Monday, January 10, 2011

Don't Let the Ego Drive the Bus!-A guest post by author Gwendolyn Conover

foreword: Some months ago the author of this piece introduced me to Eckhart Tolle. It is just one of the ways keeping this blog has blessed and enriched my life. However, being that the concepts he introduces are both very dense and have a nebulous, ethereal quality, I kept failing in my attempts to write coherently about them. Enter Gwendolyn Conover. Here is my process in a nutshell:

1. Read book Wendy recommends (renewing four times to finish and emailing Wendy for help deciphering).
2. Become aware and blown away by how much ego is involved in my daily life.
3. Think that mayhaps I really can't make any of this stick. I try to write about it and fail, I try to apply it to my life and fail.
4. I have a slow and dawning realization through my writing and daily living that something is happening. Oh, slow, mindful, incremental progress. Damn....I was hoping for instant enlightmentment.
5. I read this piece and feel too sheepish to post what I wrote about ego because this is so much better. Like I said, the progress is slow and incremental.

I hope you enjoy learning about this as much as I have. Thank you so much guest author!
Sincerely,
Sister1

Gwendolyn Conover
Guest blog for “Hey Mothers, Let’s Be Sisters”

 

Don’t Let the Ego Drive the Bus!


You know about that persistent pigeon, don’t you?  The one in the picture book by Mo Willems? He’s a little bird who really wants to drive the bus, but you’re in charge, and you’re not supposed to let him.  So you keep telling him, “No!”  But every time you turn the page he tries again to persuade you.
All I ever learned in life I learned from children's books! For more cool life lessons check out the author's site. Photo from Amazon.
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Don’t you love that book?

Me too.  Oh, and my kids think it’s pretty fun also.  But what does that pesky pigeon have to do with—ego?

Well, what if I told you I’m convinced there’s a little bird inside your head that is more persuasive, more persistent, and quite a bit sneakier than our pigeon friend?  And not only does this bird want to drive your bus, most of the time he does! 

Beep, beep!  Ego at the wheel!


Okay, it’s not exactly a little bird, but your ego does insist on steering things inside your head.  And it’s sneaky like the pigeon: you’re probably not aware of its wily ways.  But you can become aware, and I am of the opinion that you should, because that little ego bird deals with something that feels central to your very being—nothing less than your personal identity or who you think you are! 

If you have read The Power of Now  or The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle you will recognize (I hope) the ideas about ego that I’m going to attempt to explain here.   Tolle writes about becoming aware of, understanding, and moving past the ego in terms of the journey towards spiritual enlightenment (although, oddly enough, he never mentions pigeons or anything about driving a bus).  While I don’t necessarily agree with or even pretend to understand all of his ideas, my current view of the world and the human mind in particular has been strongly influenced by his books.  If you want an idea of where I’m coming from before you read any more, here’s a sort of recipe:

Ingredients:
2 scoops of training in Counseling Psychology (strongly flavored with Cognitive Therapy)
1 huge pile of evidence that suggests there is a level of thinking we are not consciously aware of
A sprinkling of knowledge about biases in human thinking (the availability error or representative error  should do the trick)
A chunk of solid belief in the basic goodness of humankind

Gather all ingredients in your brain.  Now smack yourself in the head with Eckhart Tolle’s concept of an evolutionary leftover called ego.  Let the idea of ego soak slowly into the mix—do not be alarmed if the whole thing starts to bubble and fizz.  Stir it all up, slowly ruminating or shaking vigorously according to your mood for 1-2 years and . . . ping!  You come out thinking the human mind is a lot more complicated than you had realized; that the motivations behind our emotions and behaviors are not at all straight forward; and that Eckhart Tolle is right—it’s extremely important for us humans to move past that evolutionary leftover called ego.

Why do I think this?  Here’s an example that might help explain:

It’s errands day.  I’m pushing a grocery cart at my friendly neighborhood Giganto-Mart.  My four-year-old son is riding in the basket along with a week’s supply of frozen waffles.  I start to turn down the cereal aisle and there, mulling over the boxes of organic muesli, is an old high school classmate.  Someone I haven’t seen since the last day of high school nearly fifteen years ago.  I feel anxious.  I turn the cart around, moving to a different aisle before she notices me.

Okay, so for some reason I avoided a meeting with an old acquaintance, but . . . where’s the ego? 
It’s actually very active in this scene, but it’s difficult to spot because it’s working, as ego does, just beneath the surface of my awareness.  So ego is driving my bus, but I don’t notice it.  If that sounds weird to you, here’s the good news.  When you know how ego works you can start paying attention to it—you can become aware of it

So here’s the scene again, this time with me tuning in to my thoughts and perceptions.

It’s errands day at Ginganto-Mart, I see the old high school classmate, and:

I notice she has smooth, shiny hair.
I remember it has been three days since I shampooed.
I notice she is well-dressed.
I spy a large crusty area on my sweatshirt, and realize the spontaneous hug my son gave me five minutes ago was really a stealthy employment of the Mom-as-handkerchief tactic.
I have the thought, “She is attractive and well-off.”
I have the thought, “I am messy, undisciplined, and possibly smelly.”
I wonder, “Would she recognize me?”
I feel anxious.
I turn the cart around and decide to get the Honey Nut Cheerios later.

