Posted by Julie Miller, 01/25/2106
By Joseph Naft
We all have an ego and we all need it to survive in this material world. But our ego unnecessarily insinuates itself into every aspect of our life to the detriment of the people around us and to the detriment of our own spiritual nature. We believe our ego is who we are, that we personally are the center of the universe. But it is a pretender, masking and distracting us from our true self.
By definition and by its inherent character, ego is self-referential. Everything and everyone that exists does so by reference to our ego, reference to whether and what, if anything, they can do for us or to us. This self-centered, utilitarian view of the world shapes our life. When ego is kind, it is because it expects or hopes for something in return. Ego gets angry if its plans are thwarted, if its opinions are not accepted, if someone does not show proper respect and even deference. Vanity, self-pity, and greed all come from ego. We want happiness, but our ego misleads us about it. The happiness that we seek through self-centeredness is fleeting at best. Ego happiness does not last, because it always wants more.
Ego is not some external or alien force with power over us. On the contrary, it is who we are when we allow ourselves to believe in it. Its only power is that of a convincing and seamless illusion, of appearing to be who we are. Not in contact with the alternative, with our true self, we fall passively and by default into self-centered egoism, into believing that is who we are.
One effective approach toward loosening the grip of egoism is to loosen the grip that our thoughts have on us. We are not our thoughts. Generally, we do not even think our thoughts: they think themselves. But we believe in them, believe that they speak for us, that they are our inner voice. Yet they do not speak for us, they speak for themselves, and often for our illusory ego. Our thoughts go on and on and on, continually weaving the illusion of ego. We don’t have to initiate them, for they initiate themselves. We don’t have to think them for they think themselves.
In quiet meditation, we can notice our thoughts arising and passing on their own. We can notice them for what they are: just thoughts. If we can see our thoughts, see them arise without any intention on our part, then it slowly dawns on us that we are not our thoughts.
Sit in meditation. Be aware, be centered in your whole body. Notice whatever perceptions come, including your thoughts. See them come and go. See them as just thoughts. Doing this again and again, as a continuing practice, gradually frees us from our thoughts. This can be a major step toward freeing us from egoism.
If I can see my thoughts as thoughts, then I am not my thoughts. I am the one who sees. I am my true self. This way we can step toward freedom. Our thoughts will not stop, but they no longer own us. We realize that not only do we not need to act on our thoughts, but that they do not represent us, do not necessarily speak for us.
The thought “I” is not who we are, nor does it refer to who we really are. Almost always the thought “I” refers to our ego, to this imputed construct of a self that does not exist. It recurs again and again, convincing us that that this I that is referenced by the thought “I” actually exists, actually is who we are. If we can see through this, see that the thought “I” is just a thought, see that there is nothing substantial that it references, we gain a significant freedom.
Our thoughts and the ego they build form a filter, even a barrier, between us and the world around us. For example, one form of that barrier consists of our harsh thoughts about other people and even about ourselves. Transcending such barriers, we can have hope of connecting. For the purpose of this inner work series on opening our heart, ego’s biggest failing is its inability to connect, to connect with other people, with life, with ourselves, and with the Sacred.
The self that can connect, that we become, that we re-enter, after seeing through the illusion of ego is our true self, our I, our will. At first it seems to be the silence, the cognizant stillness behind our thoughts. Going deeper we realize our true I as the one who sees, the one who is cognizant, the one who directs the beam of our attention. That I is real and inherently connected with other people, with all of life, with the Sacred. To open our heart, we need to see through and transcend our ego and become ourselves.
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