- The Facts:
'Ego Deaths' are experiences all of us must go through in order to evolve along our journey towards the freedom and serenity of discovering and becoming our true selves.
- Reflect On:
While ego deaths are painful, can we come to learn that most of the pain comes from our resistance to the process? Can trusting the process and allowing changes to flow over the course of our lives be the most important thing we can learn?
Lessons of pain known as ‘ego deaths’ are among the most difficult things to accept about life in general. At one point or another everyone has tried (unsuccessfully) to evade the deepest aspect of this experience on their journey of personal development. But in the end, those who are able to go through the mock ‘death’ of a false part of their identity will inevitably testify to the fact that it always brings them to a place of greater peace, contentment, and personal freedom.
Let’s discuss how we can recognize when we are on the brink of an ego death, and use some analogies to walk us through the process of letting go of beliefs about ourselves that no longer serve us and turning personal pain into enlightenment-level knowledge.
Understanding The Pain Of An Ego Death
An ego death is the mental and emotional equivalent of having stomach flu, food poisoning, or gastrointestinal difficulties, where your body suddenly goes into massive amounts of pain, usually followed by a lot of throwing up, your tummy working, heartburn, pain and cramps. There’s a reason this happens: some sort of toxin, poison, bug, virus or other irritant has been identified in the system, and the system goes into overdrive to flush that irritant out.
When we release on the physical level, by going to the loo, sweating, throwing up, we feel weak, tired, sweaty and shaky. We can’t focus on anything else but the physical pain and symptoms that are wracking our body. Similarly, when we have thoughts and emotion that are causing us extreme pain, we have to face and question the thoughts pass through our minds, and the emotions through our hearts that are causing the suffering. We feel weak, tired, sweaty and shaky. We can’t focus on anything else but the psychic pain and symptoms that are wracking us.
As with stomach flu, each time you throw up or your tummy works, it hurts. Your body cramps and tenses, using every tool it has to push that irritation out. But after an intense period, of say 24 to 72 hours, it stops, you’re better, you can start recovering, and go back to your normal life. Just like you have to accept the pain and symptoms of a stomach flu, you have to accept the pain and symptoms of this ‘mental and emotional flu’ you’re experiencing. In other words you have to feel the emotions that are releasing. If you are successful in expelling the belief about yourself that is causing the pain, then it’s like a piece of your identity has died, which is why we call it an ego death.
An example of this would be losing your job. The part of your identity that may die includes being a ‘provider’ or an ‘employee’. If you’re a parent, it can kills the identity of ‘able to provide for my children’. When you wake up the next day, your identification with ‘having somewhere to go’ and ‘having something to do’ may have also died. Likewise the notion that you are ‘secure for the future’. This is why it feels so bad–because so many aspects get affected at the same time.
In the case of a break up or death, you would lose your relationship to the person; so the identities of lover, friend, family, confidant, and companion are at risk. You go from ‘married’ to single or separated or divorced. Or widowed. You also ‘lose’ the label of spouse. These big changes then cause further smaller changes in you, which further break down your identity.
So, if your partner dies, for example, you would ‘come home alone to an empty house’. The ‘silence’ would be a reminder of the change in your identity. You would now have to learn how to ‘occupy yourself alone in the house’, changing your behaviors. A silly example would be preparing two meals for dinner, or even taking out two plates. Now you’re ‘a person who only takes out one plate, and eats a convenience meal alone’. This could easily see you ‘change’ from ‘someone who eats meals slowly, at a table’, into ‘someone who eats on the run and doesn’t digest properly’.
A Buildup Of Toxins
Ego deaths occur at every stage, continually reinforcing the change and loss that you’ve experienced. Now, think about what happens when something dies. It starts to rot. All these ‘parts’ of you–these actions you took based on who and what you believe you are–are being left behind, and they’re dying inside you. Once they die, they start to fester, becoming a toxin or poison that runs the risk of infiltrating your whole system. So your body triggers a response that forces you to purge those thoughts and emotions. This is what you experience as an ego death.
There’s no way around it – you’ve got to sit with the pain for a few days, because the emotional, mental and psychic pain is the process of your body purging that emotion. And if it’s a huge emotional and mental load, then your body is going to use every single avenue at its disposal to purge that load, including physical manifestations like actual stomach flu, which will put your body into ‘expel’ mode.
You will feel sad, releasing by feeling the emotion. You will feel other emotions as the thoughts linked to that experience pass through your mind on their way out the door. Most notably you’ll experience shame, fear, doubt, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, resistance, as well as inferiority, inadequacy and lack of self worth. You will cry, allowing pain to fall out of your eyes. Your lymph system will work overtime, flushing out all the affected areas of your body. Your bowels, bladder, sweat, period, gas and belching will all be utilized to flush the toxic load out of your system, as quickly as possible. Just like when your body forces you to throw up a poison.
You will experience pain on all levels as the pain passes through your awareness and leaves the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual layers of your system. Ever noticed how you cry and groan when you are physically ill or in pain? Those actions help pain leave your system, whatever the original cause of the pain is. With most ego deaths, you have ride out about a week of intense symptoms. Anything longer than that is the cumulative knock on effect of the other identity changes that have been triggered by the main loss.
