When I found my way to the teachings of Buddhism, I was tired.
I was tired of my mind and tired of my ego. I was tired of suffering and being alone, even amongst people. I was sick of running, of living in fear of everyone and everything, of judging myself and everyone else. I was oppressed and enslaved by the tyrannical nature of my own ego.
And I was ready for a revolution. Something deep within my soul was calling for change. A voice was speaking that I could no longer ignore.
I was desperate enough to do anything suggested to me to find some peace. My comfort zone was failing me fast, and my life was burning to the ground around me.
I was on a precipice between life and death, and I needed to be rudely awakened.
These are some of the words that b*tch-slapped me in the face early on, and still frequently serve as powerful reminders for me as to how I want to live this existence.
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” ~Thích Nhất Hạnh
The first time I read these words, they hit me in the face like a ton of bricks. I was well into my spiritual journey by this point and had developed a sense of separation from my mind. I had found the place of observer of my thoughts, and I was gaining a lot of insights to my own patterns and behaviors.
When I read these words, I saw it. I saw how over the course of my life this was exactly what I’d been perpetuating. I stayed in suffering for years—the self imposed kind—all because I was too fearful to step into the unknown territory where I might fail.
The moment these words permeated my psyche, I connected with the great Thích Nhất Hạnh in a place of love and understanding. The knowledge that this great Buddhist master of loving-kindness and compassion understood how I felt blew my mind. It comforted me in ways which I had never known were possible. These words have become the driving force behind my desire to teach others that nothing grows in a comfort zone.
“The foundation of the Buddha’s teachings lies in compassion, and the reason for practicing the teachings is to wipe out the persistence of ego, the number-one enemy of compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama
Realizing that ego and compassion cannot be present at the same time was and continues to be an eye-opener for me. Like I mentioned earlier, I was sick of myself and sick of being lonely and judgmental. Realizing all of these feelings were being fueled by an overgrown ego opened my eyes to the possibility of another way of living. Studying and practicing new behaviors, which were contrary to ego, was a path I had never known was available to me.
In the beginning, I had to practice hard, and it was extremely uncomfortable. Compassion didn’t come naturally to me after the years of dark suffering which built up defensive walls of ego around my soft inner nature. I had to work at uncovering my inherent compassion which was buried under years of egoic bitterness. And now, having uncovered my goldmine of compassion, I can tell you this: It’s a hell of a lot nicer place to live than a world distorted by ego.
“Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~ Pema Chödrön
For me, this was, and remains, a straightforward reminder that I never have to be perfect. I just have to be present. I spent a long time in the prison of perfectionism, where I was ashamed of mistakes and flaws for fear of being unlovable. This belief causes much suffering because it forces us to deny and repress our own darkness. When we focus on others, and we only choose to see what we want to see, it is very easy to convince ourselves that everyone else has it all figured out. It seems as though they don’t struggle, they don’t have bad habits, and they have no darkness. This is false. It’s more nonsense created by the ego-mind, and perpetuated by society, to keep us disconnected.
It was when I faced my own demons, which I had been avoiding my whole life, and stared them in the face, that I realized the truth of the matter—without darkness light cannot exist, so if I want to celebrate my own inner light I must also accept with love and compassion my own inner darkness. With this acceptance naturally comes a connection with, and compassion for, others in their own darkness.
“The ego’s root feeling is that if I do not hold myself together there will be a falling apart into something chaotic and difficult. So there is anxiety, an energetic anxiety which is located in the body, in the whole energetic system of the body and interpersonal turbulence reminds us again and again ‘If I don’t keep it together, I will get in trouble’.” ~ Dalai Lama
Once again, as I read these words, I was overcome with the feeling of deep connection. I felt as though His Holiness was reading my mind, as though he was peering inside me, into the deepest parts of me, where I was constantly telling myself I must keep it together, or else. My upbringing perpetuated this false belief in that crying and meltdowns were not really tolerated in our house—keep it together, or else. There wasn’t a ton of emotional expression either. So my ego ran wild with the thought that “I must keep it together, or I will not be loved. I must have all the answers. I must not look weak.“
I lived under this idea for decades, which caused me so much pain and suffering, and I didn’t know any of it was self-inflicted. I was incapable of vulnerability due to this belief. Recognizing this as a universal trait of the ego has ushered me down the path of emotional freedom, to where I have found strength in vulnerability. Free from ego I now celebrate and embrace the messiness of our human experience.
“To end the bizarre tyranny of ego is why we take the spiritual path, but the resourcefulness of ego is almost infinite, and it can at every stage sabotage and pervert our desire to be free of it. The truth is simple, and the teachings are extremely clear; but I have seen again and again, with great sadness, that as soon as they begin to touch and move us, ego tries to complicate them, because it knows it is fundamentally threatened.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche
To end the bizarre tyranny of ego?! Yes! That was how I felt as I immersed myself in the teachings of Buddhism and Kriya Yoga. My ego had been tyrannical and I was officially revolting. For me, exploring the writings of these monks and hearing them discuss my problem of ego so freely and nonchalantly was like discovering buried treasure. I was like a kid in a candy shop reading words such as these. I finally discovered this place and this wisdom which showed me I was not alone in these battles! The tyrannical, destructive ego was not the hideous plague affecting only me as I had previously thought. It was in fact the plague of us all, and it was this realization which provided me with the biggest feeling of unity and relief I had felt in years.
Like Rinpoche says, I see when my ego is trying to complicate the simplistic teachings which I practice to remain free of its tyranny. This is a skill only honed through meditation practice and mindfulness. Practice keeps this skill sharp, thus I remain free. It’s now a game to me, a challenge to my competitive nature, to stay one step ahead of the skulking of my ego. I treat my ego as I would a wayward child who has just learned the art of manipulation. I embrace it with love, tolerance, humor, and compassion. Sometimes I entertain its whims, but deep down I know it’s always waiting to again gain the upper hand over my peace.
I do hope these words will be of benefit to you, dear readers, and I hope they find their way to those who need them, as they found their way to me when I needed them most.
Wherever you are, whatever you are dealing with, fear not. Take solace in the truth that you are never alone. The collective nature of all living beings is waiting for you to uncover your own inherent connection with all. It might be buried just under your ego, over there in the corner where the little voice in your mind is saying, “don’t look here.”
That’s exactly where you should look.
I would love to hear from you below about your ego experiences!
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/thierry ehrmann