Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Ego—What Is It?

Ego is a misconstrued phenomenon. I often forget this fact when I say something like, It felt ego-driven to me. And the person with whom I’m speaking will say something like, Really? You think he was arrogant? So, here, I offer a little portraiture of this elusive, oft-misunderstood, conceptual thing.

Ordinarily thought of as arrogance, in its subtler shades, ego is desire, attachments, expectations. It is greed. It is the picking and choosing mind. It is jumping to conclusions, clinging to positions, single-minded stubbornness. It is anger. It is pushing your agenda. And it is all grounded in fear. The ego is the insecure part of us that needs constant recognition, approval, reassurance, and flattery (of which there is never enough). Mostly, ego just needs to be right. It is ignorance. It is the dualistic mind. And because of the fear generated by its exaggerated sense of self, and because of its dogged fixation on meeting its needs, it is in a constant state of alienation, worry, and suspicion of others’ intents. When these pestilent mental states are painstakingly peeled away, layer by layer, the light of compassion shines through, and we find that in this new state of lightness, we are able to harmonize with our surroundings, enabling others to effortlessly harmonize with us.

(Excerpted from my book,  Buddha in the Classroom; Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers, 2011)

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Heal Thyself First

It is February—the month of love, so, in the spirit of the season, I offer a note about the importance of healing your own heart first.

There is a consistent message found throughout the higher wisdom traditions, that of tending to your own healing and transformation first. They say that it is imperative to purify yourself before trying to fix the world. To put it slightly differently, although we do exactly the opposite, in the form of finger-pointing, whistle-blowing and fault-finding, the call is to look to the inside before looking to the outside.

Rather than simply take it for granted, I would like to explore the reasons why this makes sense.

Firstly, because when we are miserable, depressed and despondent, or angry and in great angst, we are less likely to be open to the needs of others. We are more likely to close ourselves off and tuck ourselves away into a cocoon where we are both unavailable and unable to be of service to anybody else.

Secondly, because while we’re on this planet, the very least we can do—even if we don’t do much good—is refrain from causing harm. And when we’re suffering, we’re likely to lash out on others in myriad ways, from the little things, like general rudeness, to the big things, like the Columbine massacres.

Finally, in a more etheric sense, an open and balanced heart center—what the Yogis call the anahata chakra—can have a natural healing effect on others. When we start to heal and our hearts start to open, we tend to radiate warmth, and that creates joy all around.