The Majority Of The Pain Is Your Resistance
Take both arms and put them straight out in front of you, with your palms facing forward, as if you were using your hands and arms to press something forward. Really put your energy and effort into it, pressing as if you are pressing against an immovable barrier, like a wall. Notice what you’re feeling in your body – the tension and pain that spans your arms, shoulders, neck, and possibly even head, ears and toes as you strain and press against that invisible barrier. Hold that for a just a little bit longer than is really comfortable, pressing hard so that you can feel the strain and pain.
Then drop your arms suddenly.
Notice the relief that’s spreading through your muscles? Notice how the pain has stopped? Did you notice how much pain there was–even though you were actually pressing against nothing? The majority of the pain we feel in any shift experience is caused by our own resistance to what we are shifting–our resistance to accepting that truth about ourselves, facing that shame, or not getting what we want.
The pain of a shift or ego death really will only ever last 24 to 72 hours – all the other pain comes from you RESISTING feeling that pain. When you get good at shifting emotions, they pass in the space of a few seconds. You really just have to be truly consciously aware of the emotion and accept that it exists, and is the truth.
Shifting Your Belief System
Each of these ‘parts’ of you that is changing, and the lessons and realizations that you’re getting, tend to feel like they happen in isolation, because they happen one at a time, or immersively. To understand the idea of immersive experience, think about a time when you were scared. If someone kept reassuring you, then you never really went into the fear; you kept getting the experience of hope. Now think of a time when you had no hope–how you were scared of everything, because the fear completely surrounded you.
In order to experience something–anything–you have to be immersed in it. You can’t be in boarding school and go home to sleep every night as well; it’s one or the other. In order to ‘have the experience’ of boarding school, you will give up the experience of ‘living at home’.
Emotion is the same. In order to experience doubt or pain or fear or any other negative emotion, you have to be immersed in it. It’s all you will experience for a period of time. The immersive nature of experience however, means that when we’re inside an emotion, it feels like we’ve always been there. As soon as we’re out, we forget the pain of that experience really quickly as well, because now we’re immersed in the positive experience or emotion.
It takes years before people start looking for how the ego deaths are connected, before they start seeing the links that connect a series of ego deaths into the shedding of a complete belief system.
Like Watching A TV Show
When you look an at entire belief system, it’s like watching a TV show. You can see how the setting, characters and story develop over time. You can see the twists and turns that happen, and in order to know or experience the whole story, you have to watch every episode, because one episode can contain crucial information that influences how you see every other episode, or how you view the characters.
In order to be able to discuss that show, you’d have to watch every single episode, so that you have all the details. This includes the episodes you hate, the cliffhangers, the ones where your favorite characters die, even the cringe-worthy parts. And to watch each episode takes time, roughly 42 minutes. This is the time that you have to commit to in order to be able to say that you have watched it.
Belief systems are no different – there are ego deaths that feel like cliffhangers, moments where you don’t know what will happen next, horrible losses that shake you to your very core. However you have to go through every single episode with some awareness in order to see the entire story.
When an emotion or thought passes through your mind, it stays there for a period of time, so that you can ‘view’ it with your awareness. That’s the episode. You have to just sit that time out and not run to distraction, tempting as it may be. If you skip an episode, you won’t know if it was crucial, and you will be missing part of the information. You will not have the entire story.
Each ego death and loss you experience is one episode of your story. You can’t jump ahead or generalize from your limited experience; each episode is unique and valuable and you can never tell from one episode what the entire storyline will be. You have to watch the entire series.
No Pain, No Gain
It’s really hard to see and understand how your personal pain becomes advanced level knowledge – and most people never see it. To understand it, you need to work your way backwards, and ask yourself why this level of teaching would be delivered in this format.
The answer is relevance. If I tell you that a homeless teenager died of a drug overdose last night, then you may be shocked, but you’ll go on with your life. If I walk in and say it was your son or daughter, the game changes completely. It will rip your world apart, and it may be a moment that you never recover from. There’s no difference in the stories. In both cases it’s a homeless teenager who died of an overdose. But now, it’s relevant to you personally.
We care, in an offhand way, about the environment or other people’s struggles. But we only take action when the toxic spill is on our doorstep, or the financial trouble hits us personally. People are inherently self-absorbed by nature, and if none of the lessons were relevant to their immediate happiness, they would never notice the issue.
Take, for example, the fact that South Africa has one of the highest rates of AIDS infection in the world. Doesn’t matter to you at all does it? But if I told you that you have contracted AIDS? Now it starts to matter, hey? Now the struggles of people who don’t have access to that medication become your own struggle. It’s relevant to you, and so now you start focusing on how to fix it.
It’s not hard to imagine that Martin Luther King’s personal experiences as a young black boy inspired him to go on to become a Social Justice Warrior. When trials impact you on a personal level, they become relevant enough for you to take up on a societal level. Now that you understand why lessons happen on the personal level, let’s take a look at how they evolve into enlightenment level knowledge. A series of relationships behind you is something that most people can relate to, so let’s start there.
The Relationship Experience
The first few times relationships end for you, all you really feel is the pain. ‘This person left me’, ‘I am all alone’, and ‘nobody wants me’ are generally the themes for this level of shift. There’s also a fear that this pain will last forever. But by the time you get to the third or fourth heartbreak experience, you’ve felt the pain a few times now, and you know it will end, so your question and direction of focus changes, and you start asking ‘WHY do I feel this pain?’ Answers at this stage can vary greatly, but a common theme here could be ‘I am jealous’ or ‘I am possessive’.
