Tag Archives: Ego

Is Your Ambition Putting You to Sleep?

27 Mar

Excerpted from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa (1973), pages 69-70.

There is the story of the great Tibetan teacher, Marpa. When Marpa first met his own teacher, Naropa, Naropa created an alter which he said was the embodiment of the wisdom of a particular heruka. Both the shrine and Naropa contained tremendous spiritual energy and power, and Naropa asked Marpa to which one he would prostrate in order to experience the sudden realization of enlightenment. Marpa, being a scholar, considered that the guru lives in the flesh, an ordinary human body, while his creation, the altar, is a pure body of wisdom, having nothing to do with human imperfection. So Marpa prostrated to the shrine. And then Naropa said, “I am afraid your inspiration is going to fade. You have made the wrong choice. This shrine is my creation, and without me the shrine would not be here at all. The issue of human body versus wisdom body is irrelevant. The great display of the mandala was merely my creation.”

This story illustrates the principle of dream, hope, wish, as self-deception. As long as you regard yourself or any part of your experience as the “dream come true,” then you are involved in self-deception. Self-deception seems always to depend upon the dream work, because you would like to see what you have not yet seen, rather that what you are now seeing. You will not accept that whatever is here now is what is, nor are you willing to go on with the situation as it is. Thus, self-deception always manifest itself in terms of trying to create or recreate a dream work, the nostalgia of the dream experience. And the opposite of self-deception is just working with the facts of life.

If one searches for any kind of bliss or joy, the realization of one’s imagination and dream, then, equally, one is going to suffer failure and depression. This is the whole point: a fear of separation, the hope of attaining union, these are not just manifestations of or the actions of ego or self-deception, as if ego were somehow a real thing which performed certain actions. Ego is the actions, the mental events. Ego is the fear of losing openness, the fear of losing the egoless state. This is the meaning of self-deception, in this case – ego crying that is has lost the egoless state, its dream of attainment. Fear, hope, loss, gain – these are the on-going actions of the dream of ego, the self-perpetuating, self-maintaining structure which is self-deception.

So the real experience, beyond the dream world, is the beauty and color and excitement of the real experience of now in everyday life. When we face things as they are, we give up the hope of something better. There will be no magic, because we cannot tell ourselves to get out of our depression. Depression and ignorance, the emotions, whatever we experience, are all real and contain tremendous truth. If we really want to learn and see the experience of truth, we have to be where we are. The whole thing is just a matter of being a grain of sand.

 

 

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In Defense of Ego

18 Feb
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A modern mystic, Thomas Hubl, seems like a good dude, but his message just didn’t really resonate with me

Last night I went to a talk by Thomas Hubl in downtown Washington DC. He is an interesting guy and as a modern mystic, I certainly value his perspective on his experience of consciousness. I like attending events like this because they tend to open me up. Expose me to new ideas and new people. However, while I value that exposure, it isn’t always pleasant. And last night I was reminded why I had avoided the “integral community” for so many years.

Although we may share the same interests in learning and exploring spiritual, mystical, or consciousness-based experiences and ideas, we approach that interest in very different ways. I ended up feeling like what I was seeing was spiritual materialism at its finest. Now, I did like Thomas’s talk and I thought he had a lot of good ideas to share, but the most value I got out of the experience was in a flood of ideas of my own. When ideas come this fast and easily, I am prone to think that they are coming from deep inside me rather than my overly-analytical mind (of which I am skeptical). Even though I have several other draft blog posts in the cooker, I feel compelled to share this one immediately. I decided that the easiest way to share this would be to just quote what I wrote in my journal during Thomas’s talk and go from there. I am calling it, “In Defense of Ego.”

