Sunday, July 24, 2011

The hidden power of ego

In the course of a single day we may wear different hats, that of a father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister, employee or boss etc. Our thinking and emotional output corresponds with the the roles we play. A common thread underlying all our experiences is our sense of individuality. This sense of individuality can also be referred to as the ego or “I”. We carry this distinct stamp of individuality as long as we live. The joys and sorrows we experience in life are due to our identification with this attribute.

This sense of individuality or separateness pervades our entire being along an axis linking our inner conscience, our will power, the mind and the senses. It manifests itself at each level in this axis when we refer to it as my conscience, my will, my mind and my eyes and ears etc. In this hierarchy, the senses are the least powerful and the inner conscience is the most powerful. The senses by themselves are powerless. They just transmit data to the brain and the mind. The mind is more powerful than the senses. The senses do not have the power to discriminate between good and bad impulses. The mind has to do that and direct the senses in the right direction. The mind in turn is less powerful than the power of the individual will. Using your will power you can direct the mind towards what is good for you and others. If the mind and senses are quiet, your will power develops. With strong will power you can manifest the beneficial attributes of your inner conscience such as truthfulness, love and compassion.

Ego or individuality by itself is a neutral entity. It is neither good or bad. It comes alive when we associate it with the senses, mind, will power or the inner conscience. Ego is like a shadow. It follows you as you navigate from from the plane of the senses to the transforming qualities of your conscience. A pen in the hands of a child may be used to scribble on a piece of paper. The same pen may be used by the Head of State to sign an important document into law. You ultimately have the power to express your individuality at the senses, mind, will and conscience. Living in the world of the senses is like a child scribbling on a piece of paper. Going beyond the mind and the senses and aiming for inner transformation is like wielding a pen that can change the destiny of many. Only a few achieve that position among millions. Most of the negative connotations related to ego comes from our association with it at the level of the mind.

The mind is full of likes and dislikes, some of which are very prominent and end up guiding the senses in a positive or not so positive direction. When ego is strongly identified with the mind, you eventually become one with the desires stored in the mind. In this manner the mind takes control and leads you down a path of trying to fulfil one desire after another. This is where emotions such as temporary happiness, sorrow, anger, jealousy and envy start to take root. Any one material object can produce all these emotions. For example, you desire a certain lifestyle. If you are able to attain it, you feel a sense of happiness. If that is taken away from you, it can result in sorrow if you are strongly identified with that lifestyle. If there is an obstruction in fulfilling the same desire, it can manifest inside you as anger. Finally, if someone you know is living the lifestyle you have always dreamed about and you cannot get there for whatever reason, it promotes envy and jealousy. Expressing your individuality or ego at the level of the mind results in an active process that ends up changing your thoughts, ambitions, desires and eventually your personality. The words and actions that result from this process can affect yourself and people around you. When others perceive this as self-serving, you are considered “egotistical”.

One can also express one’s individuality a step lower down from the mind at the level of the senses. This results in living at the plane of the senses, grossly identifying with the needs and comforts of the body and nothing else. Expressing your ego or individuality at the level of the mind and the senses is the cause of the ups and downs we see and experience in life. While these experiences can make life colorful and help you get you through it, it does not have the power to transform you.

The transforming power of your individuality or ego becomes apparent when you express it at the level of your inner conscience. Our conscience or inner voice will always guide us along the right path, provided we are sure we are listening to it and not something else such as the mind. The mind can sometimes fool you into thinking that you are listening to your conscience when in fact you are being cleverly taken back to the mind. There are numerous techniques of mind control that can help you develop sufficient power of discrimination that helps you identify if this is happening or not.

At the level of the inner conscience, you can then access deeper layers of awareness that helps you look beyond the world of the senses that limits you to the body and the world of the mind that limits you to your likes and dislikes. Here the ego becomes a motivating factor that can elevate you from being a mere human. It becomes an aid and a catalyst rather than a hindrance. Some of the foundations of this inner transformation are truth, love and compassion. At this point the will power comes in handy as the mind does not easily give into allowing you to manifest these transforming qualities. The mind give you a million and one reasons why you should follow the mind and nothing else. You can overcome this mental hurdle with your will.  If you walk through life using truth and compassion as your two legs there is no situation where you will experience unhappiness or regret.

The road to your inner conscience and will goes through the senses and the mind. Everything you see or hear with your eyes and ears is processed in your mind using thoughts that are running in the background. For instance, as you are reading this blog, your mind may be processing this information with background thoughts such as how can I apply this in my life, what motivated the author to write this, etc. How does one disconnect the senses from the mind? One option is to close your eyes and ears. This only amplifies the thoughts in one’s mind rather then make it quiet. Controlling the mind and thoughts is also difficult. Suppressing one thought makes another more prominent. It is like squeezing a balloon full of air. Squeeze one part and the other part pops out.

Here is a suggested exercise to help you quieten the pull of the mind and senses. Choose a quiet place such as a park where you can easily observe natural beauty. While walking through the park, use your eyes to observe what you see without any qualifying input from your mind. In other words, see for the sake of seeing without interpreting what your are seeing. Do this for about five minutes. Then focus on what you hear. You may hear birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, or even hear the sound of a nearby car. Simply hear these sounds without interpreting them in your mind. After a few minutes of this, sit in a quiet place and close your eyes. Continue listening to the sounds around you. Just as you have been an impartial witness to the sensory input going in through your eyes and ears, start to observe the mind and thought processes. Simply bear witness to the happenings of the mind. If the mind tries to pull you into specific thoughts, exercise your will to try to resist this. By doing this exercise you have moved yourself from identifying with the mind and senses to identifying yourself with your will power. The more you practice this, the less troublesome your mind and senses will appear to you. It is like building an elevated expressway inside yourself. You can then carve out a path to inner transformation that goes right through your mind. Thereby you are not suppressing the mind and the senses, but using these to achieve inner expansion.