Tag Archives: ego

The Enlightenment Debate

People wonder what Enlightenment is – and good for them! Certainly, Enlightenment promises something wonderful, but what is it? Well, I guess there is some debate about what “it” really is…. Does it have to do with hightened perception, increased intelligence, “love” (another vague, but shiny goal)? If you meet an enlightened being, would you be able to tell they are enlightened?

These are great questions and should be asked by anyone interested in spirituality. Our lives are limited and precious, and should not be wasted on false prophets claiming lofty attainment.

All enlightened beings share a lack of self-absorption. They have a consistent focus on the welfare of others in both action and words. And the more time you spend with such a being, the consistency of their other-focus never wavers – never. To those who are still self-absorbed, it eventually becomes almost annoying to relentlessly consider world issues – not to mention, overwhelming.

Also, enlightened people laugh a great deal and with heartfelt joy. They do not take themselves seriously because there is – literally – no one there. They can display intensity in one moment, and instantly switch gears into levity.

Most importantly, enlightened beings are utterly fearless truth-tellers and truth-seers. They have a seemingly infinite capacity to enter the totality of life, both light and dark, and embrace It in Its entirety. They may not have all the answers, but they can live with the right questions.

Enlightened beings are not power-wielders or manipulators, but respect every life’s potential as the most precious of gems. They shine light in dark corners and have impeccable timing for revealing truth.

Do such people have heightened intelligence? Possibly – it depends on their background and training. However, they certainly have lightning-fast insight into people and life dynamics. In fact, most have highly developed psychic abilities. However, a truly enlightened being does not consider any ability a goal, or relish it as an accomplishment. There is a simple reason for this – when you are plugged into the stream of Life, you sense and perceive Life – it is natural. And natural things are – well – normal.

Lack of self-absorption and unconditional joy are very difficult to fake over time. Those who are not truly enlightened will eventually slip into goal-orientation, ambition, seeking praise and approval, and some expression of fear. No matter how charismatic, such people are eventually discovered for who they truly are. Hopefully, they are simply left to their own evolution without being castigated or judged. They are people on a path, just like others, and deserve kindness, compassion, and generosity of heart just like all people. Some enlightened beings will be attacked unfairly, but they will persevere in service nonetheless.

An enlightened being never makes you feel lowly or faulty. Instead, they befriend you and treat you as an equal in many ways. Even while they may provide you with insight about your life, you feel free to make any choice and are invited to do so. Their lack of judgement of you is, again, a natural by-product of the lack of perceived separation.

When talking to an enlightened being, you feel like you are talking to a wiser version of yourself. This is because this being reflects to you your potential.

Contrary to common belief, enlightened beings do not necessarily have perfect health or perfect manners, nor do they wear white robes. They choose the mode of expression that best matches who they serve. They feel at ease with people of any social status and nationality because artificial social division lines do not exist for them.

Enlightened beings may be visible activists or quiet nurturers of small groups, connected only by their yearning for Union.

If you sense that you are connected to such a being and feel a recognition, reach out to this being and watch their words and actions carefully over time. Watch for subtle or blatant promises of being “advanced,” “powerful,” “psychic,” or “superintelligent” – these are signs of a fake! No enlightened being will promise anything to you, but they will often speak of your potential for freedom from illusion. Most importantly, you will never feel obligated to this being in any way. You may develop a sense of devotion, but this is very different from a feeling of forced obligation.

In this day and age of click-bait, promising everything from chakra unification to lightning-fast thinking, ask yourself – what do these promises have to do with attaining Union with Life? That latter is the primary. Always. Everything else is just a natural result of feeling Life as an intricate and holistic stream. The Divine in motion. The creative possibilities of expression. Any other focus is just the ordinary path toward the clutches of narcissism and self-assertion. No enlightened being is that complicated.

The Greatest Illusion of All

As you sit and read this, you may perceive there to be a you. You may think of yourself as functioning independently, walking separately among apparent others, and doing your own thing. Of course this is true to a degree, but that is not all there is to you.