— Feb. 17, 2014—

I don’t understand this! He is talking as if the mind/ego was something bad. “We need to bring this consciousness to light in the modern world,” he says. We “need to!?” Huh? I mean, of course we “need” to, but that is just a function of our own drive to create and there is no way for me to tell if YOUR drive to create is coming from ego or from spirit. How or why would I even try to judge it? Of course, I am doing the exact same thing to Thomas right now, judging his words, so I’ll let them be. Clearly people are getting something out of them. For me though this isn’t about the exteriors being “bad” and the interiors being “good.” In fact, language itself is just an exterior. It is an exterior, mind-created, ego-driven tool that we use to communicate and self-reflect. We needed to create language as a scaffold to develop the interior, so how can we make a value judgement on it? We need the exterior to build the interior…but where did language come from? The interior!!! So, they are co-emergent. They are interdependent. It is much like the particle/wave theory of electrons. They are BOTH at the same time, it is only our perspective that seems to have the conflict with reconciling these two things. This is why having a non-dual awareness is so important. That is why we NEED the ego. The ego isn’t bad. The ego is just an exterior. Haha! Badness is using the qualities of a wave to judge what is acting like, in that moment, as a particle. OR using the values of the interior to judge the exterior (or using the exterior to judge the interior). Of course it causes a contraction/tension!

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Wilber’s AQAL model for anyone not immediately familiar with how I am using the words, “interior” and “exterior”

Ego/mind/etc., or whatever word one wants to use to describe something “bad” or “negative,” when it is used in that way…doesn’t actually point to anything. That is, the word exists as a signifier…a sign post….but there is no signified. The sign points in a direction, but if you were to go there, you would find that nothing exists. In this way, ego has no content. It does not exist! It is so simple. We have a word for it, like we have the word “unicorn,” but that doesn’t mean that they signify something that exists in the real world. “Ego,” then doesn’t really exist in the way people use it to mean something negative or bad. In fact, what they are experiencing is the misattunement of TWO things that DO exist. How then do we bring those different rhythms into alignment? Well, I think through radical acceptance. Awareness is great. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Now try to accept. See if you can accept it as well. Create a new exterior. Create a new object. That that which was subject to you and make it object. Make it an exterior (that is, make it part of “mind/ego”). As an exterior, it may help you OR….maybe it is already an object…and you’ve divorced yourself from that object. These are the things that you need to bring into radical acceptance.

So, more simply…the “pain” or “resistance” or “contraction” or “tension” that we feel is NOT a result of a single entity (like the “ego”), but of a dynamic PROCESS between two entities (more akin to “friction”). Those two entities are exteriors and interiors. Existences and essences. Gross forms and subtle forms. The cure for these frictions depend on which way the energy is trying to flow. If energy is trying to create an exterior from an interior, then you need radical awareness, because you are trying to create something in the gross realm that previously existed in the subtle realm. However, it is equally likely that you are experiencing friction because something from the Gross realm is trying to enter the subtle realm (the equally important, but less acknowledged move from mind-body to spirit). In this case, as was my experience, the cure seems to be radical acceptance. That is, accepting everything even the things that you don’t accept. Or for radical awareness….radical awareness is being aware of what you are not aware of. This is why religions often talk about the masculine and feminine…big mind and big heart. Not just because these two THINGS exist, but because they represent two MOVEMENTS. Movement in one direction or another between exteriors and interiors! Masculine and feminine are horizontal types that describe movement between horizontal dimensions (exteriors and interiors). It is actually quite simple when looked at this way. So, to say that “ego” or “mind” is bad….as it feels like most people in this room are doing…just doesn’t make sense to me.

So, again, the one thing that we don;t really think about is that it is not the exteriors or the interiors themselves, but the MOVEMENT from one to the other. If there is friction in this movement then we experience suffering. This suffering can be cured with either radical acceptance or radical awareness depending on which direction the energy is trying to flow. Ok, so now we are cooking baby! 🙂 What is this movement? HOW the hell can you move from one to another? Well, we do that in the ground of being. That is…the movement can take place because we can stand outside of either two positions and “outside” those two positions is simply the background of all reality (both subtle and gross). Now, this ground of being is actually very boring, so I won’t talk about it because talking about it is a bit silly, but it is important to mention it because it is the third element….the causal realm. So, mystics claim that individual consciousness can directly experience this casual realm and I think that is fantastic. Good for them. Good for you if you can. Nothing wrong with it at all. Sounds like a magical place to live. But, for me, by definition, this causal experience doesn’t really mean much. That is because any experience is still just that….experience (even if that experience is non-experience…if that makes sense). So, then it is not something to strive for…it is something that people get access to or they do not. There is nothing great or grand about it. It is. Just like form and ego. They are. All of this stuff….is just hanging out. Now, don’t get me wrong the creation of something out of nothing is extraordinary….what could be more amazing!? But from my perspective, there is also nothing more mundane (again….it’s like a particle and a wave….causal is BOTH majestic AND mundane).

