Today I wanted to share an illustrative metaphor regarding the egoic mind and its relationship to the world we create. Many of us are caught up in attempting to force or manipulate the world into what we think it should look like. As well-intentioned as this may be, it is misguided. I drew this picture to help show why it is essential to know who we are first and foremost:
We are largely in the habit of assuming things about who we are—primarily that the “I” we are focused on is a collection of memories, stories, personality, preferences, history, relationships, etc. This construct is actually a very contracted version of the true You. It is flimsy like a shadow, always changing, and subject to death. The ego-identity, for as important as the world makes it out to be, is actually non-existent.
It doesn’t even matter what the ego dresses itself up as. All are equally unreal in the ultimate sense, and none are more helpful to humanity than those who seek to rid themselves of such falsehood. All egos can become fundamentalist about whatever beliefs they take seriously.
Once this root is pulled, pure being can at last shine through. From here it becomes very clear what to do for our fellow humans, if anything at all. One realized being sitting in supreme peace actually uplifts the world far more than a hundred angry protesters.
This is not laziness, and this is not sitting and thinking. Being is neither of these things.
I was inspired to draw this picture by a Thoreau quote: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
This is an appropriate statement for the way most of us attempt to act “morally.” We choose a few good behaviors, perhaps a “cause” or two, and become concerned about them. We then go on to believe—or at least act as if we believe—that the rest of our choices do not matter once we pick said causes and invest some energy into them.
We donate money to charity and yet purchase clothing made by children in factories. We protest war and yet go home to sharply chastise our spouses and children. We claim to love animals, yet we support industrial meat by eating it. We make claims about wanting to experience our Buddha-nature, but go on to loudly judge Christians. We say we love our family members, yet fail to accept them when they deviate slightly from the family culture.
The difference between what we profess to value and how we behave could not be more pronounced. Of course the mind always has clever justifications. I have heard them all and I have made millions of excuses in my own life for my callous thoughts and language.
It is rare to see someone striving to become effective in challenging the culture cumulatively. This is the only way it can really work, because every issue is indivisible from every other. We often settle for “good enough.” It is an act that protects the ego, which gets to continue imagining itself as this great, radical person.
Conversely, it may imagine it is never good enough, again thrown into hyperbole about what a “bad person” it is. Both views are equally delusional. The mind has many tricks to preserve its hold over us… whichever line of thinking works for the mind, it will use.
So what is this incongruity all about? Who does this?
It is not enough to answer that humans are, by nature, contradictory and bad. I find this belief to be weak and unexplored, the result of one’s own belief in themselves as being unworthy.
Throughout history there have been human beings (some are alive even today) who realized who they were and let go of half-measures. They existed in peace, gave themselves up, and become examples for what humanity is capable of.
It is worth mentioning that for these people, no matter how financially poor, there was never even a sense of sacrifice. Once you give yourself over to consciousness it becomes clear how blessed you are, even with limited “real world” accommodations. Ramana Maharshi allowed thieves to “steal” from the ashram where he lived and refused ownership of land given to him, so deep was his experience of his Self as All. He had next to nothing but was immersed in God. He was also vocal that there was indeed nothing special about him. What is called “enlightenment” is available to all, and is the opposite of “special.”
As far as ignoring the whole: The true mind does not do this. One who has awakened to Truth does not do this. The dream of separation and dualism is over for this one, and it is understood how hopelessly entangled we are with one another.
Another step: “entangled” is not even correct. We do not exist as separate entities from God, or anyone else for that matter. To be entangled or connected implies there are separate parts to connect. But this seeming separation—dualism—is playing out within a nondualistic consciousness.
And yet, and yet… words fail. Sit and see for yourself.
Our focus is extremely shortsighted. From egoic minds, we criticize the external world without taking the opportunity to turn around and notice our own patterns of hatred. Too, we miss the largest point, which is that we are what makes the external world. All of us. Together. This is a co-creative act no one gets to opt out of. You are creating the world and the culture right now whether you like it or not.
We try to take a chainsaw to capitalism, war, big banks, colonialism, political systems, poverty, racism, on and on. But, just like a tree or shrub, what happens when one limb is cut? It grows back, sometimes even stronger. All kinds of effort goes towards chopping away that which will absolutely grow back. The only permanent solution is to pull the root, which lies in your own mind.
Pulling the root of the ego reveals the truth of who you are. We must do this first, before attempting to change the world. Only then does it become clear where our strengths lie, what uplifting work we are suited to. It may not even be in any “big, grand” way. I know many people harbor dreams of being great spiritual leaders, but even this is often the ego’s sneaky attempt to dress itself up and project an “important” vision of itself into the future.
God has moved me to a town of 130 people with no social media and one backpack. I have about $600 total, and still have student loan debt. There is no long-term “plan.” Surely I am not living any common Westerners’ dream. It bears mentioning that external conditions really are not the point: Money/no money, stuff/no stuff, relationships/no relationships… It is not my lack of belongings that “makes me spiritual.” A simple, uncluttered way of life truly makes most sense to my heart, and we will all be steered in unique directions depending on our constitutions.
Upon realizing the Self, we may find that we are still moved to engage in activism, but it will come from a far more grounded and loving place—not one of divisiveness, revenge, or anger. This charged notion that “those people are doing something evil to me/us” will have dissolved.
In short: Know who you are, and do what you will. If you do not know who you are, drop as many things as you can and seek yourself. It is not a physical journey, and anyone can start taking steps. You really do not need to go anywhere but inside of your own self.
Location: En route from Burlington, WA to Mitchell, OR