Friday, March 19, 2010

Ego revisited

In this blog I’ve often written about my ongoing battle in dealing with ego issues. Despite this, today I find myself needing to write about this topic yet again. I suppose that’s not really surprising, seeing as this great adventure upon which I have embarked is all about moving out of the ego and into the heart, in my quest to discover my true purpose.

A few years ago my partner and I went on holiday to a lovely eco-friendly resort in the Tsitsikamma forest (no surprises there!) At the reception we were signed in and given the key to our cabin by a sweet old man with an unkempt beard and shaggy hair, dressed in an ancient baggy pair of trackpants, filthy bare feet and a jersey that had egg down the front. Surprisingly we felt an immediate connection to, and affinity with, this person. We assumed that he was one of the workers at the place, however the following day we met him again, working on one of the electrical boards. He was at great pains to inform us that he had been the founder and CEO of a large corporate company which he had sold for an astronomical sum of money, with which he had developed the resort, after he had tired of the corporate world. At the time I found this interaction very sad on 2 counts: firstly, we had assumed that he was simply a worker because of the way he was dressed and secondly, he had needed to inform us that he was actually someone of value and importance by telling us his history. Three egos fully engaged! Why did any of this matter to us at all? Why had we not all simply acknowledged the fact that there was an instant rapport and explored this to mutual benefit?

Have you noticed that most social interactions (particularly when we meet someone new) are actual permutations of a sort of egoic “pissing contest”, as we subtly (or sometimes not so subtly!) try to establish our rank in the social hierarchy by ensuring that all present are aware of our qualifications, titles, sporting prowess, knowledge, intelligence or other forms of rank (including looks and sexual appeal)? Have you also noticed that, whenever someone else in the room is operating from his or her ego, the urge to move into one’s own ego is particularly powerful?

I had decided that I would resist the urge to inform people of the rank I had previously held once I had embarked upon my new life. However, recently I have had to confront the fact that all the old ego inducements are as powerfully seductive as ever:

My partner has taken responsibility for the selling of our home. As such, he has had to deal with all the estate agents and people wanting to view our property. The agent who finally succeeded in selling our home obviously decided that I was just the “little lady”, of very little importance or value, as all her business dealings had been with my partner. She speaks to me in a very patronizing and pedantic fashion, as if I were an idiot child. Every time I am with her I find myself wanting to create an opportunity to work into the conversation the information that I have 4 degrees, that I have, until very recently, managed a highly successful business and that I’m actually someone with a working brain!

Why should it matter in the slightest what a service provider thinks of me? If she wants to earn her commission, she will do her job irrespective of whether she thinks I’m someone important or not. Why do I feel this need to have someone, who is of absolutely no long-term importance in my life, validate my existence? After all, I have CHOSEN to give up my impressive job title, my fancy car, my personal banker and all the other trappings of success. How can I be upset to be dismissed as someone of no real value if I CHOOSE to wear tracksuits, cargo pants, ponytails and no make-up instead of power suits and heels?

I guess we all have a box in our minds into which we put all of our concepts of Self that we develop over the course of our lives, such as:

I am a successful businessperson
I am a wife
I am a parent
I am highly educated and intelligent
I have style and great taste
I am organized and on top of everything
I am attractive and sporty

Etc, etc

And then we feel the need to defend these concepts of Self against any perceived threat, which is exactly what I was feeling in my dealings with the estate agent. But, what happens if we lose some of these Self-concepts (either willingly, as I have recently done), or if they are taken away from us? Well, let’s see…

If you take away my job, my possessions, my status, my money, will I still be me? Very few of us would particularly relish the thought of losing all these things, but, as someone who has willingly given up several of these things, I can confidently say, yes, I am definitely still me. How about if, in addition, you take away my relationships, my youth, my health, my strength, my freedom? I would obviously hate losing all those things, but I would certainly still be me. The reality is that sooner or later ALL of these things will either be “taken away” from us or we will willingly give them up – we simply can’t hold onto them forever (mainly because we don’t actually live forever!) OK, so how about if you take my body away from me (ie: you kill me)? Would I still be me? For myself, I don’t believe that I am my body. I HAVE a body and if you take it away, I will still be me, forever unchanged.

If I become really quiet and go within, I find that there is a part of myself that is, and always has been, unchanged and unchanging; the part of me that is the silent observer of my own life; a spark of consciousness that is untouched by the drama, the illusion of this life. This is the part of me that is eternal, that can never be taken away from me and requires absolutely no validation whatsoever in this illusory world.

I think there is a fascinating ambiguity that I need to learn to hold in my mind - the fact that I am both an actor in the movie and the screenwriter, both the author of the book and a character in the book. And once I understand myself to be both the creator and the experiencer of my reality, I am free to enjoy all the wonderful experiences this illusory reality can offer me, while still remaining aware that I am so much more than this. Then, I can consciously use my ego as a tool for the purpose to which it is best suited, namely, to go forth and create things to experience in the world, rather than to use it for that to which it is not suited, ie: to create my concept of Self. I think the ego is a wonderful tool, if used in service to the heart.

So, next time I feel a powerful urge to start telling someone about how important I used to be, I am going to stop, take a deep breath and move into an awareness of my true, eternal Self. Then I will be able to look with compassion and listen intently to what the person in front of me really requires from me in this moment. I will be able to see this moment for what it truly is: not a threat to my sense of Self, but rather an opportunity to create a higher version of myself and, thereby, a more magnificent reality.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Why the forest?


Marion said...

Zingdad suggested this morning in his newsletter that readers visit your blog. I am amazed at the content here; I so enjoyed this post. I will be back to follow you as you go further on your journey. Thank you!

Nico said...

I second that!

Educo said...

I 3rd that! :D

Have fun on this wonderful adventure you are embarking on!

Your posts on ego and the Now remind me strongly of Eckhart Tolle's book "The Power Of Now".

Chapter 1 is freely available here

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