“Quo Vadis?” means, “Where are you going?” And, as the title of this post indicates, I am asking that question of the ego.
Many who pursue a spiritual life seek to release themselves from what they see as the tyranny of the ego. Wayne Dyer, for instance, draws a sharp distinction between the ego and the higher self, leaving no doubt as to which he prefers. Much of the time, it sounds as though he would like to be rid of it altogether. Perhaps now, in death, he has. Who knows?
But we live here, at least partly – and I would say largely – in the physical world.
I may be oversimplifying a bit, and people who know more than I do may wish to correct me, but I see a real difference between Buddhism and Yoga, and it is in how they approach the idea of enlightenment.
The Buddhists see the self (including the ego) as an illusion with no permanence that they wish to dissolve in order to become enlightened. Of course, to me, if the self has no permanence, it is hard to imagine what aspect of ourselves becomes enlightened. Wouldn’t it be a contradiction in terms, as a Buddhist, to even say, “I” seek to become enlightened?
The yogis see things differently. They, along with the Hindus, believe in an unchanging core to our being, a permanent soul, what they call an “atman”. And they seek enlightenment by contacting that deeper self and allowing it shine through the rest of their being, bringing enlightenment to the whole person.
If I understand this correctly, the ego is not annihilated, it is bathed in spiritual energy – and that, to me, feels much better as an idea and as a goal, one that makes it, indeed, possible to say, “I” seek enlightenment.
At that makes a tremendous amount of sense to me because the ego can also be looked at as the will, the part of us that chooses, and even pursuing enlightenment is a choice, presumably from the ego, is it not?
And so, personally, I choose to seek deeper communion with my deepest, most authentic self so that it may illuminate my whole being, including my ego rather than commit what strikes me as a kind of suicide of the ego or perform an egoectomy.
I trust myself. I believe that the universe, somehow, works, even when it sometimes does not seem to. I believe that I am not a flawed being, a mistake, a joke. And I certainly have no intention of choosing (with my will or ego) to destroy that integral part of my being.
I believe that every part of our being is good and important, including that ego. Problems can arise when it is out of balance, when it becomes the master, edging everything else out, but then the answer is to get it back into balance, not destroy it!
One of Wayne Dyer’s more clever teaching analogies – for he is a primarily a teacher, to my mind, in his public persona – was to refer to the EGO as an acronym for Edging God Out, as an out of balance ego sometimes does.
And what’s the answer to that? To edge God back in, to put the psyche back in balance.
One of my personal challenges has been one of balance. While I have had to deal with a number of security issues (which Eastern Philosophy would say come from the lower chakras), I also have a tendency to live in my head. On person I used to know said, it’s a wonder your head doesn’t float off your shoulders. And so my challenge has been to rebalance my psyche, to become more grounded, through things like gardening and therapy (both formal and self-directed), not to cut off my head because it was too predominant (as some people would do with their own egos if they feel that they are too driven by it).
And excising the ego doesn’t even work, if you ask me. The ego is a tricky beast that will do just about anything to survive. I have even seen the marvel of some spiritual seekers who become quite egotistical about it, even to become egotistical (prideful) about their humility! It is, as they say, “a mug’s game” (an activity in which it is foolish to engage because it is likely to be unsuccessful or dangerous).
I admit that I have had to reign in my ego from time to time, even frequently, and I am interested in ways of doing it. I will share a few of them:
- In general terms, when I catch myself getting carried away with myself, I remind myself that I am getting out of balance and need to see things in a more balanced way. The best way to do that – and I suppose this could be applied to any method in this list – is through awareness. I ask myself why I am becoming so ego-driven, and the answer is always the same: I feel, in some deeper way, insecure, and am trying to overcompensate with a burst of bravado from the ego. I then ask myself where that comes from, and it’s usually some incident (often from way back) that made me feel bad about myself. I further ask myself if I really should feel bad about it, and the answer is usually no. I try to repair the damage by shining a little awareness on it, and getting a little more realistic about my supposed failing (which is never as bad as it seems), and balance is restored with – and I think this is crucial – no direct combat with the ego – in a very natural subsidence.
This is not narcissism or letting myself off the hook for my responsibilities; this is getting things in balance. It is not a way of dealing with genuine guilt, either; it is a way of dealing with shame.
Brene Brown draws the distinction between guilt and shame more clearly and effectively than anyone else I have heard or read. She says, “Guilt is feeling that I made a mistake; shame is feeling that I am a mistake.” Big difference! So if we have guilt over something, some kind of realization followed by action is necessary, the simplest being an apology and attempt at sincere restitution. But with shame, at least according to the way Brown is defining it, the methodology is quite different. But that’s the subject of a whole other post . . .
- Meditation. It stops the chatter, and ego just loves chatter. Enjoying the peace of stilling what Buddhist call “monkey mind”, jumping from one frantic thought to another, is great for giving the ego a much needed rest, a vacation, and things fall into better perspective.
- Creativity. This doesn’t have to been writing or music (my own favoured outlets). It can be anything creative: painting, photography, carpentry, cooking, anything that results in something brought into being that wasn’t there before. You get lost in it, and it stills the mind, especially the ego.
- Repetitive tasks. Anything repetitive tends to still the mind. Even washing a floor. Works every time for me.
- Physical work or exercise. Ever wonder how jocks sometimes get that zoned out look? It’s from the joy of tuning into the body and quieting the mind.
- Placing yourself in inspiring circumstances. The sunrise always does it for me. For you it might be some other vista, or going to the symphony . . .
You may have some tips for me, things that do not appear on the list above. Please feel free to write them in the comment section.
My humility will thank you.
And to answer the question in the title, Quod vadis, ego? or Where are you going, ego?”