FORGET YOUR SELF
The following piece was written for Huffington Post:
We are a culture of addicts, and addiction comes in many forms. It’s not just about being powerless over certain substances or behaviors: addiction also masquerades as an obsession with oneself and a disconnection with the world at large. This is our identification with the small “s” self, the ego shell that never feels satiated. The last post was about connecting with a salve that helps heal that disconnection from the whole. The Self under discussion there was the capital “S” Self, the part of us that is aware of its connection with everything bigger than the ego shell. This is the part of us that we experience in transcendent moments of love, beauty, kindness, and quietude. The small “s” self is what we are examining now. The addictive hunger that fuels this part of us is so insidious that it often goes unrecognized until we find ourselves in a state of total dis-ease.
We have a very strong tendency to confuse self-obsession and self-aggrandizement for candid self-examination. Under the guise of spirituality and healthy living, this ego worship is now in full effect. The New Age health movement has been subverted to another dogmatic ideology. And we have seen how well it has worked out with all the other dogmatic ideologies: not too well for the human, animal, and plant populations. I know what you are thinking: this guy is such a bearer of good news. What a joy he must be to be around. True as that may be, hear me out.
Stating the obvious, our mental and physical health is invaluable and we need to take great care of them. What we put in or keep out of ourselves in terms of food, thoughts, chemical and electromagnetic pollutants, etc., has significant consequences for our well-being. Practicing eating properly, juicing, exercise, yoga, or martial arts can all have great benefits for our bodymind. The occasional fasting and detox, both from foods and media, can have profound effects on our health, as well. Truly an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. But how about a fasting and detox of the ego?
Ego detox is not a popular topic in our ego-obsessed culture. In fact, health and spirituality have become the newest commodities packaged for ego consumption. There is a serious lack of introspection into ourselves and into what health and spirituality really mean. The damaging and far-reaching emotional/spiritual consequences of our narcissistic obsession with the self are hardly examined; there is no distinction between practices that fortify the ego and those that weaken it. What seems to be lost on us these days is that true serenity can come only when this self is weakened, not strengthened. All practices that aggrandize the ego inevitably lead to more emptiness and pain: there will never be enough of any thing or experience to feed this empty hole. As a result, the small self pursues health and spirituality the same way it pursues material consumption: the more, the better. But to dig a little deeper, what is it that we want these healthy bodies for anyway? To die beautiful corpses? What is our aim? Is health not meant to be a tool for a deeper cause? Furthermore, is prefect health a prerequisite to spiritual growth? What about enlightened masters then, like Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj, whom died from cancer?
Serenity is the state that we are all aiming for. That exists right here, right now… when given a chance. This is the state that the ego and its constant stream of anxiety can hardly stand, hence the incessant movement and addictive drive for accumulation we all fall into. This is not about attaining some mystical state or achieving some imagined state of perfection. Rather, it is about simply and fully tasting our ever-so-brief and vulnerable lives with all their pain and joy. We simply are not present to this process.
Here is a practice that can be helpful: incorporate some regular activity into your life that enables you to forget yourself. Those of us who have cared for a child, an animal, a garden, or an ailing person already know that caring for others and taking the focus off of oneself is good medicine. Reach out and help a neighbor, volunteer at a homeless or animal shelter or a food bank. Grab a garbage bag and clean your neighborhood. Be on the losing side of an argument you know you can handily win. Allow yourself to be humbled in some small way. Do your best to spend an hour a week not thinking about your self and its desires. Done properly, acts such as these can help remind us of our true Self because of the simple fact that we are not focused on the little self and its incessant wants and needs.
A word of caution: our egos have the tendency to turn even softening practices, such as these, into vehicles for self-aggrandizement. Keep in mind that this is about your practice, not about saving someone or something else. This will help to keep any messiah complex at bay. (Speaking of messiah complexes, there are contraindications to this practice. If you are someone who hides your pain underneath being a caretaker or taking public pride in your service, this is not your prescription. For your remedy, refer to the last post about remembering your Self. That, along with a juice and media fast, can do wonders.)