“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
"Life begins where fear ends." ~ Osho
The ego is a popular topic nowadays, we’ve all heard of the ego and what it is. It’s lined the shelves of the self help isle for decades, but honestly, this concept confused me for so long. When I first thought of the ego I thought of the definition I learned throughout school, something along the lines of a persons self importance. I would picture the ego and the image of a “macho” person would come to mind, somebody who has a lot they feel they need to prove, somebody that we could say has a “huge ego.” The spiritual aspect of the term was entirely lost to me. In fact, it wasn’t until 2012 that I first even began looking into spirituality and what it meant for me, personally.
I grew up in a very spiritual household that spoke of the law of attraction, the universe, God and the angels on a regular basis, although I wasn’t raised to be particularly religious. When we’re young we typically don’t understand what concepts mean to us individually, that is until we get a little bit older and test these beliefs we hold ourselves. I thought I had a pretty good hold on my beliefs until I took a philosophy class at Santa Barbara City College. The truth is, I didn’t know what the hell I believed. I loved the questions the class was asking and was teaching me to ask myself, but before I loved it I was unnerved by it. I felt frustrated, as if I was coming undone. Philosophy was a subject I felt I was born to love, why was I finding it so challenging? We would discuss one topic and I would attach to it and be like “oh yes, that’s what I believe” until the next class, when we questioned that very topic I had just become attached to. I couldn’t keep up. It was stripping me down to the bare essentials, I knew nothing. Yet, that’s hard for anyone to accept, especially a young person, and I was no exception. So I clung to my new beliefs, shedded what it would seem entirely illogical to assign to my thought structure, and postured myself on my love of knowledge and philosophical inquiry. Just one more ego identification.
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong.” ~ John Lennon
The truth is I’ve always loved asking questions, I’ve always been curious and a deep thinker. I always enjoyed talking to old people (so long as they were interesting and old) because I found them to be more fascinating. Older people had stories and life experiences that I couldn’t even scrape the surface of in my own life. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived through a whole heck of a lot in my short years on this earth, but I haven’t had a broad scope of life experiences. Living through a lot doesn’t mean you’ve lived through a lot of variation or that you have the breadth of understanding on a variety of topics. I knew a lot about surviving and very little about living.
Philosophy shook me, it got me to question myself, something that I hadn’t had the time to do until that point. I found it both frightening and refreshing. It brought up a new level of challenge for me, a constructive one; I found a passion of mine that I hadn’t previously discovered. A passion for mindful inquisition where before I had believed in mere fantasy and what other people told me. Philosophy taught me to think more critically, encouraging me to think for myself.
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” ~ Carl Sagan
You see I was always pretty good at school but half of going to school is just figuring out what your teacher expects of you, then mapping out the system. Philosophy was different, I kept trying to figure out what my professor wanted me to think, what he thought. I mean, obviously he was much smarter and more accomplished than I was, I wanted to believe whatever he believed, this seemed logical at the time. The beauty of this professor in particular was that I could never figure him out. Just when I thought I had discovered his beliefs, by how he would speak on a subject, he would speak on another with equal conviction. It was hopeless, I couldn’t figure out what he wanted me to believe. The way he spoke on both sides of a contradictory topic with seemingly equal passion was something I had never experienced. The truth is, he wouldn’t let me be told what to believe and I loved it.
Now, we didn’t talk about the ego in this class that I’ve been telling you of, but that’s not why I bring it up. It’s important for me to remember that just because I’ve grown since then doesn’t mean my beliefs are any more solid, even when I think they are. Just because I’ve aged and matured doesn’t mean I’m standing on solid ground. If my ideas can be easily shaken and if I need to become defensive to protect them, then maybe they aren’t worth protecting. Maybe it’s the ideas that do not require defensive attack that are worth upholding, ideas that stand for themselves, ideas of peace. Built on solid ground. I personally believe that everything happens for a reason and I think that things are shown to us in perfect timing. Its easy to say, “well if I had only known then what I know now” and act like that would have been beneficial. There’s no point in thinking like that because you were a different person then, I know I was. Everything that’s happened to me, everything I’ve experienced was necessary to build me into the person I am now.
"There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” ~ Mother Teresa, A Simple Path
The challenge with the ego is that we build it through our thoughts and we become attached. The ego itself is a thought process, we collect all these experiences and reactions and build a profile of ourselves and who we think we are. We create an identity that is composed of a million masks and together we think these masks define our personality. The challenge here is that these are all masks we’ve combined together, none of them have any real substance, yet they’re all very necessary. It’s confusing. So the ego is given room to build in our story and we continue to remain attached to it. Life experience molds us, we change and evolve and mature and then one day we ask the question, who am I really? And our world falls apart.
Now just to be clear, this doesn’t necessarily only happen once. It’s happened to me on more than just a couple of memorable occasions in my life. The ego is cunning, it builds us and builds us into this personality. this compilation. We think of ourselves as this person, this identity we’ve created. We think we are merely. This. Ideas that don’t really exist, intangible. Illusions. When we get curious, or bored, we begin to ask ourselves if there’s more to life than just existing, and life responds with an answer. One by one the masks fall and we see that there is nothing but an empty space behind them. The life and the person we have built over time is collapsing and it feels just like dying, but the body remains intact. So it actually feels much more like insanity than death, which I assure you is worse.
