Monday, May 25, 2015

Don't kill the ego, clean it up (Part 1)

(This is the 1st post of 3)
They say that an arrogant person drowns in a rainstorm because his nose fills up with water. Arrogance is not the ego, but it can be. Let me explain.
"Ego is the enemy of spiritual growth."
For many years, I believed this. For me and various others, I thought that one of the main aims of spiritual practice was to overcome it. In spite of concerted effort, I didn't seem to get anywhere. It was like whipping water to make butter. Then one fine day, I had one of those life-changing insights. I didn't have to annul it. I had to work out how to elevate it's function.
At its best, the ego is just a set of coordinates that help us navigate through life. Imagine if we had to recreate our names, forms, addresses, genders, ages, relationships and professions every day. These parameters within which the ego operates, are essential to everyday living. With understanding and spiritual power, the ego can be a great agent between our deeper selves and the reality that forms around us.
At its worst of course, the ego creates another story. Inflated or deflated by a distorted sense of importance or lack thereof, it can do a lot of damage to the self and others. When the consciousness "I am so-and-so" takes over and tries to call attention, other egos shuffle, grumble or mumble, reacting either actively or passively as they go about their own stuff.
If we pursue an egotistical objective, we may wonder why other egos don't cooperate with us. The answer is obvious. Each limited ego can only see as far as it projects itself. Selfishness is just the limited ego looking after its own little world, where no one else lives, only visits. Life becomes mostly egos visiting other egos - a constant flow of exchange between each one's little worlds and understandings. We populate our heads with others without realizing that our version of everyone else and probably ourselves, only exist as perceived by our own ego filters.
In Greek, the word ego just means I. It was probably Freud who bestowed on the ego it's wider connotations, in his structural model of the psyche. He described it as the mediator between the deep unorganized drives of the self (the id)  and the even deeper moralizing force he called the super-ego. There lies the rub. In its role of interfacing with reality, it often acts as a wolf in charge of the chickens. That's why it has become a synonym for arrogance.
If it knew its job and worked for the long-term benefit of the self and connected others, it would be praised by all. Guided by the influence of our innate spiritual qualities and wisdom, this sense of self would serve the whole instead of itself. Unfortunately it has been misunderstood and even vilified by purists and moralists alike. This was my big discovery. I didn't have to kill the ego. I had to break its limitations and 'purify' its function. For this I needed a more accurate sense of identity. Would the real 'me' stand up?
Through my study and practice of Raja Yoga I have experienced that there are basically two 'poles' in which we live and operate. One centers around the permanent spiritual entity called soul and the other around the temporary physical identity - our bodies, roles and individual 'stories'. 
The contrast between what we can call soul-consciousness and body-consciousness is shown in the following diagram:

Spiritual development means clean the filters of the sense of self we call ego. In doing so, we see the world and others as they really are and leave behind our distorted versions. This is the freedom we have been seeking. I am still working on it. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Who gives us the right to be annoyed? (Part 2)

In my previous post I shared about how we grant ourselves the right to become annoyed. No one else does it for us. The so-called righteous anger that accompanies it has become so hopelessly embedded in our culture that hardly anyone questions it. No one appreciates either their own or others' upsetness. It is just accepted as part of the 'to err is human' school of thinking.  We don't even believe that it's possible to change what is really just a  deeply ingrained habit.
If we see movie we automatically expect the bad guy to lose, to be killed or hurt. If we see someone being unjustly treated we silently wish that they get their own back. We internally celebrate the defeat of our enemies while mouthing words of commiseration. If we go into the depth of this type of behavior we see how shallow it really is. There are generally so many factors, past, present and future that contribute to any situation. A superficial reading will not reveal the deeper truths surrounding the apparent facts. Understanding them would help us to respond more calmly.
There was a story circulating several years ago about a father and his three young children on a suburban train in Long Island, New York. He was slumped in his seat, totally unaware that his kids were running up and down the aisle creating all sorts of mischief. As people were on their way home from a long day's work, they just wanted some peace and quiet to either sleep or read.
The first signs of annoyance appeared in the murmur of negative comments amongst the passengers. Gradually, a few elevated their tone of voice: "Can't you do something to control these kids?" Neither the father nor the children paid any attention. They started playing up even more as they charged around the carriage.
Finally the woman behind him tapped irately on the back of his seat with her umbrella. "Sir, please do something about your *#*# kids.  Can't you see we don't want to be disturbed?"
He turned around dolefully and replied, "I'm really sorry, ma'am. We have just come from the hospital. My wife died this afternoon. I'm a bit lost and don't know what to do."
The woman then announced to the other passengers what had happened. Immediately they gathered up the kids and started playing with them.
In some similar way, there are probably extenuating circumstances around many of the things that upset us. The problem is we can't see others' needs, only our own.
Indignation is just ego with a halo. It pretends to be everything, but  delivers nothing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Who gives us the right to get annoyed? (Part 1)

