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Taming the Ego...                                
                   ... with the Power of Love


We all have basic needs for food, shelter and physical well-being, but when these basic needs have been achieved, getting more food, more money, more possessions or a bigger house does not produce increasing  happiness or enduring satisfaction. In fact, after our basic needs have been met, the primary cause of our daily suffering and dissatisfaction is our own troublesome ego.

The ego is little more than a hodgepodge collection of strategies devised by our own mind  in response to various experiences in our past. And, unfortunately, the ego's old strategies are often not the best response to the present situation. 

During our early childhood we begin to develop a deceptive sense of a separate and independent "self", which quickly grows to be quite a monster. Then, most of us spend the rest of our life trying to find an escape from our preoccupation with the endless chatter and turmoil of this fictitious self and its ineffective strategies. For example, our fears and anger are often only knee-jerk reactions, caused by our ego's projections of past events, which tend to distract us from truly experiencing the wonders of the present moment and dealing with all of life's situations in a loving and kind manner.

The existence of such mind-made fantasy is not necessarily a problem, the problem arises when we become so preoccupied with the fantasy that we lose touch with what is actually happening in this moment and lose touch with our own true nature, that inner Divine spark which would like to guide us to respond to every situation in a kind and loving manner. The ego is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master - so we have to find a way to limit the power and authority of our own ego.

The mind of an average person may be pictured as an unruly horse that jumps and kicks and throws anyone that tries to ride it. Masters of the world are those who have mastered themselves, and mastery lies in the control of the mind. If the mind became your obedient servant, the whole world is at your service.

Githa Series II, Psychology , Hazrat Inayat Khan (unpublished)

Fortunately, this troublesome little self is merely a covering, like a veil, over our inherent true nature, which remains ever-pure, untarnished, awaiting our return to our true nature, fully awake and calmly aware of what is actually happening in the present moment.

Our limited self is like a wall separating us from the Self of God. God is as far away from us as that wall is thick. The wisdom and justice of God are within us, and yet they are far away under the covering of the veil of the limited self.

In an Eastern Rose Garden, Hazrat Inayat Khan
 

There is much talk in various religious traditions about annihilating the ego, or killing the ego. But, actually, we need an ego. What we don't need is a dysfunctional ego. That is, we each need to have a basic sense of self protection and self-concern which sufficiently guides us to meet our basic needs for food, shelter and physical well-being, but beyond that we will not find any enduring happiness by following the whims of the ego. All of our undue self-centered concern and internal chatter, whether deliberate or habitual, forms a veil over our True Nature and the attendant simplicity of Being. For enduring happiness, we need to focus our attention on something other than the on-going chatter and troublesome strategies of our own ego.

The point is not to deny our ego, but to extricate ourselves from our exclusive preoccupation with it.

One-Liners, by Ram Dass

In order to find some relief from the chatter and misguidance of the ego, we need to begin to recognize a couple of our most pernicious adversaries: resisting and clinging. If we can learn to recognize and overcome these two, we'll be well on the way toward success at finding both enduring peace and enduring satisfaction in all aspects of life.

Our tendency toward excessive preoccupation with matters revolving around "I", "me" and "mine" is largely related to these two common, yet often dysfunctional, attributes of the ego: resisting (struggle and aversion) and clinging (attachment and desire). With some careful observation, the presence of these two troublesome ego attributes can easily be found in one's own daily life.

In limited amounts, the desire and aversion unleashed by the ego can be normal and helpful, and can give us a brief experience of satisfaction. But when our resisting and clinging lead us into excessive preoccupation with concerns about "I", "me" and "mine", then these attributes inevitably lead to a dysfunctional life which lacks an enduring sense of well-being, satisfaction and happiness.

Let's take a more detailed look at each of these two potentially troublesome attributes of the ego, which in moderate amounts can be useful, but which in excess quickly lead to great suffering.

Resisting

Resisting manifests in many forms including a tendency to  reject, refuse, insult, separate, push away, or remove ourselves from a situation. Resisting leads to estrangement, animosity, dread, and fearfulness. Resisting is the underlying cause of anger, hatred and violence.

Resisting leads us to push something away, depriving us of the opportunity to develop a new, more productive response to the situation.

Clinging

Clinging manifests in many forms including a tendency to attach, grasp, hold on, pursue or force ourselves into a situation. Clinging leads to dependency, addiction, expectations and frustration. Clinging is  the underlying cause of habitual behaviors and shallow relationships.

Clinging leads us to continue to want "more", even when our basic needs have been met. Clinging leads us into unhealthy relationships.

Taking Action

Now, armed with a basic understanding of these two adversaries, begin to carefully watch your own behavior for their telltale evidence, such as agitation, frustration, dissatisfaction, disappointment or  unhappiness. At first, you may not even notice the effects of clinging and resisting until a few days after it happens. But, with further practice, you'll begin to notice the effects of clinging and resisting that happened more recently, perhaps that same day. With even more practice, you'll begin to catch yourself in the act. And, eventually, you'll be aware of the presence of troublesome behaviors even before they actually happen.