All this happens fast—within the time it takes to walk a few steps down the aisle.  That’s what makes it easy to miss.  But in this example, and in my real life every day, ego is influencing what I pay attention to, as well as my thoughts and my feelings.  It is driving my bus.

I pay attention to those things that are important in some way to my identity.  And because of the way our world works, looks factor in.  So I notice hair and clothing.  Ego also motivates me to do a self-scan and notice the crusty spot on my shirt.

After the gathering of the data via perceptions, ego is off to comparisons.  Ego is all about keeping score, and whatever is important to your personal identity is tallied.   She gets points for good hair and being a snazzy dresser.  I get demerits for less than stellar personal hygiene and a messy appearance. 

The thoughts I have show the results of the ego’s appraisal.  In this case the verdict is, “She is attractive and well-off,” and “I am messy, undisciplined, and possibly smelly.”  Now it’s easier to understand where the anxiety response came from, as well as the resulting behavior. 

The first time around in my example, I’m not aware of any thoughts.  I only clue in to the emotion, the anxiety.  This happens all the time, to me and most likely to you, too, because we humans have thoughts just below our conscious awareness.  In other words, we tell ourselves things that we are not consciously aware of.  If you want to try to catch yourself doing this, take a page from the Cognitive Therapy playbook.  When you become aware of a feeling, simply ask yourself, “What am I telling myself right now?”  This helps make some of your unconscious thoughts conscious.  In my opinion, being aware of more of your thoughts is a very helpful step in identifying the ego at work.  In fact, when I started paying attention, I was shocked by how much of my thinking, my actions, and my mood was influenced by ego, and the ego’s needs.

What are the ego’s needs?  I struggle with how to tell you everything I want to communicate about this topic without making this blog go on for miles.  Have I mentioned Eckhart Tollee?  If you really want to dig into this question take a crack at The Power of Now.  But for now, I will say that in my understanding and experience, what it really boils down to one need.  The ego needs to believe that you are “somebody” in the grand parade of life.  The ego needs to maintain your appearance in the eyes of others, because the ego worries that if you do not maintain your identity (whatever it is), you are nothing at all.

Go back to the cereal aisle example above. I can ask myself, what’s behind the thought “Would she recognize me?”  Maybe it’s a fear that I am not worth remembering, or that I have changed so much since high school as to be unrecognizable in my older form.  Did I matter in high school?  Do I matter now?  Maybe my special attention to personal appearance here is influenced by the past: memories of high school and adolescent insecurities may be activated.  Because in reality, my mind, and all of our minds, are a lot more complex than I can capture here.  But the main point I am trying to make is that it is all connected, and the ego is behind it.  When I ask myself why it matters if she looks attractive and well-off while I look messy, the answer lies in the fact that it matters only to my ego.  My personal identity is based partly on certain levels of attractiveness and successfulness, and in this situation when I am on the losing end, my ego feels diminished.  When my personal identity is diminished the ego fears I am diminished, because the ego completely overlooks one very, very important fact:

Who I am and my worth as a person actually has nothing to do with how I am perceived by others. 

Oh jeez, this is what your mom or dad told you in second grade, right?  But it’s true.  And if you really believed it, if your actions and thoughts were really based on this essential truth, you would be filled with a peace you have rarely, if ever, attained otherwise.

But we don’t believe it.  We are ruled by ego, and we think and act as though what really matters is appearances. 

Why do we do this?  Above I referred to ego as an evolutionary leftover.  That’s the part of Tolle’s thesis that really clicked on a light bulb for me.  Evolution of the ego.  If at some point our ancestors developed some kind of motivating force to compare themselves to those around them and to try to be better, it would have been advantageous in terms of survival. 

Cave man A feel good when he better than Cave man B!  Cave man A feel bad when he worse than Cave man B!  Cave man A try be better!
Evolution may or may not involve selling insurance.

And as we evolved and formed civilizations it was no doubt advantageous for a person to be able to gauge her place in the pecking order and strive to move up however she could. 

But it’s how you appear that matters in terms of snagging the best mate or assuring influence over others.  Being good without appearing good doesn’t win you any social or interpersonal advantage.

So I agree with Tolle’s assertion that the ego has helped us to become who we are today as humans.  And I am thankful for that.  But I also agree with him when he says it’s time to evolve again.  It’s time to move on.

The ego puts us in judgment mode because it bases your identity on competition with others.  There’s a scorecard, and whatever it is you value in yourself (smarts, looks, even being non-judgmental) is on it.  Also, as Tolle points out, the ego’s score-keeping is sort of like a running tally, and while it notices all the good points it also continuously picks up on the million and six ways that I appear less than someone else.  Because of this, the ego is inherently unsatisfied—and it needs constant feeding if it’s going to keep feeling good. 