So in the next round of relationships, you happen to notice when you are getting jealous or possessive, and you curtail those behaviors where you can. For a while it works, but then suddenly the issue rears its head again, and you have a broken heart once more because of jealousy. But this time, instead of just feeling pain, you start to unpack the jealousy, and you realize that it really started that day back in your childhood when your mom took away stuff from you and gave it to your sister.
And as you have that thought, and it passes through your conscious mind on its way out of the door, or you ‘drop that mirror’, you suddenly realize that it’s usually when you see your sister, or your mom favors her in some way, that you get triggered into going off the rails in your relationship. This is an active memory that influenced the way you handle this particular aspect of jealousy. We call it ‘dropping a mirror’ because you can no longer see yourself in it. It is a mirror because it shows you a part of yourself.
As that thought of release, or mirror, moves through your conscious awareness, or you view that episode, the pattern no longer has a hold over you, and you find yourself less jealous and possessive in general in life. And you plateau on that good feeling for a while. And then the next relationship comes along. And really this relationship finally seems to be going great for you. What you didn’t bank on was that it was a test from the universe. And so when it explodes again a few months later, and you find yourself feeling jealous and possessive, you begin to look at your feelings of jealousy once more.
Letting Go Of Resistance
What’s worth noting here is that the moment you’ve owned the aspect of yourself once (i.e. jealousy), it’s easy for you to reference that in future shifts. The resistance we feel in admitting to that aspect is taken away completely once we admit to it the first time. It’s the shame that stops us from admitting to it in the first place.
By this token, you can really shortcut your development journey by owning every single characteristic you think of as ‘bad’, by just saying it out loud: I am selfish, I am inferior, Nobody likes me. To boost the strength of this exercise, give an example from your own experience that proves each comment true. Then when you need to access that knowledge in future, you don’t have to waste days and weeks trying to overcome the ‘shame’ of acknowledging that part of you that is present in all the rest of us as well.
So, for example, nobody likes me because I never get invited to social events. Or, I doubt my abilities because I messed up at work. By finding the example you align to the energy more quickly, and it takes away the shame for when you need to see those parts of yourself later on.
Back to our analogy: you’re looking at a relationship mess (once again), and you’re confused, because you cleared the stuff about your sister, but the word ‘sister’ triggers an idea for you, and you realize the same pattern plays out between your mom and her sister. Basically you and your sister are treating each other the way your mom and aunt treat one another. We call this a ‘generational pattern’.
You are repeating the same patterns of behavior across the generations, because it has passed down in the bloodline and DNA of the family. So you find a great healer, and you clear this. It could be several generations back on your mom’s side, which is where it originally started, or where the original active memory event happened in the life of the ancestor that burned it into your family heritage.
For a while after that release, things are great; your mom and aunt are getting along, you and your sister are doing great, and you even manage to find a new relationship. But you get involved with the wrong person, someone whose behaviors and words leave you feeling on edge and suspicious. After a few months of feeling constantly tense, you find yourself once again displaying old patterns of jealousy and possessiveness. But this time you know it isn’t something from your past. You’ve cleared that. Also past experience has taught you that going into the pain and drama, and creating a scene, will not help.
So you start to take a careful look at your partner, and over time, maybe you come to discover that your partner is cheating on you. So where before you had lessons showing you how jealousy destroys bonds, now you are discovering how your jealousy actually serves to protect you. Had you not felt suspicious, and noticed the change in your behavior, you would not have found out that you were being played.
Again a lesson of jealousy, but this time a lesson of jealousy positively aspected. Now that you have put the negative reasons you show jealousy behind you, this lesson (or mirror) shows you the positive ways that jealousy can actually serve us and keep us safe. The relationship is not worth keeping, and so you end it, and once again you are facing heartbreak because of jealousy. However this time your identity (remember ego deaths?), has changed in much bigger ways. You are no longer a person who just openly trusts. You have become more cautious about the people you choose to go out with.
So it takes you longer to dive back into the world of dating this time, and when you do, you find that you have attracted someone who has also experienced infidelity in the past. The ‘mirror’ or energy that has attracted you towards each other in this case, is your mutual fear of being cheated on again. In the beginning this is great, because you both know that you can trust each other completely, and you feel secure and confident in your life. And this pays off in a big way when you get offered a fantastic new job that you are so excited about.
Turns out though, that this new job is a test too, and as you start working the extra hours required by your new role, you discover jealousy and possessiveness from yet another angle, as your partner now becomes jealous and suspicious of you. In the beginning, you spend time reassuring your partner, because you have massive empathy for his or her situation–it’s what drew you together in the first place after all. But after a while, you start getting tired of the constant demands, made worse by how tired you are keeping pace with your new job and responsibilities.
And so, once again, the inevitable tension caused by jealousy sets into your relationship, and slowly begins to tear it apart. It probably finally ends on a day when you have a thought like, ‘Wow, I can see how my behaviors in the past drove my ex away!’
In the moment of that thought, two things happen: first, you acknowledge that you are being driven away by similar actions and the current relationship is ending, and secondly, you find yourself responsible for ending the past relationship. When that happens, blame shifts from your ex to you, making you wholly or partly to blame. And an additional mirror here is the fact that you have chosen to end both relationships.
