Spirituality and the dream of the ego

 

Religion and spirituality serve different functions for different people, such as social control, a source of ethics, a sense of community, guidance, solace, or tools for spiritual practice.

One thing is quite striking: The public side of most religions and most forms of spirituality reflect the dream of the ego. They often offer or promise a life that’s just what we think we want lasting forever (heaven, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Valhalla). The term ego here refers to what happens when a thought is take as true, such as I need to be happy, I need to control my life, I need to know my future will be as I want it. It’s confused love, and innocent.

There may be many reasons for presenting this version. The people promoting it may want it for themselves and others, out of confused love. It may be a hook to get people interested and involved. They may give people what they think they want.

This is also found in more intentional spiritual practice. Traditions and teachers may offer a Sunday school version of the path and what it involves. They may talk in absolutes (complete, lasting) and present things in black-and-white. They may talk as if a state, insight, recognition or shift is permanent, as if they know the future and anything is stable. They may leave out that it may be a messy and confusing process, or the details of how it may look. They forget to mention the possibility of dark nights, and not knowing in advance how dark it may be. They may make it sound as if there is a single shift and everything is easy and fine after that. They may not mention the ongoing process of healing, maturing and realignment of the human self in the world, and how whatever is not aligned with reality (wounds, fears, confusion, beliefs) tends to surface so it can align more consciously with reality. They may leave out that it can always be more clear.

There may be many reasons for this as well. Some teachers may not want to scare people away. They may conform to a traditional way of presenting it, which deals in absolutes and sanitized presentations. The specific teacher may not have explored or gone through this him- or herself. They may think it’s better to mention it in private when or if it happens for any one student. They may not want to set up expectations for something that may not happen.

As so many others these days, I cannot help thinking that presenting an intentionally sanitized version is doing people a disservice. The ones who are sincerely drawn to it will do it anyway, because there is no real choice. Some who are less committed may leave, which is not a problem since there are so many other approaches out there. It provides a more realistic map for students. It gives a sense of transparency and honesty which invites trust. And it may be a great relief for teachers to be honest and open about it, not feeling they need to censor or leave anything out.

And if this is taken on as a belief, I notice it feels uncomfortable and a bit “off”. It seems more attractive to look at any stressful thoughts I see around this, in both directions, and find more clarity that way.

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The dream of the ego II

 

I keep returning to what Adyashanti calls the dream of the ego.

In short, it’s the thought life should be exactly as I want, always.

Most of us wouldn’t say it out loud, of course, and we may even shy away from thinking it consciously, because it does seem a bit silly. And yet, when I look at it for myself, I find this one behind most or all of my beliefs.

The underlying assumption is that if life is exactly as I want, I’d be happy always. If I go to heaven, if I reach enlightenment, if I have a nice (car, house, spouse, career), if I have 72 virgins after death, if I find Nirvana, if I go to Valhalla, then I’ll be perfectly happy and content, forever.

It may be helpful, to some extent, to inquire into these general thoughts. And I find it even more helpful to investigate this through inquiring into a specific thought in a specific situation. It makes it more real. More finely grained. It helps what I find sink in.

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End of fear?

 

I was invited to join a group on Facebook called The End of Fear.

This brought up a few things for me.

On the surface, it seems a bit naive to seek the end of fear. It seems like another “dream of the ego”, what we may want if a set of thoughts are believed about fear. For instance, fear is bad, fear means something terrible will happen, and whatever beliefs are here on who and what I take myself to be.

As Adyashanti says:

Freedom is never freedom from.  If it’s freedom from anything, it’s not freedom at all. It’s freedom to. Are you free enough to be afraid?  Are you free enough to feel insecure?  Are you free enough not to know?  Are you free enough to know that you can’t know? Are you free enough to be totally comfortable knowing that you can’t know what’s around the next corner?  How you will feel about it?  How you will respond to it?  That you literally can’t know?  Are you free enough to be totally at ease and comfort with the way things actually are?  That’s freedom.  The other thing is the ego’s idea of freedom.

And if the thought “end of fear” brings up stress for me, it means I am holding onto an opposing thought as true, and I can inquire into that too. In this case, they shouldn’t seek end of fear, it’s naive to seek end of fear, it’s misguided to seek the end of fear.

One thing that comes up right away is that the phrase end of fear may well be used in the meaning end of being caught up in beliefs about fear and what it means. I notice that seeking an “end” to anything seems a bit absolutist.

How would I say it, in a way that feels comfortable for me now? Here is what comes up for me: What do I find when I explore fear? How does it show up in the sense fields? How is to to bring attention to the sensation aspect of what my thoughts label fear? Can I be with this fear? Can I see it, feel it, stay with it as a friend, a frightened child? What are the stories behind this fear? What do I find when I inquire into these? And exploring that is quite interesting to me.

The dream of the ego

 

Adyashanti – and I am sure many others – sometimes talk about the dream of the ego.

The dream of the ego are the thoughts we, in our confusion, may have about a permanent state where what we see as good and desirable is present, and what we see and bad and undesirable is absent. This dream may take many forms: A paradise after this life. A permanent state of enlightenment in this life. A life with money, house, family, success, admiration and so on.

It comes from a series of beliefs and assumptions: (a) There is time and space this can happen within. (b) There is an I here that this happens to. (c) It’s possible to find a permanent state, something within content of experience I can rely on. (d) Life – situations, experiences – are inherently good, bad or neutral.

What does “ego” refer to here? It may sound like an entity of some sort, and yet, it’s really just the dynamics created when a thought – any thought – is taken as true: The identification with the viewpoint of the thought, and the sense of I created from this. The assumptions that the boundaries and the labels inherent in the thought are real and solid. The shoulds that may come from the belief. The emotions created from the belief, especially when life aligns with the belief or not. The life that comes from the belief.

So what’s a more realistic approach than pursuing the dream of the ego, thinking it will solve all problems and give me a state of permanent bliss? For me, it’s to find peace with what’s here, whatever it may be. Examine my beliefs about it and find what’s (already) more true for me. Perhaps even recognize what’s here – whatever it may be – as the divine, just as it is.

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Are you free enough to be afraid?

 

It is a myth that when I’m truly enlightened I can rest in some assuredness that I will never again feel insecure, or feel fear, or feel doubt, or feel those emotions that we don’t want to feel.  Forget it, that’s not it. That’s the pipe dream, that’s the opium that’s sold to the masses.  And they eat it up and they never get there, and they end up disillusioned.

Freedom is never freedom from.  If it’s freedom from anything, it’s not freedom at all. It’s freedom to. Are you free enough to be afraid?  Are you free enough to feel insecure?  Are you free enough not to know?  Are you free enough to know that you can’t know? Are you free enough to be totally comfortable knowing that you can’t know what’s around the next corner?  How you will feel about it?  How you will respond to it?  That you literally can’t know?  Are you free enough to be totally at ease and comfort with the way things actually are?  That’s freedom.  The other thing is the ego’s idea of freedom.
– Adyashanti