Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of August 1, 2011

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Ego

(Obstacles on the Way: Part 9 of 9)

Its all about me. That is the default, though often hidden, central theme of our lives. Everything that happens, everything that might happen, everything and everyone around us we evaluate all of that from our self-centered point of view. What do I want? What do I not want? How does it or how will it affect me? How can I use this or that to my advantage? How can I get more, have more? How can I hide from others those things that I do not like about myself? What do they think of me? Are they treating me with respect, with the deference I deserve? Do they love me? Will they be faithful to me? Will they do what I want them to do? How do I look? Do they understand that my view, my opinion in every situation is the one that matters, the one that warrants the most interest? Do they agree with me? Do they understand that I am more important than they are? Do they understand that I dont really need them?

Obviously, the common element in this narrow stream is I, me, and mine. And those all refer to our ego, to what we unquestioningly believe ourselves to be. We spend our lives defending it, refining it, building it, and serving it. But right here we need to ask, so what? Why is ego a problem for our spiritual path?

Ego is a spiritual problem in several related ways. It leads us falsely to believe that we are separate from everyone and everything else. It blocks the channel to our true individuality and the deeper realms of the spirit. And it distracts us from reality by constantly presenting itself as who I am, so that I believe in it, defend it, and serve it, this false and illusory god of ego, of me.

The solution is twofold. First, we learn to see the truth that our ego is only an illusion, an empty shell with nothing at its core. Second, we learn to recognize our true I, who is not self-centered like ego and who connects us with each other and with the deeper spirit. However, these are not trivial matters, having layer upon layer of subtlety that can take many years to penetrate. But the path to that does pay enormous dividends along the way.

To see our own ego in action, we begin with noticing our thoughts as thoughts and our emotions as emotions, seeing these for what they are: just thoughts and just emotions. It is through our thoughts and emotions that ego does its mischief. Sitting behind the curtain, like the Wizard of Oz, our ego pulls the levers of thought and emotions, making them all revolve around me, so that we believe they are me, we believe we are our thoughts and emotions, we believe our thoughts and emotions are direct expressions of me, we believe the thought I is who we are. Yet taking a step back to see them as they are, we realize that our thoughts primarily run on their own, thinking themselves by automatic associative processes, one thought leading to another, ad nauseum. We realize that our emotions are primarily just automatic reactions to events and usually flow in concert with our automatic thoughts. None of that is who I am, it is all just programming and mechanism.

Taking another step back, to look behind the curtain for our supposed I, ego, we find nothing, we find the space behind the curtain is empty, we find that ego is just an illusion, an assumption based on the complex patterns of our associative thoughts and reactive emotions. Our ego is a pretend self. And that, of course, is why we need to defend it so vigorously, because if we did not the whole house of cards would collapse. And since it is the only house we know, that can be a daunting prospect. Yet this illusion of our ego, out of which flow all the other obstacles to our path, must be exposed, sooner or later.

This is where the second part of the solution enters, our true I, the one in us who sees, the one in us who can act for and from the whole of us, the one in us who is connected with the sacred, with love. We approach this first by being our attention and then by being our intention in action, by being the one in us who sees and acts. This I is very different than ego, because it is not self-centered and self-referential, it is real. Though because our I is will and because will is not material, we cannot put our finger on our I, but we can be I. And that I has an affinity, a direct connection with every other I, which is the source of our innate compassion for each other.

Yet here we are wasting our lives in the familiar and comfortable illusion of ego. Instead of striving for the real and the sacred, we stay half-aware and self-centered. We may awaken accidentally for brief periods, but quickly fall back to our former state. Nevertheless there is hope. For a stable personal reality, we engage in the practices of the spirit, in body awareness, in presence, in meditation, and in prayer. Each moment of practice accumulates to help us see through the illusion of ego and become fully ourselves, become our true I.

For this week, look into your own illusion of ego, your own self-centeredness.

See Also: The Illusion of the Ego


     

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