Like you, I sometimes wake up in the morning and wonder what parallel universe I’m in. Did I just walk onto a science fiction movie set?
And yet, as I’ve said before, this is a world of our own creation.
That means, of course, that it’s up to us to fix this.
Wait, that’s ego-talk, isn’t it? Yes? No?
Actually, to me, both are true. The idea that we can fix this is both ego-centric, it borders on narcissism, and, yet, somehow quite spiritually correct.
If I, myself, think I have all the answers to all the challenges in my life, then, yes, I am trying to control things as Bret. And, despite my own self-confessed ego, I am quickly overwhelmed trying to figure out how to, quote, fix things.
Like you, perhaps, I watch the news and yell at the screen, “if only they would ‘blank’” or “that’s not how I’d do it!”
Oh, yes, my ego can run amuck. Easily and loudly, too, at times.
Oh, if only we could dive in and end the pandemic! If only we had some way of marshaling enough force to overcome the fear and despair.
Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth;Jeremiah 9:23 NRSV
Well, the truth of the matter is, we can and we do. And it’s up to our ego to get it done.
You see, our ego-mind is that which keeps us upright and walking through the day. It’s the part of us that focuses on the survival of this body, this expression of mortal life. Our ego, despite how we often express our bias, is very, very important for us.
Ego allows us to keep on keeping on while we let our capital-M Mind grow and experience Spiritual Truth.
I’ve spoken before about my time washing dishes at the Jester Center dorm at the University of Texas while a student. What really amazed me was the behind-the-scenes operations.
Jester Center is so big as a dormitory; it has its own zip code. Two buildings, the tallest of which is 14 stories. Thousands of students. Jester has its own movie theatre, convenience store, post office, and, of course, dining hall.
Every day, the dining hall served about 3,000 meals three times a day. That’s almost 10,000 meals a day!
The center of the dining hall was a square area about 20’ or so on each side. This center area had two serving lines and four places to return trays and dishes after eating.
But, the real magic was downstairs. Far removed from the diners was this cavernous area below ground where a huge staff using giant-sized machines prepared the food. Vegetables in troughs and mixers for mashed potatoes large enough I could sit inside the bowl.
Dishes were washed on tall racks that were pushed through a standup dishwasher machine that was more like a car wash.
It was the most incredible thing I had ever seen at that point in my life. It still amazes me today!
And yet, all this was built and managed to do one thing: to allow the students upstairs to focus on their studies instead of where their next meal was coming. When I was a student RA there, I never had to make coffee or cook a meal for myself. I could always go to the dining hall and know that a hot meal was available.
To me, the ego-mind is very much like the underbelly of Jester Center. I don’t really pay it much attention, and it allows me to pursue other mindful activities.
Unfortunately, like the Jester dining hall, if it’s all I know of food, then I am missing out on a whole world of tasteful treats. If I only exist within that dorm – of which I very well could – I would know nothing of truly how limited and isolated I am.
Our egos can do that to us, as well. My ego is very good at protecting me by keeping me from knowing capital-T truth. The ego knows that when I go outside the ego-mind, I learn that the body – this existence – is not all there is.
And it’s not that the ego is bad. It’s just precisely acting as it’s evolved to do.
But we, as spiritual beings, are evolving, too. And I believe our Spirit Mind is evolving faster than our ego-mind. And it should be. Our Spirit Mind – the mind that is connected to the Christ Consciousness – is eternal. The ego-mind is not. It dies with the body, whereas our Spirit Mind continues on and on, returning to the Christ Consciousness, the Divine Mind, as it were.
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.Matthew 6:24 NRSV
Now, as Unity students, we’re going to hear many different methods for getting around or beyond the ego-mind. We know about release, meditation, contemplation, and more. And all of these are great techniques for experiencing Spirit.
But, I think they work so much better when the ego is an ally instead of being considered an adversary.
Let’s do a bit of a role play, can we? Let’s say you’ve always had your heart set on your teenager going to your alma mater for college. When my boys were growing up, I envisioned seeing them walk the same hills and steps I did as a UT Longhorn. I thought they would all be handsome in burnt orange clothes.