What if you discovered that you are really not a unit at all? Instead, you are a network of all the interconnections we call Life – currently known and unknown, and visible and invisible. You are a process evolving the entire network. If you could visualize all of Life, it may something like this – and you are really this:

This is actually a picture of brain neurons – but many processes naturally evolve into similar patterns when communicating and interacting is the goal. The Internet has become a living extension of nonphysical relationships and is not to be overlooked as an aspect of our life system.

If we felt like the entirety of the web of Life, we would never feel isolated, alone, disconnected, abandoned, or ostracized – these would not even be concepts in our vocabulary. So, why do we feel like discrete entities and separate? Why do we feel like islands onto ourselves?

Let’s go back to this image:

Imagine creating a small sphere within this network, like a bubble. Immediately, there is a center – you become the center. Then, the cords coming in and out of this sphere begin to define you and your perceptions. You have taken a portion of life and used it to claim individuality.

Where the cords of the connection intersect your sphere – these are your boundaries. You create this imaginary boundary to define yourself and to interact with the world. Although only an analogy, this is how we perceive separate identities – by artificially limiting the entire network to what comes through our perception filter. Then, you forget that you were the Whole.

Another analogy can show why we feel small and isolated – the celestial sphere, which was imagined by astronomers to be around the Earth to help describe the positions of stars and galaxies. You often see a picture like this in astronomy textbooks to show the celestial sphere:

Of course, the stars are not all at the same distance from the Earth. However, the celestial sphere shows the stars as if they were all located on the sphere and is a helpful tool to map the stars. The sphere does not really exist, and the dots on the sphere are just projections of the real stars. Much like our illusion if being separate, this sphere is a conscious illusion. In reality, the Earth is located inside our Milky Way Galaxy:

All the stars in the galaxy, at all their varying distances, are imagined to be projected onto sphere around the Earth – an artificial center. But look at the real picture – the galaxy is a dynamic whole, of which our Earth is an integral part. In Astronomy, we have come far to recognize the vast network of forces acting at all scales. 

Of course the little self will feel small when experiencing Life from its smallness and by circumscribing its center. We look at the vastness of the Universe and think about the number of stars and feel small and isolated – just like an island in the Cosmos. But what if we knew that we are the Whole?

In your daily life, you are living inside an imaginary boundary, and information comes in a goes out through the boundary – the perceived you – in the form of events, interactions with people (others who live inside their spheres), and situations. Whatever you see projected onto your “celestial sphere” is how you define yourself – “the world reflects to you who you are.” Boundaries always lead to the inevitable perception of being too small to be significant. And that is the root of fear and lack of self-denigration.

The perception of an artificial boundary of a human being is the greatest illusion of all. If you no longer identified with this illusory boundary, but identified with the entire web of Life, your perspective on you would be very different. Would you even ask “Who am I?” From this vantage point? Mystics have broken through this illusion and are able to shift their vantage point such that they are simultaneously a perceiving unit and the web of Life. We call this enlightenment, but it is only the culmination of the human experience.

It’s a bit more complicated than what I have described…. We are not really sure of the scope of the totality of Life we can consciouly sense. Even in knowing Unity,  there is a sense of an even greater vastness beyond what is sensed. Is our perception of unity only a portion of circuit on the motherboard of existence because we live in a Body that set its own boundaries?

Empathy, as well as other abilities people have to stretch beyond separation, show us that we are not just staring through a glass fishbowl of a body. We can and do reach beyond to sense the Whole and thin the veil of illusion – to the point that we are That.

You may wonder why this illusion of isolation persists or exists at all…. Separation seems to be a necessary step in our evolution. Through our separation we gain a unique perspective on Life, and we can share that with the Whole. But then, we return to the whole as totality.

Why is it this way and not another way? I don’t know. It is a mystery. However, the current push toward feeling One is unmistakable. Even in schools, in the workplace, and in our daily lives there is a greater emphasis on building and maintaining relationships. Cognition and skill of interconnection are often valued as much as the specific work skills for which people are hired. The ability to collaborate is a requirement in virtually every workplace and organization. People try to do this now mostly to keep their jobs and their status – most fake it. However, they can get glimpses of the truth of seeing how the perceived units can cooperate in the Whole.

