Tag Archives: ego

The Long, Swollen Pause

The idea that pauses in conversation are bad has been indelibly etched into our belief system. We even have an expression for this unwanted interval: The awkward silence. Because in our minds, conversation should be a lively flowing exchange. The good conversationalist, we are told, should know how to keep the dialogue moving.

But even in the context of what we would call “small talk,” a well-timed pause is of great benefit; it not only allows for a moment of reflection, but gives a greater sense of intention to what will eventually be said.

In a potentially heated conversation, a befitting pause is not only beneficial, but vital. A deliberate pause can totally prevent fall out. In Kundalini Yoga, we talk a lot about the neutral mind. The simple act of waiting before speaking—for as long as you need to—can bring us there. Yet, as simple as it is, we forget to do it.

The neutral mind is the mind of the sage. It is the mind that stays cool, come what may. So called because it neutralizes our reactive tendency. Staying neutral is easier said than done. Yet we all know someone who is just naturally that way—unaffected by the things that throw most people into melt-down mode. The neutral mind allows you to step back rather than getting sucked into the drama.

This reservoir of calm, called the neutral mind, opens us up to our own intuition—that deep-rooted confidence and conviction that is quite outside of the senses. When our intuition is working, it is like a good radio antenna, which makes us more attuned to information that we don’t pick up through the noise of sense data.

The long, swollen pause is like Lao Tzu’s empty cup—it is that space which the universe can fill. The neutral mind is nonjudgmental. It listens without classifying or condemning. It has to, so that it can receive, rather than impose. And when it does, it’s like a trouble maker getting out of the way. That’s when a connection is made. That’s when the station is tuned in. That’s the state of no separation. That’s when we see through, to the other side of the words—the words that are so baffling: How could he say that??? That’s where we see the cry for help, attention, or  understanding—the true intention behind what is actually uttered (because, remember, people don’t always know how to say what they really want to say).

Finally, it is the neutral mind that is the bridge to reality itself, unfiltered by our triggers and reflexes, and all the story lines that give rise to them. It is pure and unspoiled by our criticism and preferences, and free of all the static that gets in the way of effective response and judgment. In short, it debars the reactive tendency.

As one of my teachers puts it, it is the neutral mind that allows us to see it and then un-see it. The pause is the way. But it takes courage because it means busting through what others expect of us, as well as our own old habits. But the rewards are well worth it because it is the key to effective communication.

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)

Yes, Yoga Is Wise!

I recently had lunch with a few old friends. While sharing our current goings-on, the fact that I teach Yoga was met with general interest: I would love to take Yoga…It seems so wise, one woman said.

Well, that’s an understatement, I thought! It is wise—but how? What does it mean to be wise? Something that is described as wise, conveys the suggestion that by practicing it, you’ll become privy to a better way of living.

Yoga is defined as a technology and set of practices that are employed to enable human beings to achieve Self-Realization. Will this Self-Realization lead one to a better way of living?

Firstly, what is Self-Realization?

It is a state in which one is profoundly aware of his/her true nature. And if that is vague it is because it has to be, for it is a state that must be experienced. According to Yogic traditions, it is a process by which one ceases to identify with the ego-self, and the sense of separateness that characterizes this ego-based, state of illusion, known to Yogis as maya.

And so, as for the first question, how this awakening may improve the quality of life, we must remember that this condition of maya is plagued by a roster of negative emotions, like fear, suspicion, envy and anger. Accordingly, a practice meant to bring us back to a realization of wholeness, and away from this false sense of separateness, would restore a feeling of inner peace, while removing the adverse emotions. If we can speak in terms of goals, we might say the ultimate goal is increasing the joy in our lives.

Of course, like any noble and worthy goal, true practice takes work, but as my dear teacher Gurudhan is wont to say, life without Yoga takes even more work.

This worthy goal involves the pacification of our thoughts, emotions and habituated reactions—nothing short of the management of the mind—that unruly, rebellious thing, that does not want to be managed. Yoga offers us various tools to help us do that. And the many diverse Yogic traditions emphasize different tools. Like trails that lead to the summit, all will lead you there. In my own practice of Kundalini Yoga, we make copious use of kriya, mudra, eye-focus, powerful breath work and mantra meditation, all of which are often enhanced by sound modalities.

In the language of Yoga, the process of awakening is just that—a process, meaning that on a subtle level, you start to approach life in a different way, relate to people through new perspectives, see through open eyes, perceive with a clearer, less reactive mind. Problems may not be interpreted as problems any longer, and when they are, you have the clarity and presence with which to approach them more skillfully. All of this results in a higher quality of life.

Yes, Yoga is wise!

Emotions Don’t Make a Man

Sometimes I receive notes from people I don’t know. Sometimes they ask me for advice, and sometimes I’m able to give it. Here is an (edited) version of a recent one.

Question from an unknown friend:

I have always read about “letting go…” and specifically about letting go of the ego. Isn’t this the purpose of Yoga and Buddhist practice? I think it sounds good but I wonder if it is healthy overall to let go of so much in life. Isn’t part of life just feeling good and acting upon emotions? Isn’t that part of a fulfilled life to accept those feelings? How do I know when I should allow feelings and emotions to exhibit themselves or not? I struggle with this immensely. I almost feel like ego is me and therefore only death would detach me from any thread of ego attachment. When I have an opinion – am I just supposed to suppress it? Thank you for your time.

