May 6, 2009

Why I Don't Work on My "Ego"

Teachers of nonduality and advaita advocate what they call "the direct route," meaning going directly to the source. They ask, "Who am I? Who is it that thinks, does, says this? What lies prior to 'I'? Go there!" People like this tend not to like the kind of inquiry we do with The Work of Byron Katie. They see it as window dressing, a mere "technique," too mental. They see the source of all of our unhappiness as the ego. Meanwhile these same people seem to eat, drink, speak and reproduce. What's telling them to do that if they are egoless?

In psychoanalysis, the ego is that which experiences, interprets and negotiates the outside world and other people (superego), and also acts as an intermediary between our impulsive side (id) and the actions we take. We could call it "mind." It's useful for those of us who inhabit a physical body. A mature, healthy ego makes healthy choices like eating and bathing, doesn't get destroyed if someone doesn't like our blog or our new hairstyle, doesn't rape or murder just because it wants to, knows not to stick our hand in fire or run into oncoming traffic.

The ego-self can also feel bruised and wounded when it doesn't get what it thinks it needs or wants, fears losing what it thinks it has, feels threatened or criticized; therefore, "ego" has bad connotations in spiritual circles. It's seen not only as conceit and inflated self-importance, but as the only thing standing in the way of our enlightenment or merging with God.

Years ago when I was on what I considered a spiritual path (as if we're not all on a spiritual path all of the time), I thought my job was to "work on my ego." As if an ego were something to obliterate or, at the very least, chip away at, like Michelangelo chipping away at rough, unpolished marble to uncover David.

My attempt at ego demolition was a frustrating, miserable, exhausting job that was never going to be done.

Why should an ego be worked on? "Ego" is simply a belief that there's an "I." It's a beautiful thing; it's also nothing permanent that "I" can rely on forever (as long as I believe in "time.") "No ego, no world," to paraphrase my friend Byron Katie. So here we are, until the day comes (and it may never come) that we don't need the story of a world. In the meantime, why wouldn't we love and enjoy all of this?

I live in the world of names and forms, until I don't. Using these things to understand what is (and what is not) ironically frees me from the perceived tyranny of names and forms, little by little. If I love and accept these things, I don't have to kill them off or bypass the physical world, which includes my beautiful ego which has served me so well.

It's the ego that says there's a "me" and a "you," and that story is very sweet to me. "This world is full of big egos." Yes, and how wonderful to see and hear them, to join them and love them! Enlightenment is not my business.

It's not that Michelangelo's David isn't beautiful; of course it is, and in "relative reality," few would disagree. But wasn't the marble beautiful just as it was? (Michelangelo surely realized that as he chose each huge piece of rock he sculpted.) Are the pieces and dust on the floor just useless garbage? Why wouldn't we love them as well? Didn't they bring us to David?

In addition, isn't the thought of working on the ego an ego thought? What else but an ego could have come up with such a story?

Until I love my ego, my work's not done.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

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