Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Gift of Ego

As a teacher and devoted practitioner of all aspects of yoga, I have experimented with many unique variations of the physical practice we call "asana". Asana is the aspect of yoga which requires us to move, hold poses, and breath into our bodies. For me, yoga asana has been a course in body awareness: "What do I feel like today, how am I treating myself, do I like my body?" These are a few basic questions that are answered without my even asking during any given practice. And this is also why yoga has had a profound healing effect on me. Yoga sparked a healing process I never thought I'd undergo. Through yoga, I am learning to heal my mind.

My mind believes many things. In the past my mind believed things such as "I will never be thin enough", and "How could I possible make a difference in the world?" My mind thought "I am an inconvenience to the people around me", and "I know that I have lots of talent, but my talent is not enough for the world." Yes, sounds a bit sniveling, but the fact is that, I never believed myself to be enough, to be whole.
I never believed that I was who I am. Belief exists in one place: in the mind. Through various studies in yoga, I have learned that the mind contains the aspect of ego and that all my life, through conditioning as a product of my environment, that the ego existing as an aspect of the physical manifestation of who I am (body and brain), really thrived! And I bet yours has too.

Ego is often misunderstood and wrongly defined as having the nature of obvious self centered-ness, vanity and narcissism. Though this can be one face of ego, self pity, self doubt and general lack of belief in the worth of the self are also aspects of ego. And there are many subtle places in between. Many people give selflessly, yet have a self-belief that if they stopped, the world would come crashing down around them. There are quiet folks who appear humble and would rather be counted in the status quo. These are not only personality traits, they are traits of ego.

Ego is very simply a mis-directed energy. It is the energy of identification. The essence of who we really are and what we really are cannot be identified, labeled, or seen, and the ego arises with the minds effort to make sense of this world of stimuli.
Ego is unavoidable. It exists within each person as surely does the True Self. And naming the True Self in and of itself is an act of ego, because again it is an act of identification.

Through the discipline of postures, meditation and studying the ethics of yoga, I have had the interesting experience of changing my thoughts. Through my practice I began regarding my body differently, and as I ventured into the world of teaching, I began to recognize my function as a human differently. I made a choice to replace old thinking with new thinking. This remains a pleasurable and important aspect of my practice. But there remains still a pitfall.

Is ego a bad thing? No way! Ego is but a veil, a puzzle, a maze. Here we are on this planet and what is the purpose? Some believe to praise and love God's creation. Some believe to fulfill our dreams. For me, it is to navigate the slippery slopes of egoism all around us. It is a journey in honing the skills of differentiation between real and un-real. It is to get lost in this intoxicating world of physical beauty, mystique and wonder in search of an exit for human suffering. There are infinite facets of this enchanting adventure. So what is the pitfall?

The pitfall is here. As I mentioned, practicing yoga provided me some amazing tools to switch my thoughts, to change my beliefs. But they are still that: beliefs.

So does an enlightened person stop thinking? No. Most likely not. I have noticed that in brief moments of liberation, I simply know that all of these beliefs are part of this magnificent game. And my beliefs become something akin to dress-up clothes. Just as the clothes we wear everyday express some portion of what we believe about ourselves. And this is the most liberating part of it all! Here I am, in this world, with a whole universe of props for playing "Life on Earth." And life becomes lighter. My need to express who I am, changes. It becomes translucent. There is a place where I understand the deep importance of this game without taking it seriously. It is a paradox, always.

Eckhart Tolle says something amazing in The Power of Now. He says that who you are requires no belief. And that in fact, every belief is an obstacle to self-realization since you already are who you are. But without that realization, who you are does not shine out into the world.

We are born liberated. Babies do not differentiate between themselves, their mothers and the world around them. This is a fact. Newborn babies come into the world knowing enlightenment. Babies make no judgments. They have nothing to compare their experience with. But this is a different kind of enlightenment.
Or is it? It is only as we grow, and the mind develops and we begin to cultivate relationships of our own that ego starts to emerge. As we develop into adulthood, a comprehensive sense of identity develops from our sense of ego. And we often feel the need to protect this identity, as though who we are could possibly ever be threatened! We may stumble upon a path leading to self-realization. We may seek it from a very young age, or there is the possibility that enlightenment comes when death knocks on our door too loudly to ignore. I am grateful that yoga rolled out the red carpet of the path toward enlightenment for me.

However it is experienced, one thing is for sure: Ego is not only the culprit of the need for liberation. Ego is the Pied Piper calling us to the path of liberation. Ego is God very cleverly disguised as himself, playing a very clever trick on the world. Ego is not an enemy. It is a gift, a partner. Ego is the sound of humanity knocking on liberation's door.

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