————

My response:

Friend:

You said: ” Is not part of life just feeling and acting upon emotions? Isn’t that part of a fulfilled life to accept those feelings?”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could tell you, “Yes, you’re right, I guess that’s what life is for.” But I can’t be the one. You see, this very idea is what Yoga (and Buddhist practice) is there to correct.

The whole purpose of “having a practice” is to steady the mind. Yoga is about the mind, not the body. It is about managing your energy, your emotions and your thoughts, so that those emotions don’t manage and overwhelm you. It’s therefore about you managing you.

Imagine if we took your question (in quotes, above) and made it universal, which is to say, allowed for society at large to act on it as a sort of “rule.” The result would be exactly like the fourth grade school yard, where anytime anyone gets angry, they just stomp and scream and throw their toys at others. After all, they would simply be “acting on their emotions.”

But, here’s the thing. Society is actually like that. Most people have not learned to manage their emotions, have not evolved to where life is about anything other than their passing feelings, nor have they come to identify with any higher purpose of existence.

It’s all about “how I feel.”

And so, we have road rage, prozac, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, war, hatred, envy, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, emotional disorders, a never-before-seen number of learning disabilities, stress, tension, and political elections that resemble an afternoon at the local kindergarten.

When body, spirit and mind are in a state of balance, which is to say, at the very least, that the “negative mind” doesn’t govern, those emotions don’t seem so overwhelming and living becomes more peaceful. What does this have to do with “letting go?” We stop getting so caught up with those habitual thoughts that only keep us limited—judgment thoughts, self-deprecating thoughts, doubtful thoughts and resentful thoughts—the kinds of thoughts we don’t want to characterize our ideas of ourselves and others. Because our thoughts weave the fabric of who we are.

It’s as Yogi Bhajan once said, in his characteristically straightforward and slightly mischievous way, “it’s not emotions that prove you’re alive. The way to find that out is to check your nose. If the breath goes in and out, then you are still alive.”

You see, once we begin to quiet the spinning mind, once we begin to relate to that which is infinitely greater than our passing trifles, once we begin to become truly conscious beings, then we relate to those emotions differently. We learn not to define ourselves by them and they begin to lose their hold and power over us. We become more stable and more able!

Kind Wishes,
~Donna

Sensitivity; The Good Kind and the Bad Kind.

We all know someone who’s too easily hurt. It’s the kind of person who’s oversensitive and easily offended. Paramahansa Yogananda described this kind of person as “touchy.” When feeling offended, he or she tends to either bite back or sulk. Although the tendency stems from an inferiority complex, it ultimately lay rooted in an uncontrolled ego. Oversensitive people make themselves and everyone around them suffer needlessly.

So, then, why do Yogis constantly tell us we need to become “more sensitive?”

Because, you might say, there’s the good kind and the bad kind.

The bad kind, as found in the problem of touchiness, comes in the cargo bag of an untamed ego. Anything untamed is naturally lacking many refinements. In this case, sensitivity presents itself as an egoic perception. And perception is just that: perception. In this case, it is perception that is entirely lacking in the wisdom to see other people’s pain, as well as the many possible reasons behind their seemingly offensive behavior or words.

The good kind has to do with with what we refer to in Yoga as intuition. It is associated with the sixth energy center, appropriately called “the third eye,” since when open, it engenders a more pervasive view into the subtler aspects of existence. Downgraded in the Age of Enlightenment, through its dualistic opposition with reason—that most prized of human attributes—it was relegated to the sidelines and has been little understood in the west.

But, symbolized by the tilak markings and the bindi dots on the foreheads of the wandering holy seekers in India, it is looked upon there, as the seat of heightened awareness. Associated with the pituitary gland, it is the master control tower of the brain itself.  Rather than sitting in dualistic opposition to left-brained, rational function, it supersedes duality altogether. In its containment of all, it is the awakening of this eye that awakens the ability to see the unseen. It is what all the spiritual teachers mean when they assure you that you’ll know what to do. You can call it intuition, but you can also call it the “good kind of sensitive.”

Independence or Interdependence?

I am wearing beautiful cotton clothing stitched by sun-beaten hands in a faraway place where the Buddha was born. The dyes used to color them come from ground up plants and a broth of chemicals. The bright blue bag sitting next to me that holds my books comes from Germany and is made from old truck tarpaulins. As I write, I am sitting in an elevated wooden chair in my favorite coffee shop, with a steaming cup of tea within reach of one hand. The tea leaves are left to dry under a distant sun. Millions of trees are ground into pulp to make the disposable cup I drink from. Gigantic steel ships traverse the seas, every day of every year, to deliver these goods, leaving hundreds of miles of smoky, black trails in their wake. After crossing the invisible line of arbitrary borders, they are waved in to dock by the welcoming flag of good relations.

Is patriotism a symbol of a false sense of division? Does it reflect what we might think of as communal ego, that serves only to separate—as if we could? Do we find solace in it and a sense of belonging, security and community? Or is it through political obedience? Are either valid?

Imagine there’s no countries 
It isn’t hard to do 
Nothing to kill or die for 
And no religion too 
Imagine all the people 
Living life in peace 

You may say that I’m a dreamer 
But I’m not the only one 
I hope someday you’ll join us 
And the world will be as one …

~ John Lennon