“The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgment.
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
I think about meditation a lot, and even as I write this, I realize the irony of that statement. Still, even after a long practice, one can become “jaded” and pretty soon even your meditation sessions can come to seem like a “routine.” And that’s very ironic indeed, because if there’s anything I feel that meditation is, it’s a way or tool to break out of monotony and open out to an adventure.
So, whenever I hear or read a fresh way of describing meditation, what it is or how to do it, I thought I’d start keeping a repository in a blog post. These “fresh” ways of putting it tend to break that monotonous hold that sometimes creeps in, and gives me a fresh shot of encouragement.
“I find that I can actually get my mind to stop talking for 30 minutes…and i’m finding that it’s addicting.” – @serenadyer
“There’s only one wrong way to #meditate, and that is if you think there’s any effort involved.” – @DeepakChopra
“Becoming free of Ego means becoming free of thought, identification with thought. That’s the end of the Ego. It may reassert itself from time to time, but at least its the Awakening.” – Eckhart Tolle [video-link]
When you read enough Mythology, fairy tales, and religion, you start to realize that the most important archetype, the most important theme, if you will, that comes ringing through all the symbols, is the idea of Sacrifice. Now, in most of the stories, the sacrifice is literal, whether it be animals upon the alter, or even human beings, perhaps most famously rendered in the image of Crucifixion of the “Christ.” Taken literally, it’s very off putting, if not downright horrific to the modern reader. But when you start to read the images symbolically, a whole new realization opens up. For instance the Christ story could be read as psychologically sacrificing the impulses of the flesh, the desires of the flesh, as well as its fears, in order to give birth to the “spiritual” body. Read that way, the modern reader can use these stories as guides to real “religious” (re-linking to the Soul) experiences of their own.
Having read a lot of this material one has the realization that the Sacrifice, in its essence, is about sacrifice of the Ego. One gets the strong sensation, through reading these materials, and also through religious practices such as yoga and meditation, that if one could just simply “Sacrifice the Ego,” not only would a lot of problems be solved, not only would a lot of happiness enter your life, you would not only discover, but start automatically living and fulfilling your true destiny, your true purpose. It’s “the track” that Joseph Campbell talks about in the following saying:
If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. – Joseph Campbell (link)
So, the question becomes, “What is Ego?” If we are going to destroy it, dissolve it, or at the very least, reduce it, it would helpful to know exactly what we are dealing with. Today, while listening to a Deepak Chopra interview on Youtube, the interviewer asked him this exact question, and I thought he gave a very enlightening answer that I wanted to remember. So I’m going to write it down:
The characteristics of the Ego are, ‘I am either superior or inferior to someone. I need to control, manipulate, insist, beg, cojole, convince, in order to have control over the situation. I have to really try hard. And, it’s always really full of fear. The Ego is full of fear. The Ego is our Self Image. It’s not our Soul. The Ego is built up through opinions, through public opinions, and uses ‘agency power’…the power of money, the power of political office. The power of being President of the company, or the state, or the Country. That’s agency power. The power of the Soul comes from a much deeper strength. (Here’s a link to the exact moment in the Interview on Youtube).
That’s a lot to ingest, but really for me, while I was walking and listening to this, was the very first statement, ‘I am either Superior or Inferior to someone.’ that gave me a flash of Enlightenment. All my life, without realizing it, those two “see-sawing”, almost directly opposite feelings have dominated me in my relations to others. And often it will be about the very same person, which is very strange! Yet when one feels the emotion, either of superiority or inferiority, one believes in the reality of it. To have someone explain that these are not reality at all, not your real personality at all, but rather acts, reflexes, almost a hijacking by “The Ego,” is quite a relief! “Ah, there’s not something deep, dark wrong with me. There’s something deep, dark that’s artificially taken over me, and blocked me from my connection to my True Self, my soul.
So what’s the remedy for this? I think the first step is, just like in meditation the first step is not getting rid of your thoughts, but merely stepping back from them, noticing and becoming aware of them without judgement) just becoming aware that you are having this feeling. “Oh, I’m feeling Superior to this person. I wonder why? I know, that not only is it unkind and exhausting to feel this way, but inherently not true. But anyway, I am feeling it. So, I am going to acknowledge the feeling. Then gently practice letting that feeling dissappate, and instead send out feeling of love, equanimity, and compassion for this person.”
Perhaps that’s too much to think about at first. Maybe just becoming aware that you are feeling that way will help you rise above the emotion instead of drowning in it. And from there the emotion will lose a little of its energy.
