The ego takes life very seriously. It says, “How am I perceived, and can I look better, be better, and do better than someone else”. The ego is a ladder climber even if it has you climbing a ladder you really have no true interest in climbing. You then ask, “How did I get here?” That is the ego in a nutshell. The ego is a big topic, and this is a small ponder. It is worth the short consideration, so here we go.
Most of us spend a good portion of our days living from our ego and our unconscious patterns or habits. We see “successful” and “popular” individuals as happy, which they may, or may might not be. The grass is always greener is the ego talking to us. I feel like many of us at some point have experienced being at the top of our family/work/social life however we still experienced unhappiness and discontent. That means there is something else, something deeper. It isn’t the good job, the spouse, the raise, and the praise that makes us happy. This makes me so curious. How do we increase happiness and where does it come from?
Yoga teaches us that we are not our ego and that seeking recognition (conscious and unconscious) is unhelpful to live joyfully. The ego is not our truest self, even though it feels that way. The ego is always on the ready even if we feel we are ego free we just might be moving from old patterns formed by the ego. The ego can be controlling and powerful. I am always curious when I feel, or I see others need to be recognized and validated and how we consciously or unconsciously invalidate others? The ego is strong with us humans. Why do I care if my family recognizes that I cleaned the floor? This is a complex, layered concept to navigate.
There have been scholarly non yoga books written on this very subject where we learn many stories of finding purpose and joy. One researcher relayed that he learned that the happiness of his subjects was attached to acting with innermost purpose and drives and not from recognition. For example, one successful executive he interviewed found happiness when they followed a deep interest to help people declutter and never looked back! That is one fantastic and brave leap to greater happiness.
In part, The Bhavagad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra speak to where we can focus our attention. There is a seed and fruit analogy used in yoga. I have simplified it below and it can be a useful framework to help us make choices. It helps fine tune where we have control and where we can act. There are three broad groups listed in the texts.
- Dormant seeds waiting to be sprouted. They might not ever sprout, and they are currently hidden. Think both positive and negative.
- Seeds that have sprouted. These are actions already in play. Think of your current physical experience, mental experience. This moment cannot be changed.
- Seeds we are planting. We can plant positive or negative seeds. This is the only place where we can make change to our lived experience.
Each moment we can plant a new seed and take a new direction. We have a choice on seeds we are planting and which direction we are going. The texts say we can make our decision:
- Without attachment to the benefits of the action
- From the ego mind
- With dullness of mind and without moral consequences
To stay focused our side of the grass, non-attachment is vital. If we are attached, we are in the ego mind. If we are in the ego mind and are looking at our neighbour’s grass. Non-attachment is where we experience greater satisfaction and happiness.
If the exploration into the ego and your happiness interests you, decern small seeds (actions) to plant. Plants seeds that highlight your innermost joys. You will know it is right because it will be more effortless. Listen to the deepest parts of your heart. Finding more quiet time to establish a relaxed state for the nervous system and the mind will help set the stage for you to listen deeply and plant incredible seeds.
Act from a place of wonder, peace and curiosity. Giving our amazing gifts without strings can make one feel less confined and it will allow for feelings of happiness and openness to arise. Still, the grass will seem greener on the other side at times. That is part of the fluctuations of the forces of our nature. These forces (guna) are always in flux. We can be moving toward stability, toward inertia/stagnation or moving for the sake of moving. Keep up the effort and continue to turn your boat to ride the waves toward stability. This is where my efforts lie.
Dig deep to uncover those innermost desires and let your joy sing out loud. Kindness and attentiveness for yourself and others. Have fun! We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously…that is the egos job.