from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

the stories we reside in when we let ego be king

I should start by saying that the situation I write of below is a) no longer active in terms of negativity, and b) wasn't a big deal anyway. I'm teasing it out here as this stuff happens all the time in any relationship, and I'm recording my experience for myself, as if observing; and for anyone else who might be interested in this whole journey we make with others, and how we might make it wisely, or attempt to.

So picking up a thread from yesterday: of course it's not actually retribution, retaliation and revenge I want. But what I really want to do is to react; it would be temporarily rewarding to righteously demand that I am understood, that I am heard, that justice be done (in my favour, of course); that my friend's misinterpretation, criticism and/or unjust accusations (as I see it) are retracted. I want to explain and justify. In short, I want to be right.

I also know after so many years of practice that actually wisdom lies in remembering to respond rather than react. Of course, this is easy to notice after the event!

I've written of this before, in and also here Anger is simply part of the human condition: it often points to something that needs addressing, and the need to react to it is also a necessary part of survival, self-esteem and self-belief – from one point of view. (It's also useful to fuel our sense of injustice in the socio-political arena: to make steps towards change in the wider world – provided we use it skilfully.)

But personal anger arises from the ego's fearfulness. When we are hurt it can reach to our core. What we fear is that we mean nothing in the greater cosmic order, or even in relation to another. We fear dissolution and loss of control; the ego is insecure to the point of taking everything personally all the time. These are the stories we reside in when we let ego be king. Buddhist teacher David Loy says that the ego is more like a process or a function; that's a useful insight. It isn't fixed, unchanging, 'what we are'; its motivations can be winkled out and seen for what they are: self-serving and controlling.

And it's true too that of course we need ego. Knowing what's OK for us and what is not is useful, not to say crucial, for navigation. Not taking on another's anger but responding to it skilfully is an important tool; at least as important is not believing in our own anger as reality.

What I notice on the rare but thankfully increasing number of occasions when I can stare this in the face and let things be until some spaciousness arises is that once the immediacy of being seen to be right dissolves, my response is altogether more kind – of course. I come back to balance.

We live in the stories we make about ourselves, others and the world, and the ego likes to reinforce them because otherwise – what? Nothing? No-self? No-one to blame? Then what?

No-one else can make me feel angry, betrayed, accused unless the stories I live in tell me that; which of course they will, unless challenged, as we filter all our perceptions, experiences, feelings, thoughts through our own mind and believe them as truth.

So this morning on my meditation stool I am facing as usual the three habits most of us fall into as a way of attempting to shore up ego: analyzing, blaming and fixing. Ezra Bayda says: '... we spend most of our time lost in the mental world. We are literally addicted to our thoughts, whether we are planning, fantasizing, worrying, dramatizing, conversing, or whatever. If we are honest, isn't it true that most of our time is spent spinning in thoughts?' Guilty, m'lud. 'There are three habitual grooves where most of us get caught spinning in the mental world: analyzing, blaming, and fixing.' Yep, yep and yep. 'These conditioned patterns are detours from being present to reality, and taking any one of them guarantees that we will perpetuate the story line of "me".'*

How does this change when I remind myself that 'I' am not a little pinprick spinning in isolation, but part of a 'we', and everything I do and think affects, however minutely, the whole?


* From Detours from Reality, excerpted in The Best Buddhist Writing 2009, ed Melvin McLeod.

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