Bigger Picture Comes Into View
In the moment that you accept that blame, you ‘understand’ the actions that your ex took, and probably reach a degree of forgiveness and compassion for their choices as well. This is an interesting stage, because it’s the first time you really see that this applies to others beyond just you. So it starts becoming a societal level issue. Now, in future, when you notice jealousy and possessiveness, you no longer only see it in relation to yourself, but you see it in others as well. You see it playing out in their lives, and impacting and evolving their relationships, changing how they deal with people.
Because there are so many more people than you on the planet, you actually now have a hundredfold more examples of this energy, or ‘mirror’, playing out around you, and so you begin to learn about the energy more quickly. Since you have been on many sides of the coin, you find yourself able to easily understand others’ points of view in the situation, being able to step into their shoes because you were there once yourself.
So where, at the beginning of your journey, you may have counseled someone to ‘be jealous if they want to, because you can’t love someone and not be jealous,’ you now find yourself advising a jealous person to curtail their behavior, because their actions of jealousy will do damage to the relationship bond. What often slips your notice at this point is the fact that you now understand that jealousy is the same for all of us; we take similar actions when we’re jealous, and those actions lead to similar types of results. In other words, by this stage of development, you start realizing that this wasn’t just happening to you alone – it’s a common experience.
So, the next time you experience jealousy, in yourself, or in others, your mind starts wandering to questions like ‘what creates jealousy in all of us?’ This leads you down many rabbit holes of information. For a while, for example, you may notice the similarities in events that trigger jealousy. Or you may stumble onto a piece of information like ‘karma’, the idea that actions that you took in past lives are playing out now in order to redress the imbalance. Once you stumble onto something like karma, you are required to understand that experience moves in energies.
Seeing It As Energy
So now, when you stumble across jealousy again, you think of it as an energy, and you begin to study the energy of the experience. What moves through us, how does it move us, what are the pros and cons, how can it be utilized? The moment you reach this juncture, it’s a short hop to understanding that all these life elements we face are just energies, and so you retrospectively begin to apply that knowledge to the rest of your life, looking at other energies and how they have impacted you.
At each layer of growth, you take your personal experience and apply the compassion and understanding gained from that previous experience, onto understanding the similar situation that now presents itself. This ability to take an idea and apply it to understanding another idea, is known as extrapolation.
Over the years, you’ve gained knowledge about jealousy as you’ve been looking at all these different angles and views of it, and as you’ve played different roles in the circumstances jealousy creates: you’ve been the good guy, the bad guy, and even gone from the good guy to the bad guy with a single thought as you understood your ex’s point of view and how you drove them away. And this has given you a very well-rounded view of the aspect of jealousy.
You’ve noticed it in others, how it impacts their lives, and you’ve shown both compassion and irritation for it. You’ve seen jealousy itself as being both good and bad. Importantly, though, you understand that it is inherent in all of us, and we all have similar experiences with it. This always leads to the question of ‘where do these inherent traits we have stem from?’ ’What is it that connects us all?’ ‘Why do we have such similar experiences?’
Seeking The Source
Once you start heading down that road, it always leads to answers about what connects us all, what we share and have in common. And when you’re speaking about a big, all-knowing, all-pervasive energy that unites us all, you are in the realms of Source, Higher Powers and God. Even here, you will find answers from your personal pain, asking questions of yourself like ‘is God jealous?’ Or perhaps finding where in cosmic history jealousy stems from. The energy only reared its head in your life to make it relevant to you so that you discover the next layer or angle of information.
It doesn’t matter where you start, or how personal your info is, eventually the knowledge that you draw from those personal experiences will be higher, because you will looking at different parts of the aspect. There will only be a certain number of aspects you really look at in depth across your life, because once you see the pattern that they are all aspects, you will extrapolate the knowledge of how to deal with any kind of aspect in the same way.
And the areas that you get repeated exposure to become your areas of specialty. So if you had a narcissistic parent, it’s because you wanted to understand narcissism in all its forms. And you will have understood it when you can see the narcissism in yourself and own it. These areas of specialty are how our journeys are unique even though we all learn the same stuff. You will get a comprehensive look at a few areas that will become your focus later on in your journey The fact that these energies have been so present in your life, means that you will have viewed so many other aspects through a lens of that energy.
For example, someone who started an aspect of faith at a young age, would see most of their journey as happening with God. They would view each experience they approached through a filter of the primary faith aspect. So someone on a journey of faith would experience an ego death of jealousy as growing or decreasing their faith. An atheist on the other hand may come via the karmic or ego journey path of experiencing the emotions, only coming to acknowledge a Higher Power much later on. So they would see how these aspects can be experienced without the lens of faith. Their experience of jealousy would be on a very personal level and human in nature.
Someone who came via a path of healing, conversely, would always be asking the question ‘how do I heal this?’ This turns challenges into opportunities to develop the ability to heal the self and others, creating a nature that sees everything as having the potential to heal or be healed. Someone who is very focused on celebrity will always be wondering how this brings them to the world’s attention, while a money-focused person will always be asking how they can turn this experience into a business venture. This is the serial entrepreneur who is ‘inspired by their life’.