So here we are, living the greatest illusion  of all and learning how to work with it so that we can ultimately live in peace and harmony with the knowledge that there are no boundaries within Life at the higher levels. And yet, we are tasked with cultivating relationships, which is only possible when there is something to relate to. Imagine if a critical mass of humanity learned to see past this illusion…. What would our world be like? We could then appreciate the whole from a unique perspective.

A more advanced state is moving through the Whole as Consciousness – raw awareness – which unites the refined form of what the body, emotions, and mind gave us previously as our experience. But evolution continues. I have a sense that even the Whole is Living with the question of what It it Is….

What does the Ego have to do with awakening?

If someone asks you “Who are you?”, how would you describe yourself? How do you define yourself?

Are you your dreams, hopes, and aspirations? Your fears? Your likes and dislikes? Your life experiences? Your beliefs and non-beliefs? Your habits and obsessions? Your past and your future? All of the above? Are these enough to capture your uniqueness and all you are?

You may find that words can feel limiting in capturing your you-ness. But it still feels important to try to define yourself because you want to tell your story.  You want someone to know you and share a connection with you. You want reassurance that you are not alone. Ultimately, you want to feel loved, whether you believe that it is possible or not.

Most people may say that it is only natural to search for love outside of ourselves, and this is what they do throughout their lives. If they feel love coming from somewhere – a spouse, a friend, a child, or a pet – they feel like they have something. If love leaves, there is a devastating sense of loss. So, in this scenario, love is something that can be lost and found, given or denied, accepted or rejected, and valued or neglected.

As long as we are looking to be loved and reassured by someone or something outside of ourselves, it is unlikely that we know who we are. As long as we feel like we live on an island and are searching for connection among other islands, our sense of separation tells us that we are incomplete. And this is where we will begin the story of the Ego and its relationship to awakening….

The Ego, at its core, is a fundamental perception that we are isolated and incomplete. This perception shapes our view of ourselves, others, and how we experience life. When we look around, it may seem like most people are seeking to complete themselves – to be loved – and the drama of the world unfolds around all of the resulting fears, vulnerabilities, and insecurities. Most people are not OK with how they “see” themselves, and there is an underlying sadness, which they continuously mask through posturing and various distractions (including the very act of seeking).

By its nature, Ego-perception is self-absorbed. It continuously compares everything relative to “me” and “mine” vs. “not-me” and “not-mine.” The Ego compares us to others, and our possessions to the possessions of others. Based on these comparisons, we may feel like we have more or less value than someone else.

There is a link between Ego and emotional reactivity. We may find ourselves continuously reacting to  perceptions, and we may not even question if what we perceive is real; it all feels very real and personal. For example, someone may hear what someone says and perceive it as an attack – even if the other person had no such intention. That someone will promptly react to this perceived attack as if it were real, unaware and unconscious of the fact that he or she is battling illusory shadows. The drama does not exist, but that doesn’t stop an entire dynamic of conflict from arising. What’s interesting is that, after awakening and releasing old emotional debris, the distortive lens of the Ego ceases to operate. Instead of imagining reality, we just see it for what it is and ourselves as love itself. We no longer create drama where none exists.

The Ego is like a cocoon, wrapped tightly around the machinery that is intended to perceive reality clearly. Ego-based actions prioritize the individual – either in the positive or the negative. We may either base our identity on putting ourselves  down, or self-aggrandizing, or vacillating  between the two. We look outward to see something reflected back about ourselves, and we are constantly staring at our reflections. The world’s only purpose appears to be to reflect us to ourselves, and we may not truly see anything else. In fact, we live in a world full of people who are infatuated with their own reflections. Are they ever really seeing or relating to one another? What would motivate them to break free? How often do they truly exchange love, gratitude, respect, and service? It is easy to receive love when it affirms one’s identity, but anything else feels difficult and irritating, as it confronts one’s idea of self.

The Ego likes to play games that help us to feel more alive. It-You may play the victim or the aggressor, the smart one or the unintelligent, the superior one or the inferior one. Self-negativity, counter to our intuition, is an effective way to feel alive – the amount of emotional drama it generates can be addictive.

The Ego has fear at its root. Because we feel that the Ego is us, we may attack or defend against anything that appears to threaten our identity. When someone brings up certain qualities about ourselves, we are likely to defend and justify ourselves, or we may get angry and walk away, or we shut down. It is difficult for us to simply listen to how others perceive us because the threat to “me” feels too great. The Ego makes us feel like we have to protect our island at all costs!

