Detaching From Ego

I have decided to finally make use of some writing I did around 2009.  So here’s some writing I did about ego.  (It was intended for a book – Update 2020: I will not be pursuing the book but rather this blog instead for a forum for writing.)

The word ‘ego’ implies there is someone who must be owner of it, and that it is somehow real, neither of which are so….but in any case, words are not the important thing, but rather, what they are pointing to.  Still, for avoidance of doubt just to say the word ego could also be replaced by words such as personality, me, my story, false persona, mask, self-image, self (with a small ‘s’).


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Detaching From Ego

I had spent over 40 years gaining an identity through my culture, my education, my career, my role as a mother, as a wife, as an Indian, even as a ‘spiritual person’. But the ‘me’ that I had cultivated no longer felt like me, and there was now little sense of satisfaction or security. I questioned this identity face-on for the first time in my life. If I wasn’t really any of those identities, then who exactly was I? If I could no longer define myself by these roles, then who or what could I define myself as? The answers I got to these questions left with me with little to go on, there was no identity to latch on to.

For the first time in my life I saw my ego at play as if from a distance. The funny thing was that up to that point, I had thought of my ego, or personality, as me. This was so obvious to me it was never questioned. I saw the ego’s ferocious and anxious need to maintain and protect itself, and I saw that this need constantly – even on a miniscule level – influenced my thoughts, actions and beliefs. This movement of the ego involved a subtle and often aggressive manipulation of conversations and people. It also rarely listened properly, as it was too busy listening to itself. It jumped in, interrupted, showed off. It needed to be distracted. Manipulation and control were its language. Where control could not be achieved stress was experienced. There was a sense of something lacking, something wrong. There was a motive, something to be achieved. I saw how I had so often done things, even acts of so-called ‘generosity’ or sacrifice, for myself rather than the recipient, despite appearances. There was always a gain for the ego, a desperate need to feel good about ‘me’, a need to win. What it didn’t see was that winning was not in the end, winning.

So in seeing all this, the question remained, if we are not really our personality or ego, then what’s left? The answer was not forthcoming, in fact there was a sense of nothingness. And this feeling of nothingness would continue to unnerve me. I considered what J Krishnamurti said about pleasure and pain. I had continually sought satisfaction in outer people and things and had to agree that the pleasure felt through human experiences always had its flip side: fear of the current pleasure ending and/or fear of pain taking its place. Thus, our focus is to recreate the same or the next pleasure, to avoid feeling uncomfortable.

It wasn’t a conscious thing, I just knew I wasn’t the person that had been trying to live my life. This ‘myself’ or ‘me’ was now revealed as having no defined basis, no identity that I could now relate to, or rely upon. This identity was no longer experienced as being me. What I now experienced was that there was no ‘me’, no separate, defined Reena that was controller and director of ‘my life’, there was in fact no definitive person I could actually say existed! Whoa! I mean, who exactly is Reena? What does it mean when I say ‘I am Indian’ or ‘I am British’ or ‘I am successful’ or ‘I am a failure’ or ‘I am an angry person’ or ‘I am a happy person’ etc ? The answers to these sorts of questions were simply words coming out of my mouth, but meaning nothing in reality.

This was all certainly pretty mind-blowing and contrary to my whole way of thinking. My mind (ie beliefs, conditioning) was not functioning the same way that I had been used to!

I recognized many ironies. One was that whilst we strive to ‘feel good’, no feelings were ever only happy, there was always conflict and confusion internally. If it were not so, and if it were really that simple, then happiness would be consistent, lasting and permanent! And if we were happy in this way, why would we need to seek more and more? But no permanent security or fulfillment is possible in human life through the seeking of satisfaction externally. No amount of money, possessions, power, status, sex, people or places, or even a stance of abstaining from all these, can bring us lasting fulfilment. I had never met anyone in my experience who I could say had attained a nirvana through pleasure or the attainment of (or conscious withdrawal from) goals alone. Such happiness is a short-lived and precarious thing, always dependent on something external for its existence. We want to succeed all the time, but failure is more our experience of life if we are truthful.

The mind was always plotting, planning, scheming, rehearsing, analysing, assessing, manipulating, forcing – from the moment of waking in the morning till the moment of going to sleep. It has us engaged in constantly doing things, being busy, busy, busy – and all in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable. There are two ways of being busy, one is where life gets missed in the need to escape ourselves, and one is where being busy does not involve a need to be busy and so life doesn’t get missed.