That need for constant feeding means we want more, more, more, while we don’t care as much as we should or as consistently as we should, when others have less, less, less. 

What would happen if we dropped the judgment, the competition?  What would life on this planet be like?

There is so much more that has been and could be said about this, and I am sure that what I have said here is an imperfect representation of it.  So if, after slogging through this blog, you care to explore the idea of ego in writings far more profound than this, check out Eckhart Tolle’s books. 

And if nothing else, after reading this, maybe you can consider that we humans might have a way of thinking about ourselves and relating to others that has developed through the process of evolution.  Maybe you can even accept that this way of thinking and interacting could become so ingrained it is automatic, that it happens without our conscious awareness.  And maybe you will start to question if ego is active in your own thoughts and behaviors and if it is time to move past this way of thinking.

To me, questions are the best place to start.  What is your personal identity based on?  What thoughts are behind your feelings and actions?  Why do you care about the things you care about?

Or take a note from my seven-year-old daughter who likes to read over my shoulder and ask the deepest questions of them all:

“Mom, why is a waffle trying to drive the bus?”

Leggo my ego?  Hmm, that’s actually the whole point.  I am trying to leggo my ego. 
It’s a challenging task, but I’m working on it.  In the meantime, let’s talk.  I welcome your questions and comments.

26 comments:

  1. When I saw this entry was about ego, I immediately thought, “awesome, ego is so NOT a problem for me!” I mean, if anything, I’m on the low end of the ego spectrum because I struggle with self-esteem. Then I read these beautiful, insightful words, and determine that I most certainly have an ego problem.

    This is going to be a really shallow example, but one that illustrates the point well (in my opinion). How about how every woman in the world goes on a cleaning frenzy when company is coming? Even if we know someone is going to drop something off, we quickly pick things up so people don’t know how we really live…we are all trying to hide how we really live. It’s weird because we all live this way….oh sure, there are a few out there that always have a clean home, but not many. Most of us live in our houses, and it gets messy. Why do we try to hide that? We are all trying to live up to a standard that no one truly lives up to. I have often wondered how much more we would enjoy our friends and family if we didn’t dread their arrival because of all the work it requires.

    Ok, to something a little more profound that housekeeping…remember the whole tolerance thing? I can be more tolerant of those I don’t know because they are no threat to my ego. Duh! Why didn’t I see that before? If I judge them, then they can’t judge me, right? And even if they do judge me, it doesn’t matter because I’ve already judged them to be unworthy, so their opinion doesn’t matter.

    I tell my second-grader that other people’s opinions don’t matter every single day (who knew second grade was so difficult?), and maybe she doesn’t believe me because I don’t really believe it. And maybe I don’t believe it because it’s only partially true. Other people’s opinions really do sometimes matter. Sometimes they are the catalyst to start something in us….but why is it so hard to tell when it should matter and when it shouldn’t? Even the most mundane comment could potentially be the words that change your life one day. But, how do we choose?

    The truth of the matter is we are all good at different things, but we all want to be good (even the BEST) at everything—even if it’s not really applicable to our success or even our lives in general. I know I have limited my life in a number of different areas because I fear I won’t be good enough. The problem is, I probably would have been good enough, but I wouldn’t have been the best. Kristin Armstrong addresses this in her book, A Woman’s Guide to Grace beautifully. I’ll post an excerpt soon. Until then, I’ll be scolding myself for not being the best at recognizing how ego affects my life…

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  2. Hi Shellody! Thank you so much for your earnest and insightful comments.

    Your housekeeping example really resonates with me. The Panic-Clean! That I consistently employ this predictable behavior pattern became obvious to me one Saturday morning when I told my daughter “After breakfast we’re going to pick up and do some cleaning,” and she responded excitedly, “Yea! Who’s coming over?” Needless to say, she was pretty disappointed to learn that no one was coming over, we were just actually going to do some routine clean-ups that hadn’t been done since . . . well, the last time someone came over.

    The Panic-Clean, like most of the ego stuff, can be hard to let go of. For me, a good place to start was to become aware of it. You clearly have already done that. The next thing that has been helpful to me is something Eckhart Tolle calls “creating space” or “watching the thinker.” This is consistent with what some counselor and psychologist types call “being present.” To me, it basically boils down to 1) being aware at the moment that you are engaging in the Panic-Clean, that you are, in fact, engaging in the Panic-Clean and then 2) watching yourself do it. In other words, you observe your thoughts, your feelings, what your body is doing (feel the anxiety in your chest, etc) and you note it while it is happening. Maybe you note some automatic thoughts (this is a Cognitive Therapy thing, not a Tolle thing) like, “If she sees this mess she will think I’m lazy!” Don’t judge yourself for letting the ego drive the bus. Just see it happening when it’s happening. Doing this helps you take a step back, it helps you create distance between your self and your ego’s needs. Because they are not the same thing. You are not your ego. Really knowing this was an important step for me. And I think to really know it, you have to be present, watch the thinker, and by doing this, create some space between you and your ego. This brings up the question, who’s driving the bus if the ego is not? Or rather, if you’re not your ego, who the heck are you? The thing is, in my opinion, most of us don’t know. We are so wrapped up in the ego’s needs that we miss the opportunity to truly know ourselves.