The Ego constantly looks for attention. It needs continuous affirmation. Whether through sadness, despair, or social contact – it seeks reassurance. While under the Ego’s spell, we do not feel real unless we act out the games the Ego needs to play. While we are dismantling the Ego, it may feel like we are dying – and, in a sense, our perception of the self is dying.

The Ego is neither evil, nor good. It is just a lens through which we have gotten used to seeing the world. However, this limited perception is not who we are. There is so much more to us, and we may never know it if we continue to be trapped in the Ego’s version of our world. After we no longer identify with the Ego, we are free from the illusion. But while we are under the Ego’s spell, everything we perceive – no matter how distorted- feels very vivid and real.

Very few are aware that they are caught up in this illusion because they identify with the illusion. At some point, a person may sense that something is off, but he or she can’t quite pin it down. This individual may be ready to start dismantling the Egoic structure, which got him or her this far. This person is no longer fulfilled by seeking love outside and may start the journey of transforming the very mechanism that senses and interprets reality. And this is the beginning….The process of awakening, guided by a teacher, breaks the illusion and dissolves the perception of separation.

While working on dismantling the Ego, it is critical to stay in touch with the teacher, who may help you handle the intense energies that arise as you confront illusion. The teacher also helps you to become conscious of the illusion, which you may not even know is there. You won’t truly understand the Ego until it is confronted by an awakened being, and – for a brief moment – you realize that you are not that. After you have this experience of the Ego, you know what it means to live an illusory life and to be free from it – you get a glimpse of where we are all going.

While the basis of an Egoic identity is the fear of isolation, freedom from identifying with the Ego – awakening – is the state of love itself and knowing that we are already complete. An awakened being is only interested in sharing the love he or she already feels, and this love is not conditioned by any life circumstances. A free being no longer perceives the self in a way that can be hurt or elevated above others. And, there is no longer emotional reactivity to imagined shadows. Emotions pass through the nervous system and do not stick – they come and clear right out!

While it may be impossible to define yourself using words, you can learn to feel your true self as a state of love that is an integral part of all existence. Feeling this truth will allow you to express it with ever-increasing clarity, and celebrate your Light as the Light of all. The Ego is complicated, but the Light is simple.

What’s on a spiritual path?

A spiritual path awakens the sleep of illusion…

At some point, you may start to feel like life has lost its luster. You may feel yourself wondering why you are here, why everyone and everything is here, and what is the purpose of life. You may begin to yearn and long for the truth about existence, even if you are not sure how to go about looking for this truth. At this point, you have taken the first step toward a spiritual path….

A spiritual path begins with an intuition that there must be something more to life, and its practices aim to free us from prior conditioning and illusory perceptions. It is a path of awakening and stripping away the layers that block our awareness of existence. Over time, we become less reactive to life and more aware of who we really are. We identify less and less with our aches, pains, frustrations, and discomforts, and begin to see ourselves beyond our life experiences.

We begin to relax into life and relate to everything with greater ease. And, as this continues, we start to feel a living stream that pervades us all, as the fabric that is – literally – living all existence. With this awareness, we feel joy, freedom, happiness, and relationship in its true form. Our lives begin to reflect this awakening more and more. “Love” takes on a whole new meaning, transmuting from a conditional emotion to the living force that is reality.

Awakening to the fundamental relationship with and among all  becomes the basis of our existence. When we truly let go into this connection to reality, the Light in all becomes our identity, and This is what lives our life through the body and mind. Service to others, care, connection, and joy arise naturally and spontaneously.

A spiritual path moves us out of the endless chatter of the mind…

Although you may initially enter a spiritual path through the mind – by asking questions, analyzing spiritual writings, and thinking about your life –  this mind approach is ultimately limited and must be surrendered to the emerging faculty of the intuition of reality.

Our culture emphasizes the training and education of the mind. Thus, it is no surprise that intuition is not considered an intelligence at all. Furthermore, our intuition is frequently clouded by the lack of clarity of how we perceive reality. However, as our perception clears and our intuition is trained, intuition becomes a channel for transformation.

