|“Jester”, by InfiniteFiend|
Prosopopoeia, noun, a figure of speech in which an abstract thing is personified
“Your own self is your own mainstay, for who else could your mainstay be?” Excerpt taken from Dhp 160
What is the ego? Without specifically defining it in light of any teacher, the impression I am left with is that it is an abstract personification of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that do not meet an ideal of self. When examined in this way, however, the same applies to our cultural heritage --- if you fail to behave, think, or exhibit emotions correctly you are weird, gay, rejected, etc. and thus an ideal of self is not meant. This tends to generate an attitude of aggression towards these qualities. Bearing these things in mind in regards to the question of the ego I see a deeper question of individuality --- what is the individual to do with individuality?
To start, when approaching the concept of the ego we will first need to examine the underlining attitudes these assumptions are operating under. A few of these assumptions are as follows:
- Individual qualities are dualistic (good versus evil).
- Because qualities are dualistic they are to be identified with.
- Because qualities are identifiable the evil qualities of mind that do not fit an ideal of self (Christ consciousness, Buddha-nature, trueself, etc.) have an identity of their own (ego, carnal-nature, etc.)
- The aspiration is to realize a higher identity and eradicate the lower identity.
Are these assumptions appropriate? What is skillful here is the virtue of pursuing wholesome qualities, but where it leads is often to suppression and / or rejection. Drawing from my personal experiences, in both Christian and post-Christian romanticism, no matter if the belief was inherent evil or purity unskillful characteristics persisted. I denied, suppressed, “remained true” to the belief(s), but only a “partial” healing was ever realized. The attitude here tends to be one of annihilation and (passive)-aggressiveness; that these ego-characteristics need to be eradicated. How can we ever expect to find everlasting peace with a warrior’s attitude?
“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” - The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
- How am I perceiving my individuality?
This is where I want to point out the role perception has to play in our relationship with individuality. Every concept of ego that I have encountered thus far does not operate to a standard of honest inquiry that I hold to and encourage. What if anger, disappointment, depression, pride, etc. are viewed as pain instead of ego? If I must live a life of denying my pain, then it is a life of denial and not one of complete honesty. And thus the question I want to ask is “what is my relationship with my pain” and “what am I bringing to it”? If my attitude is that it is egoic, carnal, evil, etc. then my relationship is with it is that it is coming at me, but is it? Or, worse, that I deserve punishment for it? Regardless of my attitude as an individual pain is undeniably a part of my individual experience. These are things we individually have developed and awareness of them is only the beginning.
- What are my perceptions intending (causing) me to do with individuality?
Next, our perceptions influence our intentions. If I tend to my pain as a warrior I am inevitably cutoff from it and it deteriorates into a never ceasing drama of existence. Instead of waking up we are exerting effort in suppressing objects of our experience and in doing so clip our wings to liberation. If this is a journey of awakening why am I not allowing myself to feel? It is not an ego that we have developed, but habits and states of mind. And these things are something we can work with, apply antidotes to, and learn from. The intention that I am encouraging here is one that is engaged upon pain as an object of awakening. What effort is being applied? Suppression? Understanding? Apathy? What am I doing here?
- A path of compassion.
I have poised several questions and here I want to encourage an attitude of compassion. This is a baseline, a starting point, but its an attitude that will take us into healing, rather than destroying pain. The approach of compassion is one of listening or directly experiencing the pain firsthand --- generating a warm gaze toward unskillful characteristics. Being an observer or listener to the pain rather than being the afflicted. Here we can be like an admirer of abstract art who asks the question: “what is the artist (the pain) trying to say?” And we can only know that answer by directly experiencing and contemplating the experience --- rather than pushing it away. Through understanding the pain it is possible to apply an antidote that results in meaningful healing instead of the “bliss” of ignorance and denial.
In conclusion, unskillful qualities, or pain, are a part of individuality and we have a choice to arm ourselves as a warrior against them or tend to it as a mother would an infant. It is important to understand how it is we are perceiving experience, how perceptions are influencing our intentions, and how we can change these things. Most importantly, every aspect of individuality, our pain (“ego”), deserves our compassionate gaze and genuinely learn from the pain firsthand so that we can apply an effort worth exerting. All of this requires being completely sensitive to our individual experience, rather than trying to fit it to a pre-conceived notion of how it “should be”. As creative entities it is important to be mindful of what it is we are bringing to this present moment and expand upon what we learn.