As you examine the troublesome situations in your daily life, you'll begin to see some of your own behavior patterns, and may also notice the interdependent arising of resisting and clinging - for example noticing that resisting something is the result of clinging to an old behavior pattern, or that clinging to something is the result of resisting change. Resisting and clinging are inextricably bound together.

Although this process of rising above troublesome behaviors such as resisting and clinging may seem like a new idea, the general idea been around for quite some time:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

Matthew 5:30-42, New King James Version


Nonetheless, recognizing the problem is only part of the task at hand. In order to refashion your own personality, you'll need a new manner of behavior to replace the old ineffective behaviors. And fortunately, there is a time proven middle path between these extremes of resisting and clinging.

The Power of Love

The middle path which we need to walk between resisting and clinging is a path by which one rises above both of those dysfunctional extremes... this is the path of love. The true lover lives only for the pleasure of the beloved, is grateful for whatever is received, and has no need to resist anything or cling to anything.

What do I mean by love? It is such a word that one cannot give one meaning. All attributes like kindness, gentleness, goodness, humbleness, mildness, fineness, are names of one and the same thing. Love therefore is that stream which when it rises falls in the form of a fountain, and each stream coming down is a virtue. All virtues taught by books or by a religious person have no strength and life because they have been learned; a virtue that is learned has no power, no life. The virtue that naturally springs from the depth of the heart, the virtue that rises from the love-spring and then falls as many different attributes, that virtue is real. There is a Hindustani saying, 'No matter how much wealth you have, if you do not have the treasure of virtue, it is of no use'. The true riches is the ever increasing spring of love from which all virtues come.

The Smiling Forehead, Hazrat Inayat Khan

This path of love is certainly not a new idea. Here's how it was expressed by Jesus over 2000 years ago:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48, New King James Version

This is Freedom: To be joyfully appreciative for whatever may arise. Jesus' disciple Paul further reminded us that love is a mighty bond of perfection which deserves to be accompanied by a sense of gratitude:

But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Colossians 3:14-15,  New King James Version

Really, the essence of this shift from resisting/clinging to loving is whether we choose to experience life through the clutter, restlessness and difficulties of the emotional dramas which are fabricated in our own mind, or we choose to experience life in a calm, happy, ever-aware, heart-centered manner which is empowered by that Divine spark within. The head (when dominated by the little self) is full of endless difficulties, restless chatter, emotion and drama, while, in contrast, the heart calmly responds in a lovingly appropriate manner, bringing harmony, beauty and ease to every situation.

There are people who look at life through their brain, their head, and there are others who look at life through their heart. Between these two points of view there is a vast difference...

The Smiling Forehead, Hazrat Inayat Khan

A Plan for Success

To learn to tame the ego, we must first learn to recognize how the troublesome traits of resisting (struggle and aversion) and clinging (attachment and desire) are adversely affecting our own daily life. Initially, these ineffective strategies may be most noticeable in someone else's behavior, but gradually you'll be able to see your own troublesome traits, and understand how they are restricting your enjoyment of life. All situations which revolve around emotional drama or self-centered dialog are merely fabrications of the mind which limit your access to the enduring peace and tranquility which are your Divine birthright.

He who does not direct his own mind lacks mastery... If he does not control his mind, he is not a master but a slave. It lies with his own mind whether he shall be master, or whether he shall be slave. He is slave when he neglects to be master; he is master if he cares to be master.

Mastery lies not merely in stilling the mind, but in directing it towards whatever point we desire, in allowing it to be active as far as we wish, in using it to fulfill our purpose, in causing it to be still when we want to still it. He who has come to this has created his heaven within himself; he has no need to wait for a heaven in the hereafter, for he has produced it within his own mind now.

In an Eastern Rose Garden, Hazrat Inayat Khan

Then, after recognizing the problem, begin to move toward love at every opportunity, toward the loving acceptance of all things just as they are in this moment. That does not mean that you condone or perpetuate any evils, but merely that you see exactly what is happening without adding any of your own mind's drama, emotions or commentary. Armed with such clear vision of precisely what is actually happening, rather than the much larger drama which you could so easily create out of it, you will easily respond to every situation in a manner which will help to foster love, harmony and beauty amongst everyone involved. Recognizing that we're all in this together, it becomes quite easy to travel this path with love and gratitude for all that you encounter.

How can one explain spiritual progress? What is it? What is it like? Spiritual progress is the changing of the point of view. There is only one way to recognize this progress, and that is to see the progress in one's own outlook on life, to ask oneself the question, 'How do I look at life?' This one can do by not judging others, but by being only concerned with one's own outlook.

Sufi Mysticism, Hazrat Inayat Khan

As you gradually discover and perfect your own unique manner of living from the heart, living each moment with peaceful loving-kindness, generosity and compassion for all, then the old ineffective tendencies toward resisting and clinging will simply fall by the wayside, just as the toys of our childhood have fallen by the wayside, unneeded.

Taming the ego requires some effort, and some changes. Great transformations require a change of one's own outlook, and this taming of the ego is no exception. It's just a matter of letting your true nature, the Divine spark deep within you, be the foundation for your life, the guiding light of your life, and seeing how your outlook on everything changes when viewed from that rock-solid foundation, showering everything with an endless flow of love, harmony and beauty.

 

Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,
     wahiduddin

Nov 6, 2012