Ego ~ Emptiness Dancing
The fall guy of spirituality is the ego. Since there is really no one to blame for everything that happens in our lives, we manufacture this idea called the ego to take the blame. This causes a great deal of confusion because the ego doesn’t really exist. It is simply an idea, a label for a movement to which we have attached our sense of self.
When we consider that the ego is just an idea that doesn’t really exist, we can see that many spiritual people are blaming it unfairly for all the things they believe they should get rid of. They misunderstand that something arising inside of them-perhaps a thought, feeling, predisposition, or moment of suffering-is proof of an ego, thinking that just because it arose, ego exists. They think they have an ego because of all these things that point to it. All we ever find is this proof or evidence that ego exists, but we can never find the thing itself.
Blaming the Ego?
Many people present me with an assumption that because all these things exist, there must be a fall guy, somebody or something in themselves to blame. That’s the common understanding about ego. But that is not ego. Sometimes a thought is just a thought, a feeling only a feeling, and an action just an action, with no ego in it. Now the ego that exists, if there is any ego at all, is the thought that ego is there. But there is no evidence whatsoever for this ego’s existence.
Everything is just arising spontaneously, and if there is any ego at all, it is just this particular movement of mind that says, “It’s mine.” Now usually this thought, “It’s mine,” follows the arising of a thought or emotion. It might be, “I feel confusion-it’s mine,” or “I feel jealous-it’s mine,” or in response to whatever other experience is arising, “It belongs to me.”
One thinks there was ego present, and it caused this thought or feeling or confusion. Yet every time we go directly back to find the ego, we find that it was not there prior to thought but followed afterward. It’s an interpretation of an event, of a given thought or emotion. It is the after-the-fact assumption that “it’s mine.” Ego is also the after-the-fact interpretation that says, “It’s not mine,” the rejection of a thought or feeling. It is easy to see that such a position implies that there is somebody there whom it doesn’t belong to.
The World of Duality
That’s the world of duality. It’s my thought, my confusion, or whatever it is, or it’s not my thought, not my confusion, not mine. Both of these are movements or interpretations of what is. Ego is only this interpretation, this movement of mind, and that is why nobody can find it. It’s like a ghost. It’s just a particularly conditioned movement of mind. From early childhood, we are given messages such as, “You are pretty,” “You are smart,” “You got a good grade, so you are good,” or “You did not get good grades, so you are not good.” Soon the child starts to believe it, to feel it, to own that emotional essence as “me.” In the same way, someone can have a thought, and pretty soon he or she will start feeling that thought. If he thinks about a happy, sunny day, soon his body will start taking on that tone, feeling something that doesn’t exist. So of course this makes it rather difficult when someone is told to get rid of ego, because who is going to get rid of ego? What is trying to get rid of ego? That’s how it maintains itself, thinking it has to do something with itself.
Ego is a movement. It’s a verb. It is not something static. It’s the after-the-fact movement of mind that’s always becoming. In other words, egos are always on the path. They are on the psychology path, the spiritual path, the path to get more money or a better car. That sense of “me” is always becoming, always moving, always achieving. Or else it is doing the opposite–moving backward, rejecting, denying. So in order for this verb to keep going, there has to be movement. We have to be going forward or backward, toward or away from. We have to have somebody to blame, and usually it’s ourselves. We’ve got to be getting somewhere because otherwise we are not becoming. So the verb-let’s call it “egoing”-is not operating if we are not becoming.
As soon as a verb stops, it’s not a verb anymore. As soon as you stop running, there is no such thing as running-it’s gone; nothing is happening. This ego sense has to keep moving because, as soon as it stops, it disappears, just like when your feet stop, running disappears. When we really let it in and start to see that there is no ego, only egoing, then we start to see ego for what it really is. This produces a natural stopping of a pursuit toward or a running away from something. This stopping needs to happen gently and very naturally because, if we are trying to stop, then that is movement again. As long as we try to do what we think is the right spiritual thing by getting rid of ego, we perpetuate it. Seeing that this is more of the same egoing will allow stopping without trying.
The spiritual instruction to “just stop” is not directed to the mind or to feelings or to the personality. It’s directed to the afterthought that takes credit and blame and says, “It’s “mine.” Stop! That’s where the teaching of stop is aimed. Just stop that. And then, in that moment, feel how completely disarmed the sense of me feels. When the sense of me is disarmed, it doesn’t know what to do, whether to go forward or backward, right or left. That’s the kind of stopping that’s important. The rest is just a game. Then, in that stopping, a different state of being, an undivided state, starts to emerge. Allow the mystery of being to unfold in a way that is experiential. Start on the level of being rather than thinking. As the mystery unfolds, we get brighter and brighter just being this present awareness. And then the sense of identity begins to shift away from defining itself through division and internal conflict. The mind finds there is no hook on which to hang an identity, so identity starts to deconstruct itself in openness.
Paradox, Mystery and Emptiness
Mysteriously and paradoxically, the more identity deconstructs itself, the more alive and present we feel. The sense of self becomes like sugar dissolving into water until it’s as if there isn’t a self, and yet we still exist. Buddha might have said, “All the sugar dissolved-there is no self.” Ramana Maharshi might have said, “The sugar dissolved into the water, so the water and sugar are the same thing-there is only the Self.” We cannot storm the gates of heaven. Instead we must allow ourselves to become more and more disarmed, Then the pure consciousness of being becomes brighter and brighter, and we realize who we are. This brightness is what we are. When it gets very bright, we see that we are this brightness, this radiance, and then we start to realize from our own experience what this human birth is all about. This brightness comes back for itself, for every bit of confusion, for every bit of its suffering.
Everything that the me tried to get away from, the sacred Self will come back for. This bright Self starts to discover its true nature and wants to liberate all of itself, to enjoy itself, and to truly love itself in all of its flavors. The truly sacred is the love of what is, not a love of what could be. This love liberates what is. The true heart of all human beings is the lover of what is. That’s why we cannot escape any part of ourselves. This is not because we are a disaster, but because we are conscious and we are coming back for all of ourselves in this birth.
No matter how confused we are, we will come back for every part of ourselves that has been left out of the game. This is the birth of real compassion and love. For too long it has been said by spiritual traditions that you have to slay so much to get to love. But that is a myth. The truth is that it is love that really liberates.