Just being aware when it happens and saying to yourself, “I do acknowledge the feeling, but at the same time, I know this is Ego’s production, and not me. I know that it has to play itself out, but just awareness itself, and having the intention of seeing things the way they really are, will help it dissapate quicker, as well as slowly dissolve itself completely from my personality.”
UPDATE 1/14/14: I saw this video by Eckhardt Tolle right after I wrote this piece. As luck would have it, the very first question posed to him was this, “What is Ego?” question. Remarkable.
“There is no Ego apart from the thoughts. The thoughts, identification with thought is Ego.”
Wow! In other words: Thought is Ego. Ego is Thought! When I think about how I see the Grail, for instance, as a symbol of the Gap between thought, this statement by Eckhardt really blows me away!
I’m so tempted to erase this big ass blog post I’ve written, and just replace it with: Ego is Thought.
And see, before you think, “Well, that’s fine and dandy to realize I’ve got to get my inspiration through transcendence, but in order to enjoy it, I’ve got to bring it back into this world, and THINK about it a while,” read this words by Ram Dass:
“Faith, consciousness, and awareness all exist beyond the thinking mind.” – Ram Dass
We always run back to the “thinking mind” sort of like it were “home base,” thinking that it is our real self.
But in essence, its the “thinking mind” that’s keeping us away from our true self.
Our real adventure.
As Eckhart goes on to say in this same video, “You are not the thought. You are the awareness.”
In this sense, Consciousness, Awareness can observe thought, can observe emotion, but not be trapped inside them, like Theseus is trapped inside the Labyrinth.
The purpose of mythology is to make you realize that your ego is keeping you from your destiny.
Maybe we shouldn’t say “your” ego because that emphasizes the sense of separateness that the ego function engenders. The definition of ego is the belief, or rather, the sense that you are separate from the outside world, from nature.
So, its purpose is to break that lock and allow the “waters” of the universe to flow back through you, and the breath (the Tchi) of the universe to once again fill your lungs. Just as your physical body would die without water and air, so your “subtle” body (what we in the West may call ‘Soul’) will die without the ‘divine’ water and air. Because, though, it is wrapped in a story that may be historical untrue, rationally untrue, it contains within it the kernel or seed of a transcendent truth. It’s this very transcendence, the “womb of creation” as Deepak calls it, that’s made, and continues to make, everything we know. It’s desire is to come up through you and “marry” these two worlds, that of the internal and that of the external.
Your ego stands exactly in this middle ground between this external infinity (which our telescopes show us) and this internal infinity (which our microscopes show us), and also this transcendent infinity, which our heart shows us. There’s a trinity for you. A trinity that wants to be “Re-Ligio” or relinked, which are the Latin words that our English word Religion, synonymous with Mythology, actually comes from.
So think about this. Religion actually means to “re-link.” It’s the re-linking of eternity with immanence.
“There’s something that wants to be known, a presence.”
See, that something, which is real and transcendent, can’t be known when an Ego function serves as a sort of ringed fortress, blocking it out.
So the purpose of the mythology, religion, is to break that Ego sphere, and allow the transcendental to pour forth, both up from within, like a hidden spring, and down from without, like a great waterfall or rain.
“Yoga [meditation] is the (intentional) stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff.” – Yogasutras 1.2
“Throw open the gates, put self aside, bide in silence, and the radiance of the spirit shall come in and make its home.” – Kuan Tzu, P’ien 36
“When you enlarge your mind and let go of it,
When you relax your [qi ?] vital breath and expand it,
When your body is calm and unmoving:
And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances.
You will see profit and not be enticed by it,
You will see harm and not be frightened by it.
Relaxed and unwound, yet acutely sensitive,
In solitude you delight in your own person.
This is called “revolving the vital breath”:
Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly.” Kuan Tzu (24, tr. Roth 1999:92)
To me it feels like every thought we have is blocking out our true nature. It’s also blocking out what would be a true life experience: both because the inner self can’t get out, and the outer life is blocked from showing forth its true nature and transcendence. “The Kingdom of God is spread upon the earth, yet men do not see it.” Thus every thought we have is distracting us from the ‘real show’ or ‘real adventure’ of our lives, which is our destiny. It’s like the Polynesian saying, “We spend our time fishing for minnows, all the while standing on a whale.” The “minnows” are thoughts, distractions, making us ignorant of the “whale” of our true nature, our true destiny, which is something much bigger than we ever imagined, and much more interesting than the sideshow of the mind trying to catch “little minnows.”