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  6. OMG folks, operator error. So sorry for the trouble. Blogger sent the 2nd half of Wendy's response to SPAM and every time I tried to "fix" it I created these gaps. I am just going to copy and paste part II of the author's comments below. -Lesa

    2nd half of Gwendolyn Conover's response:
    This leads me to your question about how to know when the opinion of someone does matter. Good question. I will try to answer it in the way I understand it in my own life at present, in the hope that we can start a conversation here.

    No opinion or judgment, be it voiced or silently pronounced, matters in terms of who you are as a person. Your value is unchanged no matter what. I personally have come to a spiritual place with this in that I think, all of us, at our cores are not just good, but really, for lack of a better word, beautiful. Nothing that anyone can ever think or say about us can ever change that. Not even anything you yourself do or say can change that. At your core, you are always, always, untarnished good. Now, that does NOT mean that we always act out this goodness. Of course, humans are capable of acting in terrible ways. I am of the opinion that when they do this, their core of good remains unchanged. This is getting off on another topic perhaps, but goes along with the idea that sometimes other people’s opinions and perceptions of us can be very valuable in terms of creating insight for us. As you said, sometimes a person’s opinion can change your life in a wonderful way.

    The way I look at it is, in order to be able to tell the difference between the opinions we can use and those that are not helpful, you first have to be able to see around your ego. When you can get to a calmer place, a place that is at peace (in other words, a place without ego or with a lot less ego) you free up a ton of energy and attention. You can then use that energy and attention to employ your brain in other pursuits. Human brains are downright amazing in terms of their capacity to process information, to find connections, to understand and differentiate between the shades of gray. Is there truth in the opinion? What does the opinion really tell me? Is it valuable in some way to me? If so, how can I use it? When you can see past the ego, when you come at it from a place of peace, I think it is much easier to see which opinions you can use, which are really egos bouncing off each other, and which fall somewhere in between.

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  7. This is going to strictly be an excerpt from the book I mentioned in my original post....my brain is too tired to respond to Gwendolyn this evening. I haven't had a chance to compose my thoughts yet :)

    Again, this is from Kristin Armstrong's (Lance Armstrong's ex) Work in Progress, An Unfinished Woman's Guide to Grace. The following comes from the chapter entitled Confidence, which is actually several pages long.

    Every single person (and I hate to upset you if you haven't been to this place yet) will get to a place where every skill and every effort is absolutely useless. If suddenly you find a lump in your breast, your spouse says he never loves you, you get fired from your job, your child is seriously ill or injured, what then?....I'll tell you what then. Every tactic you have ever employed and every skill that you have ever mastered will get you nowhere except deeper into your own misery. This is frightening, yes, but it is also a moment of sublime liberation. When you realize that you aren't perfect, never even had a chance to be, you can finally exhale and start the arduous, dignified task of learning how to be good enough.

    Once we realize that we are purposely limited by time and talent, we can more graciously give from what we have.

    Strivers are people who endlessly struggle for perfection and end up with far less than good enough. Good enough is like being able to stop eating before you are bloated, or stop betting when you are ahead, or coming in from the sun before you are burned. A nice meal, a little cash, and a slight suntan are all good things. Good enough in fact. But heartburn, poverty and skin cancer? Well, not so much.

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  8. Wow, wow, and wow. I tip my hat to this beautifully and eloquently written post (and the comments following it as well). My initial reaction when I saw the subject was a lot like Shellody described her reaction to be. When someone says the word "Ego", I automatically conjure up an image of a gym-rat in a muscle Tee with ginormous biceps who can't get enough of watching himself lift weights in the mirror. This post has forced me to admit that I, low self esteem Tara, have one bigass monster of an ego. Really that explains WHY I have low self esteem--my ego bullies me into it. I've never felt more motivated to change than I do right now. My problem is not that I need to commit to Weight Watchers. My problem is that I have not committed to Ego Watchers.

    Reading this post, as well as Shellody's comments about being "good enough" and our Guest Blogger's comments about finding that place of peace within...all I can say is that is powerful stuff. There is no amount of earthly rewards that could ever compare with contentment itself.

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  9. Psst, Taratart...get the book, you'll love it!

    And yes, that bully of an ego is a big part of my self-esteem issues as well. I struggle with my weight, and part of the problem is likely that being a perfectionist makes me an all-or-nothing type of person. So, when I decide to lose weight, I commit to a change in lifestyle. The problem is if I don't stick to my new lifestyle for even one meal, I give up. If I could just know/accept/embrace that screwing up one meal is still "good enough" I would make progress in my weight loss goals.

