Every seeker longs for that moment of ultimate realization — the great ah hah! moment that makes the difficult path worthwhile. After seven years of searching inside and seeking knowledge from without, I think I’ve had my moment, only to realize that I was my biggest stumbling block the entire time, and will likely continue to be so.
The intersection of circumstances that have led me to this discovery are strange, and yet, they represent the day-to-day drudgery that is my thought process – a heap of screaming monkeys locked inside my head, determined, I had always thought, to keep me focused on everything except the here and now.
Well, I was wrong. Those monkeys are part of me, and their goal has always been to keep me from realizing the fact that my ego is wickedly strong.
Ego. Ego. Ego. It’s all I could think about last night as I tossed and turned, reliving every stupid, ignorant, dumb, illegal, inconsiderate and selfish act I’ve ever undertaken. It’s as if my ego has a separate consciousness, nudging me along my spiritual path (because I/it felt that this was the correct path), all while purposely throwing up barriers to keep me from noticing the power it holds over the forward direction of my life.
It started with unmet expectations in my current job – what I had always thought was my dream job. There was resentment and anger, and a feeling of “this isn’t what I signed up for” that constantly gnawed at me, just below the surface. I’d catch a glimpse of my ego, and tell my mind to settle down. I’m fortunate to have a job right now, I’d think, and it’s stupid of me to be anything but grateful because I’m earning a decent salary. Then I’d dive in head-first to my work again and stop trying to figure out where the feelings were coming from. This made the ego happy, and so the pattern would continue for months, going round and round like the proverbial vicious cycle.
A few weeks ago, as I struggled to come to terms with these feelings (again), I happened upon a chapter in “Awake at Work” called “Practice ‘No Credentials.’”
“Workplace credentials – our titles, college degrees, qualifications, symbols of status and authority – can sometimes help get the job done and sometimes just get in the way.”
It goes on to describe a very typical situation here in Washington – people who define themselves by their job title or occupation – and how this practice can actually hinder your ability to do your job and your ability to be truly present and mindful as you work.
“Try as we might, we cannot create a seamless, reliable version of ourselves out of our career or job. And when we expect otherwise – when we expect work to deliver something it can never deliver – we become frustrated and uptight: exaggerating achievements, glossing over failures, sugarcoating mistakes; feeling arrogant, slighted, embarrassed or smug.
By practicing ‘no credentials,’ we are willing to examine these feelings candidly, gradually unraveling the blinding effects of clinging to our credentials. We learn to let go of job titles and pretense and shift our attention to being authentic, to being who we are, where we are, at work.”
I’ve pondered this over the last few weeks, actually catching myself when asked, “What do you do.” Try responding with “I work in (industry)” rather than “I am (job title).” More than likely , you’ll be asked a follow-up question. “Oh, where? And what do you do there?” The very question of “What do you do” is like offering candy to a baby – or in this case, to your ego.
I guess this made my mind ripe for the next dose of reality, which came in the form of Sogyal Rinpoche’s “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” I’ve felt pulled into the book, as if Rinpoche is directly answering the questions that have been lingering in my mind for the last few years. And last night, I reached the chapter on ego.
“Two people have been living in you all your life. One is the ego, garrulous, demanding, hysterical, calculating; the other is the hidden spiritual being, whose still voice of wisdom you have only rarely heard or attended to. As you listen more and more to the teachings, contemplate them, and integrate them into your life, your inner voice, your innate wisdom of discernment, what we call in Buddhism “discriminating awareness,” is awakened and strengthened, and you begin to distinguish between its guidance and the various clamorous and enthralling voices of ego. The [karmic] memory of your real nature, with all its splendor and confidence, begins to return to you.
You will find, in fact, that you have uncovered in yourself your own wise guide. Because he or she knows you through and through, since he or she is you, your guide can help you, with increasing clarity and humor, negotiate all the difficulties of your thoughts and emotions. Your guide can also be a continual, joyful, tender, sometimes teasing presence, who knows always what is best for you and will help you find more and more ways out of your obsession with your habitual responses and confused emotions. As the voice of your discriminating awareness grows stronger and clearer, you will start to distinguish between its truth and the various deceptions of the ego, and you will be able to listen to it with discernment and confidence.”
I reached a point where, while reading these teachings, I set my book down, closed my eyes, and immediately feel into a state of deep thought where, for the first time ever, I was able to push my ego completely out of the way. Each time I tossed and turned during the night, the word “ego” formed on my lips as I rummaged through memories of everywhere my ego has taken me in 37 years – not a pretty trip when one is trying to sleep.
It was and continues to be profound, and I have no idea where this new perspective is going to take me, or if it will even continue.
But I’m hopeful, because I think only good can come from this.