Monday, November 17, 2014

The Many Levels of Ego

ego death, ego demolition, spiritual awakening, building photo
You did it! You let go of something that had plagued you for years. You feel like you've come a long way, and you feel like so much ego crap that has kept you tied up in unhealthy patterns is gone. But no sooner than this release comes does a new perspective and deeper perception arise that thrusts the next level of ego crap right in your face. To the unskillful, this is demoralizing, and there is a sense that you have failed somehow. But quite the contrary, if you can see new levels of ego, this is because you have successfully let go of some old blockages that kept you blind and bound to this old way of thinking and interacting with life.

Yet, I can tell that many of you need a little extra encouragement on this point. Early on the spiritual path, many of you will have heard how you can just drop everything. The ego can be completely let go, and these are all true things. HOWEVER...it tends to be much more prevalent that we human beings drop things in pieces and in levels. The whole 24-story building doesn't get blown up overnight. We tend to throw some sofas and an armoire out the window first just to see if we can do it before we get anywhere near taking out a wall much less one of the 24 floors.

So in this vein of thinking, I'm writing to you today to talk about the many levels of ego we come to face in ourselves; the continued need for patience, humility and dedication; and the fact that we are growing every time we run into a new level we had not seen before.

The Ego Dies and Then Arises Again

Some time ago, I wrote a spirituality blog post called, "You Will Always Have an Ego." Let's start with this point. As I define ego (and I'm sure that there are countless other definitions), it is simply a lens. It's an important filter to determine what of the 10 billion stimuli and information we have thrown at us every day to use and what to discard. Seriously consider just all the physical sensations you might have during a day. How many of those do you actually remember?

The ego is our homegrown filter to parse through all this stuff and figure out how to live. It's not bad. It's just unexamined and full of a host of absorbed assumptions from family, friends, and society at large. And this mish-mash of stuff operates with the audacity to think that we can know what to do all the time or whatever it has been trained to think of itself and life. This means we don't really know why we make the decisions we make. The foundational assumptions we live on are often flat out wrong, and so we have to start digging into how we think, why we're trying to get the things we're trying to get, who we think we are, and so forth to figure out some of this stuff. If we're really lucky, we have a big break from this egoic patterning. This can be in a spiritual opening or a lasting spiritual awakening. Then suddenly, we unequivocally know that there is a different way to think, feel, and interact with life. If we don't have something like that, the path tends to be longer and slower because most people don't believe that their ego is really that big of a problem.

In truth, our egoic thinking is our base programming, and because this is where we go when we don't know what to do, even after something that feels so dramatic that we'd call it ego death, the foundational thinking remains. And the ego arises once again in a new form.

The Wallpapering of the Prison Cell Walls

Some of my students have heard me use the idea of wallpapering prison cell walls. Quite simply, we put up wallpaper on the prison cell when we change external things in our lives without understanding the extent of the limitations and restrictions we believe in. These inner limitations create our walls around what we believe is possible, how we believe, and what we are even willing to perceive. It doesn't matter if aliens exist or not, but to create a belief that says they don't is creating a limitation. We do this all the time with a whole variety of things. If you are actually seeing ghosts or floating lights in your room, then having a belief that says those things don't exist is ridiculous. But this type of thinking happens all the time.

After an ego (or part of it) melts away, we tend to not be able to handle the spaciousness we've been given. We prefer the prison cell walls because at least we know where our limitations are. And we're usually still really committed to certain ideas. Ideas might include having a romantic partner and raising a family. We don't really know why we have those ideas. We accept them so blindly that we don't even want to look at them. As such, someone can have a breakthrough and see how unhealthy past relationships were, but then they go charging forward to find a "spiritual" partner now. This person may soon be wrapped up in a spiritual tradition, wear the clothes, say the "right words, have certain practices, but all the old core ego issues are still in tact. This is essentially the creation of the spiritual ego, and it's one of the biggest traps of the spiritual path.

The Continued Downward Dive

Sometimes a few simple questions can keep up the intensity on the ego. Questions can be things like:

Why do I want this?
Who am I?
Where am I trying to go?

If you are sincere, you can really illuminate a lot of hidden agendas inside of you. You can peel away mental, emotional, physiological, instinctual, and psychic levels to the ego that you had absolutely no idea existed. For instance, let's take the relationship example.

Q. Why do you want a relationship?
Potential Answer. Because it'll make me happy.
Q. How will it make me happy?
A. Because I won't be alone.
Q. Why are you afraid of being alone?

Already it may suddenly become difficult to answer the next question. The fear of being alone is a big one, so let's see if I can take it a part for you.

A. I don't like how being alone feels. (emotional layer)
Q. What does it feel like?
A. It feels scary. (emotional layer again)
Q. Why is it scary?
A. Because it feels like I am not safe (survival layer--instinctual/animal ego awareness).
Q. How are you not safe?