“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” ~ Neil DeGrasse Tyson
They say it’s impossible to follow two masters and I’m inclined to believe them, whoever they are. When you’ve been trying your whole life to follow one master, the right one, and it turns out you chose the wrong one masquerading as the right one, well, it’s perplexing to say the least. Shattering. Debilitating. Downright confusing. You feel lost, alone, and terrified of yourself because you don’t trust yourself to choose rightly. This is the trap of the ego. The ego cannot trust itself because it has built its life on a lie. It’s an idea, a concept, it has no truth to back it. Have my experiences really shaped me? They’ve shaped my personality, but is that who I really am? Something in flux, that is constantly changing? If you think so, that this is true, it leads us to another false premise of the ego — that we will always be in need. We crave safety, comfort, and consistency above all else. How then does it make any sense that we could ever expect to feel so confident in something that has been forever changing? This is the illusion. The lie. What is the totality of your existence? Can you count all your experiences up? Do you have a room where you store them for safe keeping? I didn’t think so.
So who are we really? Who or what is the awareness, the one that is experiencing all this? Talk about a fucking rabbit hole. In the interest of time, my own sanity, and staying on topic in this whirlwind of subject matter, lets keep it on the ego.
“You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” ~ Anne Lamott
I think about the ego and how much he’s gotten me through. He’s been such an incredible tool for so long, that I’ve forgotten how to let him go. When you’ve lived your entire life from ego identity, it’s hard to loosen up his grip. When you’re used to living in a constant state of fight or flight, survival becomes your norm and you forget what it’s like to let your guard down. Distancing. My words. I’m talking about myself. My ego has become a dear and trusted friend. He’s protected me from things so horrible that I hardly remember they’re things I’ve experienced. I’ve told you, there are lives I barely remember living. Dissociated.
The ego can be such a challenging concept to grasp because that’s all it is, a concept. An idea can’t ever be more than an idea on its own. An illusion can’t be more than a projection of what you believe to be true. It’s important to remember that believing something to be true doesn’t necessarily make it true, but it does assure that you believe it. We act from our beliefs and when we’re confused and don’t know what to believe, we’ve allowed ourselves to become misguided. As action dutifully follows thought, we inevitably act in ways that we don’t desire, feeding our confusion. Our split mind fuels our internal struggle and we feel. Conflicted. Sometimes we grow attached to tools and cease to use them as such. We become obsessed and lose our sight of the purpose in their use. We identify with the tool and become so attached it’s as if it’s a part of us. We lose our clarity and can’t tell where the ego ends and we begin. The humble beginnings of materialism, we become. Lost.
“Believe in your infinite potential. Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself.” ~ Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
The ego, he’s tricky. Cunning and smooth. Fantastical. Poetic. His promises. I met him when I was young. He took me to the wildflowers and promised me a life of ever after, I was so caught up in the protective scent of his cologne that I neglected to notice he forgot to add the happily. Naive. I let him fill me with dreams and hopes, things I wanted. These things I desired, he helped me achieve some. but they were never enough. he reminds me that it will never be enough. Never satisfied and always hungry. My ego, he’s such a tease. Perpetual wanting. This ego. He keeps me dreaming.
He isolates me and keeps me in constant competition. Fear. The lack. He “protects” me in a compound of old dusty thought. Rotten to the bone. Trapped. Walls built up so high, guards on constant watch. The castle he’s built for me, impenetrable. Welcome. this is my home.
Somebody says something and it rattles the floor of my mind. I can’t get my footing. I thought this was solid ground. My perception seems hazy, my hearing unclear, mumbled.
I grew up here. I think. I should feel safe. Wait. I’m so confused now. I have memories of my life here, but suddenly they seem more like dreams. Transparent, flickering, ghostly.
Suspended in a thickened fog. Is this fog or smoke? The dust hasn’t settled. Something fills my lungs. I can’t tell if it’s liquid or air. I’m suffocating.
I must be underwater. My lungs they’re burning.
I’m dizzy now. I can’t tell up from down, bottom from top. I’m trying to follow the bubbles to the surface. But I’m still not sure if I’m underwater or not. I can’t tell if I’m drowning. It feels like it. Where are the bubbles?
My ego he’s frantic. He’s built me a castle on lies and it’s crumbling. Ruins on an ocean floor. Lost cities. Abandoned. The panic.
I’ve thought that I’ve integrated my ego back into his proper role, time after time. Yet, here I am again. Feeling the telltale sign that I’m still attached, the presence of fear.
You see, life isn’t a straight line. I’ve gone and looped and cycled and circled. I can’t make shapes of it anymore. These realizations they are not new, familiar, and yet, refreshingly different. Here I am, questioning my beliefs.
Oh my dear, I know the sweet perfume of relief, it warms my tongue. Mmmm. Cathartic, the sadness. The humility of the vulnerable release. Letting go. I know relief. And. It has taken me all my life to realize that relief and peace are not the same.
Darling, tell me, when was the last time you tasted peace?