Someone who experienced a lot of loss early on, would view every experience wondering how this could detract from what they have, and how they would and could lose; someone who is used to winning will look at how they can emerge on top. The person who sees the losses is a fantastic risk analyst, while the winner makes for an inspiring leader. The leader can only be great with the help of specialist advisors like the risk analyst, who can see things that leader may not even think to look for.
Same Lessons, Different Contexts
The order in which you learn information, and the lens thorough which you view those lessons, will determine the unique nature of your journey and experience. But the idea that the lessons and the journey are different for everyone is silly. That would be like creating a different degree for every single engineer who entered university. The point of a degree is that there is commonality, and shared knowledge, where people are able to help each other and collaborate by having a shared understanding of certain concepts. The lessons are the same for us all, otherwise we would never be able to help each other or progress forward.
We all feel the pain first, and then start looking into our pasts to discover active memories, generational patterns, karma and more. We then find compassion and forgiveness by being in the other person’s role, and then we start looking at a wider view, taking into account the social and societal impacts of aspects on all of humanity. Through that we come to know what connects us all. The key is to not judge your lessons, and to just experience them.
If you are stuck at a place, it’s because you’re meant to be. In essence you chose to be. You chose these circumstances in order to learn the ‘all’ of that particular aspect. And it keeps reappearing in your life because there is something there that fascinates you, something you want to learn. It’s telling you to get curious and find out what all those somethings are!
In order to know everything about something, you will have to immersively experience it from all the different angles. You will have to unpack all the layers, seeing it from every viewpoint, and living in each experience for a period of time. This is how you will come to know everything about something. It doesn’t matter what your lessons are, or how personal they seem, or how silly the answers and statements seem. Trust the process and you will find your way. It’s guaranteed.
Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 26: The Banker)
The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.
From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.
Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.
‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”
26. The Banker
In the banker’s office at the village bank on the island of Allandon, the glassblower was just completing a loan application for renovations to his glass shop. He was about to sign when he noticed something peculiar about the final sentence.
“What’s this?” he asked as he read the final line: “Warning: late payments will not lead to prosecution.”
“Yes, what about it?”
“Well, it must be a typo. Surely you meant ‘…will lead to prosecution.’”
The banker smiled to himself for a moment. Then he said, “Do you want me to let you in on a little secret?”
“Sure,” said the glassblower.
“A while back many people were not making their monthly payments on time. They had every excuse in the book. So I had that line added to the bottom of the contract to prevent them from taking advantage of me. And so you’re right, it is a typo. The printer put in the ‘not’ by mistake.”
“Well, don’t you think you should change it right away?” asked the glassblower.
“Well, I was going to when it first came to my attention,” said the banker. “The first customer that saw the new contract pointed it out. But he thought it was my way of showing my trust in him. He promised that he wouldn’t let me down. I was too embarrassed to tell him it was a typo.”
“But then you didn’t change it.”
“I was planning to, but before I could get in touch with the printer, another customer also noticed it. She was amazed at the way I was willing to do business. She made quite a big fuss about it.”
“Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. What if the word got out that you were doing this?”
“Well, long story short—it did. She told a lot of people and suddenly they were coming to me, calling me ‘the trusting banker,’ and ‘the caring banker’. And certainly they would all be looking for that line in their contracts when they came to me for loans.”
“And so you were stuck.”
“You could say that—but I promised myself that I would fix it the next time someone was late with a payment.” After a slight pause the banker added, “That was twenty years ago.”
Whenever we want to ensure right action, whether it be in a business deal, teaching our kids, or holding a vision for humanity, we tend to automatically resort to discouraging wrong action. This is the persistent temptation we face living in a world of duality.
Proclaiming ‘Thou shalt not…’ followed by a threat of retribution has long purported to be what is required to maintain an orderly and harmonious community and world. The underlying assumption here is that there are universal ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ actions, an absolute code of what is good and what is evil. In many religious traditions, there exists a supreme Being who is the author and enforcer of an absolute code of moral conduct, the rules and commandments that we must follow in order to be saved. This supreme Being presides on our ‘day of judgment’ after our death, to determine if our cumulative actions in the world merit either eternal salvation or eternal damnation.
I’m not saying this state of affairs is impossible, but it has long puzzled me how an all-powerful and omniscient Being could ever find the motivation or desire to judge good acts from evil acts, since this Being is ultimately the source of all acts. The idea that this Being would somehow have a need for our obedience, or have any needs whatsoever in fact, doesn’t make any sense to me. It smacks of anthropomorphism—our tendency to give human attributes to something that is not human.
This ‘supreme Judger’ appears to me as a projection of our Ego Self onto the Being that I have called the Dao. When we come from the perspective of the Ego Self, then we tend to be deeply involved in matters of right and wrong, judgment and retribution. We are likely to believe that some among us are basically evil, not to be trusted, and if given the freedom to act from an inner compass will undoubtedly seek to harm others. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because in coming from an environment of mistrust and fear we continue to create mistrust and fear.
This perspective is only reinforced by the media, which sells copy and maintains ratings by clearly distinguishing the heroes from the villains in our society. It is easy to buy into it, as it can be comforting to know who the good people are and who the bad people are—especially since we consider ourselves to be on the side of good. And so naturally it appears more than obvious that we need to have some common form of morality to contain the potential damage coming from the bad guys.
