One of the main purposes of the gospel and of yoga and meditation is to zero the ego. I'm still learning what exactly the ego is and does, but the basic gist is that it is made up of our thoughts and feelings we've created about ourselves to cover up our true soul self. Most of the ego comes from past experience that we've stitched together in our subconscious to construct an image of whom we think we should be, and this self that we present to the world becomes, in a way, our god, the idol we spend all our energies protecting.
The ego is tricky. We almost never recognize it as who's talking in our mind because we've come to identify so completely with this avatar. This is a major problem because listening to the ego means following the path of your shadow self rather than that of your divinity. Listening to my ego means getting angry at my toddler for disobeying me, because my ego says as a mother I should be respected. Listening to my divinity instead means staying calm and loving at all times and providing instruction that leads to edification because I am privileged with stewardship of some of God's children. Ego tells me to be offended when someone is rude to me because they clearly don't understand things as well as I do due to all my experience and study. Divinity says Waheguru! (Praise God!) for the opportunity to be taught more about love and perspective and service. Ego puffs up my chest when I look at that beautiful loaf of bread I made or all those likes on Facebook. Divinity swells with gratitude and joy at being able to find my feet finally on the path toward which God has been nudging me. It's actually kind of dumb to list examples because you could basically just listen to the next six thoughts that enter your head and probably have five of your own!
A friend told me to read some Adam S. Miller, so I started with the softball Letters to a Young Mormon and am leisurely flipping my way through it. As I've been pondering the ego a lot lately due to SOMANY opportunities to confront it, I was pleasantly surprised at Miller's letter on Sin. He talks about sin being not so much our external actions that make God mad at us (because that's not at all what it is!) as what happens when we use our actions to tell a story about our lives instead of living our lives. "Sin is what happens when we choose our shadows over the lives that cast them. Life is full of stories, but life is not a story. God doesn't love your story, he loves you." Sin is listening to Ego instead of God. It makes us smaller and darker instead of more expansive and full of light, and that is why God forbids it, not because our sinning irritates him. Since only God has zero ego at all times, he literally cannot make commands from a place of irritation.
Monster quote alert, so heads's up: "When you sin, you sin not because you've failed to measure up to your story but because you've privileged your story in the first place. Privileging your story, you don't treat others or yourself with the care life requires. By freeing you from your story, Christ frees you from your guilt... You don't need rigid rules and expectations, you need Spirit. You need to be sensitive and responsive. Rather than filtering other people's voices through the shame-making screen of your story, you must learn to be responsible for the work of caring for what you share with them. Jesus doesn't want you to feel guilty, he wants you to be responsible."
Shame is an excellent indicator that ego is speaking instead of God. So is anger, or that feeling that you're better than someone else, or basically anything other than love and peace and creativity and the desire to uplift. And everything ego-based is a trap; mercifully, God has already freed us from that trap through the Atonement, and all we have to do is partake, not once, but ceaselessly. Even when we manage to zero our ego for a moment through humbling ourselves or being humbled, it will always find another foothold to climb back up for a new attack. In order to thwart these attacks effectively, we need to be awake to them constantly, which requires turning to God because, as our Creator, he is the only antidote to our man-made story self.
Finally, ego as it relates to faith: God knows who each of us is supposed to be as individuals. He tells us very patiently what we are and what our paths are to be if we are to find our most expansive, joyful selves. He gives us these messages through so many conduits: intuition, scripture, prophets, family, even strangers who uplift or confront us. We need to lay down our egos and be willing to listen. If you find yourself bristling at prophets' messages or at others' reactions to those messages, that's probably ego. If faith is hard for you, ask yourself why. If faith is easy for you, ask yourself why. The answer can be ego-based for both, and when we function from ego, we will never realize our divinity. And realizing our divinity is the whole stinking point.
Here's my challenge this week: pay attention to the chatter in your head and try to evaluate it from a place of neutrality. Allow one ego-based thought to push you toward repentance instead of following the usual train and see what happens. If we're awake, we should all have an excellent opportunity within the hour! And I would love to hear about it; next week's post will probably be my own experience with this, hoorah...
Confront the ego. Become one with God. Be radiant and joyful and full of love. Yogi Bhajan said that misery requires the exact same amount of energy as ecstasy, no more and no less; you just have to decide when and where you're going to spend it. I'm finding this to be true, and the times when I choose to spend energy on peace, my soul rejoices. Let us rejoice!
P.S. If you're needing help noticing and evaluating your mental chatter, try this simple meditation (cue YouTube) or, if you're feeling a little adventurous, this one.
Exploring the spiritual side of things. Brevity is not my forte.