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  10. I haven't wanted to butt into this guest post, but I just have to join the conversation. Shellody-the question you in your first post was much like the one I posed to Gwendolyn in an email. "Other people’s opinions really do sometimes matter... why is it so hard to tell when it should matter and when it shouldn’t?" I now find that when I am not sure if a comment, relationship, offense, affront, etc needs to be considered I simply ask myself, "is this my ego?" it is a simple question and I have been blown away at how often I give myself a very clear answer. If the answer is yes, I move on and let it go. If the answer feels like more I have an honest conversation with myself and maybe the person. It has been life-changing. The advice to the "be the observer" has given me some clear instruction and really helped me cue into ego. The thing I like best about it is that all I have to do is notice. I just notice it--I don't need to perseverate on it or build a house on the foundation of a feeling or reaction.

    Sis, your comment on the gym rat made me chuckle, I always thought of ego as huge self esteem--I see it so much differently now. For me it primarily presents as getting defensive. I can cue into the physical and emotional feeling and identify it pretty quickly now. Most of the time.

    I loved the book excerpt that you provided Shellody. Every time I run a race I ask myself "why I am doing this?", I will never even place in a local race. But look at those people placing in the local races, they are not Olympic bound. At some point, we have to decide why we are doing the things we love and know that they are worthy even if they aren't THE BEST. All or nothing thinking is actually a huge sign mental dysfunction and I think the ego pushes us into it all the time. But not anymore! It's a movement sisters!

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  11. What a great conversation!

    I was reading your comments and thinking about how food can get all wrapped up in the ego’s mess. When I first read The Power of Now, I started to become aware that at times I used food to fill that unsatisfied feeling I get when ego is driving the bus. Eating can be a lot of things, but for me it was a kind of escape. A way to manufacture some pleasure that, at least for a few minutes, seemed to block out the anxiety or the unsatisfied feeling that ego’s constant score-keeping left me with. That’s why they call it comfort food, right? But it’s not a real comfort, of course—there’s no lasting peace in eating chocolate ice cream (sadly, this is true even when you put hot fudge on top). And, for me, it was all a cycle. The eating was an attempt to try to fill a hole, but it actually just added to the ego’s gripes and left me wanting more. But I never really knew how to make a lasting change until I started to think of things in terms of Tolle’s ideas. The key for me was “being present” as described above. This is the key to all of it, really, if you read Tolle. It is the power of The Now, as he calls it. Being present or “awake” to the present moment—doing that has a kind of healing quality to it that I can’t quite pin down with words. Again, it’s NOT about judging yourself or finding out all the things you’re doing wrong. It’s just being there in the moment, watching it happen, and creating some space. It's about knowing that you are not your ego or what your ego is trying to tell you to be. What you are goes so much deeper than that.

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  12. Part 1...
    What an interesting discussion, as always. While I've not read any of Mr. Tolle's books, I can identify several similarities with some of my own recent spiritual revelations. I preface my sharing by first agreeing with Guest Sister GC that questions are a great place to start. Should we begin to think we have it all figured out, I would venture to say, the waffle is driving the bus.

    There's a wonderful book I've been snacking my way through over the past several years called Battlefield of the Mind, by Joyce Meyers. The mind sure seems to be where much of the action happens. From the biblical perspective that rings true to me, there appear to be three forces that would hold us back from experiencing and living out of our true spiritual connection: 1) ourselves (ego, flesh-state, etc.); 2) the world, culture, need for approval/follower instincts; and 3) fallen angels. Now perhaps I had you at one and two and lost you at three, but if that's the case, I challenge your ego to suspend its disbelief and hang with me a bit longer.

    If it were only ego that were at play and self-awareness were the key to enlightenment, I'm afraid we'd be stuck in a loop. In my personal experience, the process of striving to become self-aware has led to further self-focus. Awareness can be a good learning tool, but if I stay there I'm still focused on ME and why I behave the way I do and what I might do to change myself.

    I believe the true challenge of the ego is getting past ourselves and accepting that our quest is not so much about defining and revising our shape as a piece of the puzzle... it's so much bigger than that. We already fit; we were designed to fit. Living by faith, believing in truths we cannot see, absolutely challenges our ego and the more we try to figure these things out by reason, the farther from the truth we drift.

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  13. Part 2...

    Imagine if the bible is true, that there is an unseen God who created us; that He did not intend us to be an army of mindless robots that blindly followed and worshiped Him, but creatures of free will who may choose to accept or reject His love; that He was opposed by 1/3 of the angels and their leader who desired to be worshiped themselves and that battle affects us; that He gave up His rights as God to become man, live among us for a time and experience unthinkable ridicule and torture for the sakes of those who would believe, that He defeated death and any who would oppose Him; that there is an eternity laid out before us and where we wind up is completely our choice. Imagine. Our egos most certainly reject this idea because, much like the fallen angels, we have a fallen nature that desires to be in control. And, helped along by the enemy (through the power of suggestion), our egos and our culture of cafeteria spirituality are in direct opposition of believing in and following Christ. He is said to be the rock upon which everything is built, but upon which many will stumble.

    None of this is to disagree with anything that's been said, it's just taking that next step--living, as Lesa alluded to, "above time," in the present moment, beyond ourselves, connected to the whole, that is, in union with God.