The idea that we will be considered good if and only if we follow some universal code of moral responsibility towards others is very tempting, as it saves us the work of figuring out from the inside how we should act. But therein lies my firm objection, and why I take the opposite tack: I believe we have absolutely no moral responsibility to others. We do not ‘owe’ people respect, compassion, or charity. Of higher importance is that we actually feel that we have a choice.
Our true moral obligation, our path, our destiny, and also not coincidentally our greatest bliss, is to endeavor to find and be our true self. But this is not even a real obligation, it’s a choice we made that we have forgotten about, the choice to come into this world. If we owe other people anything it is to get to know ourselves better so that we can act from our connectedness while sharing the gift of our unique perspective. The closer we move to the center of our being, the more we become aligned with our freedom of choice, of real choice, not of choice based on compulsion or command. My experience of life has shown me that when I am free to act in accordance with my true self, my Dao Self, I act out of love. The love flows easily, and is genuine and empowering. When I am ‘loving’ as a result of some outwardly proscribed moral directive, the expression is always dry, stunted, and unenthusiastic.
What is morality but one person’s idea thrust upon another? No system of morality ever sponsored great love, compassion or true acceptance. All commands, orders, rules and imperatives come from the fear of the Ego Self. Even the greatest commandment of all, ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ loses its essential power if it is taken as a commandment rather than as a proposal freely offered to consider. Enlightened masters who spoke powerfully about love such as Jesus understood that real love is a natural expression of our true self. Throughout our history the tendency of humans has been to misinterpret this call to love as a ‘you must do this’ rather than a ‘try this on’. I don’t believe it has ever been the intention of the truly enlightened masters to have their offerings hardened into mandatory moral codes.
When we stand behind a moral code we can become righteous about our own moral superiority. From on high, it is easy to condemn and judge others for what we have determined are ‘evil’ acts. But this judgment and condemnation is actually the lynchpin of the entire problem. Someone might say, “I believe that everyone should respect each other,” but in saying so they might feel justified in closing the door to respecting people who do not respect them. And so the person who most desperately needs respect and love—the one who cannot in a given moment respect and love others—does not receive it, and we all get stuck. It is only when we are able to move closer to our Dao Self that we get in touch with our authentic desire to respect others, out of the pure joy of expansion and expression of love. This respect is afforded even when—especially when—the other has no respect for us, because this is where the respect is most pressingly needed.
Consider the possibility that right and wrong are never absolute, and in fact we are all continually making it up as we go along, to create dramatic effect in the unfolding of the play called human life. In the old Spaghetti Westerns, we could tell the good guys and the bad guys apart, since the good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the black hats. The difference in real life is that everybody thinks that they are the good guy. They really do. And do you know why they think so? Because they are. We are all good. Wars and fighting only occur between some good guys who have one idea of what is good and other good guys who have a different idea about what is good.
The sooner we see that good and evil is really a fabrication of the Ego Self, the sooner we will be able to take the next leap in consciousness, and come more fully from our Dao Self. When we do, we will gain an understanding that we are all fundamentally good, and when we are able to act authentically we can be trusted to exercise our free will in ways that will benefit others. It stands to reason: from the perspective of the Dao Self, we and others are the same. Coming from our Dao Self we would never harm the world because our Dao Self is the world.
No matter how ‘moral’ we consider ourselves to be, if we are still judging others for being less ‘moral’, then we are instantly pulled by our judgment out of the realm of our Dao Self and back into our Ego Self. For the time being, I think the best we can do to move things along is to realize that those who do ‘wrong’—that is to say, detrimental to others—are simply acting out of fear, and are unaware of their true nature. Rather than being condemned and castigated they need to be understood and accepted. The condemnation of evil should not be confused with the celebration of good. The emotional need to exact revenge by condemning people who have perpetrated crimes is the same as the emotional need behind the crime itself. We actually circulate divisive energy by overtly demonstrating our opposition to ignorance of self. And so to me, whenever I see on the news the hordes of people standing outside a prison, vilifying a man or woman who is to be executed for a heinous crime, I can only think that those people are projecting the very darkness that they are condemning.
The attempt to legitimize the separation of people as good and evil, worthy and unworthy is itself a denial of our unity and connectedness as human beings. As Khalil Gibran says,
Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, so the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf does not turn yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree, so the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden knowledge of you all.
When we come from a place of oneness, judgment is pointless. We are captured by the joyful feeling that we are all in this together. Eventually it is possible to see that all acts, those we call good and those we call evil, are really on a continuum of actions all motivated by the same basic human desire—the desire for unity. The low point of this continuum is total ignorance of who we are and the high point is fully embodied knowledge of our true nature—as One. The acts that emerge from a knowledge of self try to arrive at unity by embracing diversity. Acts of charity, humility, and compassion are obvious attempts to unite with others. The acts that emerge from an ignorance of self tend to try to arrive at unity by suppressing or destroying diversity. The need to conform is a good example. So is jealousy, which stems from the desire to be united with another. Even the act of genocide is founded on an attempt to unify one’s race or culture—by killing people who are different.