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A particle AND a wave

So, when we talk about the gross (exterior), subtle (interior), and causal (ground that allows us to move from one to the other), we are just talking about the interplay between these two crazy characters. It is like some sort of stage play. Two characters battling it out. The two actors and the stage on which they stand…those three things make up what we call reality. This is why horizontal development is, in many ways, much more important than vertical development. Because the movement from left (interior) to right (exterior) is the ENGINE of development. These frictions, moving and moving and moving, can spark movements upward as appropriate to the challenges that you face. In fact, it is actually more like overcompensation. As that friction creates sparks, your subtle and gross mental fabric evolves. Just like how the fibers of your muscles strengthen through exercise. After lifting 100 pounds your muscles get bigger so that next time you can lift 115 pounds (since you clearly could ALREADY lift 100). So, the engine of vertical development is in fact horizontal movement.

Growth is about awareness and acceptance because “the bad” parts are simply friction that restrict movement. Resistance is only ever about the friction of movement which does NOT get better if we continue to value “spirit” over “ego.” In fact, it makes the problem worse. It creates a spiritual materialism in which a large portion of reality is denied and judged. Of course, this friction is exactly what we need. How else could it exist? Is = ought. So, from a non-dual perspective, there is nothing wrong. There is no point to changing anything. “So you’re miserable. Great! That is what you should be. You will be miserable until you are not.” I’m writing. You’re reading. So what? We are fine. Given that we are….and everything we do is okay, then let us continue talking and reading. If everything is OK, then it is also OK that we think things need to change.

So, there you go. That was the out-pouring of thought that I had. It was helpful for me in thinking it, I can only hope that it is helpful for you in reading it.

Radical Acceptance

25 Feb

I just got back from the BOLD Academy in San Francisco and I came away from that experience with a renewed appreciation for the personal change process. I’ve tried to capture that insight below. First of all, what I’m trying to describe is a little nuanced (but infinitely practical) so if it doesn’t make sense, then feel free to blame the messenger. Second, it’s equally likely that you’ll get it and won’t agree with it. That’s fine too. Please let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below. I’d like my ideas to most fully represent the truth and we all have important pieces of it.

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The BOLD house vibrated with energy, but underneath that energy was a community of radical acceptance and support.

I’m ambitious. And if you’re like me then you know that setting and achieving goals is one of the most pleasurable feelings in the world. I love the challenge of pushing myself beyond my limits, failing, and getting up again. And again. And again. This type of grit got me through my tough times and I certainly wouldn’t have succeeded if I didn’t have a compelling purpose pulling me forward. But recently I’ve realized the limitations of this way of thinking. I’ve spent so much time being pulled forward by purpose and trying to overcome obstacles that I’ve failed to notice something else. The world was no longer the same. Change happens so radically today that my dream job may be obsolete by the time I even start a two-year plan to get it. Careers, businesses, and even entire markets are created and destroyed from month to month. So, I began to realize that I needed a new way of doing things. I think the problem is simply that my ego-driven mindset restricts me from making necessary adjustments to an ever-changing reality. I simply don’t know when a danger sign is just self-doubt (and I should push through it) or when it signals that I need to make an actual change in our approach. So, how do you know the difference?

Well, I have a guess. I think the method for knowing the difference is intuitive rather than intellectual. It is something I’m calling radical acceptance and the idea is pretty simple. If you are resisting your own thoughts or feelings then you are not acknowledging reality and the only way to stop compulsive resistance is start accepting – everything. The reason it’s called “radical” acceptance is because it accepts everything…including resistance itself. Confused? I was too. Here is an story of how this shows up.

