We’re heading towards the inevitable—the end of 2015.
A new year awaits us on the other side.
You can almost smell it, the heady scent of the novel and fresh. None of us thought we would actually get here, but time, a juggernaut of ticking and forward motion, propelled us forward. And somehow, it’s hard not to be caught up in the promise of a new year—the notion that this time around things could be different.
New year. New start. New me.
The proverbial desire to establish New Year’s resolutions is inevitable. We’re even thinking about them now in early December. After all, this year’s a bust already, right? The final month will be a haze of boozy Christmas parties and decorations, not to mention the desperate consumeristic shuffle of gift giving. All things, which further denigrate our sense of worth and character, to be noted and ameliorated in the new year. Potentially through resolutions.
No matter how many times we’ve jotted down our resolutions before, whether literally, with pen and paper, or metaphorically, in our minds, we want to do it again. Surely, we tell ourselves, this time around will be different? Surely, our dialogue continues, we could stick to one or two of them?
Where is our will, our determination, our discipline, our true grit? Let’s evoke it now and get cracking!
We might enter into the new year with the bold intent of a matador in the ring, but by late February, the sequins on our Traje de luces are starting to drop off exponentially, and we’re about to droopily make our way out of the arena, conceding defeat.
Why do we keep at it?
Arguably, it’s now a residual part of our psyche; we have been doing it for thousands of years, starting with the Babylonians, who made promises to their Gods at the start of each year. Followed by the Romans, who similarly made “arrangements” with the God Janus, for whom the month of January is named after. Even the ancient Egyptians celebrated the advent of their new calendar during the Nile River’s annual flood, followed by promises made for the year to come.
The notion of atonement—repentance from the previous years’ actions—and reflection upon self-improvement on an annual basis is unfortunately inbuilt, seemingly innate to the western and eastern psyche.
So why is our subsequent spiral into resolution decline so rapid? If we’ve been making these resolutions for thousands of years, wouldn’t a few stick at the very least? It might not be the concept of the resolution that is an issue, but rather the content of those resolutions.
According to Nielson, we’re not too dissimilar when it comes to the resolution making. Here are the top ten for 2015:
1. Become fit and healthy.
2. Lose weight.
3. Enjoy life to the fullest.
4. Spend less, save more.
5. Spend more time with family and friends.
6. Get organized.
7. Will not make any resolutions (ironic, a non resolution being a resolution).
8. Learn something new / new hobby.
9. Travel more.
10. Read more.
We can all recognize some of those resolution offenders. They’ve all been on our list before. While the top few relate to our physical appearance, the next few culprits relate to enriching our lives and creating a more fulsome and rewarding life.
The problem is that the majority of these are just descriptors. By following them, you’ll become thin or strong, organized, well traveled, well-read, cetera. Not to say that they’re not noble pursuits, but ultimately they’re not who we really are. They’re just the ornate decorations on our otherwise bereft Christmas tree.
I propose that this January we instead place one sole resolution on the list, which ultimately strikes off the other ten we would usually scrawl down.
It should read:
Let your ego die.
Now before you close this article and sigh vehemently at that morbid statement, hear me out. I strongly believe that letting the ego die goes towards all the other resolutions you would have previously considered.
What is the ego? We often talk about it in wellness and spirituality, but rarely do we have a handle on it. The ego is the self, as defined by us. Since childhood we build up a picture of our real self. The people around us quickly work towards defining us; we’re told we’re pretty, ugly, thin, fat, funny, smart, silly, et cetera. These descriptors can be tangible and intangible. For example, you can look in the mirror and assess whether or not you are tall or short (tangible), but you can’t look in that very same mirror and garner whether you’re funny or humorless, kind or mean, loving or unloving (intangibles). As we grow older, this picture grows, assisted by the possessions we buy and the qualities they ascribe to us, and life experiences. By our teens we have a full-blown ego—the “I” in the equation. We can define that “I” in minute detail: what we like and dislike, who we are and who we are not.
But have you ever felt stuck by someone’s definition of you? Has anyone ever said to you, “Of course you would say that! I know you!” Have you ever wondered who is that “you” that they’re describing? And then quickly felt the sting of anger, the sense that you’ve been wrongly judged? You want to respond, “I’m not that person! I’m someone else altogether!”