Easy now. Let’s not misunderstand what is being said here. The assertion that there is no absolute good and evil does not mean that we need to consider all acts as the same. When we let go of judgment we are still left with the power of discernment. We know an act of kindness has a significantly different effect from an act of violence. We know from experience that the kind of unity that the Ego Self seeks inevitably tears us farther apart. But if we as witnesses of such acts can frame them not as evil but rather as simply ignorant, then it helps us to maintain a vision of ourselves and the other as One. From there we can see that if people knew more about who they were and what they were doing that they would be seeking to unify not out of a fear of being alone but out of a love of being One.
Of course as individuals we are not there yet. We are all at various stages or levels of awareness of our true self. And that is all well and good. Being at one place on the continuum of awareness is no better than being at another. Being self-aware is not ‘better’ than being ignorant. It simply is what is. For each of us I believe a time will come in our evolution when we will realize that our diversity is our greatest gift. It is actually what makes any worthwhile experience possible. And the easiest way to achieve unity without rejecting diversity is to act with the belief that there is already a unity underneath our differences. This, in all its shades and nuances, is what it means to act out of love.
I am not saying we ought to act this way. There is no ‘should’ in love. Love flows naturally. So rather than enforcing moral standards, informing each other what is right and wrong, we are better off trying to be gentle and accepting, creating a space that is big enough to allow each person to think, speak, and act in accordance with what they believe is good. The new conversation honors your personal morality based on your unique set of values and experiences. It does not support a fixed and universal morality since this can actually serve to hide you from your true nature. After all, if you follow rules that oppose your desires, how will you ever learn about your true nature? How will you ever come to face your own ignorance? It is only in a space where we feel we are allowed to show our ignorance, our darkness, that we become capable of dissolving our ignorance and seeing who we truly are. And as we go forward we become more able to help others discover the same thing about themselves—not out of some moral imperative, but out of the joy of expressing and expanding ourselves into the world.
The new conversation is a call to heal our darkness together. There is no one we need to look to but ourselves. There is no guru, no expert, no savior, because all of us have darkness. All of us need healing. As imperfect beings we will create the space as best we can, a space without right and wrong. We only need to be authentic, and speak the truth of our desires. In an environment where we no longer feel the need to suppress our true desires in favor of the ‘right’ way to think, speak and act, we are likely to enjoy a far more empowering sense of ourselves as beings of pure love.
How To Deal With Society Pressuring You To Get Married
When I was younger, I would think about the concept of marriage and get overwhelmed with emotions: excitement for the potential to find my soulmate and to share my life with that person, fear of knowing that this may never happen, and panic in considering what legally binding myself to another person truly means. As a child, I simply assumed I’d get married, because that’s what society considers “normal.” As I got older, my perception changed and I started noticing that most of my peers shared one thing in common: All of them wanted to get married. This seemed backwards to me, as I couldn’t possibly know if I wanted to get married before I met someone I wanted to be with forever. Marriage has become a social norm; society expects you to get married and to do so before the age of 30 (sometimes even younger depending on what culture you’re from). This belief system puts significant pressure on couples, creating “the marriage trap.”
How Marriage Became a Social Norm
When it all boils down, marriage is a legal contract. By choosing to marry your partner, you are legally required to be committed to that individual and typically to share your assets. Contracts are usually made for a limited time period and designed with an “if you do this… then I will do this…” mentality. If your relationship is so strong that you know, deep down, that you will be with your partner for the rest of your life, then why should you require a binding contract to verify your bond?
According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of people in Western societies get married before the age of 50. A shocking 86% of young people in the U.S. believe that when they get married, it will be for life (literally, “until death do us part”). Many may view this number as high, but I perceive it to be surprisingly low. If you’re about to commit to being in a relationship for your entire life, shouldn’t you be 100% positive it will last forever? In Western societies, people between the ages of 25 and 35 are heavily pressured to get married and have kids. People seem to be more concerned about accomplishing this goal than they are about potentially marrying the wrong person. It’s no wonder approximately half of the married couples in the U.S. end up divorced.
What is the Marriage Trap?
If you’ve already decided that you will get married in the future, you’re willingly creating expectations about your present and/or future partner. You could currently be with the “right person,” but because you’ve constructed a timeline for your relationship (when and if you want to get married, have kids, etc.), you’re putting added stress on your partner and yourself. Society will also pressure you into marrying your partner after you’ve been together for a certain length of time. If you’re not married within that timeframe, people assume there’s something wrong with your relationship. The weight of all of these expectations can make couples feel like they’re approaching an ultimatum, forcing them to choose between getting married or breaking up. If you’ve felt these societal pressures or you’re struggling to decide whether or not to marry your partner, you may have been sucked into the marriage trap.
How People Typically Decide Whether or Not to Get Married:
- Allowing your partner to make the decision: the easiest way to avoid your feelings.
- Letting love guide you: If you’re referring to self love, then that’s perfect. However, if you’re assuming that your love for an individual will fix all of your problems, you have a problem.
- Fear: of losing that person if you decide you don’t want to get married, of what others will think of you if you don’t get married, or of eventually growing apart from your partner instead of together.
- Ego: Your ego says you need to get married because society tells you to do so, allowing societal pressures to force you into an unwanted relationship.
- Physical attraction: A strong sex drive doesn’t always equate to love.
- Intuition: Following your gut can often provide incredible insights; however, if you’re not self-aware it may be difficult for you to listen to guidance from your Higher Self.