The sublimity of our essence is trying to make itself known both from within and from without. Thoughts are blocking that “knowingness.” This is the reason for the practice of yoga, or what we call meditation. To re “yoke” this awareness which would initiate a marriage of the eternal with the imminent.
“There’s something that wants to make itself known, a presence.”
My own insight happened while I was meditating last week: It was the insight that you’re not trying to get rid of your thoughts, or stop thinking, but rather stop the attachment to the thought. Don’t let it move you emotionally. That way the thought can come and go without you emotionally reacting to it. Think of the mythology of the Buddha: His victory came not from directly getting rid of thoughts, but by not being moved by them. Remember the story? First he was tempted by desire in the form of Lord Kama’s (a metaphor for Ego, Super-Ego, or even thought itself) beautiful, naked daughters (I believe there were three, which is an important mythological number) and he didn’t allow himself to be moved. So then, Lord Kama tried to use fear: He sent armies and weapons hurling at him. Again, the Buddha wasn’t moved, so the arrows dissolved into flowers.
Ah, but I almost forgot, there were three temptations, right? What was the third? It was the temptation of “Dharma” or in our lingo, what you should be doing out in the world. You might call it a “Political” temptation or a “Career” temptation. In the Buddha’s case, he was a King’s son. So, the temptation was political. The Lord Kama said, in effect, “What are you doing just sitting here? Can’t you see the world’s going to hell in a hand basket? You’re a prince. You should be leading your people!”
And still the Buddha did not allow himself to be moved. And that’s the moment he attained complete victory.
I just bought a book on Kindle called “Why Meditate?” and while I’ve just read the first 10 or so pages, he already confirmed my first insight: That you’re not trying to stop or get rid of your thoughts. At least not directly. Anymore than the Buddha tried to directly get rid of The Lord Kama. Instead, he wasn’t moved emotionally by the temptations of desire, fear, or duty. And that’s a good metaphor for what you’re trying to do in meditation: as the thoughts arise, you don’t try to fight them, but instead, lose your emotional attachment to them. Practice not letting them emotionally move you. So in that sense you really need thoughts during meditation, just like a marksman needs a target. You need them, so that you can practice not letting them control you psychologically or emotionally.
Here’s another good example. If you go to the 2:48 mark of this video, you’ll hear Deepak address this very issue:
“See, trying to silence a thought, is a thought. Ok? So, don’t try to silence the thought. But, you see, if you leave them alone, they start to say to themselves, ‘Nobody’s noticing me.’ Ok, so you don’t try to get out of the thought, because that is a thought by itself…The awareness of a thought is not a thought. It cannot be, right? So, just be aware of it. That’s all. Don’t try to [silence it].” – Deepak Chopra
I might rephrase it like this: “Trying to silence a thought, is an emotion. If you leave them alone, emotionally, they’ll leave the ‘party’ on their own volition. So, don’t try to get out of the thought, because, that, in itself, is an emotion. Instead, try to lose your emotional attachment to the thought.”
Play and practice with this idea. As the thoughts arise, practice not being emotionally moved by them.
The labyrinth in which the hero soul has become lost. That’s the place from which we are all starting. Did the ego build this labyrinth? Or is the labyrinth a metaphor for the ego itself? Those are interesting questions, but they aren’t nearly as interesting, practically speaking, as what the Wax String of Theseus stands for. The wax string is a metaphor for the thing that got the hero, Theseus, out of the labyrinth. Some qualities strike me about it:
It’s very smallness, thinness, almost invisible quality represents the fact that it is something representative of the spirit, soul, the psychology. It’s easily lost, like a feeling, but if held onto can lead you out.
That same narrowness represents single-mindedness of purpose, and an unbending intent. It also represents a psychological commitment. So that nothing distracts from it. It’s very narrow but very long, meaning that, commitment, ironically, leads to freedom, adventure, and, in short, the way out of misery.
I’ve been reading a lot of Grimm’s Fairy-Tales in the last few weeks. This kind of material really feeds my soul, makes me happy. But I’ve only been “allowing” myself one or two stories a day. It strikes me that when you find something that really awakens your passion, why compartmentalize or limit yourself to it for one hour a day? My sense of this and similar experiences, is that, like the Wax String, you should hold on to them, not let them go, stay with them, all day and all night, at least until they lead you “out” of the Labyrinth. That’s my sense of “The Hero’s Adventure” and more specifically the metaphorical, or one possible metaphortical meaning of this element in this particular story.