Author Dr. Vijai Sharma PHD, is a “Life Coach”in Cleveland
Recently I came across a book by Miranda Macpherson “The Way of Grace: Transforming Power of Ego Relaxation” The Title of the book got my attention: transforming power of ego relaxation!
We normally think the ego is our personal power house. Exercising ego is like flexing your power muscles you need when you want to do heavy lifting, fight with the world or push against the counter-force you face. Naturally, we fear If we relax our ego we will become “jelly like”. lacking real substance and strength. We would lose the drive by which dreams are fulfilled and obstacles overcome.
The heated debate in my mind over the advantages and disadvantages of a strong ego dragged me deep down in the memory lane when my brother once urged me to dress down my ego but he did it with a smart twist. I was young and rebellious and clashing with anyone in my family who tried to restrain my impulsive behavior. Even asking me to delay my demands enraged me. You see I wanted it when I wanted it and how I wanted it. I wore my ego up my sleeve as a badge of honor, zealous to protect it from even the slightest affront and quick to inform others, “Now you just hurt my ego (Aham)”
So one day my brother sat me down and suggested lovingly (I translate from Hindi), “You can keep your ego up and high with the whole world but put it down just for your family.” It sounded simple and doable. I said to myself, “ All I have to do is just spare my family but with the rest of the world I am free to do as I like”. So I promised my brother I will do it.
But sticking by the promise was not easy. In the beginning I had fewer successes and a lot more failures in containing the reflexive response of my ego. But as time went on and the effort continued a change began to set in. I would often remind myself of the promise I made and try to watch my behavior even more closely when I was stressed out or frustrated.
Success comes in small increments but you have to keep plugging in and not get discouraged by lapses and setbacks. Rejection of my demands and counsel by my elders to hold on and think it over still made me feel small and rebuffed. Fortunately, I didn’t quit my efforts. Gradually angry outbursts and heated arguments became fewer and less intense. Instead of shooting out in a reflex I learned to put my “emergency brakes” just as one would to avoid an accident about to happen n the middle of the road.
Don’t get me wrong! I didn’t become a saint. In spite of my attempts to do better, I was not an easy person to live with. I still had my rough edges and the “tooth and claws” which could come out in any conflict but if I watched myself early enough I could often draw in those tooth and nails like a tortoise draws its limbs in when sensing the danger.
I can now analyze how the process of ego relaxation progressed. The commitment to restrain the ego resulted in a strong need to strengthen the internal observer so I could observe my own behavior and restrain myself in time. So I began to try to put those brakes just in time before going down the slippery slope.
They say mind once stretched by a thought can never go back to its original size. Some people would never think of controlling the ego. They live their whole life with a severely underdeveloped observer and self-controller. They only react to situation on hand—not much self-monitoring or retrospection; tons of regrets after the worst happens.
Back to my own behavior, I felt a change was occurring. As the internal monitor and self-checker began to evolve and swing in action there were fewer clashes and conflicts with the family and more times of fun and laughter.
As time went on I began to concede to myself that I was not the greatest and smartest of all and that I was not always right. Once I swallowed the bitter pill of reality I could engage in argument with anyone who held opposite view to mine and though tempting I could control myself not to personally attack them. When ego is in touch with reality your relationships with others become more stable and mutually satisfying.
True leaders are not engaged in demonstrating how good they are but help you to discover how good you are. Once a leader who had earned notoriety for having a big ego was invited to deliver a keynote address. The party members tired of his big ego put a poster outside the gate, “Leave your ego at the door. Inside there is standing room only!
The boss with the big ego who dresses down the subordinates to feel superior will be resented and feared but rarely loved. It’s a public secret that underneath the superiority complex there hides the deep -seated inferiority complex.
When a child develops awareness of its body in the space, the awareness of “me” and “not me” sets in. Children begin too see their own self separate from others. I, me, mine are the most loved words. The instinct of ego is to see itself increasingly unique and distinct from everyone else. If you are growing correctly you develop a balanced perspective between self-pride and respect for others. Granted you are different and unique from others but in many ways you are just like them, no better and no worse.
When you can see part of yourself in others and part of others in your own self the magic happens. You develop strong empathy, compassion and objective understanding of others. These qualities grow in leaps and bounds when you can rise above your ego.
As I am writing this piece I came across an article on the virtues of the ego in a highly reputed newspaper. The author designated the ego as our best friend and helper with all matters physical, mental and spiritual. I didn’t plan to discuss esoteric matters related to ego but I have to do it now because such egocentric approach concerns me. The fact is that ego is only a small island in the vast ocean of consciousness. Your whole mind and spiritual self are hundred times larger than the ego. Therefore I often pray, “ God, please destroy my ego so I can access that vast level of consciousness.”
Many people are totally identified with their bodily ego. Body is their major resource of pride and pleasure. That is good insofar as it keeps you motivated to take better care of yourself but but keep at the back of your mind that when people are challenged by a major illness, loss of limb or a major handicap they must discover they are much more than their body. If they don’t they can sink deep in depression and give up the drive to fight and master their challenge.
Ego puts a major obstacle in the path of spiritual development. Inflated ego creates walls between the self and others. It becomes hard to recognize that we are all connected in an invisible bond and indeed dependent on one another for our survival and prosperity
Meditation and mindfulness are major tools of spiritual development. Ego is a constant intruder in meditation and mindfulness because ego is constantly visiting the past and planning the future. Then you can never t experience the present. Experience of eternity is in the present, not in the past and not in the future.
In Gita Arjuna asks Krishna how does one control the mind because controlling the mind is even more difficult than controlling the powerful winds. Constantly restless mind is the work of undisciplined and self-absorbed ego.
Enough of the esoteric talk; let’s get back to more mundane matters at hand. Common sense dictates that we keep the ego in check. As they say charity begins at home. So take my brother’s advice. Take the ego out of equation when dealing with your family. As you gain control in restraining your ego in interactions with your family transfer that control to other relationships. Mellow down, be gentler and kinder with relatives, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Then you will grow in all spheres, material, social and spiritual.
That could be a good resolution for the New Year!