- Brain: Your brain may convince you you’re in love with someone, when you’re actually in love with the idea of that person. Just because your partner checks off all of the appropriate “boxes” you used to theorize your ideal partner, doesn’t mean you’re in love with them either.
- Biological clock: It’s typically easier for women to conceive before the age of 40, so they’ll often have biological children with the wrong mate instead of adopting children or taking the risk of not having children with the right person.
- Comparing your partner to other people: One study found that our dating choices are “98% a response to market conditions and just 2% immutable desires. Proposals to date tall, short, fat, thin, professional, clerical, educated, educated, uneducated people are all more than nine-tenths governed by what’s on offer that night.” This essentially means that most people will choose a partner by comparing them to other potential partners instead of truly following their heart.
What We Can Learn From the Marriage Trap
One study found that being married is 20 times more important to a person’s well-being than their income and 13 times more important than owning a house. That same study found that marriage makes people happier than religion and money. Although marriage has the power to form a strong, loving bond between two people and provide them with happiness, I don’t think that’s the underlying message we should take from these studies.
I would argue that it’s simply love that’s making these people happy and that they can find that same love within themselves, even if they’re single. Ultimately, it all comes down to self-awareness and self-love. You need to know yourself and love yourself before you can fully love another. Once you develop more self-love and a deeper understanding of your fundamental needs as an individual and in a partner, you’ll be prepared to choose a life partner (if you even want one).
I’m not suggesting you should never get married, nor am I against monogamy. I’m simply saying you should avoid setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and others and that you need to look within instead of outwards before making “the marriage decision.” Many people view marriage and love as synonymous and they forget that they can fuel that same love within themselves; you don’t need to be married to be happy and feel love. However, more and more people are realizing this and choosing not to get married. This begs the question, are we meant to be with only one person for the rest of our lives? I don’t think there’s a clear answer to this question because it differs for every person. The only thing I believe to remain true is that regardless of whether you’re single or in a relationship, you have the ability to find everlasting love within yourself.
“The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
Inspired by: The Marriage Decision: Everything Forever or Nothing Ever Again on Wait But Why
5 Great Benefits Kids Can Get From Yoga
- The Facts:
Yoga has a number of mind and body benefits, and those benefits have also been seen in children.
- Reflect On:
Should schools be incorporating yoga programs into their curriculum?
Kermit the Frog has a wonderful song – “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” And kids love this song because they can relate. After all, it’s not easy being a kid today either. More and more is asked of them in school; they are hurried from one activity to the next; homework begins at much earlier grade levels now, and then there are all of the digital distractions that top off fully exhausting days and evenings.
It’s Beginning to Show in the Classroom
Teachers are frustrated because attention spans seem to be so short and because they have to be entertainers if they want to engage learning in their classrooms. Parents worry that their kids won’t pass the standardized state tests that often decide promotion to the next grade. So, they cart their kids to tutoring sessions, among all of the sports practices. Kids just don’t have any non-stimulated time, and that is a huge concern. This is where yoga comes in.
Yoga – the Balance Every Kid Needs
Amidst the flurry of activity, there should be time for all kids to turn off their devices and tune out their activities and school work. There should be time for non-competitive physical activity, for some quiet reflection, and for the opportunity to enhance their ability to focus.
These are the big benefits of yoga and this is what kids can get when they learn and practice it.
Become aware of their breathing and the connections between deep breathing and the body’s feel.
Techniques and games that foster this connection serve to improve focus, reduce stress, and actually cause the release of healthy hormones.
- Balance: Techniques that focus on balance do far more than just develop control over the physical body. They assist increases in attention in natural ways, rather than through medication, which doctors are so quick to prescribe. As kids focus on a balance pose, they also clear their minds, thinking only of what their bodies are doing.
- Kids have lots of natural flexibility – something that we adults lose as we grow older. Doing stretching exercises increases flexibility, a flexibility that forms in muscles and joints and allows them to “yield.” Football players who practice yoga, for example, have far fewer serious injuries because they have developed flexibility. If flexibility exercises can become habitual with kids, they will perform better in any sport.
- Focus and Awareness: A typical yoga exercise for young children is to have them close their eyes and focus on sitting just as a statue. They must become aware of all parts of their body in order to keep them still and stiff, and focus on keeping them that way. Then, when a short period of time is over, they are told to relax and just start laughing as hard as they can – a great release of energy and stress. They come to understand that they have control of their bodies and of their minds, and with this understanding comes confidence.
- Relaxation and Meditation: This may be the most important benefit of yoga for young children. The early exercises of tightening and then relaxing muscles, of holding poses and moving from one pose into another, all take the mind away from the “harried” nature of their lives and have a strong calming effect. Meditation on their mats can occur as they sit in a pose or lie flat. In both instances, children can be guided to place their thought on a single thing – maybe a favorite pet or color.
Gradually, additional visualization can be added to meditation. One small private school has an assembly each morning. Children are on mats and perform yoga poses and exercises to music. Then, the “quiet” time begins. As they sit on their mats, softer music is played and they are asked to think of one thing they want to accomplish that day and to see themselves doing it – a small activity that inspires.
Yoga for kids is all about developing habits of body and mind working together to create a more balanced lifestyle and develop great study habits. When these habits are instilled early, they tend to “stick” better.
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