The journey is not to find Truth but to discover what is not truth. Truth cannot be found, it is always and always here.
I read these kinds of koans for years thinking of them as puzzles to chew on, until an answer arrived, like working a Rubiks Cube until all the colors aligned. But really there is nothing to think about, thinking muddles the truth further rather than clarifying anything. And so it sometimes feels futile to attempt to write about all of this, and yet I feel compelled to try.
I came across a definition of ego recently which I want to share. In my women’s group (remember that group from entry #1?) we work a lot with this word. There we’ve likened ego to the masks or personalities we wear–the face we put on which is not really who we are. It’s the things we call our “identity:” what I like and don’t like, what I do for work, what places I’ve been, my memories and future hopes. This definition serves well conceptually but doesn’t quite capture the power of ego. Ego is not a static thing, like a mask one puts on, rather its a movement, or a compulsion. “Ego is a verb” Jennifer has also said to us in our women’s group.
Adyashanti, one of my favorite writers and speakers describes ego as “the act of consciousness being obsessed with its own psychology… It’s when everything is filtered through the me.” I realized as I was listening to him that this is what I was pointing to in entry #11 To Live My Life From Here, when instead of just feeling pain and sadness, my own or someone else’s, I made a story about it with “me” in the center. Filtering the interactions of our daily life through all of our past experiences, beliefs, values, self-concern, this is ego.
I wanted to share this definition because it is something I often find myself trying to explain, and just missing the mark. Words fail for something so fundamentally a part of our cultural story that we don’t question it: that our identities are important and good things, that we can make them better and worse, that they are how we interact with the world, that filtering the now through what we have learned about the past is helpful.
I wrote also in that first entry that after years of searching for happiness, answers, peace and love in environmental and social justice work, in psychological processing, in family relationship work, I found myself on my knees in my backyard, begging for help, a guide, support that made sense.
And eventually that guide and support showed up in the form of my women’s group, and our mentor, Jennifer. Since then it’s been a fascinating and at times extremely challenging road of learning all about this ego character and what it’s up to. A steady meditation practice has helped. Sitting quietly every morning gives a chance to watch the mind, to begin to notice the difference between thoughts and who is watching or witnessing those thoughts.
The greatest difference between what I began studying and working with in women’s group and outside of it through readings and other teachings, and other self-help kind of paths I’d been on, was that what we were doing in women’s group was (and is) experiential.
We didn’t just go to women’s group and talk about all this stuff–meditation, love and kindness being the basis of all human life, interconnectivity, living from a higher self–and then leave it on the pages of a book or in the room where we met, I began to practice and experiment with what we talked about in my own life. Having the support of other people who were also (and still are) experimenting with this in their lives was additionally supportive and wonderful.
Everyone’s path is different, though we share many common moments. Each of us in our group has taken the time to watch and learn what our particular attachments and aversions are (remember that whole ego thing always pushing away or clinging to?). Once we understood a little of how each of our different patterned identities worked (where we seize up and can’t breath, where we freeze and don’t want to move, where we want to lash out and attack of protect) we could begin to see what our “work” was. Though Jennifer is fond of reminding us that it’s actually much more work to hold onto a delusion than to let it go.
Something which I think is really important to note about this is that it would be really nice if we just had to “let go” of destructive thoughts, patterns, etc. one time and be done with it, but actually we usually have to let go over and over again… though my experience is that the letting go gets deeper and deeper every time.
TO BE CONTINUED….