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A few weeks ago, I was listening to an Eckhart Tolle clip titled “The Many Faces of Ego.”
In it, he gives a dissertation on the insidious manifestations of the false self that the majority of us mistake for who we are at our core.
During the discussion, I found myself feeling especially humbled after he mentioned that this mind-made “me” can even take on a more subtle tone when a person adopts a spiritual identity. This is me, I thought to myself. I tend to see myself as more conscious than many of the other people in my life, and often, I become judgmental of them for not being in tune, even when I don’t express those thoughts outright.
In my current relationship, for example, my ego tells me that I am more in tune with the ethereal dimensions of life than my girlfriend is. While I tend to be more of an introvert and appreciate spiritual teachings, she tends to be more sociable and practical in her thinking and approach to life. I see the world through a lens that enables me to appreciate things in a nonlinear way, and thus remain open to possibilities. She, on the other hand, prefers to focus on current events and doesn’t implicitly trust in too many things beyond what can be perceived through the five physical senses.
Admittedly, I find this disparity irritating at times, and I’m sure she does, too. We seem to work at opposite ends while shouting from across a fence in two distinct languages.
Although she has tried to listen to Eckhart Tolle at my request, she wouldn’t generally feel inclined to pick up a book of his on her own. There are moments when I find myself in a state of resistance and wishing she were more like me. However, she is not like me and that is okay. She sees and approaches things differently than I do and there is nothing wrong with her being more invested in the material world than the metaphysical one. She is allowed to be who she is just as much as I am.
However, as hard as I try to remind myself of this intrinsic right to be different, I nevertheless grapple with my own incorrigible ego which never fails to tell me otherwise.
One plausible explanation for this egoic identification is that, throughout my earliest years, I grew up believing I was a square peg trying to fit inside a round hole. I felt like an alien in the school system, a misfit among my family, and was bullied for several years because I seemed shy, anxious, and was neurodivergent. As a result, I struggled to make friends when I switched schools in fourth grade. This was largely due to social anxiety and low self-esteem.
I had already faced a few years of being bullied prior and believed that no one liked me and that I wasn’t beautiful, interesting, or even intelligent enough to make any meaningful or lasting connections. Often, I was too nervous to approach other kids because I was fearful of their rejection. Instead, I resolved to play alone as opposed to putting my heart on the line and getting hurt. I was a sensitive child, and unless I felt comfortable with someone or in any environment, I was often quiet.
To compensate for what I felt were these various quirks and the torrent of anxiety I felt, I relied on the richness of my own imagination and cultivated a deep faith in God. I believed that God would protect me, provide comfort, and see me through, no matter how chaotic I felt within. In fifth grade, I watched shows like, “Touched By An Angel” and penned biblical quotes in my diary. I can still recall thinking that if I ever told anyone I was interested in Jesus and his teachings, they would either make fun of me or disown me, or both. So, I internalized shame and swept my interest under the rug.
I now realize as an adult that there are millions of others who, just like me, grew up feeling like an outcast in their own neighborhood and seek deeper answers to profound questions. Eventually, I found a community that resonated with who I felt I was as a person, and from that point forward, I refined and eventually integrated my own spiritual leanings into my overall identity.
Currently, my impression that I am indeed a spiritual person boils with a mix of pride as well as a peculiar tinge of inferiority, both of which I know on an intrinsic level to be quite distorted. In my family, both of my parents have post-graduate degrees. Two of my mother’s siblings were engineers. No one in my immediate or extended line is particularly interested in personal growth or spiritualism. They’re all logical and analytic, sometimes to a fault.
Often, I join my palm to my forehead and gripe about how I think my parents and relatives see me as some kind of hippie. Unlike my mother and her siblings, all of whom were near perfect students, I struggled in the traditional school system, and as close as I am to her, there is a part of me that persistently feels like a grave disappointment to both her and my father.
Whatever unspoken expectations they had of me, to this very day, I can’t help but feel as though I did a poor job of fulfilling them. And as much as I try not to let it bother me, it still does to some extent.
