“Stay present. Stay conscious. Be the ever alert guardian of your inner space.”
The above is not easy. I think this is a fact that I have not fully acknowledged until moments ago. I suppose I thought that becoming conscious, allowing yourself to be who you truly are and being able to have love for everyone (even enemies!) would be easy once I realized the wonders of non-dualism. Ha. It seems I have missed a few things.
First off, The ego loves to be in pain. The ego loves to be justifiably wronged because it loves so much to be right. When we are hurt by someone, we make it a bigger deal than it is because it makes us feel better to be right, to feel like the victim. We point our finger at “that asshole” because it makes them bad and us good. As my teacher, Philip Urso says “the assholes are your gurus”. We learn our biggest lessons from the assholes in our lives and generally it’s because they are representing something that we cannot forgive in ourselves. Unfortunately, just knowing that the ego does this does not make it stop. I have caught myself in the middle of a rampage, feeling so justifiably angry over the behavior of some inconsiderate, self-absorbed asshole....right. Shit. I did it again. What’s worse is I have become aware of it (the fact that the ego was running my mind) and chose to let it continue! Why? Because it felt good to be right. Because crucifying someone else made me feel better, and thinking it through...well that would require some pain. It would require me recognizing flaws in myself and forgiving them as well as forgiving this other ill-mannered person. Sometimes it’s easier just to stay pissed. So it’s clear to me that I have actually chosen being right over being happy and at peace. Goddamnit!
Secondly, understanding something intellectually is not the same as understanding it with your whole being. When you understand something intellectually, it’s hard to use that understanding to correct a behavior. All the reasoning in the world will still have a hard time overcoming ingrained instinct, and our instinct to follow the ego is deeply ingrained. Which brings me to the last thing I missed.
Lastly and perhaps most important, it’s hard! During yoga training I didn’t fully grasp why my teacher referred to presence as requiring “endurance”. I mentioned that while teaching a class I felt like I was slipping in and out of presence. I would be there, fully present and before I knew it I would recognize that I wasn’t present and have to pull myself back to the room. Being the “ever alert guardian of your inner space” requires a diligence that I am currently severely lacking but trying to obtain.
Many teachers have provided guideposts to help you get present. Both Tolle and the Dalai Lama talk about focusing on your breathing. Tolle suggests being aware of your body when doing mundane tasks such as washing your hands or walking up the stairs. All of this is definitely effective and helpful when I’m remembering that I need to be present, I just wish there was something to smack me upside the head (gently) whenever I’m complaining or gossiping or just in general being a miserable person. I know we all fall prey to the ego, but it’s frustrating when you start to realize how little control you currently have over your own thoughts.
As someone who has been through the ringer with mental anguish (depression, anxiety/panic attacks, etc.,) learning about the ego and meditation was incredible. The idea that I could make myself better without the assistance of chemicals (either prescribed or otherwise), was life-changing, it was uplifting. It was everything I had ever hoped for but never dared to expect. In moments of peace I feel inspired by Tolle’s teachings, however when I’m stressed out at work, experiencing a not very kind person or just plain being angry about something, I lose sight of how difficult this process can really be. I get angry with myself and feel like I’ve taken numerous steps back. I sometimes forget that we have to allow ourselves to screw up and that simply by being aware of the ego, wether you can get present or not, you are actually taking huge steps in the right direction.
The idea that we intentionally compromise our happiness like this is mind-boggling and as Tolle says, it is the true disease of our generation. Our stories are more important than being happy. We must cling to our identity. Our identity is more important than contentment. Our identity is more important than being whole. When will we learn that we are only hurting ourselves by pushing everyone else away?