    Practically speaking, what does this look like as we live our daily lives? The ego and our enemy is strong and every day I must battle, I haven't found it getting any easier yet, in fact sometimes it gets more difficult as the opposition heats up. But I do grow more certain and faith is my strength and protection. I can live each day knowing no matter what happens, that I am unfailingly loved (a supernatural love which satisfies the core of my soul) and that the big picture is what's really important (should the minutiae of life seem in the present overwhelming, depressing or otherwise negative). I live with hope. This hope is beautiful, transcendent. It flows from my connection to my Source, where as my ego cuts me off and isolates me in independence.

    If you are still reading, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share these thoughts that are so real and true and life-altering to me. They haven't come overnight, but over a multi-decade pursuit of truth. It isn't easy to openly share faith in our culture and it's even more difficult to do so in a way that doesn't offend, given the state of our egos. And I so appreciate the open minds and hearts of the followers of Lesa's beautiful blog... a mommy discussion that dares to go beyond cloth diapers and organic food.

    I'd like to end with a holiday-fitting quote by MLK: "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

    Motherhood is no exception. These truths that we mine for, polish for clarity and pass on to our children are the fruit of our labor.

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  14. Imagine if the bible is true, that there is an unseen God who created us; that He did not intend us to be an army of mindless robots that blindly followed and worshiped Him, but creatures of free will who may choose to accept or reject His love; that He was opposed by 1/3 of the angels and their leader who desired to be worshiped themselves and that battle affects us; that He gave up His rights as God to become man, live among us for a time and experience unthinkable ridicule and torture for the sakes of those who would believe, that He defeated death and any who would oppose Him; that there is an eternity laid out before us and where we wind up is completely our choice. Imagine. Our egos most certainly reject this idea because, much like the fallen angels, we have a fallen nature that desires to be in control. And, helped along by the enemy (through the power of suggestion), our egos and our culture of cafeteria spirituality are in direct opposition of believing in and following Christ. He is said to be the rock upon which everything is built, but upon which many will stumble.

    None of this is to disagree with anything that's been said, it's just taking that next step--living, as Lesa alluded to, "above time," in the present moment, beyond ourselves, connected to the whole, that is, in union with God.

    Practically speaking, what does this look like as we live our daily lives? The ego and our enemy is strong and every day I must battle, I haven't found it getting any easier yet, in fact sometimes it gets more difficult as the opposition heats up. But I do grow more certain and faith is my strength and protection. I can live each day knowing no matter what happens, that I am unfailingly loved (a supernatural love which satisfies the core of my soul) and that the big picture is what's really important (should the minutiae of life seem in the present overwhelming, depressing or otherwise negative). I live with hope. This hope is beautiful, transcendent. It flows from my connection to my Source, where as my ego cuts me off and isolates me in independence.

    If you are still reading, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share these thoughts that are so real and true and life-altering to me. They haven't come overnight, but over a multi-decade pursuit of truth. It isn't easy to openly share faith in our culture and it's even more difficult to do so in a way that doesn't offend, given the state of our egos. And I so appreciate the open minds and hearts of the followers of Lesa's beautiful blog... a mommy discussion that dares to go beyond cloth diapers and organic food.

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  15. Sorry for the double post... I received an error message saying it was too long. Guess the program changed it's mind. :)

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  16. Anj,
    Thank you as always for beautiful and much appreciated perspective. I read Tolle's book and while there are a few thoughts that would likely offend a traditional Christian I was blown away at how much parallel there was to Christ's teaching and the Bible, in fact he quotes Jesus many times throughout the book. I was also reminded of in his work of a seminal and pioneering therapist, Murray Bowen. The unifying arc of these teachings all go back to "the Source" that you speak of. When one is living with the belief and knowledge that they are made in the image of the divine and supremely loved, as well as being edified with the guidance and teachings of daily spiritual practice; I truly believe that evils you speak of (culture, ego etc) are infinitely more easily mastered. Living strictly for oneself and not putting oneself in a greater context is a sure receipt for a runaway ego and an empty life.

    I hope my guest author is still out there and will add her words to this piece of the conversation but I do want to put in a plug for Anj's blog. When I see a new post, I get so excited...sort of like when I realize I have an episode of Glee on my dvr, only better. Regardless of your personal beliefs the writing is beautiful and the wisdom heady and immensely applicable for day to day life. http://www.butevenif.com/
    Thank you Anj!

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  17. Thanks for the plug Lesa! I'm actually taking a break from regular posting to devote more time to finishing the book I began several years ago. I may still feel inspired to post randomly, but just taking it day-by-day.

    Ah, Glee. Saw the pilot and so wanted to watch it, but couldn't talk hubby into it. Catching up via marathon on a cold winter day is on my loose list of "perhaps one day."