But, my oldest wanted to be a screenwriter. Well, UT has a film program! That was my major in college. Hurray! But, no. Dan wanted to go to USC, which, inarguably, has the country’s most renowned screenwriting degree program.
Now, if I had acted as my ego, I would have said, “no, son, you’ll be a Longhorn just like your old man.”
But, my ego-self also wanted my son to be happy. And when I took him for his interview at USC and got the full-on parent promo treatment, well, oh-my-gosh. He could not go anywhere else BUT USC. Until you’re in an auditorium and the USC band come marching down the aisle playing Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, well, you just haven’t been promoted by a college!
Like that proud father back then, I believe that ultimately our ego wants only the best for us.
I’ll be honest, I’m exhausted thinking my ego is my enemy. It’s not! Like a UT alumni father, I wanted to raise future longhorns, but when all was said and done, I only wanted my sons to be happy and to follow their dreams.
Likewise, my ego wants only that for you and me, as well.
So, we need to stop thinking of our ego as a nemesis.
But how? How do we get our ego to be supportive of our Spiritual journey? How do we turn it from being so self-protective it isolates us?
I believe one way is to enjoin our ego on a mission of compassion. Bring your ego into the light of love and I believe it can be trained to prefer capital-L light to the darkness.
Our ego likes habits, doesn’t it? Regardless of whether it’s exercise or eating or something harmful, our ego is pretty good at habits.
So, let’s make compassion a habit, shall we?
Let’s begin today by reviewing everything we say in person or post on social media. I find it all too easy to post a strong response on Facebook or Twitter. But, I’m trying to teach my ego to take a breath and examine whether what I am about to send when I press the Enter key is compassionate or not. Will others who read it see it as a statement of love or one of rebuke?
Just the other day, I reacted to a post by an old friend of mine. I did not take time to fully examine whether it was compassionate or not. Apparently, he didn’t think it was. His response was very angry and very personal. I immediately deleted the post and expressed to him my deepest apologies. My ego-self still needs some training in compassion.
But just like my new diet and exercise routine, I have to keep working on my compassion until my ego expects it every time.
And it will get that way someday. The ego can be made an ally.
Just imagine what it would be like if your very gut reaction to everything that happened around you was one of compassion? Every time someone cuts you off on the freeway, your immediate response would be “I pray that driver arrives safely.” When you read a nasty post on Facebook, your new compassionate ego doesn’t start firing off an angry retort, but, instead, you take a deep breath, close your eyes, and hold an image of peace for whoever is facing a deep disturbance of their soul.
You see, when we act from our selfish ego, all we’re doing is screaming that we’re important; that we’re more important than anyone else. Even more important than our Divine nature. More important, in fact, than God, itself.
But, our compassionate ego is in alignment with our spirit Self. We’re no longer fighting to reach our Christ nature. When our ego is trained, in a sense, to be Christ-like, we are finding the pathway to salvation, to eternal life.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.Matthew 7:13-14 NRSV
In other words, if we wallow in our selfish nature, the pathway to the Truth of our existence is quite narrow.
So, how do we train our ego to be compassionate? I know from personal experience it is not easy. I struggle with it each and every day. But, I’m trying.
I’ve created what I call “minute meditations.” Whenever I’m working, driving, reading email, or watching the news, whenever I sense a bubbling up of discontent, fear, or anger, I simply take a deep breath in, hold it a second or two, and, except when I’m driving, of course, I close my eyes and let the breath out steadily. And while the breath is going out, I remind myself that I am an expression of the Christ Consciousness. I sometimes see Jesus’ face or simply a stream of light.
I don’t focus on how I feel. I don’t say, “don’t feel angry. Bad dog!” That’s just getting angry with me instead. No, I forgive myself for being human. It’s not my fault I have an ego. It is my responsibility to teach my ego to be compassionate, kind, and loving.
Sometimes, I think about Mother Teresa. I think about Gandhi and St. Paul. I am particularly drawn to those of humble lives who had such a strong impact on humankind. They existed in this world, yet were able to get their egos to work with their Divine nature and not against it.
It is our destiny to experience our Christ-ness. And to do that, we can start by nurturing a compassionate ego. And it’s never too late to start.
That means today.