Spoiler alert, in the highly unlikely event that it’s not already glaringly obvious: I have not left my ego behind me on my spiritual path. But I know a few folks who have. Instead of identifying with their personalities, they consciously wear them like luminous clothing. Their sense of Self as Source dons just enough cover to function in the world.
I’m not that…realized? Lately, though, I’ve had some success at more quickly recognizing what my ego is up to, and helping it relax into the background so the larger me can show up. This post is about one tool I use to do that.
In this case, by my ego, I don’t just mean the parts of my personality that inflate and deflate. And not just the ‘healthy self-image’ self. I mean something closer to the whole Sagittarian tango perceived as me. But even that’s not quite it.
Let’s say my ego is the part of or aspect of me that’s focused on 3-D reality. It favors stability and safety. It tries to handle experience by concretizing it. When I’m not paying close enough attention, it treats as solid a range of stories, memories, experiences, sensations, and states of being that aren’t solid at all. Right, wrong, good, bad, true, false, better, worse—it’s the aspect of me that knows how to cope with a world of dualities and tends to feel threatened by any suggestion that there’s something more subtly unifying and non-dual going on.
The ego isn’t wrong. Not exactly. It is important to know the difference between the bug and the windshield. Being oriented to 3-D reality helps keep me alive. But I don’t want that narrow a view of reality to define and control me.
My ego has a black belt in doubt. It gets uneasy when I experience creation in non-dual ways, but it’s too clever to try to shut down such experiences by saying they’re not real. Instead, when I let it, it casts aspersions on my sense of the meaning of such experiences. Or, switching sides in the same game, it makes me need such non-dual experiences to feel ‘worthy’ or ‘important’ or ‘special’. Either way, my ego knows exactly how to hook me if I let it make me the fish.
“Small moves, Ellie, small moves”*
I’ve forgotten exactly what I was doing, but I was being stupidly judgmental about something, feeling simultaneously self-righteous and disgusted with my self-righteousness—a particularly nasty left hook/right cross combo. So, I took a breath and noticed what my ego was up to.
Next, I stepped back to wonder why. “I” didn’t vacate the premises, I just shifted perspectives. Ego is made of stories, and I caught myself for the millionth time assuming my stories were true.
Noticing I was hooked on my stories was all it took to unhook me for a while. So I took a good look at this Holly person who’d moments before been so firmly perched on her pedestal, and all I could do was laugh. I dropped my judgments like a boring book and became intrigued by this notion of ego hooks.
Next thing I knew, an image of a strip of Velcro popped into my head.
Analogies are like rubber bands. Stretch them too far, they snap. But stay with me while I work this Velcro analogy a bit.
Velcro is a brilliant tool for keeping things sturdy, contained, controlled, and tight. It’s
adjustable, within limits. It’s nearly indestructible. It’s easy to peel apart from the edge, very hard to pull apart by a perpendicular attack (assuming the Velcro is strong and well-enough made).
Left to its own devices, Velcro also has a remarkable ability to pick up lint and pet hairs and crumbs and other gunk that bit-by-bit clog it up. Plus, if it’s not kept fastened up or wrapped, it tangles itself with itself. In fact, it can tangle itself with pretty much everything.
Velcro works for me as an analogy for the ego first because it’s not cloaked in spiritual or religious or psychological language. No intimidation factor. No holiness needed. No incense required.
Second, because Velcro isn’t all or nothing. Yes, each hook is binary—it’s either attached or it’s not—but a whole strip of hooks presents a whole range of…let’s call them ‘degrees of attachment.’
When I was in high dudgeon as Empress Holly Judging Herself and the World, my ego was firmly attached to itself. But just noticing that much was like peeling up a small corner of a Velcro strip, then a bit more, and a bit more. I didn’t have to open the whole strip to grok what my ego was up to. I didn’t have to dislike the Velcro, resent the Velcro, love the Velcro, or become realized enough not to need the Velcro. I just had to peel it open a bit at a time.
Practice makes practice
Since then I’ve been using this Velcro image a lot. When I catch myself falling for one of my stories—the need to be right, for example—I take a breath and imagine myself peeling up a corner of a Velcro strip. Often now, all I need to do is think “Velcro” and whatever had me hooked settles back into a non-issue.
The best thing is that it’s getting easier to unhook. I catch myself sooner, so the ego doesn’t as often attach all the way before I start peeling it back open.
Here’s where the analogy stops:
Velcro doesn’t learn from experience. Holly’s ego does. It can be cunning, and it’s fully capable of at least attempting to subvert this practice. But instead, it seems to appreciate knowing it doesn’t have to alternate between locking up tight and flapping loose, frantically snagging whatever it can. Plus, my ego rests better knowing that I don’t see its penchant for attachment as a character flaw. It’s just attachment—a tightness I can loosen or release.
Maybe my path will one day rip off my ego for good, hooks, loops, stitches, and all. Maybe death does that. But meanwhile, it’s still here, and we have come to an understanding. My ego is finally learning to relax and release its hooks more quickly, sometimes even gladly. And I’m finally learning to avoid getting so tangled and snagged.
*”Small moves, Ellie, small moves” is a line is from Contact, one of my all-time favorite movies.
This post is the third of a series in which Holly’s sharing “glimpses” that come to her through meditation, Sourcing, the occasional “bolt from the blue, ” or simply noticing.