    Thanks again to you and those who post such thoughtful comments in this space. :)

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  18. Hi Anj! Thank you for your comments! Before I try to add to the conversation, I should clarify at least one point. That is, in Tolle’s works, overcoming ego is just one part of the whole enlightenment enchilada. As the title “The Power of Now” suggests, Tolle points to what he terms the Now as the key. The ego can’t survive when you enter the Now or are truly present. But trying to talk about it from the point of the Now and getting to the ego stuff proved really difficult for me when I was writing. I seriously sometimes have a sensation not unlike trying to stretch something with limited stretch (that would be my brain) around something really big (that would be Tolle’s ideas) when I’m reading his books or thinking about his ideas. So in my post, I narrowed down what I would present to just the piece on ego. Perhaps because of my background in psychology, this was the piece that grabbed me most when I first read it, and it seemed like a natural access point. I hoped those who hadn’t read the books might find just enough in the blog to motivate them to seek out Tolle’s teachings if it rang true for them.

    Growing in self-awareness—that part may have more to do with me putting my own counselor-ish spin on things, or trying to articulate what has happened to me through the process of trying to connect with the Now. By trying to create some space as described above, I have watched myself more, and come to a different understanding than I had before I read Tolle’s works and tried to employ his ideas. I don’t think Tolle directly advises “growing in self-awareness” and I know he doesn’t offer that as the goal of his teachings. But for me, that’s what’s happening in the process.

    You make an excellent point that ego can sneak in the back door when you’re working on this stuff. Absolutely! It is so sneaky. If I am trying to be more self-aware so I can be more enlightened than the next guy on my scorecard, then that is ego. I can ask myself, do I feel superior? Do I gain satisfaction from “correcting” what I deem other’s mistakes in my mind? If I do, then ego has snuck in again, and I need to see it and feel it happening so I can take a step away from it.

    I think it would be consistent with Tolle’s writings to say that it is most important to work on your own level of consciousness first. I think I agree that if you have not focused on yourself and gotten some space from ego, most everything you do will be influenced by it. Even acts that I see as “self-less” or “for others” are ultimately wrapped up in my ego if I haven’t made an attempt to break the ties and interfere in the ego’s rule.

    My experience of the world may be different than yours, and maybe we choose to follow a different path, but I feel like we’re headed in the same direction. Ever had one of those WOW moments where the love you feel for your child nearly knocks you off your feet? The first time I heard my son laugh was one of these for me. One thing I have taken from Tolle is a belief that those moments, where your brain is literally stunned into silence by the pure connection that you feel, are glimpses into the true state of things. I believe we share that kind of bond not only with our kids, but with every other soul on the planet. It is there. We just have to uncover it.

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  19. Wendy (and anyone still reading this thread),
    I almost just emailed you privately but thought we might as well keep the conversation going. Some events that have recently unfolded have me struggling to integrate a few of the concepts we have been discussing here. I totally get when I feel that someone is "better" than me or dismissive and/or attacking of me or an idea that my ego perceives that as a threat. I feel slighted, defensive or another array of feelings I have come to identify as my ego. That all makes a ton of sense to me and has been really useful.

    What I am less sure about is how and why my ego would be involved in matters of the low self esteem department. I get that ego isn't the gym rat in the muscle tee with an over-inflated sense of self importance, it is more insidious and pesky than that. But I still struggle to understand how and why my ego would be involved in actively making myself feel bad. I tend to self flagellate with painful memories and look for evidence that I am not really worthy or acceptable. (sometimes-it is not like I do this all the time-my ego wanted me to give that disclaimer). Again, I feel certain that my ego is implicated in these curious and self-defeating actions, but am not sure how. If its primary agenda is survival and contributing to the sense of self...feeding itself--how and why do things like berating oneself factor in? I desperately hope that makes some sense...I would love to get some thoughts on this. Thank you!

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  20. What you’ve said makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s very common and there are or could be several factors involved. I'm going to attempt to explain my understanding at present of the issues you've described.

    The bad feelings ego gives you (shame, embarrassment, feelings of self-loathing) are the ego’s misguided attempt to help you stay on top. When I say this, I mean “stay on top” according to the ego’s scorecard. Those feelings are kind of like the ego’s motivators. You did x, and x went against ego’s needs, so now you feel bad (embarrassed, anxious, etc.), so don’t do it again! This is your ego trying to motivate your future behavior.

    There is also Tolle’s idea that sometimes the identity you take on and are trying to defend includes being a person who is undervalued or unappreciated. Tolle gives an example of “the victim” as an identity some people take on. Sadly, they engage in self-defeating behaviors and latch on to every shred of evidence that someone has wronged them to add credence to this identity. I believe there can be many different reasons why this actually seems to be a natural identity for some people to assume given their experiences in life. But I think the truth is, we all feel satisfaction from being the victim sometimes. I’ve noticed there’s satisfaction behind it because in a weird way, being the victim makes me feel superior. As in, “look how bad that person is because they’ve made me feel this way.” This is totally twisted, but I have watched myself get a surge of ego-satisfaction when I’m the victim because I feel that I am better than the person who’s wronged me.


