Although I avoid using words like “mission” and “purpose,” I will say that I have a loose goal with this thing: It is to write about human consciousness—the most powerful force on Earth and the biggest issue we collectively face—in a way that is relateable to those who are new to the journey. I could’ve really, really benefited from this information in the last couple years, but I largely ignored spirituality because it seemed so irrational.
When you start digging around for stuff related to “consciousness” online, you usually aren’t too many steps away from stumbling across some archangel-and-alien stuff. There seems to be a popular subculture of individuals who like to build fancy stories about what it is to evolve in consciousness. But to me, it has always felt premature to go on about the “5th dimension” while millions of human beings (on this Earth, in this dimension) are starving to death. These are the kinds of things that need to be addressed, and real world human problems can and would be solved immediately if we were to wake up to higher consciousness at once.
In the end, direct experience is necessary when it comes to spiritual realization, but there are still concepts we can grasp along the way. One of the most important concepts in all this is the ego: It’s everything you think you are (except you’re really not).
The most common metaphor for the ego is a bubble. When I first started writing about the ego, I likened it to a balloon because I didn’t want to plagiarize the metaphor from some unknown lineage of buddhas. Don’t think I’m missing the irony here: My ego’s desire for specialness decided it should use a more unique analogy for itself even though the best one was probably thought up by a nameless sage many centuries ago. The ego really delights in specialness.
The metaphor works great for a few reasons: Within the bubble—and the very thing which gives the bubble its shape—is air. No matter how big or small or how long it stays afloat, it is always made of air, and all bubbles are made of this same thing.
Consciousness is the primary principle of the universe; it is that which imbues all that we can perceive, as well as that which lies beyond conventional sense-perception. Beyond the mind there is this thing in a purer state. Within and throughout all phenomena, there is this thing. It is your true identity, and it is mine as well.
Secondly, the surface of a bubble is ever-moving. This is a response to the way the outside air interacts with its properties—chiefly, water and soap. The surface of a bubble is truly beautiful: A cluster of them may look similar, but a close looks reveals that they are all undulating independently, constantly acting out a subtle play of iridescence. And of course, because a bubble has no thoughts, it doesn’t resist this movement in a frantic attempt to find “stability.”
It does not try to force the outer environment to stop moving for its own comfort. Clearly this would be a ridiculous thing to do, and yet this is what we do all the time. Whether externally focused (as in desperately trying to control others and our surroundings) or internally focused (as in mentally resisting every situation we find ourselves in that doesn’t suit our desires), the common egoic mind has great trouble simply being.
Similarly, we struggle with allowing life to simply be around us. The bubble, being mindless, simply behaves in accordance with its nature, within and without*. If stability is to be found, it will only be in the air within.
When we cease to fight the constant change of the outside world and abide in the consciousness within, we are in peace and in power. We each move in unique and beautiful ways: Higher essence animates the ego rather than conditioned impulses, and we become both exquisitely complex and very simple—just like the rest of nature.
*The point is not to glorify mindlessness, of course, but to learn how to put distance between you and the mind.
I will reiterate again: The ego is the false self, or, if we prefer, “the temporary self.” The ego is human; the ego is of a certain profession; the ego is race and gender and belief systems and personality. These kinds of things are usually taken to, altogether, make up “who we are.” On our temporal surfaces, this is true, but considering how fleeting and fragile a biological human life is, we cannot find safety in it, though we surely try.
We can do incredible things with these fleeting forms: Play music, share stories with friends, write blog posts about our egos, dance, make love—everything. It is this “separateness” which makes individual experiences possible. And yet we also do horrific things with our egos, because we do not understand that they are not what we really are: From the egoic mind, we kill others (or rather what we dream to be “others”), make war, abuse, and exploit one another as well as many other living beings. The ego on its own has no quality; it is the awareness of one’s pure consciousness within that determines what is done with it.
The goal with the ego is not to drive it out or to “kill it,” as some people seem to think. The ego is a necessary part of this human experience: To move throughout the world independently, the ego is what holds you together. Without it, there is boundless expansion of consciousness. That can be super fun (until it isn’t), but without assistance and understanding, it is not an experience that can be easily navigated.
The idea is to continually occupy a state where the ego is seen as an illusion. From here you can inhabit the pure consciousness—your true identity—within. This is the only place of true power and balance:
When we are acting from an unconscious ego, believing ourselves to only be the surface of the bubble, we are prone to much suffering. We’re unstable and unsafe, constantly looking outside for security, where it simply cannot be found. This can result in frustration and derision (or reverence) of others who seem to have something better “figured out” than us.
As soon as we see shine the light of awareness onto emotions such as jealousy, anger, and pride (all based in the ego’s need to be separate, special, and “more” than “others”), we become a little more free. This psychological process of checks and balances can be demanding and seemingly endless, but, in the end: Freedom.
I am still very much in the phase of checking and re-checking the impulses I have that serve my unconscious ego. This usually occurs in the form of tiny thoughts that place me either “above” or “below” others. From a higher space, I know how absurd these thoughts are, and that we are all on the same crazy ride. When I’m hurt or tired, it can be hard to remember this.
The process of setting aside/humbling the ego is the entire essence of a spiritual journey. Possessions are given away, family is left behind, and the mind is given a total work over to explore and dispel delusive ways of seeing the self. Basically, anything we’re using to make ourselves feel “complete”—including our believies—must go.
Giving stuff up is not merely done for the sake of generosity: What’s being done is a systematic, deliberate relinquishing of the ego. The idea is to discover what is left when all has gone away, and to avoid becoming identified with any Earthly thing:
However, there is only one difference between someone who is “on the path” and someone who isn’t: Conscious recognition. Consciousness evolves just like everything else, and since you are conscious, you are evolving. It isn’t an opt-in/opt-out thing we have going. The shedding of the ego is an evolutionary leap that is usually made up of a lot of little steps. Sometimes it all collapses at once, and if this happens to you in a highly ego-identified culture, you might find yourself having a bad time.
Whether or not you are seeking to go through the process of ego-shedding, your ego will be taken from you in death. And before then, it will be injured in myriad ways: Losing people and things you are attached to, offhand comments that offend you, self-created thoughts that harm you, societal “failures,” etc.—these are all things that weaken the ego. It hurts, but these things are also awakening you to the Truth. This is to say, your ego is always dying.
The question is only whether we are accepting of its pre-physical death in order to find the peace beyond it, or continually propping it up in search of transient safety.
Location: Mt. Vernon, WA