Chapter 3 - Rising Above the Ego
Steps toward overcoming some of the most troublesome aspects of the ego.
Excessive Preoccupation with "I"
The dysfunctional conditions of the ego all revolve around our reactions to situations, and involve excessive preoccupation with "I", "me" or "mine"... my thoughts... my wants... my opinions... my preferences... my regrets... my anger... my needs. Excessive reactions to situations revolving around "I", "me" or "mine" often create severe suffering for everyone involved and greatly limit one's ability to enjoy either the beauty of life or the wonders of one's True Nature.
Resisting and clinging are two more very common dysfunctions of the ego. Resistance and clinging are generally the result of one's expectations, and result in struggle and dissatisfaction. In these cases, the reaction of the ego is to refuse to accept what is. However, such a stubborn refusal strategy is unlikely to bring success, since nothing can change what has already happened. There is no point in resisting what is. The best that we can do is accept what is and, when the time is right, begin to plant some new seeds which will bring us a better harvest in the future. In every situation, planting seeds of love, harmony and beauty always bring the best harvest.
Fear of losing something is another common dysfunction of the ego, but it is simply a specific example of what happens when the reaction of the ego is to try to resist what is. Nothing in this world stays the same. Everything in this world is continually changing, and everything is continually being transformed from one thing into something else. Yet life never dies. Life is eternal, and life is continually changing from one form to another form. We cannot stop the changes, and when we try to resist the changes of this world, we only create suffering.
Many of the most persistent and troublesome dysfunctions of the ego can be traced to baggage from the past, a cluttered collection of old memories which have accumulated in the form of mental baggage. Virtually all of us are dragging around a burdensome collection of heavy, old, outdated baggage which is an impediment to truly enjoying the present moment.
And, as if the burden of dragging this heavy old stuff around is not harmful enough, the pesky ego loves to react to situations by dragging out bits and pieces of that old baggage, snippets from the past, which it then replays over and over and over again, sabotaging all sorts of new opportunities.
There is nothing inherently wrong with memories, even bad memories. The problems only arise due to our ego's reaction to the old memories, and the ensuing drama which it then creates.
Most personal dilemmas occur due to the burden of dragging around our own heavy old collection of baggage, and the ego's wearisome process of comparing every present opportunity with some old worn-out memories of what happened in the past. Such behavior is simply a reaction of the ego, and one can learn to substitute some new, more positive reaction.
Similarly, most interpersonal conflicts are really just what happens when one person's old baggage conflicts or clashes with another person's old baggage. Those conflicts can also be avoided by learning to substitute some new behavior in place of the ego's old reaction.
Sometimes we find ourselves confronted by a vague inner need to change the course of our life, and we begin to clean out our closets, or perhaps even remodel our house, when in fact what needs to be cleaned out and remodeled is the ego's old collection of rubbish. And, just as we tend to cling to our old accumulated things around the house, so too do we tend to cling to our heavy burden of mental baggage. The old junk is just weighting us down, we're drowning, and even as we drown we refuse to let go of that heavy pile of junk which is the cause of the problem!
A pivotal point in life, an opportunity for transformation, a moment of awakening, arises when one finally begins to see that the disruptive reactions of the ego, creating new dramas based on old rubbish, is choking off the flow of Divine Presence which one truly needs for happiness and success. At that point, one can begin to release the old unhealthy habitual mental reactions, and replace those old reactions with new reactions which help to open the heart to the wondrous flow of Divine Presence in the present moment.
The Sub-Conscious Mind
Habits arise automatically from the sub-conscious mind, which has been programmed by all that one has thought, heard or done. In order to change our habits, we must reprogram the sub-conscious mind to create new habits.
The sub-conscious mind is extraordinarily powerful, and can affect virtually every organ in the body, from glands to muscles. However, the sub-conscious mind is not at all concerned about what we might call reality. That is, the sub-conscious mind does not make any attempt to distinguish fact from fiction, it simply responds according to its programming.
Has it ever struck you that you have been programmed to be unhappy and so no matter what you do to become happy, you are bound to fail?... If you wish to be happy the first thing that you need is not effort or even good will or good desires, but a clear understanding of how exactly you have been programmed.
Anthony De Mello, The Way to Love, Doubleday, 1991, p19
Whenever we dwell upon troublesome thoughts such as fear of something, failure to accomplish something, or even the lack of something, we are in fact programming the sub-conscious mind to deliver those same dreadful results into our life.
Much of the ego's destructive behavior becomes embedded in sub-conscious habitual reactions and patterns which are scarcely even noticeable in the conscious mind. But when one begins to watch all of life with great awareness, such reactive patterns become obvious, and can then be brought out into the light of consciousness for examination and correction.
