Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: ego

Ego and Identity

There must be some poetic significance in what I found today, while looking for certain documents that I need for proving my identity (because we need to prove beyond all doubt who we are, before we are allowed to cross a border to a different place). In a recent post, I mentioned having read years ago about ego, from an excerpt given to me by a yoga teacher. I didn’t remember the name or author of the book, but I remembered some of the ideas in the excerpt.

Well, looky here, the very paper I wanted that day, when what I thought I wanted today was something else altogether. I now have an opportunity to make good on a dubious promise I made to the blogosphere, to return, when I found the excerpt, and tell you, dear readers, the name of the book and the identity of its author. It turns out that the book is Inner Quest, by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. Here are some interesting quotes. They don’t necessarily support the ideas I expounded in my previous post; but I don’t think there needs to be one truth, expressed one way. Read and find whatever meaning is useful to you.

You don’t need a strong ego to live successfully in the world. What you need is a strong will and the determination to direct all your energies toward your desired goal. Western psychology has not clearly distinguished between the power of ego and the power of will and determination. In a sense, the power of the ego is blind, but the power of will has vision, because its source is in the pure self. Ego springs from a false sense of identification (avidya) and usually focuses on preserving self-image and self-identity. Ego is accompanied by stubbornness, selfishness, and an unwillingness to compromise . . . . In order to be successful in the world, you need a strong will, but that strong will needs to be properly guided. Then you will be able to develop a strong personality and cultivate a powerful self-image, rather than developing a trivial, egotistical personality.

Do I need to let go of my self-image and identity, so I can be successful in proving my identity?

On following a spiritual path: The stronger your ego, the bigger the hurdle it will create. However, if you kill your ego, you might kill what motivates you to embark on the spiritual path and stay on it. Therefore, do not attempt to kill your ego or even to weaken it. What your ego needs is purification, transformation, and guidance.

By meditating, contemplating, praying, studying the scriptures, and seeking the company of the wise, you make your ego purer and less confined. This inspires you to move one step ahead. From here, the purified ego, accompanied by a sharpened intellect, gets a glimpse of the next level of expanded awareness and naturally aspires to reach it. Thus, the ego becomes the tool for purifying and expanding itself. In this way, the small ego begins its journey toward an expanded, more purified ego.

After more searching, I still haven’t located the papers I need. I don’t suppose a few words about the relationship between self and ego would get me across any international borders . . .

Who Is This Person?

Ego and Ego’s Job

Excuse me in advance for mangling Freud, but let’s talk about ego today. Ego gets a bad rap. We can all probably appreciate an occasional id moment, when we just want what we want, for no good reason; and we think we should put the superego in charge most of the time, but ego? Who needs it?

I think it was Stephanie Thomas (back when she was a yoga teacher) who first introduced me to the idea that the ego isn’t bad. She gave me a couple pages from a book, which I still have somewhere around here, and when I find it I’ll come back and tell you the name of it and who wrote it. For now I’ll just say it really struck me by saying that we don’t need to destroy or starve the ego, but purify it. There was a list of ways to purify the ego, but, more to the point, the reason for doing so is that the ego has a purpose and we need it. Update: I found it! See this post.

At the same time, I was reading A Course In Miracles, which is not so kind to ego. But I did learn to recognize when ego is in action, which is, surprisingly, most of the times I’m unhappy, especially when I’m unhappy with another person. Somebody getting away with something unfairly? It’s ego that cares. Somebody slights me? Ego. I’m not living up to a vague expectation that somebody laid on me so long ago I don’t remember who did it or when? Ego is the part of me that tortures me mercilessly for my failures. In ACIM, ego is an illusion that will disappear when we recognize the truth, which is that we are one with the Divine, which is defined as Love, and that any belief in the possibility of separation or harm of any kind is an error.

Later, Caryn Robson gave me Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, and Tolle echoes ACIM on ego. He teaches that all we have to do is notice, with full attention, and those egoic thoughts dissipate.

But that idea of ego as neutral, even useful at times, stuck with me over the years, and I’ve come to see ego as essential, when it is working toward its purpose. When deprived of the opportunity to do its job, ego goes looking for something else to do, and that is when problems pop up.

What is Ego’s job? Well, I do believe that we are essentially one. But we are present in three-dimensional space, living within limitation and linear time. We have reason to believe this is an illusion, but it’s pervasive and seems to be built into the structure of this particular neighborhood of the universe. Why would we choose to come here? (Did I forget to mention that we choose to come here? I’ll have to explain that another time, I have a massage this afternoon and I need to get some housework done before I go, so I don’t have a lot of time to write right now.)

Suppose we come to this quirky neighborhood, dressed up in a funny costume in which we look like a thrown-together-at-the-last-minute imitation of a stereotype older than history. I’ve got a part to play in this charade, and the Director suddenly jumps up with a megaphone and says, “Hey you! Get up on the stage! This show is depending on YOU!”

What? I don’t even know my lines! Then I remember, the script is written in my heart. My body knows the blocking if I don’t think about it too much. It’s all here, in me. It’s in you, too, in all of us, but we’re all in different costumes, with different parts to play, and nobody but me is right here, ready to make an entrance onto this very stage at the perfect moment, which is now.

And the one who knew all that, who never forgot, who used every trick -berating, cajoling, lying, kicking me in the ass, whatever it takes- to get me up on that stage, no matter how anxious I am, how determined to know every line, entrance, and exit of every character by memory before I even peek out from behind the curtain, how certain I am that the understudy could do a far better job: the Director is the Ego.