At this point, some of the absurdity of the fear is being exposed. It's easy to start laughing or to get really frustrated. Sometimes the ego will lock down because we are so committed to our pain and our stories. We would rather shutdown then be exposed to the truth that part of the search for a relationship is a running away from a feeling of fear and an attempt to address a biological survival issue. Upon further examination, both tend to be completely unfounded. In wholeness, if you are like this fictitious person but no longer have this fear or that biological agenda, you will orient towards relationships in a new or entirely different way.

Emotional Layers and Instinctual Layers of Ego

I think there's enough out there about the mental layers of the ego. There are lots of ideas and illusions, and we believe in them. That gives them their power. I want to honor the emotional and instinctual layers of the ego today. In these more basic and primal layers, thinking doesn't cut it. Feeling and sensing these layers is how we have to engage with them because that is how they function. I often encourage my students to breathe because it so naturally addresses these deeper layers. The breath helps us to relax and counter physiological tension and the release all kinds of hormones into our bodies that make our reactions seem predetermined. Keep in mind that the instinctual layer of us was necessary through evolution. As a less evolved creature in millennia long past, our ancestors had no way of rationally determining if they should have children or if they should run away from the tyrannosaurus rex.. The instinctual ego was critical to survive. But we obviously have the ability to reason now, yet the legacy of evolution remains. We need to honor this by acknowledging its existence and that it underpins just about 99% of that 24-floor ego building.

But perhaps I'm getting too far ahead. I would simply challenge you to investigate your ego assumptions and see how many of them end up back at the basic instinct to survive or procreate (which are two of the most basic programs we operate on).

Emotional Layers and Trauma

Another aspect of the emotional layer of the ego can be any prolonged or sudden traumas we've experienced. In some respects, most human beings are walking around in a low state of trauma because we hold onto so many upsetting events. Just because someone insulted you for wearing a red sweater in high school doesn't mean you should hold onto a grudge against this person in your 40's. But people do this, which means that we are traumatizing ourselves for decades over the event. This builds up a whole heap of upset emotions, which is what a lot of you going through spontaneous awakenings are feeling. You are finally paying the bills that have been piling up emotionally, and that typically means feeling all of it to release it.

On the level of sudden traumas and abuses, there is the residual pain that wasn't processed during the traumatic event. There is the built up pain of needing to heal but potentially not knowing how to do it. Then there are all the levels of additional trauma that can be created to avoid this pain. This can include alcoholism and using drugs for a victim of severe physical abuse as a child. The emotional layers grow more and more, and when someone with this background comes to true healing, the enormity of feeling and pain can be quite overwhelming. It can be healed, however. It is just one step at a time, one breath at a time. But as I've been writing to you today, I can only encourage you to respect the many floors in this 24-hour high rise. It doesn't have to take tons of time to heal, but it often will. And that's okay.

Discovering Subtle Levels of Ego

Some psychics think that leaving the body means leaving the ego. Wrong. Now, you've stepped into new levels of subtle ego. On the spiritual plane of existence, there are many levels of subtly until you truly unite with oneness, and then everything dissolves away. Perception dissolves away because there is no longer a perceiver and an object to perceive. The two are one. So if there is perception, there is usually some level of a perceiver operating with some amount of ego to interpret what is before you whether its another spirit or plane of existence or what not.

In our more daily lives, we start to notice how we perceive ourselves, how we sense our energy, how we pick up on other people's energies, and a whole lot more. It can be quite surprising and confusing for those of you who didn't know you could do this. As you become more comfortable and let go of fear, new layers of perception become accessible to you. You may start to understand how you energetically push away some people and call in others. It is the start of a very profound appreciation for how interconnected we all are and how we are constantly co-creating our reality with everyone and everything around us. It's really fascinating, but if you have specific questions, I encourage you to email me through my contact page about this subtle level of ego.

The Tower of Ego Continues to Crumble

One of the beautiful things to watch is when an ego tower starts to crumble on its own. For most of you, you have to get into your spiritual work enough to focus your energy to do this. It's still quite rare for people to awaken and have this process ignite seemingly on its own. Once someone's inner work really ignites, things naturally start to crumble. One layer collapses into the next, and awareness expands. You see how limited you were, and you are not satisfied with the next set of limitations. You still love and accept yourself as you are, but you know a trap when you see one. You know what a prison is even if you are out of the initial cell.

Thus begins a wonderful (but often deeply unsettling) process of ego demolition. It can go all the way to the foundation, and at which point, life truly begins anew. You can be whoever you want to be, but you probably won't care. Whatever grows up in this vast spaciousness of love and freedom will be fine with you. Things will grow in perhaps a very new way, but also in a very true way. It's very true because it true to you and what feels most enlivening to you in life. In this way, we can then live from an enlightened ego that uses our human abilities to reason and perceive in ways that serve truth and bring more love to ourselves and to the whole world.
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