Benefits of a Strong Ego
A strong ego is only a problem when it is producing non-productive thoughts and managing life in a dysfunctional manner. That same strong ego, when properly directed toward bringing love, harmony and beauty into the world, is a precious gift and a wondrous blessing.
There are many great teachers who have, early in life, suffered from their destructive egos, and yet when they eventually discovered how to use that same powerful ego to bring love, harmony and beauty into the world, they rose quickly into the ranks of the highly respected and widely admired.
In fact, when the ego becomes directed toward of life of love, harmony and beauty, those who have a strong ego may find it very easy to rise into the highest of spiritual states, thanks to that strong ego's ability to enjoy bringing love, harmony and beauty into every situation.
Taking Charge of the Ego
In order to reclaim one's true potential in life, and tame the out of control ego, it is necessary to first become consciously aware of what the ego is doing and be able to say "Ahh, I see what that pesky ego is doing!". Then, when the ego, and the ego's reactive drama, are simply seen for the clutter and chatter that they are, and are no longer identified as "I" or "me" or "mine", then we can begin to methodically take control of the mind and deal with each situation as it arises, without undue reaction, drama or concern. When the mind is preoccupied with "I", "me" or "mine", life can be very difficult. However, with calm mindful awareness of the present moment, life is filled with a sense of ease and satisfaction.
When the ego has become overgrown and dominates the mind, it is all too easy to think of the ego as "me", and one is then led to believe that the worries of the ego are "my worries", the anxieties of the ego are "my anxieties". But that's not true. Those thoughts are not "you", they are merely the chatter of your housekeeper. The ego is merely a tool to help maintain the body. Take charge of the ego, tear down the walls and veils that make life difficult. Accept what is, look for opportunities, and move on.
Impatience is a clear sign that the ego is refusing to accept the present moment and that we are not in harmony with the ease, forgiveness and loving-kindness of our own True Nature. Whenever impatience arises, take a deep breath, accept “what is”, allow (or even force) loving-kindness to emerge toward everyone involved, and then respond to the situation in a manner which is in harmony with your True Nature, the Divine Presence.
|Attuned Heart||Unguided Head|
|The calm, peaceful temple of Divine Presence.||Full of incessant worldly chatter about "me" and "mine".|
|Emphasizes synthesis and unity.||Strives for analysis and separation.|
|Extends loving-kindness to all.||Finds expression through self-concern.|
|Unbounded understanding in all situations.||Self-righteous misinterpretation.|
|Full of answers and inner knowing.||Full of questions and arguments.|
|Expresses love and generosity.||Thrives on selfishness and possessiveness.|
|Is an instrument of Divine Presence.||Strives for own personal accomplishments.|
|Delighted by the presence of "Other"||Cares most about "I", "me" and "mine".|
Contemplating these opposing qualities of heart and head may lead to questions such as: How can one distinguish between which impulses to follow, and which impulses to avoid? As starting point, one should follow the highest of moral values as have been given to mankind by the great teachers and prophets. But mere rules are not enough, we must also examine our own direct experience to see the results of what we have done. That which leads toward love, harmony and beauty deserves to be followed, while that which fails to lead to love, harmony and beauty deserves to be abandoned.
There is a Light which shines beyond all things on earth, beyond us all, beyond the heavens, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the Light that shines in our heart.
Chandogya Upanishad 3:13:7
When the following of one’s inner impulse leads to a direct experience of beneficent qualities such as unity, brotherhood, loving-kindness, understanding, compassion and generosity, then that impulse, and others like it, should be followed. But if following one’s impulse leads into afflictive thoughts and actions such as division, anger, laziness, worry, hatred, greed or selfishness, then that impulse, and others like it, should be abandoned.
It is only with the heart that one can see
what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
heart can truly understand and appreciate the beauty and
wonder of the world. Follow the guidance of the heart, and
allow Divine Presence to transform all of life from mundane
drudgery into glorious splendor.
The key to overcoming the annoyances and distractions of the ego is awareness, or mindfulness, which is the art of staying in the present moment. We need to live each moment with lovingly calm awareness of what is really happening in the present moment, otherwise the ego can all too easily run astray.
With calm awareness of one's thoughts, and calm awareness of one's current emotional state, one can shine the light of Divine Presence onto the ego, putting an end to all of what appeared to be darkness, confusion and despair.
O, friend! Nobody veils you, but yourself.
In your path there is no thorn or weed, but yourself.
You asked: shall I reach the Beloved or not?
Between you and the Beloved there is nobody, but yourself.
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Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,
Feb 10, 2010
updated May 30, 2013