Let’s talk about our egos.
We can start by stating the obvious—our egos are now on high alert. But by holding the premise that a beautiful way in which the Divine is brought to awareness in this world is through a foundation of relationality, we’re going to start disrupting our usual response to ego engagement. This is important because so many of us still harbor the notion that egos are bad. Even the quest for enlightenment is often spoken about as moving on a path toward obliteration of the ego. And this puts the very mechanisms that have been gracefully designed to protect us into their most protective mode. That process, which is often completely unconscious, makes things a bit difficult on the spiritual journey.
While it’s true that the ego may seem to disappear as one commits more deeply to the work of a spiritual life, it’s not the case that it’s disappearing into oblivion, never to be heard from again. And actually, for those committed to a tantric path, this should come as a relief—for how else is one to continue to do the work of an engaged spirituality without an egoic grounding in the joys, sorrow, pains, and pleasures of living?
But if not disappearing into oblivion, then what?
I’d like to offer a reframe to help move us away from our tendencies in the modern world toward dualistic thinking. So let’s start by simply stating where we are in the dualistic frame: there is the “I-ness” of egoic awareness and there is the “not I,” its negation. The latter, the obliteration of ego, is ego terrifying and again, very much destructive to spiritual progress for most people—we can self-sabotage, for example. On the other hand, it is also not exactly conducive to making the world a better place, because “not I” can mean a transcendence that doesn’t allow us to fully develop an empathy born of our relationship and others’ relationship to suffering in the here and now.
Should we not master the ego then, as some put it? Work it to our will and devices? Well, yes, but not in the way you might think. Attempting to make the ego subordinate creates some very real psychological problems.
Let’s try something else—the non-dualistic frame. Instead of creating a trajectory for the ego to head into nothingness (i.e., a negation of self), I’d prefer to say that through our spiritual work we make our egos more flexible and elastic. Doing so, we create a trajectory toward connection to all that is and design in the process a more diffused, non-attached awareness.
What does this mean, exactly?
It means that we gain the ability to shift the locus of self to multiple centers and still have access to centeredness. There is not one focal point; rather there is an increasing ability as we progress to move between the worlds, either: i) distributing conscious self-perception; or, ii) focusing conscious self-perception.
As the “I” becomes more connected in the world, the ability to stay detached from dualistic egoic self-preservation grows. In other words, by distributing our I-ness, we move toward deeper and deeper communion, generating relationship with the essence of reality and becoming a part of all that is. Doing this, we both expand our ability to be with suffering (i.e., to have compassion), and also to let go of our own ego-invested personal experiences of suffering. This is exactly the nature of vairagya, or non-attachment, and it is worth pondering.
An ego invested in self-preservation is unyielding and lacking in resiliency. In this characterization, it’s easy to see how such a way of being perpetuates suffering while it limits one’s experience of reality and creates misguided perceptions and half-truths. But spiritual discipline helps us surpass ego-entanglement or estrangement within the world. It rectifies any need to be at war with self or others and moves us toward freedom. Once this realization of the possible occurs, we gain access to the source of many a Tantric siddhi, and “I” in service to “All” gains incredible momentum.
By: Chandra Alexandre