The ego is not your enemy. Without it, the awareness of the true self could not exist. Enlightenment needs shadow in order to even know that it exists. In the story of the Buddha, Mara was a demon that tried to tempt Buddha off of the spiritual path. The name Mara, comes from the root word Mer, which means to die. And therein lies the symbolism. Mara personified unwholesome impulses, unskillfulness and "death". Mara was not a demon in the sense that no source of evil ‘sent’ him to corrupt the Buddha. Mara was in fact, Buddha’s own ego. The only aspect of Buddha himself that he realized could die. In seeing him for what he really was, (a reflection of the temporal self) Mara was ‘defeated’. Except the way to defeat the ego is with an attitude of complete surrender or one could say ‘non resistance’. Therefore, the defeat was more of an embrace.
Like layers of an onion, the ego is pulled back again and again to reveal the eternal self. New dimensions reveal themselves at every turn. Like a starving animal trying to survive, it will find any way to strengthen itself that it can. It will find every “back door” that is left open. We find when we commit to the spiritual path that there are many backdoor entries for the ego to slip through. One example of this is the ego feeding off of the superiority of being egoless. But this week, I have encountered another backdoor entry that ego uses to gain unhealthy power. Let’s call this backdoor entry “Shame in ego’s own existence”. Yesterday, Mark, Blake and I played beach volleyball, like we usually do on Sundays with a highly aggressive group of people who just like Mark, live and breathe for volleyball alone. There is a woman who is a competitive volleyball player who often shows up on Sundays that I have been trying to avoid like the plague for the last six months. And don’t ya just love resistance? She will not show up for weeks and then show up the exact day that I decide to play again. It has turned into a family joke. To give you a quick background on this woman, she has a personality that is notoriously cruel. As in, she has a reputation amongst all the volleyball players for being nasty enough that players who are new to the group are warned about her. She brags about being gang raped. She has made me cry twice and like a hornet, she viciously targets any female that steps within five feet of the volleyball courts. She wears the tiniest push up bikinis she can find and often hires a photographer to needlessly come take photographs of her so every one of the men there know that she is an amateur model. And often, like caught in some kind of mind erasing tractor beam, the men surround her in a semi circle vying for her attention. She took a particular dislike to me the minute I showed up. And after one volleyball game with her in which she spent the entire game ‘icing’ me (mentally trying to whittle down my confidence and mess up my game so I’d start to freeze up and make mistakes) I left the court feeling the exact same way towards her.
Long story short, Mark assured me that she had not shown up the last two Mondays and even informed him that she had to work Sundays. But as we drove up on the courts yesterday, the whole car erupted in laughter that true to form, she was there yet again. I decided to face my demons. I walked a completely unnecessary 200-foot perimeter around where she was sitting, making sure not to make eye contact. And I sat in a lawn chair determined to settle into this extreme resistance that I felt towards her. I realized after becoming comfortable with the discomfort that I am highly ashamed of three aspects of my personality (ego). 1. The desire to be seen as physically beautiful (something I was shamed for growing up). 2. My insecurity relative to my value to others (something most people struggle with). And 3. My tendency to see women as a threat (something I tend to feel a lot of shame about). Essentially, because I have been so disapproving of all three of these things in me and rejected them and tried to disown them, they mirror externally. And I react to the external reflection the same way I react to those qualities within me. I want to either avoid them like the plague or eradicate them. Once I embraced these things with some awareness and also compassion for why they exist in me, I did not feel the same level of irritation towards her. She avoided talking to me the whole time I was there. But then… The ego came in the backdoor.
I felt the ego instantly flare up with the burning defeat of shame. I realized, I had fallen prey to the exact same ego trap that so many spiritual people (especially spiritual teachers) do. I expect myself to have no ego. Which is not possible because to have no ego at all is to die to temporal life. It is to have no identity. We need an ego to exist in these individual bodies, the goal is not to have no ego, it is to use the ego as a beautiful tool to experience life through. But subconsciously, I was expecting myself to have no aversion to anyone. I was expecting myself to never be reactive. I was expecting myself to always do what is right for all. I was expecting myself to not be attached to how others see me, to never seek superiority and the list goes on and on. When I notice the ego in myself, my ego reacts by instantly feeling ashamed of itself. My ego is ashamed it exists. A self-hating ego is in fact one of the primary sufferings that spiritual people experience. This is not the work of the true self. The true self does not judge the ego as right or wrong. It exists in an attitude of unconditional presence and awareness and one could say love. The true self is not ‘hating’ of anything or ‘ashamed’ of anything and so, if you feel shame, it is the temporal self (ego) that is feeling that way.
The ego is concerned with survival. It is convinced because it is living in a social environment as a social species that survival is about being approved of. In our human society, to be approved of you must be seen as ‘good’. So the minute we make the ego bad… The ego now takes over the role of trying to kill itself in order to be good. It may seem backwards logic, but that is how the ego comes in the backdoor of spiritual practitioners. The ego becomes convinced that it can only strengthen itself through the adoration it receives by virtue of hurting itself. The ego is concerned with strengthening a sense of self. So regardless of whether the ego’s sense of itself is positive or negative, it is still a strong sense of self, it is still the ego. In fact, one could say that some of the most self-identified people are people who are consumed in self-hate. I am getting déjà vu writing this by the way. The endless focus on the self, even though it is negative focus, is still so self focused; it leaves no room for genuine presence beyond the separate self to shine through. Nothing beyond the ego can squeak through the temporal self and show itself.
It is tempting when we have an ego that has found this back door of shame, to hide our ego from everyone, to pretend that our ego is healthier than it is. We become inauthentic. This leads us down the path of suppression of the ego. You cannot suppress the ego, without strengthening it because whatever we resist persists. So what do we do instead? We acknowledge the ego. Acknowledgement does not feed the ego with positivity or negativity. It does not judge it as good or bad. It simply says, “I see you, I feel you, I hear you, I understand you” in a compassionate tone. Acknowledgement is a highly loving act and nothing dissolves the ego quite like love. Nothing dissolves it quite like compassion for its painful perceptions. I use the word ‘dissolve’ carefully because our goal cannot be to get rid of the ego or even to have it disappear. This is an inherently unloving goal. It is simply that the ego, when acknowledged, becomes transparent like stained glass instead of cement so the light of the soul can shine through it completely.
I acknowledge that I often find women threatening; I acknowledge that my temporal self was traumatized by my relationship with women growing up and has maintained that pain in the now. I acknowledge that I desire to be seen as physically beautiful by others. And that I often feel insecure about my value to others. I acknowledge that I want to be valued by others badly and that my temporal self still cares what others think about me. I acknowledge that this too, is a byproduct of interpersonal trauma. I acknowledge that my temporal self wants others to know that all its shortcomings are the byproduct of having been hurt so that others see me as good. I acknowledge that my temporal self has found a way to be seen as good and stay alive by hating itself through shame. I feel compassion for the fact that my ego feels so un-embraced by me that it feels the need to go to these lengths to survive me. And I acknowledge that I am the compassion and the love that is ready to embrace these aspects of me. I acknowledge that who I truly am, is the consciousness currently acknowledging these various colors of the tapestry of my personality. Not merely the tapestry itself. I am the light shining through the stained glass window. As well as the window itself. I am this and more. I am this and more.