    I think the fact that we ruminate on these things, replaying them over and over in our minds might have to do with what some neuropsych types would call the default mode. Just to be clear, this is my own extrapolation on Tolle’s ideas—he doesn’t mention this specifically to my memory. But we know that we have a problem-solving mode that our brains go into automatically, often during repetitive activities or activities that leave us with attention to spare. I know I’ve watched myself go into this mode a lot when I’m folding laundry, doing dishes, or getting ready in the morning. So the ego has identified “the problem” for you and your brain goes to work on “solving it.” To me, the default mode seems like another example of evolutionary leftovers that undoubtedly worked well a long time ago in terms of survival, but that now are mostly dysfunctional. The kinds of problems have changed, and replaying the ego’s kinds of “problems” don’t help you solve them. If this rings true for you, check out this article from MSN Health. I liked it so much I bookmarked it. I believe it is amazingly consistent with Tolle’s teachings about the Now.

    http://health.msn.com/health-topics/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100266975&OCID=eml_msnnl_6005&REFCD=emmsnnl_6005

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  21. I'm sure someone else can say this far more eloquently than I...but for me, it's because I don't ever live up to what my ego thinks my sense of self is, or what "it" wants others to think I am.

    My ego thinks I'm super rad...I don't make mistakes (or they are totally understandable if I do), I'm very tolerant and accepting, I'm an all around cool gal. But when another part of me sees that I do make mistakes, that I'm not all that accepting and tolerant all the time, etc, I can't reconcile my ego's sense of self with the real thing. It's like trying to balance a checkbook, and it just won't balance.

    My ego can't see/understand/accept that you can be super rad, but not perfect.

    I'm not sure any of this makes sense...maybe you can read it, make sense of it, and then restate it so it does.

    Feel free to ask more questions, and perhaps the conversation will eventually answer our questions.

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  22. I am going to have to look at this article and let both of these responses gestate a while. I have to say (and I could be totally wrong here) that the victim thing makes a lot of sense for much of what I have seen professionally, however it doesn't seem to exactly fit or resonate with me personally. And Shel, your super-rad check book thing is both funny and apt. I can see that too, it is just that my ego does not seem to have that deep, abiding belief in my super-radness. Rather, at my core, I fear that, in fact, I am NOT super-rad anyone who sees that is pretty much right on. I don't want to be overly dramatic here, it is not like my self concept is in the toilet all the time, not at all--it is just that at certain moments in time (ie when painful memories come up or I experiencing something as rejection). And in these instance, my ego doesn't rise up, but rather just sort of 2nds the emotion. I think MANY people struggle with feelings of shame and worthiness and I am convinced that ego is a piece of the puzzle in a way that is unique and personal to each of these individuals.

    As I am reading and re-reading it does seem that the piece that fits the best for me is the ego trying to self regulate (albeit with a faulty mechanism). Like, ensuring you never do x thing again. If I never make a mistake or social faux pas then I will be liked and accepted-which IS all about ego. I suppose if it wasn't then I would trust my inherent goodness/worthiness and not to be too troubled and more likely to view myself with compassion and forgiveness. Hmmmm, I will keep working on this and thinking on your responses. Thanks ladies!

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  23. Guest Sister GC / WendyJanuary 24, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    In reading your most recent comments, it strikes me that the belief you describe is the belief that’s at the bottom of all the ego stuff. That you are the sum-total of how you've been percieved. You aren't anything more than that according to ego. For me, this was where it started to go from the psychological to the spiritual. Maybe this is not where you are with it, but just wanted to share that thought.

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  24. I really do think it is all falling into place. I was struggling to the see the relationship or connection, when in fact, it is the essence of the whole thing. We are hard-wired to care about perception for all the reasons you spoke to you, but it doesn't honor our essential nature or innate divinity. I see something that will take this from being logistically useful to spiritual (to borrow your phrasing). I am also getting into the research of Dr. Brene Brown (see the post "No Shame on You) and there is a lot of correlation between these ideas shame (her area of research) and that of the ego. I had a feeling to stay with it and keep picking everyone's brain until it became more illuminated. Thanks ladies! And if you are interested here is Dr. Brown's blog address: http://www.ordinarycourage.com/

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  25. My ego doesn't think I'm super rad either...but it thinks I SHOULD be super rad. It's this whole conflict that causes the...well, uh, conflict!

    I know I understand what I mean, but I don't think I can explain it. It's like trigonometry...

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  26. Trigonometry...now there was a real ego bruiser for me! I went to a mental health conference where we talked about the "should" messages we all have. We talked about our belief system and what messages we gave ourselves over and over. Then for each one we found the "should" behind it. Like one of mine was "I must connect with every kid I work with." The belief behind it was really, "I should be able to dramatically change the life of each child I come into contact with." We all did this exercise and it was pretty powerful. You do begin to the see conflict we create, the paradoxes and impossibilities that is the way with absolutes. When laid out so simply however they became a lot less powerful and conflicting and you could really see the absurdity in the mandates we give ourselves. Of course the guy's message was, "don't should on yourself." Words to live by!

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