It’s going to take a lot of awareness for you to understand that perhaps this thing you call “I” is simply a conglomeration of your past experiences, of your conditioning and programming. That’s painful. In fact, when you’re beginning to awaken, you experience a great deal of pain. It’s painful to see your illusions being shattered. Everything that you thought you had built up crumbles and that’s painful. That’s what repentance is all about; that’s what waking up is all about. – Anthony de Mello
In my previous article I explained what spiritual enlightenment is and also explained that we are not seeing the reality as it is. So why are we not seeing reality as it is?
What is preventing us from seeing reality is simply our mind. Our mind is creating artificial identification/separation with things or people. The main causes for these are:
- Social conditioning
Social conditioning and the ego
You have to understand that you basically spent your entire life believing you were your ego, letting your thoughts, your memories and your interpretation of events determined who you were. You already had a name before you were born. That’s how early starts social conditioning! Then you learnt all this concepts: success, recognition, approval, disapproval, power, competition… and you start caring a lot about what other people think of you.
Your parents and your teachers taught you that your self-worth depends on how well you respond to their expectations, on how well you behave in accordance with society’s “rules”. As a result, you became convinced that your values as a human being were equal to your values as a social being.
If people respect you, approve you and love you, then you feel great about it. On the contrary, if they insult you, disrespect you or ignore you, then you feel unworthy.
To put it simply, you unconsciously gave power to others to decide your self-worth! Society made you believe that your self-worth or your happiness depend on how others perceive you. As a result, you constantly try to maintain your self-worth by achieving more, to be better than others or to be loved and respected by people around you. Isn’t it tiring?
See this great video on social conditioning
We are all trying so hard to be somebody and believe success will bring us fulfillment. It’s what we have been made to believe after all. However, that’s an illusion. All spiritual teachers themselves, after years and years of self-enquiry, realized that they are nothing and they will never ever be anything. Enlightenment doesn’t sound that exciting anymore, does it? Who wants to be nobody? It is not that bad actually. It is rather the opposite since you feel complete and at peace, and nothing is needed anymore to make you happy. We will talk about the benefits of enlightenment in the next article.
Our mind can only comprehend the world by giving name to things and creating artificial separations. As we learn to label things around us, our mind creates images and these things become concepts.
However, labeling prevents us from seeing reality as it involves mind activity. We are not seeing reality as it is because we look at it through concepts created by our mind.
Thinking is what creates the ego through separation or identification with other things and people, so obviously we cannot get rid of the ego by thinking. What it means is that we cannot reach enlightenment through the mind. To reach enlightenment we must stop thinking. We must stop identifying with thoughts that come and go.
What getting rid of the ego really means
Dropping your ego is not just getting rid of your pride or stop taking things personally. It is much more than that. To give you an idea of what it really means let me quote the famous Indian spiritual teacher Maharaj:
“If you seek reality you must set yourself free of all backgrounds, of all cultures, of all patterns of thinking and feeling. Even the idea of being man or woman, or even human, should be discarded. The ocean of life contains all, not only humans. So, first of all, abandon all self-identification; stop thinking of yourself as such-and-such, so-and-so, this or that. Abandon all self-concern, worry not about your welfare, material or spiritual; abandon every desire, gross or subtle, stop thinking of achievement of any kind. You are complete here and now- you need absolutely nothing.”
Pretty intense isn’t it. You might start to understand now why so few people seek enlightenment.
In a sense getting rid of the ego is actually very similar to committing suicide – not physically speaking but mentally speaking. It is dying before dying. It is why, in certain rare cases, people under great suffering may suddenly awaken. It is precisely what happened to Eckhart Tolle, the best-selling author of The Power of Now when he was 29 years old. He was depressed, very unhappy and suicidal for many years. Then one day, he awakened without doing anything. A complete separation between his body-mind, and his being occurred and everything became suddenly so peaceful. At the time, he didn’t know what happened to him and it is only later that he learned about Enlightenment.
The Ego is Incredibly Tricky
After reading Maharaj quote you might have felt a strong negative reaction from your ego. You are likely to have strong attachments to some people, things or beliefs and you can’t think of any reason in the world why you should let go of these attachments. Now, you understand the power of the ego. Even if you perfectly understood the benefits of dropping your ego, your mind would still do whatever it can to make sure that it does not happen. Your ego wants to survive.
Seeking Enlightenment seems like a hassle. You might think: “What should you destroy my “identity” to reach it?”
In the next article we will see in detail what are the benefits of Enlightenment.
Are you ready to let go of your ego? What are the things you are not ready to drop in your life? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with me 😉
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