A friend and I had just finished a yoga class together and a few minutes later I found her crying. She said that during the mindfulness practice, she finally became aware of all of the negative self talk in her head. The voices that told her she wasn’t good enough. The voices that said she needed to try harder. Her practice had opened up new insight, but as she told me this amazing revelation she became increasingly upset. “I just can’t believe how much of my time I’ve wasted,” she said. “These negative voices in my head have been holding me back this whole time. They tell me that I’m not good enough and I can’t believe that I listened to them.” As she embellished how her negative self talk had been such an awful thing and how she needed to get rid of it. I said, “that’s an amazing insight, but be careful that you don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up.” She paused and smiled.

My point was that your ego will adapt to whatever thing you fear. If you fear being poor then it will make you feel bad for not making enough money. If you fear being selfish then it will make you feel bad for buying designer shoes. If you fear being superficial then it will make you feel bad for skipping yoga class. Resistance will always tell you that you are not centered enough or not being generous enough or not being spiritual enough. Know that it is all just your ego using resistance against you. And just like you cannot fight darkness with darkness, you cannot fight resistance with resistance. And underneath all of the surface level problems you are facing, the real problem is resistance itself.

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You cannot fight darkness with darkness.

So, radical acceptance is deeper than just awareness. My yoga friend was aware of the negative self talk, but she had not yet accepted it. She was using negative self talk to keep herself from using negative self talk. It is silly, but also tragic. We instinctively move towards happy feelings and move away from negative feelings. We rarely stop and accept them as they are. Radical acceptance is such an effective approach because it isn’t about moving towards or away. It isn’t about compulsive action at all. When you accept everything as it is without an agenda then your actions will be aligned. When your actions are aligned things will change organically. It’s a complete paradigm shift.

Unconditional acceptance as a means for change is a radical notion, but one that ultimately frees us to walk confidently through the fog of attachments. It’s a little nuanced, but I think that’s the point. Our ego is fueled by resistance largely because, according to neurologists, the brain’s primary function is to curate reality. It’s primary function is to delete information from your awareness. So, if you practice a form of radical acceptance training (meditation, mindfulness, yoga, etc.) then you can offset your inborn brain/ego/curator/resistance machine that blinds you to what’s really happening. If you don’t, then you’ll be living in black and white (which, since we are radically accepting, isn’t a bad thing…it’s just a thing).

So, be careful with the goal-setting workshops and all of the stories about what you are supposed to want. Start by becoming aware of your thoughts and feeling and start by accepting them. If you don’t want to accept them, then accept that feeling. If that thought makes you feel angry. Accept that feeling. If it makes you feel bored, then accept that feeling. If it makes you hungry, then go make a sandwich. Remember that love must be unconditional or it isn’t love. so if you’re going to really love yourself then you need to accept everything about yourself, every moment. The key point is that even when you don’t want to accept something, you can still accept the feeling of non-acceptance.

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Love is unconditional or it isn’t love.

Again, the ego is fueled by resistance and it will trick you into thinking that you need to DO something to feel love or find peace. Radical acceptance neutralizes this with grace and elegance. You don’t need to do anything to radical accept. It starts the moment you’re ready for it to start and paradoxically, when that happens you’ll find love and peace (and money and whatever else you really needed). The therapist Carl Rogers said it this way, “It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change. I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience – that we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.” (The Carl Rogers Reader, pg. 19)

Radical acceptance as a means for change is about being centered not being pushed or pulled. And we all learned in high school physics that when weight is centered it reduces the object’s moment of inertia making it easier and faster to change direction. If you want to survive the pace of radical change, then you need to center yourself and accept the most current reality. Both in your environment and inside yourself. With complete acceptance of reality you will be free of compulsion. You will be free to act when you need to act. You will be free to rest when you need to rest. Paradoxically, it is only when you radically accept things as they are that you or your organization can respond appropriately to the ever-changing demands of modern life.

In 1906, the South African newspaper Indian Opinion held a competition to define the growing resistance against British rule. Gandhi famously adapted one of the entries – “satyagraha” – to define his vision of social change. We often think about acceptance as a passive act and RADICAL acceptance even more so. But Gandhi never liked the terms “passive resistance” or even “non-violent resistance.” In fact, satyagraha means “insistence on truth.” So, radical acceptance isn’t about change. It is foremost about truth. And yet, magically, it is through accepting truth that we change.