The Audience of the Ego

Is it a common human trait to want popularity and recognition? I think it must be, and if I do just a little bit of honest introspection, I can see that I share in this craving for the attention of others. Certainly anyone who is reading this is aware of the ego and it’s need to feel important in the eyes of others. We hear so many spiritual seekers chastising themselves and others for “coming from ego.” It is my ego that wants recognition, and this is somehow bad, right? Like a truly enlightened spiritual being would be free of ego and would simply be without needing the validation from the outside.

I would like to suggest a little kinder treatment of the ego. For me the ego is the part of my consciousness that identifies as “me,” and this is the student in the spiritual school of life. It would not be much of a spiritual school if its whole purpose was to be rid of all the students. It’s not as simple as that. We cannot escape our ego to attain enlightenment. We can console ourselves so that we do not crave what we do not have. We can remind ourselves to be true to ourselves and not to depend on the approval of others. We can accept when others do not want to hear what we have to say, or when they do not recognize us for our knowledge or achievements. But we cannot be rid of our egos. We must be kinder to ourselves than that.

I think my ego is about seven years old. Really. I know how to act in life to avoid making a fool of myself. I have learned to bite my own tongue when I want to clamor for attention. But the truth is, deep down, there is a part of me that has the emotional maturity of a seven year old boy, and this part of me wants to be popular, wants to be picked first, and wants to get recognized by the teacher. If someone does not like or respond to me in the way I want, then this bothers my inner 7 year old. I naturally then strive to attain their approval.

This comes up a lot in the spiritual path. There are so many people who are so famous for presenting their spiritual truths. Some of these are quite profound and some are quite common. It really does not matter, because each has its own audience. I remember the time in my life when I first read a spiritual book. It was A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. The wisdom contained in that book about the ego and inner peace was a huge revelation to me. I had never considered that before. I had never looked at myself from a higher perspective. I did not even know where the path that started there would lead.

This experience reminds me of another experience. I remember when I was young and I read my first “grown up” book. It was The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlam. I was amazed by the character of Jason Bourne. Steel blue eyes, master of martial arts, cool under any circumstances. Wow. It was the first time I had ever encountered such a character, and I was riveted by it. And as I continued to read more, I started to see that all of the heroes in all of the books were human superlatives. The first time I encountered this, I was amazed, and as I continued, I saw that it was really very common.

And so it is in the study of the spirit. That first encounter with topics like the ego, and setting boundaries, and finding the divine within were so profound. And once I developed a conversational familiarity with these topics, I developed the capacity to share them with others. I could share the new knowledge I had, and the people who I could share it with were the people that did not have it yet.

So to being a good teacher is not really so much about having the highest knowledge. It’s about finding and communicating with those who are thirsty for the knowledge. So maybe in this life I have advanced beyond the elementary stage, or at least I’ve gone far enough to have dipped below the surface. Yet I do not have a large constituent of followers. There is no one outside my door clamoring for me to deliver to them pearls of wisdom.

I almost went in the other direction, which is equally egotistical. I almost was tempted to say “nobody wants to hear what I have to say” But that’s really not at all true either. There are now 16 people who will receive notification of this writing, and some of them will perhaps read this, and maybe even relate to it. There is a small group of people in my life who I share wisdom with, in both directions. The ego wants to either be a million or zero. It’s not very comfortable with ordinary success.

And so with spiritual truths, it is really not so much about who is presenting them. Most of them have already been presented over the several thousand years of spiritual study in our society. Some of most profound interactions I have had come from people who I met from indigenous cultures of the Amazon. It’s so interesting to me to hear from them. They have such profound wisdom to share.

One is “there are none so small that they have nothing to teach and none so great that they have nothing to learn, sometimes we are the great, sometimes we are the small, and it is in the balance that we walk our lives.” That was a good one from one of the few people I have met in my life who was actually a shaman. She was explaining why it was so important to always have the mind of a child and not think we know everything. She continued, when we think we know something, then we are blocked from further knowledge. Did not Christ also speak of having the mind of a child?

Another pearl I received from that was how to listen. I was talking with my friend and she was bowing her head with her eyes closed and not responding to me at all. I feared that what I was saying was not interesting and that she was simply suffering my boorish talking until I was finished. Not at all she said. She said when you truly want to listen you have to bow your head and close your eyes so that the words come into your ears and drop right down to the heart without going into the mind first. If they go into the mind first, then the mind immediately starts thinking of responses and of how the information fits into the mind’s view of the world. But if you can let the words travel straight to the heart you can connect with the heart of the person who is sharing with you, and after they are done speaking, you can take this gift from the heart up to the mind and then you will maybe have something to say about it or think about it.

She also told me, Spencer, in your world, in your life, you can go where you want. If someone or something is not to your liking, you can be done with them and simply move on. You can go away. But here in the tribe, in our culture, there is no away. There is only the tribe and the jungle. If you go “away,” or into the jungle by yourself, well death waits for you there. Certain death. There is no “away” for them, and so it’s very important to learn how to get along with your 50 or so tribe mates in your village. So profound.

I see so many people today selling some version of shamanism, and I can’t help but react with some contempt. It seems that there are so many people offering shamanic healing and practices. Some part of me resents this, but in honesty, that is only the part of me that is envious of the recognition they receive. I (my ego?) would protest that I am not like that, but is that true? Am I really not like that, or am I simply not very successful at that?

It’s so important not to judge, but it’s hard not to as well. Maybe someone who holds themselves out as a shaman is able to access some people who really crave an introduction to the spiritual path, and maybe the title of shaman gives another person a justification or reason for listening to the wisdom that is being offered. I might have to exercise discernment to make a decision for myself about whether I want to follow such a person. But it’s not at all appropriate for me to judge them. But I do anyway right? Some part of me puts them down. There is part of me that says “oh another California Shaman”. I might even joke, how can you be sure if someone is a shaman, well one clear sign is they are not from California. But really that’s just me wishing I shared in their popularity. What harm are they doing to me?

Is it the same with celebrity? I have met a few celebrities in my life. I always feel this strange desire to be seen by them. Is that familiar? It reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live bit where Martin Short dreams of meeting Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune. He has this fantasy world where he and Pat Sajak are best friends. Isn’t that the appeal? Don’t they have their fame because we all want some of what they have?

And they do have something special. It has been called the “it factor”. It’s a larger than life energy that draws us to them and gives them power. Some use it for good, some for their own self destruction, and some seem not to be able to control it at all. The famous people I have had good fortune to meet all seemed to me to have their lives very well put together, but this is not what I see in the news. What appears in the news usually looks more like a train wreck. Maybe that’s because as soon as we build someone up we want to tear them down.

And so that’s were we find ourselves. I have the knowledge and experience that I have, and the truth, or lack of truth, speaks for itself. I can speak my truth and maybe only 16 people will have the chance to read it. Others might speak and have hundreds of thousands of followers hanging on every word. I can’t really seek followers, that would be a lot like a dog chasing its tail. But I can seek the truth, and maybe there will be someone who benefits in some small measure from something I have shared. But to continue, it really has to be me that learns from what I am writing. It has to be enough for me to write what I need to learn.

Peace.

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