What if I don’t do it? What if I’m too busy? This costume is poking me and I can’t hear the cardio-teleprompter when I’m this uncomfortable. And there’s so much backstage work to be done, I’ll get up on the stage tomorrow, or next month, or next year. After a while, Ego gets tired of waiting, and goes looking for something else to do. Ego’s gift is this: Ego knows that I am important, that I have a unique contribution to make to the world. Ego insists that I share my talents. If I won’t be in the show, I can instead correct everybody’s grammar. I can satisfy myself by going over other peoples’ mistakes in my mind, and how I would do things differently if I were in their place. If I won’t acknowledge my importance as in individual, Ego will show me all the ways that I have failed others, hurt them, disappointed them, and therefore deserve all my lack of success.

Oh dear Ego, tireless friend, I’ve been hearing your message. We don’t have to say whose habitual mispronunciations have been grating on my nerves, or which crotchety old biddy’s lectures have been testing my patience. These people, whom I love, are not the problem, and there is one solution: I have to get up on the stage.

Time to start writing again.

Here's my writing studio. There's a bit of work to be done.

Here’s my writing studio. There’s a bit of work to be done.

Bluebird, Ego, Ostrich

It was the kind of week when you have three shut-off notices and too many checks already out to cover, you should have some money coming in, but you’re not sure how much, or exactly when, and the process of earning the money complicates the managing of it. I did okay, though, but on the way to the bank on Friday, multiple shut-off day, I realized I’d forgotten to stop at the other bank first. Cursing, I turned around at the historic marker and drove back the way I’d come. It was then that it occurred to me that I needed to dedicate my day to the Divine, to let the ego be the operations manager but not the CEO. To operate on the assumption that whatever happens is okay, and nothing is something to get upset about. Every day should be thus, and I’ll admit to being somewhat pleased with myself for remembering this before I got too bent out of shape about the way my day and week were progressing.

Still, I didn’t feel it. I could think about the perfect Divine nature of everything, but it was all in my head. To elucidate it, I need to feel it, so I mentally flailed for a bit and then my thoughts drifted somewhere else. Maybe later, after the errands, the massage I was scheduled to give, then picking up the kids from school, I could slow down and get myself there.

Then I was at the bank. I did my errand and went on my way. I was still in Strong City when I saw a tiny flicker of most brilliant blue. “Bluebird! Bluebird!” I called out loud, to no one, as I was alone in my car. There’s nothing like a bluebird (except perhaps an indigo bunting, but this was a bluebird), and on second look I saw the rosy belly before it disappeared from my view as I drove on down the street.

My attention was piqued, and as I came onto Highway 50, I was alert for every creature. I studied several hawks at 65 mph, though only one was a red-tail, the only one I can easily identify. Most of the geese have departed to the north, while the gull migration has just begun to appear here. There were starlings and other black birds I didn’t get a good enough look at to identify, and possibly a meadowlark. I also thought about the northern flicker I’d seen earlier, while taking the kids to school. The birds are back, and wintery weather doesn’t stop the birds from getting down to business.

Then I noticed warmth and openness in my heart chakra, and realized I’d entered into the divine space I’d been seeking earlier. It occurred to me that connecting with that which is larger than the self is as much as anything a process of noticing what brings one there. It didn’t come from speaking words, or thinking, or planning, or being in control of a sticky situation which on another day might have brought me down. It came from noticing, paying attention, to that which is alive and present in the moment. It came from being willing to let nature be part of my daily life.

In the words of Ted Andrews, “The bluebird is a native bird of North America. Although once common, they are now quite rare. This often is a reminder that we are born to happiness and fulfillment, but we sometimes get so lost and wrapped up in the everyday events of our lives that our happiness and fulfillment seem rare. When bluebirds show up as a totem, it should first of all remind you to take time to enjoy yourself.”

What do you enjoy? What arrests your attention, bringing you out of mundane egoism and into awareness of the big Oneness? What does bluebird say to you?

Towels, and the Lessons They Teach

Wined Towel

Two men have been friends since they served in Viet Nam together. Every year they get together and catch up over some wine. This year they stayed at the Prairie Fire Inn and Spa. They were very friendly and we talked a bit about Kansas politics and the urban organic farm one of them owns. They liked our place, and didn’t mind the weedy parking lot or that one of them had to sleep in a twin bed because our rooms aren’t big enough for two big beds.  The one who checked out in the morning apologized for having spilled some wine, and using a towel to clean it up.

They were so nice that, later, when I found the blue towel, I decided not to get annoyed. I liked these guys, and would be happy for them to come back any time. I made a mental list of reasons the towel wasn’t important. It was a hand towel, not a bigger one. We just bought hand towels, and are not short on that size. They really aren’t expensive when you buy them by the dozen from a hotel supplier.

The funny part is that this whole little episode raised what might have been an obvious question. To whom was I doing a favor? The guests were off enjoying the prairie, or having lunch, and they would never know if I got annoyed, or not. The only person who would suffer for my reaction was, of course, myself.

So what about the others, who I don’t happen to take a liking to? What about the ones who ruin a towel after making a racist remark at check in, or complaining about the ants eating all the pizza crumbs they left in their bed? How much do they suffer from a hundred miles away, while I silently stew over their boorishness?

What if I just pretended they were someone I liked? I would still have to replace the towel, but I wouldn’t have to suffer. Of course, ego says, oh no, they’re not getting off that easy! But ego and I will have a talk when the time comes.

And one other question: why am I forty-six and just now figuring this out?

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