No one enjoys someone else's upsetness. We instinctively flee shouts and murmurs of disgruntlement. Therefore, who gives us the right to get upset? We have to conclude that we give it to ourselves. When it´s our turn to express our dismay with something, we conveniently forget the impact this has on them.
Most of us grow up believing that we have the right to be upset. Someone suddenly cuts across in front of us in the traffic, we wait an hour for a friend who doesn't show up, we don't qualify for something in spite of months of preparation, someone insults us directly or indirectly... the list is long. We very quickly jump into any fray that challenges the ego’s illusions. Paradoxically, we run from others who behave like this.
The trouble is when this 'right' to get upset is allied with either a sensitive nature or traces of perfectionism. Both the touch-me-not types, and the haughty can’t perceive the effect they have on others. We walk on eggshells with of the first and shun the latter. Meanwhile, they don´t even realize why they are not so well liked.
Once a friend told me that he grew up with an aunt who was such a perfectionist that she was never satisfied with her own house. Some part of it was permanently under renovation. When she died, she was still renovating. Even if she was bringing down walls and moving whole chunks of the house from one side to the other, in the parts that were 'ready', no one could move anything even one centimetre. They would immediately be subject to an irate lecture about their dirty hands or the prohibition to touch anything. Visitors knew they could come there only at their own risk. She had all the rights and everyone else none. In India they say that domestic anger even dries up the vases. Many wilted flowers in that house! Until now, this friend has difficulty in dealing with people who are authoritarian.
After listening to the story, I reflected on how great it would be if we could have such attention on our inner house, as his aunt had on her physical one. Clean thinking would be natural. Right learning would produce the necessary renovations of our character. Everything would be in its place. There would not be even the will to get upset.
One of the main experiences I have received from my Raja Yoga meditation practice is that when I am internally set according to my innate qualities, it becomes very difficult to get upset. It does not just require the will to avoid getting upset. Real inner stability is needed.
Curiously, the word upset in Hindi is naraaz. Raaz means secret. So getting upset is about not understanding the secrets! Even so, seeing the bigger picture helps.
If we train ourselves to have a wider perspective, we see and comprehend more. Amplitude of vision automatically brings stability. Otherwise, we unthinkingly react because we don't understand the secrets about why things happen.
Knowing that we live in a world where anything can happen to anyone at any time, we should never be shaken so easily. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The next dimension of ourselves

A cartoon entitled  'Dr. Quantum visits Flatland' came out as part of the documentary about the quantum view of the world,  “What the Bleep do we Know?”. It perfectly illustrates the dilemma we have as human beings.
Flatland is a world of only two dimensions inhabited by lines, circles, squares, polygons, etc. The beings of this place have only length and width. In a dialogue between Dr. Quantum and a female circle the dilemma becomes clear. Up and down are such inconceivable concepts that even to speculate on these other dimensions is prohibited. The little circle has such difficulty in understanding the word 'up' that she thinks the voice she can hear but not see if from a ghost, a crazy person and even a god.
The internal dimension where the potential of every being waits its turn, is seen by many with the same incredulity as a circle trying to understand a sphere.
The possibility of self-development from a deep understanding of self and the world in which we live turns out to be a pure journey of imagination. We are just Flatlanders trying to understand the next dimension.
In a conversation I had with a good friend who was once the president of one of the largest paint companies in the world, he reveals the difficulty of understanding the next dimension of ourselves. He said: "We are not sufficiently aware due to the relationships we have, that we are actually part of this world. It is the low level of our consciousness that reduces our ability to maintain consistency between the values ​​that we as human beings have and the values ​​that we practice as 'business beings'?
As leaders of our families, businesses and communities we have a responsibility to begin to create and sustain the unity of values ​​between what we practice and the world of which we are part. We have to become aware that we are global citizens who want to live and contribute to a better world for all of us. "

“What the Bleep do we Know”, Lord of the Wind Films, 2004 (

This is a text from my book in Portuguese, Espírito do Líder, Vol. 2, Editora Integrare