As far as I could make out, there just was no end to these superficial aspects of life, and, frankly, they were a total let-down and they sucked! For the first time I stepped back from my whole way of thinking, the incessant activity, from the superficial layer from which I operated my life, and observed it in a detached manner. When I had been under large amounts of stress, it would not have been possible for me to awaken, since in my busy-ness, I would not have been able to take a step back from the ‘me’ for I was always being this ‘me.’ There were very few moments of respite from the job of ‘being Reena.’

The ‘mental drama and struggle’ of life slowly began to lose its seduction for me. I was able to more and more let go of the subconscious need to be something I was not: to be busy, to be perfect, to be rich, to be Indian, to be nice, to be respectable, to be happy, to be wise, to be dutiful, to be funny, to be spiritual, to be whatever. It didn’t mean I couldn’t be any of those things but now the ‘I’ didn’t depend on it for security or approval. With huge relief I understood that there was nothing for me to do. That I didn’t need to do anything to force an outcome. I was for the first time seeing my ‘vasanas’ – in Hinduism, “any subconscious force that affects character” or “the preconscious inclinations that create the structure and functioning of the mind; deeply rooted habit-patterns or psychological tendencies that go on to form conscious desires and actions.”

The real despair in the heart of human beings is a feeling of being separate from everyone and everything, including, and especially God, or the Universe. The dark night represents an opportunity to find out that there is a completeness, a oneness within one’s Self, that even includes – and gradually dissolves – those feelings of separation.

s we see the truths about our own shadow or pain, ego begins to be relegated from its primary position. This relegation can involve great anguish for a human being for we have known no other way to be up to this point. Up to this point we have been ego. Ego has run our life for us. Grief and great sorrow may be felt for an identity that we begin to understand we must now let go of. As this darkness is allowed to just be without resistance, the torch of truth may put the ego in the spotlight, and we may see the impact of a ‘me’-centred life on ourselves and others. Ego makes an empty shell out of us, with no real substance, a second-hand life lived from second-hand beliefs, these forming a wall around us keeping us feeling separated from others and keeping enduring love out of our life also. My vessel was becoming cleaner and cleaner. The junk in the backyard was being recycled into renewed resources.

What was significant to me was that firstly I was now able to notice the junk. Secondly that I was now more interested in recycling it than turning a blind eye to it. And thirdly that I now knew that with some courage, it was totally possible to recycle it in a most unexpected way. If it was expected then it was not new. But this was new, there was such a sense of newness, a refreshment it was like water to a thirsty mouth. To seek to find the wondrous dynamic nature of Life whilst keeping the junk in the yard – and even piling on more on top as more and more obstructing emotional energy is generated in daily life – would be like looking for a small wild flower growing amongst the rubbish, when you could turf out the whole lot and grow a field of bright and beautiful tulips. Or wild flowers. Whatever type of garden you would wish.

I continued to experience many liberating breakthroughs. Slowly, my ‘personality’, my ‘ego’ began to dim and became less invasive. Living life through constant judgments and assessments about both myself and others began to lose its charge and attraction. Through the crevices now appearing in the veil of my self-created persona there emerged a level of calm and a lightness that had not been experienced before. My mind was becoming more and more still. I noticed my thoughts were not so ‘in my face’. Boredom was pretty much no more. I saw that I could more and more easily focus on one thing at a time without random thoughts and fears interfering. Life took on a flowing rhythm, without as much rehearsal or perpetual analysis as before. I wondered how I could have lived life through the painful stresses of identifying with my mind’s incessant vacillations and strong beliefs (about myself and others) as I had for so many years. The blow to my pride was very effective.

The relentless catharsis was finally beginning to make some sense. The penny was dropping. I experienced a sense of freedom. One of the most liberating factors was knowing that there really was nothing to do, because there is no doer. The whole spiritual impetus I had been set on took me to a place of no purpose. There was nothing to do, simply to be. And through such relaxing into life, life gets lived; it all gets done, whatever has to be done. Spiritually, there wasn’t anything to attain either. It either happens in the moment or it doesn’t happen at all. This was reality. There really is nothing real other than this moment for this moment was the only thing there ever is. I began to feel moments of joy and bliss. I had a deep sense of coming home.

Reena Gagneja, 2009

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Reena Gagneja
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