would be absurd.

Each of us has an ego.  And we are intended to have an ego.  The ego is not inherently bad.  The challenges created by the ego are not because we each have one, but because of what we do with it.

To transcend these challenges, we must first understand what the ego is, what is useful for, and where we go wrong in our use of the ego.  Simply put, the ego is nothing more than a set of thoughts that we use to describe ourself in this world.  For example, I can discern a difference between the fingers of my hands, and the keyboard I am using to type this message.  The fingers are part of me; the keyboard is not.  This discernment is useful, and the thoughts (words) I use to describe how I am in this world are also useful.  I also use thoughts to describe what is mine.  The concept of mine (ownership) is an egoic concept.  Ownership is a useful idea in our society. (Though, my belief is that we overuse this concept to the point where ownership becomes harmful to society - but that's a commentary for another post.)  It is helpful to say "these are my car keys," because if I try to use "your car keys" to start "my car", it won't work.  "Me" and "mine" are useful concepts for getting along in the world.

In The Five Gifts, I talk about the usefulness and limitations of thought.  It is useful, for example, to describe things.  However, there is a fine line between "describing" and "defining".  We can not use our thoughts to define anything, and when we do so, we cause difficulties.  These same limitations apply to the ego.  Remember, the ego is nothing more than a set of thoughts that describe our presence in this world.  The difficulty arises when we allow ourselves to be defined by the ego, or when we define others. Doing so creates problems in our lives.

You are not what you think you are.  You can not be defined by the ego, or by any other set of thoughts. You are a piece of the infinite, a wave of awareness rising from the infinite ocean of divine consciousness, a manifest expression of the divine source.  Even these descriptions are limiting, for no words can define your true self, or that of anyone or anything else.  All thoughts are limited.  You are infinite.  How can any set of thoughts define you?

There is no need to "get rid" of the ego, only to use it as it is designed to be used.  "Me" and "mine" are useful ideas.  Let go of the impulse to use these idea to define your self.  This sounds simple, but it is not easy, especially for those of us who live in a thought-centered, strong-ego culture (like the USA).  For me, managing the ego is a daily task - one that never seems to go away, though it does get easier with practice.

One more comment.  The concept of the ego is just that - a concept.  A concept is nothing more than a set of thoughts.  Since the concept of the ego was introduced by Sigmund Freud, psychologists and spiritual teachers have used this concept to help many people.  While this is a useful concept, it is still only a set of thoughts.  When we say things like "the ego is a cause of too many problems in the world," or, "how do we get rid of the ego," we give this concept more solidity and power than it merits.  In other words, if we believe (think) that the ego is a real, negative force in our world, it will be.  To reduce the power of the ego, we simply need to let go of the concept.

Letting go of the ego begins with awareness.  Become aware of the ego as a set of thoughts.  Recognize the ego's usefulness.  And, know that, as a set of thoughts, the ego is limited.  When you have ego thoughts that are useful (e.g. it is useful to discern the separation between my fingers and this keyboard), then use them.  When you have ego thoughts that don't serve you, let go of them.  Don't let the ego define you.

This is the practice.  When you let go of the limiting thoughts of the ego, you become free to experience your selves as a divine manifestations.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Move Toward what Strengthens You and Away from what Weakens You

Move Toward what Strengthens You, and Away from what Weakens You

I'm not sure where this idea originated, but has been on my mind lately.  What a simple, yet profoundly powerful idea.  I've been reflecting on this principle in my meditations, and in my writing.  And, I've experienced its power in my life.

Here's an example.  As some of you know, I have a sweet tooth.  I am careful not to over-indulge in sweets, because I know that, for me, sugar is addictive.  Nevertheless, I've been in the habit of having something sweet at the end of the evening - a treat at the end of the day.  Recently I've noticed that when I eat something with refined sugar - cookies or cake or ice cream - at the end of the day, I feel weaker in my yoga practice the next morning.  I'm less able to focus in meditation, my breath is compromised, and I feel lethargic in asana practice. So, while I get a burst of energy right as it happens, my habit of eating something sugary at the end of the day weakens me. This makes sense, in hindsight.  We know that refined sugars give a quick high, followed by a precipitous drop in energy.  And, we know that the body struggles to deal with the rapidly rising and dropping blood sugar levels that a diet high in refined sweeteners causes.  Yet, this was the first I've noticed a direct connection between my evening habit and my morning practice.

Following the principle: move toward what strengthens me and away from what weakens me, I've decided to replace the evening cookies with a piece of fruit or some fruit juice.  (This is a good idea at any time of the day, not just in the evening.)  I still get my sweet tooth satisfied.  Without the high and low that comes with refined sugar treats.  In fact, I'm finding that I sleep better, and I feel stronger in my practice.  Now, I know that part of the fun of eating a sugary treat is the high that comes with it.  I simply need to let that go, because, for me, it is simply not healthy.

Now, this is not to say that I never eat anything with refined sugars.  When I go to a party, I'll eat the birthday cake.  And, I still enjoy ice cream.  I'm only saying that, with greater awareness, and a simple application of this principle - move toward what strengthens you, and away from what weakens you - I can improve my overall wellness.

To me, this principle is about wellness.  What strengthens us improves our well-being; what weakens us opens us to dis-ease and illness.  If we combine this principle with our understanding of the five gifts, we get a table that looks like so:

Move Toward
Move Away From
The Gift of the Physical Body
¨      Structural alignment
¨      Healthy “building blocks” for molecular structures of body
¨      Physical pain
¨      Toxins & poisons
The Gift of Life
¨      Healthy breath (prana)
¨      Natural, nurturing energy fields
¨      Positive emotions
¨      Toxic energy environments
¨      Negative emotions
The Gift of Thought
¨      Calmness
¨      Mental clarity and focus
¨      Stress
¨      Agitated thinking
The Gift of Awareness
¨      Holistic awareness
¨      Loving relationships
¨      Community
¨      Reductionist paradigm
¨      Toxic relationships
The Gift of Divine Consciousness
¨      Oneness
¨      Separation

Using this table, we can grow in awareness and well-being with a holistic understanding.  I'll be writing more about the ideas in this table in the future.  For now, I'd love to hear your comments on its contents.

Move toward what strengthens you and away from what weakens you.  And, be Well.  Thanks for reading.