The mind is still useful, but it takes its proper place on the tool belt of experiencing reality, rather than being the primary way to make sense of reality.

 A spiritual path can be uncomfortable…

True transformation that unites with the living Light stream, when it occurs, is unmistakable and permanent. This transformation changes how you perceive the world around you and your relationship to it. You feel the living Light physically as your body.

Until you are transformed, the feeling of the infinite may come and go. At some point, It stays….You will know this, and others will feel it from you.

The path to transformation can be extremely uncomfortable because who you think you are is being dismantled. All of your attachments, insecurities, and hurts – regardless of how deeply buried in your unconscious, are brought into the Light – one by one – to be surrendered. Our spiritual teachers offer us the energy and inspiration we need to help us break free.

Practicing connection to ourselves and the world is a channel that leads to awakening. However, this heartfelt connection can also stir up what we want to block, forget, avoid, and run from. The process of becoming aware of the totality of ourselves can be very uncomfortable and even scary. When you deeply identify with a certain perception of yourself, it can be very challenging to let go.

I remember how I defended, fought, ignored, and denied insights about myself offered by my teacher and life situations. In many cases, an insight from my teacher felt like an attack. Now, I see those confrontations for what they were – a gift of force to help me break through my illusion. The closer the Light got to my core illusion, the more resistance I felt to letting it go. Eventually, the resistance itself dissolved.

Without proper preparation for the spiritual path and the help of an awakened teacher, you may become overwhelmed by the intense energies running through you. Preparation for this path is essential.

A spiritual path is easier with proper preparation…

Preparation for a spiritual journey is about cultivating a soft and gentle heart toward ourselves, others, and the planet.

I did not properly prepare for the spiritual path when I started. I entered with a hardened heart and fiery intensity. I pushed and pushed toward – what I considered – a “goal.” One of my teachers called me Agnibhakti – a devotee of fire. Regardless of how much my Ego was confronted, I stayed in the spiritual burning state and worked through it – always coming back for more. While perseverance and steadfast resolve to keep coming back to the practice is important, I could have tempered this fire with a loving and caring attitude toward myself.

Since a very young age, I did not like myself. I felt that, if transformed, I would become more lovable, more worthy, and so on….It is this dissatisfaction with myself that pushed and pushed me on the path. My intensity was good for getting a job done, but not for truly connecting with people.

In hindsight, this made my transformation process much more difficult and more painful than it could have been. Although the transformation softened me to some degree, I had to let go of much more for years thereafter to continue to soften. Perhaps this is the way it had to be for me – learning to balance intensity and softness. The more I soften, the more deeply my body entwines with the living Light stream, and the more focused is my intensity.

A spiritual path is easier with an awakened teacher…

A path to awakening usually involves the help of an awakened teacher. Forging a relationship with a teacher is probably unlike any other relationship you may have experienced in your life. Although, you always want to present your best side to your teacher – your sweetest, most “spiritual” self – you know that your teacher sees completely through you. You feel transparent, with all of your bullshit and beauty exposed. Curiously, the resistance you feel to seeing yourself as you truly are may cause you to feel like you are being attacked.

My teacher presented me with insights about myself through words, gestures, and looks. Although I did not talk to my teacher very often, I always felt the connection. Despite my best intentions, I felt uncomfortable. Later, I learned that this discomfort was really the discomfort I felt with myself, and the experience of being more aware of what I was really doing. I was not just experiencing my words and actions. I was also beginning to become aware of my intentions. In many cases, this discomfort felt like burning.

My teacher gradually listened to less and less of my bullshit and often gave me uncomfortable insights about my bullshit. Intellectually, I knew that my teacher was helping me, but I resisted the help because I thought I was my bullshit.

Even those who have been on the path for a long time often question their resolve when the spiritual heat is on: “I don’t need this shit.”, “What does this teacher know anyway.”, “I am sick of feeling like crap about myself.” Many abandon the path even after years of working diligently. It is difficult to not take things personally, but it is necessary – if you want to come out on the other side of this process….

This cycle of confrontation, burning, and coming through on the other side happened over and over and over….Coming back, over and over, is key and depends on your own intention and the level of your preparation to embrace all that you are – before you can let it go….