The ego can be self defined or defined by others. At times in your life you will question even your own definition. Who are you today? Who were you yesterday, a year ago, or ten years ago? Who was that person?
The ego is impermanent, ephemeral and transitory; every moment there is a new you. In Awakening the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das tells us,
“As we meditate and delve more deeply into the subtle issues of the spirit, our self-concepts become very revealing. We begin to recognize the stories we tell ourselves for what they are: reflections of the fantasy self we construct and keep constructing, moment after moment. We start to see how this projected fantasy self, in turn, conditions and creates what we experience. Each of us becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, the proverbial accident waiting to happen. When we look around at the people we meet, it sometimes seems easy to this process at work; it’s more difficult to recognize how it is operating in our lives.”
By jettisoning your ego in 2016, you’re effectively removing all those labels that have held you back. You are not defined by your hair color, your weight, your relationships, your past or your possessions.
There is something so utterly liberating about releasing the ego, and yet it is also so frightening. You might want to clutch onto it; after all, you do like those blonde highlights you put in your hair recently, that car parked in your garage and the new purse you received as a Christmas present. In our materialistic, advertising-driven society, the notion of releasing the ego can be akin to striding down the main street naked.
All of those things, though, are impermanent, fake, constructed.
But how to jettison one’s ego?
It’s not as simple as putting out the trash on a Tuesday morning. None of us live in a Himalayan cave and can devote hours daily to meditating and letting go of the ego. As a student of Tibetan Buddhism and a meditation instructor, I would respond to take the mid-road. We all need to continue our lives, whether that be working nine to five, looking after kids or the elderly or however else you spend your twenty-four hours, so we need to find a way to incorporate the loss of ego into our lives in a user-friendly manner.
Here are some practical tips that most of us will be able to assimilate:
1. Observe the ego.
Awareness is half the battle. Who is the ego in your case? Objectively jot down descriptors about yourself. They might be: honest, kind, loyal, deceitful, forgetful, responsible, mother, father, daughter, son, worker, blonde, brunette, bald, tall, short, et cetera.
2. Workshop them.
This one isn’t for the fainthearted. If this is a very personal exercise for you, don’t workshop them, but if you are otherwise willing, it’s useful to discuss your described ego with a partner, a close friend or even a complete stranger. What do you think of this list of adjectives and nouns, is this me? This is an interesting approach, because you’ll discover that in many cases how you perceive your “self” to be is not how others perceive you. At this point you might choose to add more words to your list or remove some.
3. Bin them.
That’s right. Literally take a pair of scissors to your paper (or if you want to go all out you can rip them), cut up the words and put them in the bin. It’s a symbolic way of disposing of the ego. The ego is not tangible; it is figurative in nature, and this is a figurative gesture.
4. Try out the Chenresig mantra.
“Om Mani Pedme Hung.” It’s one of the most frequently learned mantras, and translates into, “The jewel is in the lotus.” This means that the jewels that we seek (through our other resolutions—whether it be being thin, being smart, being joyful, being close to God) lie within us, ready to be unlocked. This is the current Dalai Lama’s mantra, and the mantra for many Tibetans. You might like to write the mantra down, frame it, keep it on your bedside table, in the kitchen or in the garage, somewhere ordinary, where you spend a lot of your time. It will serve as a gentle reminder to practice the mantra daily.
5. Do something that is not you or your definition of you.
For example, if you would never approach your neighbors for a conversation because you don’t consider yourself to be friendly, do exactly that. Introduce yourself. See how it feels to do something, which is not within your usual definition of the self.
6. Remind yourself on a regular basis that you will die.
Morbid, I know, but important. It’s a constant reminder that we are completely and utterly ephemeral and transient, and will one day exit this stage. The reminder will serve not only to enrich your daily life, making you live every day to the fullest, but will also provide a gentle cue: You are not this body, this mind, these thoughts; you are, indeed, something far greater.
Overall, remember that reducing yourself to descriptors does no justice to your being. By moving away from our ego, we are ultimately connecting with our purest cosmic form, so much greater than our “self.” The labels we place on ourselves are just accessories. The ego is simply an accessory.
This 2016, take the challenge. Distance yourself from your ego, and see what richness that could bring to your life.
Author: Lisa Portolan
Apprentice Editor: Taija Jackson // Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Tommaso Meli/Flickr