[SL: Enjoy yet another wonderful article that appeared some years ago in my popular free ezine, DNA MONTHLY.]
A common “suggestion/implied obligation” encountered in one’s spiritual study is to “overcome the ego.” The idea seems to be that one should subdue, train or even eliminate the ego. As a tool to avoid misidentifying myself as only ego, it has often been suggested to me to consider “the watcher” that remains outside the psychodrama of any moment of my mind or life—a marker to bring my awareness to the true, higher self.
I, however, would suggest that as long as there is a “watcher,” there is ego. Coming to awareness of the watcher merely brings my attention from one level of ego to another. Perhaps the nature of this next level of ego is something the (egoic) mind would consider less objectionable, but it is still ego. Does the Tao “watch” the unfolding of its infinite manifestations? Does it care? Caring and watching (more like “considering what we see,” in this context) is an anthropomorphic (human-like) characteristic. “Human” is by definition “self-aware.” Self-awareness is interdependent with the ego.
I am by no means in disagreement with the long-established practice of focusing on “who is watching” to pull oneself from the mire of immediate obsession. Nor do I question the benefit of this method. I have already suggested that we might better define where our attention has arrived when considering this watcher, and I would also suggest we reconsider our intention of subduing, training or (especially) eliminating the ego.
First and foremost, I disagree with eliminating ego. This is contrary to the entire nature of our experience here … much like coming into a physical reality for the purpose of experiencing that which requires physicality, yet pursuing the elimination all things physical and sensual. Paradoxically, the experience itself of pursuing such elimination requires the physical environment and experience.
Another flaw in the idea of eliminating or confining the ego is that in this dualistic reality, whenever you try to eliminate or restrict something, you make it stronger. In the unmanifest Tao, neither black nor white exists. When you extract white—bring it into existence—you create black. The more you try, the more energy you apply. Thus not only do you create your intention—you also create what may seem to be the opposite of your intention.
I agree that our identity is not limited to the level of the conscious definition of self, though the experience of that ultimate identity sometimes requires that we become lost in our limitation. Our true essence, the state that is without ego and identity, exists eternally—it is the prerequisite canvas for the painting of life and ego to exist. We always know that Ultimate Nature intuitively, and become acutely aware of it now and then, even knowing that Nature requires ego in order to achieve such a perspective. We cannot look into our own eyes without a tool or trick. The tool to perceive the Self in this space is ego—the very thing that segments us (gives us a sense of separate experience) from the Absolute, from All That Is.
The ego has long been defined as a liability. Somewhere it was suggested to me that if you have a characteristic that has consistently been pointed out to you as a liability, find a place or a perspective where that “liability” can prove to be an asset. The ego has invariable characteristics. You can count on a core pattern of behavior from the ego. We can trust it to express its “flaws,” and therefore we can benefit from its fixedness.
The ego is a master at working toward its own survival. It will morph into infinite expressions—fooling even the most adept onlooker into thinking it no longer exists or is not actively expressing itself—when it has merely changed form. Historically great benefits to humanity and spirit have been achieved under the mask of ego. Yes, quite a bit of damage has also been done in the expression of ego. But would you eliminate horses because they have a predisposition to kick in certain situations? As with the horse, the ego seems to do the most harm when feeling threatened.
One does not need to try to master the ego or eliminate it, but only co-opt the ego into using its tremendous talents of self-preservation and perpetuation to achieve what you (from your current viewpoint) would consider a higher goal. Sell the ego on how it benefits from your humanitarian effort, your monastic seclusion—anything!—and that intention will immediately have access to a vast reservoir of focus and energy.
The ego is a powerful vehicle that remains in motion and always will exist for as long as one has the desire for a spiritual path (that desire also springing from ego). Rather than fight something that is our nature and is actually inclined to seek the divine, place the cargo of your “highest” aspirations onboard this natural powerhouse … and may we all benefit from the ego’s next (“higher”) manifestation!
By the way, I am not saying that one can never escape ego … just that one will not be in a position or inclination to contemplate the achievement when it happens, having moved outside duality.
Copyright © CG Walters. All Rights Reserved.
CG Walters’ acclaimed writing primarily focuses on the multidimensionality inherent in our loves and lives. His novel SACRED VOW Sacred Vow (http://sacredvow.dragonsbeard.com) is a metaphysical story about a man who responds to the mysterious call of his soulmate, opening the way to redefining both himself and his understanding of the world around him. For more information visit http://www.kathmandau.blogspot.com.]