January 4, 2006

Koan of Self

Re: Self and ego

Meredith: I feel an ambivalent relationship with myself. As I let my ego recede, then where is self? The self that carries my heart, my loving nature - this I love and nurture. The self that comprises my very life - that part I love, too. I love my life! Increasingly, I have a strong sense of self; I am more and more comfortable just being me. Yet, there is that ego that we’ve talked about. I realize I need my ego, it is useful, but I do not always love it.

Lately, in meditation, my 'self' more easily moves to the background. My ego fades. Thinking and feelings ebb, I become rather lost to my self. An image is created in me of a plain chalice holding nothing other than breath and loving energy.

Out in the world, working, relating, responding, my ego moves forward. I frequently rub up against a part of my self, call it my ego, which is in the way. Though I am generally good-natured and kind hearted, my ego can be cold and protective, holding others at a distance. My ego can be self aggrandized, arrogant. This part is hard to love. Yet this is an ambivalent feeling, because without a strong sense of myself, I cannot love fully nor do the work I do. Each time I read your notes about ‘ego-identified self’ I feel a cognitive dissonance – as in what the hell do I need to do with this phrase – how to think about it, how to not-think about it, how to work it?

Then a fresh day dawns and I let go of this question. Perhaps I push it aside - the question is too difficult to answer.

Akilesh: Your reflections are wonderful. They should be meditated upon, explored, contemplated. Honest examination over pretense. Let's not lose the spirit of inquiry that is so present in these words. Let's not let these gems pass down river so quickly. Let's look deeply into them, without fear, without distracting ourselves with other, perhaps prettier words. Too often I have fallen under the enchantment of painted pink sunrises. It is a good exercise for me to look closely and clearly within and ferret out the pseudo, sort out the unreal from the authentic. I will meditate upon these words and offer reflections, and I invite you to do the same. They hold great potential, beyond what you can imagine.

Please do not dismiss these words too quickly. Invite them back in. Let them work on you like a Zen koan might work on you, in you. Let the words go deep and see what comes up. It is not something that can be figured out with the mind. Some Zen practitioners would spend eight or ten years living and breathing a koan. Eventually it breaks open and reveals something. We should not be too eager, too aggressive, too quick to try to figure out what this something is. This only adds to the "problem," the barrier. Instead let the koan percolate, be with it, until it opens on its own, without the use of your hands.

The "problem" of the self you raise in the passages above goes to the heart of the whole spiritual journey. This "problem" is what we often seek to avoid at all costs. There is an incredible amount of spiritual distraction and preoccupation, (bound by a "golden chain," marked with the "stink of Zen") which translates into our efforts to escape "The Big Problem." Seekers dance around this, escape from this over and over and over again. And over and over and over again existence brings us back to it. Eventually it will have to be faced. Without fail you will be brought back to it repeatedly until you take the leap. The blessing of existence is that all things seem to be perfectly orchestrated to contribute to our awakening. And it takes as long as it takes.


Larry said...

Meredith, this is a beautiful confession (confession for me does not mean the conventional form of religiosity that has generally captured the word; rather it means confessing to one another who we are; the inevitable precursor of significant love.)

Your words call to mind the jungian ideas of ego and self: the ego develops as we transcend the superego; it is the largest significant dimension of consciousness.

But spiritual awakening involves transcending the ego with the self (in Christian circles that's the Christ-image). Thereafter the ego becomes the servant of who one really is.

I've spent many years subjugating my ego; it's like a spirited mustang. I look forward to its complete subjection to my real self-- the glorious future which may come -- now? Come Lord Jesus.

Thanks for inspiring these thoughts in me, Dear Meredith.

Meredith said...

Dear Larry,
Thank you for these thoughts. You are a wonderful listening ear for me. I especially appreciated what you said about transcending the ego with the self - that the ego becomes servant to who we really are. More and more I sense this is true, and, once recognized, the ego becomes a much better servant.

Thank you my Friend,