Yet, I also see how my interest in personal growth has benefitted me. Compared to many people in my family, I am more than willing to meet myself and others with vulnerability. I am more in tune with my body and my emotions, which, while sometimes causes me pain, also has the capacity to incite an almost equally compelling joy.
I strive to live authentically and to break unhealthy patterns. I am also less fearful of the unknowns and will even meet them with excitement and curiosity. So, my ego identity is flavored with this complex dichotomy of inferiority and superiority. That is what I am now trying to remain conscious of in order to finally dissolve.
However I may see myself, though, last week, my peaceful and spiritual self-perception came crashing downward. All of a sudden, I found myself on the floor feeling oppressed by the weight of my fears. I was feeling stressed out about the book I am writing as well as about my plans for after I’ve finished the monumental project that is creating it.
Day after day, I felt tension in my body and could barely focus on my job at work. My head was cluttered with worried thoughts and all kinds of conflicting ideas. I was lost in a myriad of concerns. Not too long afterward, I began to berate myself for losing my inner calm and connection to the present moment.
Have I been doing all of this self-work for nothing? I sighed out loud. Why am I losing ground thinking about and planning for the future when the present moment is all that can feasibly be dealt with? I should be enjoying the process and the journey of the creation of this book rather than thinking about the arrival, which depletes my creativity.
Normally, when I feel any low-level stress, I go for a late-night drive with my girlfriend in order to get it out of the foreground. Driving for me is meditative and traveling helps me put many things into perspective. This time, however, I actually felt lonely—a feeling I am now vastly unfamiliar with since I’ve been on a self-love and awakening journey.
I couldn’t see my partner due to the fact that she had been exposed to someone with COVID-19, and I was, for the first time in a long time, feeling stuck.
In a sour mood, I sent her a text message expressing my frustration with the circumstances as well as with myself for feeling the way I was. “It isn’t supposed to be this way anymore,” I said to her. I’m generally fine on my own—I even welcome it. But lately, I’ve been feeling isolated and stressed. Maybe I’m not as spiritually evolved as I think I am.
“You’ve come so far in the last two years,” she faithfully reminded me. “I don’t know why you think all is lost simply because you’re having a tough time.”
“Part of being spiritually mature and awakened is accepting that life is imperfect,” I told her.
“But how can we be accepting if our primitive choices and reactions are human?” she asked me.
I responded, “Because those reactions are adaptive patterns that we’ve acquired throughout time in more primitive ages when we relied solely on survival, and therefore had to engage the ego. However, in order to bring forth a new earth, we must move beyond those patterns and embody a higher consciousness. The mind can only perceive duality and, subsequently, sees everything as either up or down, right or wrong, or good or bad. Ancient spiritual teachings have been asking us to transcend duality for ages and ages now.”
Eventually, as I was conversing with her regarding the caveat of the human mind and the importance of awareness, something within me began to drastically and spontaneously shift. No longer was I taking my thoughts far too seriously. I also felt the heaviness in my heart and belly lift. I had shifted my identity from the one who was worried to the one who was the watcher of the entity that was causing all of the worry.
Excitedly, I mentioned to my girlfriend that I was finally shifting into presence instead of getting lost in the content of my mind. In an instant, I was emancipated and my girlfriend was able to bear witness to the power of awareness and the miracle it brings—something she was previously skeptical of.
What could be more mutually beneficial? I thought. This is the beauty of having a conscious conversation, and truth be told, we can have one almost anywhere, with anyone, and at any time we choose.
That night, I learned two important lessons:
1. Awakening isn’t about defeating the ego.
For as long as we’re alive, that is never going to happen. Thinking is automatic, just like digestion. Instead, it is simply about allowing it to do what it is going to do best without getting sucked into the narratives it creates.
2. It’s okay to back track sometimes.
When you judge yourself, that is the ego coming through the back door. It is part of the human condition and hardly anyone is totally free from it. However, we can gently remind ourselves that we are the one noticing ourselves backtrack as opposed to the state itself.