As many of you know, I have recently completed my Meditation Teacher Training with Padma. It was an amazing and intense journey and I have come away feeling open, blessed, joyful and free. We spent a lot of time discussing the ego. Not the ego as in arrogance or pride, but the mechanism of the ego and how it functions. Here is what I’ve discovered.
The ego is essentially a box around the soul. It is the mechanism that blocks peace, and the more strongly identified a person is with their ego the more likely they are to suffer. Suffering comes in the form of stress, loneliness, depression, anger, envy, pride, hopelessness, fear, doubt and struggle. Suffering exists: it’s true. But the human being’s True Nature is not suffering, it is Joy and Love; Pure, Free, Forever. And by surrendering to God, it is possible to find freedom.
The ego is a function of the mind that defines and describes who we think we are. In essence, the ego is our false identity. What the ego perceives, it presumes to be absolute fact. The nature of the ego is to grasp onto whatever it perceives and make it as tangible and understandable; as real as possible – whether it is true or not.
Many of us are unaware that we are identified with our egos. In fact, most of us think we are our egos. When we live our lives from our egos, we identify ourselves as our actions. So when things are going well, we take it personally and think, “If things are going well, then I must be doing well. I am ok.” And if things are not going so well, we think, “I failed. It didn’t work. I am not ok.” So we try to stay as far away as possible from the things and situations we dislike and try to hold on as tightly as possible to what we do like. We get confused, thinking that if we stay away from what we are afraid of and always have our preferences met, then we will be happy.
Through this identification and aversion, a person ends up swinging from highs to lows, completely caught up in trying to keep it all together and avoid the things, people, situations that make us unhappy. We presume that we are somehow in charge of, or responsible for everything that happens around us. We feel constant pressure and think that if we keep everything under control, everything will be ok. We get caught up in the struggle and we endure the suffering; resigned to the fact that this is just the way life is.
Often, we have no idea of what it is that we are unhappy about, what it is that’s missing from our lives. What we don’t understand is that our deepest desire, the thing we want most, is to connect with God. Now I’m not talking about “God” as in something or someone “out there.” What I’m talking about is Pure Existence. I’m talking about Divinity, Pure Being, and the Space from which everything exists. The Space within each of us that is unchanging and absolute. Describe it however you like, but the essence we seek is exactly the same.
At some point in our lives, most of have a Spiritual Crisis. We wonder about the meaning of our lives, and, “Is this all there is?” We start to question our faith, we think we should end our marriage, quit our job or buy a new sports car. Or unfortunately, the crisis comes as the result of a life altering experience; someone we love dies or someone we know gets cancer or loses their job. These are the sorts of experiences we dread and we do our absolute best (mostly unconsciously) to stay as far away from the people and circumstances that scare us. Some of us come to more of a Spiritual Crossroads. Nothing drastic happens, but we still find ourselves questioning the meaning of all of “this.”
At this point, we start to look for answers or solutions – mostly solutions. Those of us who are strongly identified with our egos will quit our jobs or leave our partners. Some of us will find ways to avoid the truth and numb the pain. We start over-eating, drinking too much or engaging in other mindless habits that keep us distracted from the root of our unhappiness. And some of us will choose to dig deeper, seek wisdom and guidance and begin the journey toward freedom. Just the idea that we can actually be free is both liberating and exhilarating!
One of the ways to freedom is through Yoga and Meditation. Many of us begin with the physical practice of Hatha Yoga and this helps to bring health to our physical bodies and some stress relief for our busy minds. But yoga offers much more than a refuge for our physical bodies. Meditation is another facet of Yoga, and it is through meditation that we can experience freedom and bliss.
Through meditation, we cultivate awareness and knowledge. We start to become aware of the thoughts we’re thinking. We start to notice the nature of those thoughts. And we experience ourselves as the “knower” of our thoughts. For example: If you have a thought, how do you know that you’re having that thought? Who is doing the thinking? If you can see that you are having the thought, then you cannot be your thoughts. You become the knower of your thoughts.
If you are not your thoughts, then who are “You”? Good question.
“You” are your True Nature, which is already pure, already free; it always has been, and always will be, unchanging. “You” are Pure Being. “You” are Pure Existence. There is nothing that you need to “do,” nothing that you need to change; you are already pure and you are already free.
You are not your thoughts. Our thoughts and thinking are constantly changing. You are not your body. Our bodies are in a constant state of change; we know that we will not live forever. Through meditation we can realize our True Nature and experience pure existence. We realize that if our bodies and thoughts are continually changing, we wonder what is within us that is unchanging. What is unchanging is our True Nature.
When we recognize that we are not our thoughts and that our very essence is pure and unchanging, we no longer have to be pushed around by our thoughts, which are a construct of the ego. We realize that we are not in charge of the Universe. And simply understanding this lessens our burdens and brings a sense of peace.
Knowledge is the antidote to suffering. Once we know that we are not our egos; that we are free, everything shifts. As part of our meditation practice, we practice letting go. We practice surrendering our actions and ego to God. We recognize that we are not our actions. This does not mean that we make careless choices, but that we make choices from a place of freedom and clarity. We do not have to know the outcome of our actions or know for certain how things will work out, because through our practice we develop faith and trust. We trust that all is unfolding around us as part of a Divine, perfect plan.
This is freedom. To know that we are not in charge. To trust that everything is as it should be. That is all is well. Freedom is ease. Ease in the mind. Ease in the world. Freedom means love and joy and the simple sweetness of being alive. Blissfully aware of all that is within. And at peace with what is. Freedom brings gratitude and appreciation. Wonder and curiosity. Freedom is pure Openhearted delight.