Your Ego Is Not Your Amigo (4 December 2021)
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
When I ended my last post, I thought, “Okay, now what? How do I flesh out what this actual practice might look like in day-to-day life? How might the actual 12 step practices be broadened to a wider daily spiritual path?
Then that very afternoon, life provided a next step, a chance to begin to flesh out what some components of an actual practice could look like. I had some and interaction with a family member that felt hurtful to me. I felt judged, misunderstood, and not valued. I ended up in tears. Because of what I’d finished writing that very morning (the very first post in this blog), I tried to think of how what I’d written might be applied to help alleviate my suffering.
I could see the antics of my ego at work – I could see how they were creating my suffering. I could see the things my egoic mind was telling itself about the situation – how it was making its own interpretations about what was happening and what this must mean about how other family members must feel toward me. I could see it telling itself painful stories and tying behaviours of others to other past hurtful behaviors so that it could tell a story of victimhood not just about today’s events, but a several years-long saga. I could see its wounds and feel its pain. At some point I withdrew from the interaction because I couldn’t take it anymore. It hurt too much. It continued to hurt when the interaction ended and the ego kept spinning its tales about what it all meant. Later in the day another family member got involved in the interaction, which led to more painful stories, which then resulted in resentment and anger and increased my suffering.
As I tried to apply a practice technique to this painful situation, awareness seemed like the first step. I saw clearly the cause of my suffering in the ego’s storytelling, but seeing what the ego was doing didn’t stop it. It didn’t stop the painful stories or the resentment and anger. I could see their cause clearly, and I wanted it gone, but I felt powerless to stop it.
I tried surrendering this storytelling ego and its painful consequences to God. I asked God to take my pain and resentments and anger from me. I told God I was willing to be free of them, and wanted to be free of them, but didn’t know how. I waited to see if they would be miraculously taken from me the way alcoholics say the urge to drink is miraculously taken from them when they surrender to a higher power. It didn’t work. The ego’s painful interpreting and storytelling continued, and I continued to feel powerless.
Later in the day another practice idea came. The 11th step talks about daily prayer and meditation to strengthen our connection with our Higher Power. So I tried that. I find mantras helpful to mediation in difficult situations, because it gives my thinking mind a job to do as I try to settle into observing awareness. I like two syllable mantras because they give the mind something to say on the inbreath and the outbreath, which helps to focus my attention.
So, given the spirit of the 12 steps, I used this mantra: “Thy will.” This worked. It settled the mind down some, and gave me some relief from its painful storytelling. I began to move from feeling unloved in my family to feeling loved by the All. It was a welcome consolation. Serendipitously, earlier in the day someone had shared a quote from Ram Dass on Facebook. The quote was about love and fear, but for me it was working for love and pain. Here is the quote, but with fear changed to pain for my particular circumstance that day:
"When we talk about love versus pain, we are talking about . . . ‘unity’ versus ‘separateness’. When the pain dissipates you are feeling at home in the universe. Meaning your identity with your separateness isn’t overriding your feeling of connection with everything to the point that you’re feeling cut off and vulnerable -- which is where the root of the pain is. ~Ram Dass
My suffering was alleviated when I could move into being observing awareness and relaxing into the All (which on this day felt like being loved), instead of being the hurting separate self with all of its painfuls stories.
Looking back on the day, I thought about how my usual course of action when something is hurtful is to try and distract myself from the pain. I might go to the store and buy myself some sugary treats or comfort food, or find a movie to go to where I could distract myself with some other ego’s story, while enjoying buttery, salty popcorn and a soda. Instead, this time in the midst of the painful interaction with my family member, when the ego’s normal tendency would be to close down and withdraw and then seek a distraction, I thought about the honesty required in the 12 steps, and so I voiced how and why the interaction was hurting me. That made it hurt even more. But they say the only way out is through.
So, all this being said, I have a potential step for this practice:
First, look honestly at the words and actions of the ego to see how it is creating suffering. Be as honest as you can about it. Bring awareness to exactly what it is doing and saying, and see how that is creating your suffering. Acknowledge, to yourself and to your Higher Power, that this is what is happening. (I once attended a training for work where the speaker was giving away buttons that said, “Your ego is not your amigo.”)
Second, be willing to give up the ego’s stories and the suffering they cause. If surrendering them to your Higher Power doesn’t work, try sinking into the truth of Oneness through meditation, and see if that will release them.
7 December 2021
As I reflect back on this experience now that it’s several days later, I’m thinking about how I felt judged and misunderstood by members of my family, and how much that hurt. I can clearly see that it was my own thinking mind making the judgments about what other people must be thinking and feeling about me, and then being hurt by its own thoughts and judgments. In reality I'm not in another person's head and don't know what their thoughts and judgments really are, let alone what sore spots of their own their perceptions are being filtered through. And what if their judgment was that I'm a purple flamingo? That wouldn't hurt because I wouldn't entertain for a minute that it was true. I'd see clearly that their judgment was coming from their own mind, not from some objective truth about me.
I’m reading a fascinating book right now called “No Problem, No Self,” by a neuropsychologist. In it the author shows how my left-brain's interpretive stories (including stories about my own self and its motivations) are frequently wrong – to say nothing about my brain’s ability to correctly perceive others judgments and interpretive stories, and whether or not they can be believed. This means that both others’ judgments of me (whatever those may be), and the judgments my own mind makes and then assigns to others, are as apt to be incorrect as correct. This gives new meaning to an idea that my friend said someone in AA told her – that everybody, including me, has the right to be wrong (and frequently is wrong). It also shows why a good principle to follow (a principle that can alleviate a lot of my suffering), is that other people's judgments about me are none of my business, and not my problem to try to control or resolve.