Photo by Bonnie Gehling
As a therapist I saw pathology everywhere in myself, clients, family, friends and most everyone I met. Once I retired I became more aware of health and resilience. It surprised me how new circumstances changed my perceptions. A spiritual awakening where I experienced God as a loving presence permeating all of creation shattered my earlier perceptions and made me question why there is suffering in the world. Especially when I knew we all have a spiritual core that is perfect, whole and complete.
The spiritual teachings in “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle and others gave me one answer. Tolle says all suffering is caused by our “ego.” The ego is the identification with our thoughts, emotions, memories, interpretations and opinions. It is the “voice in our head,” our involuntary stream of thinking, reactions, stories, resentments and comparisons. Our ego identity can also be our work, possessions, appearance and accomplishments.
Ego is the identification with a role to protect and enhance ourselves. The ego cannot distinguish between the situation, the interpretation and our reaction. The ego is never at peace with the present as satisfaction is always in the future. The ego's negativity and suffering are motivated by self interest and short sightedness.
Unaware of our own ego we see the ego of others as their identity. The ego patterns we react to in others are usually the same patterns in ourselves. The ego finds fault and complains about others. Resentment and indignation add energy to the ego. The ego feels superior when it criticizes, condemns and sees itself as right.
The ego constantly tries to protect and enlarge itself by looking at the world as “us” versus “them.” The ego needs enemies to feel right and superior. What we react to in others we strengthen in ourselves.
The ego sees each person as separate and views them as inferior or superior. Anger and resentment strengthens the ego by increasing separation and creating a position of rightness. All suffering is ego centered. Ego uses our mind to resist life as it is.
The more we make our thoughts, beliefs, story and identity the Truth the more we cut ourselves off from the spiritual dimension within. Spirituality has nothing to do with what we believe and everything to do with our state of consciousness. Since consciousness transcends thought it is the dimension within ourselves that is infinitely more vast than thought.
The Holy Spirit is the Truth and it is within all of us. This is what Jesus really meant when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Our essence, the Holy Spirit, is the TRUE identity of all humankind and all of creation. When we touch the Christ Within all our actions and relationships reflect the oneness of all life.
Our REAL identity is not the voice in our head but our awareness prior to the thoughts, the space in which our thoughts, emotions and sense perceptions happen.
Awakening is the realization that who we are is the oneness of life, we are the manifestation all things, experiences and personalities. It requires a shift of perception from seeing ourselves as an isolated individual to being in everything, everyone and everywhere. It is the realization that we are universal spirit or consciousness. There is no separation anywhere in the the universe. It is a glimpse beyond the veil of duality.
When we have no ego we become a conscious Presence, we are not concerned about how others see us, and become one with Life itself.
The way to break the ego's negative spell is is to become aware of the ego immediately. Our identity will then shift from ego to awareness. Awareness grows as the ego shrinks. Alertness allows us to detect subtle negativity such as impatience, irritation and nervousness. True self esteem comes when we realize we create our own suffering and negativity and rise above the ego's conditioning. Not reacting to our ego is the best way to dissolve our individual and collective human ego.
To not react we must see the other person's behavior as coming from their ego. It is not personal. When we look passed the ego to their spiritual essence they too have an opportunity to become more conscious.
Non-reaction is forgiveness. It is not a weakness but a strength. Non-reaction does not mean we accept hurtful behavior. There is no ego in informing someone of a mistake so it can be put right. The key is to make a neutral statement, stick to the facts and not complain. Complaining serves the ego not change. The ego likes to complain as it does not like change.
Armed with Tolle's teachings I began observing my ego in action. At first I tried to let go of grievances and forgive but that did not work. Over time I noticed forgiveness happened naturally when I saw how my ego was strengthened by my negativity. My ego always wanted the next thing to react against, to feel annoyed, disturbed or outraged. Like a drug I was addicted to anger and upset. I had no idea my constant reacting against everything strengthened my ego and sense of self importance. Even my complaints about others and politics gave me a feeling of superiority. Each time I complained it made me right and the other person wrong. Being right strengthened my ego and placed me in a position of moral authority.
As I became more aware I realized there was something in me that took pleasure in negativity. The moment I noticed this there was a shift from ego to awareness. When I operated out of my ego my false sense of “I” became personalized. I felt offended when someone did not agree with what “I” said. My ego confused opinions and viewpoints with facts and took everything personally. I could not tell the difference between the event and my reaction to the event. My ego was a master of selective perception and distorted interpretations. In time I discovered the best way to differentiate between fact and opinion was not through my thinking but my awareness. When I kept to the facts my ego was not involved. Making myself right and others wrong strengthened my ego and separated me from others.
I am not unique. The collective ego of countries keep grievances to fuel their endless cycle of violence. Throughout history many religions believed they were in sole possession of the Truth and killed those that did not believe their story. Their truth was considered more important than human life. Ego is not our true identity and not to be taken personally. When I no longer saw the ego of others as their identity I stopped complaining and blaming and felt compassion. Peace became more important than being right.
Uncovering grievances and forgiving became easer when I was honest with myself. With practice I realized I am not the voice in my head but the one who is aware of it. I am the background, the awareness, not the foreground, the thought. As my old conditioned mind patterns began to loosen the present became more important than the past.
When I stopped feeding my ego's illusions I felt a profound joy and connectedness with all of creation. I no longer needed to be special, in control, to judge or compete with the possessions, knowledge or abilities of others. As my relationships became less dominated by ego I had no need for self-seeking and image-making. When my self-worth stopped coming from other people, situations or productivity there was more flow. My hidden agenda “I'm not enough” fell away. As my victim identity diminished I stopped seeking people's attention and sympathy. “Problems” were no longer a part of my identity. I became more accepting of what happens.