Surfing the Rhythms of the Ego to Awakening
26 Jan 2013
THE EGO IS MISUNDERSTOOD by the spiritual movements. Many teachers, even those who are 'awake', regard the ego as as a constant reality-distorting psychological mechanism that blocks us from our true nature. From their perspective, we are stuck in ego until we see its illusory nature and then we are free from ego. But if you look closely, you will see that this view of the ego is incorrect. (Yes, even those who are awake can spout BS — an important lesson to learn for all of us!) The ego is not fixed in our lives but waxes and wanes in rhythm to the activities of our lives.
For example, Michael Langford writes in his book, 'The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss': "… the moment an awakened sage speaks, the ego in the listener begins to distort the teachings. Therefore, the distortion does not take time to begin. The distortion begins immediately." Is this really true? Unless we are awake, are we really totally stuck in ego? Of course not. Just being around someone who is not coming from ego can trigger a temporary softening of our ego, so that the sage's message gets through. Some might call that the power of human mirroring… others might refer to the audience being affected by the sage's energy. But whatever it is, when we are in the presence of an awakened being, it is much more difficult for us to stay in ego. That is why people have such unexpected emotions around enlightened people.
So the strength of our ego varies depending on who we are with and what situation we find ourselves, and it usually reaches a zenith in early adulthood and then, through life's experiences, often wanes. There are also variations of ego strength during the day: first thing in the morning our sense of self is often at its weakest — which is why we find it most difficult to communicate at that time. It then gathers strength over the course of the day (perhaps temporarily weakening after lunch when we often feel sleepy) and can be very strong towards the evening. And when we take alcohol or drugs, our ego strength can change considerably, usually decreasing, although drugs like cocaine can stimulate ego-function. Many substances, like alcohol for example, can have both ego-stimulating and ego-depressing effects depending on the context and time when it is taken. As egos require quite a bit of energy to keep them going, the more sleepy we are, the less vital we feel, the smaller the energy we have to maintain identity. This is why we are more suggestible when we are tired or asleep.
Sport has a great effect on ego. It can boost it in the short term, but when we get into the 'zone', egos can diminish substantially as our focus zeros in on our movement and coordination. Any endurance athlete will tell you that the exhaustion of hours of exercise puts us in a dream-like state where we forget who we are. And of course, reaching orgasm is a moment when our awareness and feelings swamp any notion of individual identity, as is any time we are facing serious danger (which is why extreme sports are so popular). And when we eat divine food or see beauty, our ego is diminished in our ecstasy.
So the ego is not only ephemeral, but it also fluctuates in time like a flickering bulb. Some people have experiences that permanently diminish its power, realigning the system to something other than personal identity. This is called waking up. But most of us cling fast to identity because it gives us an anchor to hold on to, a story by which to make sense of life's turns. And others of us cling to the identity of no-identity, because we want our cake and to eat it too.
If we were more aware of the rhythms of the ego, and how our sense of identity fluctuates from moment to moment, we would much more easily be able to step out of ego-identification. But it is precisely the spiritual dogma about fixed ego that blocks us from awakening, from the awareness of non-identity that we are actually experiencing at different times throughout the day. False ideas of ego are just as limiting as unawareness of the ego because both take us away from direct experience in the moment. If we can open our eyes to the ego's rhythms, and how those rhythms are affected by our lives from moment to moment, awakening is already there.