Thursday, September 04, 2008

More On The Ego

I am continuing to read "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Here are a few of his thoughts about the ego mixed with a few of my own thoughts. All of us want to feel a sense of wholeness. Our ego can drive us into a compulsive pursuit of ego gratification to fill the hole within us. We strive after possessions, money, success, power, recognition, or a special relationship, basically so we can feel better about ourselves and to feel complete. However, even when we attain all these things, we find that the hole is still there and that it is bottomless. As long as your ego is running your life, you cannot truly be at ease. You cannot be at peace or feel fulfilled except for the brief intervals where your ego is being satisfied. The ego represents a sense of the self. It identifies with external things and needs to be constantly fed. The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often our political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and collective identifications. None of these is you. Do you find this frightening or is it a relief? Much of the spiritual life and, ultimately, death, is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to "die before you die" and discover there is no death. When everything is stripped away, all that is left is our true essence. This essence is who we are in God. This state is what the Buddhists call "discovering the face you had before you were born". Christians would call this discovering your true self. All that is not you is your false self. We are born perfect and then we spend most of our lives becoming less perfect. At some point, hopefully, we begin to awaken and to throw off the accumulation of the ego including all the masks we wear. In some ways life is little more than a masquerade party. None of us are who we appear to be. Who we are is hidden beneath our ego's and masks. Oddly enough, we are often afraid to let the world see who we really are. The irony is that who we really are, not who we pretend to be, is really our most beautiful self.

Once a friend came to me after attending a funeral for the 18 year old sibling of one of her best friends. She expressed to me how difficult the funeral was for her and how helpless she felt to console her friend. She asked me what could be said in such a situation. It is difficult for anyone to find the right words in such a situation. I have been through similar experiences. When I was 29 years old, my younger brother in law was killed by a drunk driver. A few years later a child in my neighborhood died in a house fire across the street from where I lived. Another time the only son of a good friend died of cancer at age 20. When my youngest son, Nick, was 17 years old, his best friend died unexpectedly the day after spending the night at our house. Each time I felt helpless as I struggled to find words for a sister in law, a neighbor, a friend, and my son. It is always difficult to deal with the death of a young person. None of us understand why such things happen. If God has anything to do with it, I don't understand what He's thinking. What's his purpose? What's the point? Why is such sorrow brought upon spouses, parents, friends, and relatives? Sometimes I shudder when, in such circumstances, I hear people say, "It's God's will". I don't like to let God off the hook so easily. There is probably a very thin line between what God wills and what God allows. I will accept the fact that many things in life are a mystery and one can have lengthy theological discussions about God and evil and why bad things happen to good people. I don't understand everything that happens in life and I certainly couldn't give my friend or others easy explanations for why 18 year olds die and other's live to be 100 years old. Do the good die young? Yes, sometimes. Do bad people live long lives? Yes, sometimes. Do some of us live long lives because we need a lot of time for a deep spiritual transformation to take place within us? This is very likely. Life really is a mystery. It is not likely we will solve it's mystery this side of the grave. Through faith we believe and trust that our lives and the lives of others, no matter how short, have a purpose and life is not just a series of random, meaningless experiences. I must believe that life and pain have meaning and someday I hope to understand it. Part of the mystery of life is that we never know when it will end. This should motivate us to live each day well and to the fullest.

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