The greatest paradox in self development is perhaps the ego. Most of us think that being egoistic is being self-reliant, independent and not caring about what others think. My own view, though, is that this is a illusion. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In this post, i would like to discuss why ego and ‘others’ are inextricably linked together.
Let’s look at the root of the ego. Ego is a false image of oneself that we protect and nurture. When we are hurt – that’s the ego. When we feel that we are not respected – that’s the ego. When we say, “how could that person do something to me?” – that’s the ego coming into play. Everything to do with status in society, emotionally hurt, let downs, anger and “let me show the world” – all this is ego. The root of the ego is the other – I am lesser compared to the other, I am superior compared to my friends, I want this job because I will be respected by others. Always look at your motivations. Why are you doing something? Is it to get recognized? It it to feel loved by your family? Is it to get the appreciation of your colleagues? All this indicates that you are doing it for the sake of the ego.
The ego is an illusion. It tells us that we need to get something from outside, from the world, in order to be complete and perfect. In reality, as our experience suggests, nothing from the external world can complete us permanently. All egoic happiness is short lived. Then, the ego moves on to the next thing. Whenever, we are postponing our sense of completion, contentment – then know that it is an egoic goal. Sometimes, many people mask their egos wonderfully. Often people say, “I am doing it for my family” or “I want society to be a better place”. In reality though, they may crave for the appreciation of the family, or get fame and popularity on television. How can we ascertain whether what we are doing is based out of ego or not? The best way is to see how we feel in the present moment. Are we at ease? Or are we restless, feverish to get to a result – to arrive. Are we truly enjoying the moment as we do our work, perform the task. Are we in flow? Remember – always – that ego is result oriented. It wants certain things in the future to happen and then it expects to be complete.
True joy, peace and contentment is in the NOW. That is experienced in oneself. In you. In me. Not externally. It is ever present, since I am eternally here, in the now. Nothing – no external situation, event, person or thing can ever take the sense of completion away from me. This does not mean that one doesn’t feel emotions – joy at something nice, sadness at a grave news – No! We do feel this, deeply, but there is a background of peace at the same time. Think of it this way. We are like a broad canvas upon which different colors come by – sometimes bright and cheery, sometimes dark and sordid. And yet, you remain the canvass. This canvass – this awareness – is who we are. Untouched by colors and yet hosting them in us. Unaffected by the artists moods, yet soiled by his strokes. The best way to know this experientially is to ask – ‘where or who am I when I am in deep sleep?’. In deep sleep, we simply are – we do not know who we are, what our names are, are we male or female, are we strong or weak, are we sick or healthy, are we rich or poor, are we white or black – we simply are. We are this canvass of being.
This ‘us’, this awareness is who we are. And what is this awareness? How does it manifest in the waking state? It is the ability to bring one’s thoughtless attention to an object. Look at a flower and look simply, fully, without thoughts. You simply look – like a child – with no naming, interpretation, judgement. You simply see. In that seeing, you realize that we can bring loving, gentle attention to people and objects without the compulsive need to think, interpret, judge, compare and so on. This loving attention is who we are. Consciousness.
When we are egoistic – the other is implied. There is always a comparison with the external world. Therefore egoistic people are trapped in the opinions of society. They can never be free from the bonds of the world. They need the external world to validate them. In order to show-off that they are free, they assume a dominating position over others, they want to show they are unruffled by people. Often many of these types tend to show strength by saying that they are emotionless. This is a mask. Behind it lies hurt, feelings of inferiority and self-depreciation. Do not be fooled by this. Whenever you see people showing strength. Whenever you see people trying to mask emotions – know it is a sign of weakness. They are just like us, but not true to what they feel inside. This protective bubble around them, is the ego. Unfortunately, they think this protects them – protects them from feeling painful emotions. But in the long run, they do more harm on themselves. Anger, confusion and despair set in. What is the way out?
The only way out is to pay attention to oneself. Look at what is happening inside you. Do not judge. Everything is okay. This is the shared human condition. Once we begin to accept our deepest fears, our darkest areas of the soul, a light begins to dawn in us. We begin to get lucid. Acceptance means vulnerability. We are totally okay with who we are. And when this begins to set in, empathy sets in. We can begin to accept others and their weaknesses and their emotions as being part of the human condition. It is okay. This “It is okay” is the beginning of empathy. It is the beginning of compassion. It begins with us – within us.
Therefore, start introspecting. Observe yourself in social situations. How did you respond? Did you react? You might not become aware of what you felt as your friend told you that he was promoted. But inside you, there was a pang of jealousy. You felt it, but ignored it at that moment, falsely celebrating with him. Come home. Sit down in a quiet place. And look back at what happened. Replay the event in our mind’s inner cinema. And see if you feel the same emotions. At this stage you may be surprised that it is jealousy. Do not be harsh on yourself. This is normal. Everybody on this planet feels jealousy. It is the shared human condition. Allow it to be, even though it may be uncomfortable. Allow it to move in your body. Through awareness and the breath, lovingly transform this into awareness itself.
As we start connecting to our feelings this way, something wonderful begins to happen. We accept ourselves and what is happening within us. Then we begin to recognize the difference between who we are (the awareness) and the emotions and thoughts that are merely the paints on our canvass. Then – and only then – can we know what the ego in us is. Then – and only then – we know the false illusion. The most beautiful part of this journey is when we begin to connect to ourselves, we begin to know who we are and what truly motivates us. We begin to recognize our life’s calling. We begin to live authentically. We begin to be a blessing on this planet. This is when life truly begins.