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ego

The Whipping Man

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The Whipping Man

Full disclosure: there was a bit of an existential crisis encountered this week. While reconnecting with a theme for my yoga teaching on the “Higher Self”, I got caught way down the rabbit hole thinking about it. What is it really?

In the past I have shared what you’ve likely heard before too. As it is taught through many different faiths and traditions and cultural idioms, the Higher Self is the eternal, omnipotent, conscious, universal, unadulterated, and intelligent being who is one’s real, authentic self.

The first visual that came to mind however was far from that; an Olympian pedestal I imagined owning after clearing gold for beating the temptation to succumb to the part of being human that would definitely eat another pint of ice cream and give in to one more slight for the argument win. Superiority. Conceit. The voice of a know-it-all that makes you cringe every time they speak and reveal yet again they know nothing.

In that moment of self-exploration the ego showed itself fully charged and undissolved while securing the Higher Self throne. I could viscerally feel the pretentiousness of my self-righteous morality bubbling up. How can I possible continue teaching yoga?

Then I remembered a saying a teacher of mine in India shared.

“Ripened fruit need not be picked; when it’s ripe enough it falls from the tree by itself.”

Yes.

The fruit—in this case the ego, the high and mighty Self, and the idea that it need be throned—has surely been ripened.

Naturally as rabbit holes often go, I began to dig for the roots. Where was this coming from? What I discovered was very telling.

The whipping man.

There he was, underneath all of this hypocritical and hollow moral high ground, provoking me to work until I win. As my own warped personification of inadequacy he has in fact been there provoking many achievements in my life. I’ve accomplished so much yet never enough, to the point that my partners, friends, colleagues and family have felt this reality as if I were the one whipping them. I’ve been whipped into shape, into new jobs and opportunities, in and out of relationships, through the overcoming of many significant obstacles in my life, and even—at least I thought— to the summit of the Higher Self. Then comes the moment in time you are reminded that you are above nothing and that there are many more mountains to climb.

A recent exchange with my partner while attempting to support him through a crisis of his own came to mind. “I feel like I will never be enough,” he said.

Sigh.

I have never said those words to him, yet he could feel them in such a real way. Out of the love I have for him and all beings whom I would never want feeling inadequate because of me, I know I have to more deeply confront this whipping man.

Rumi said, “There’s a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.”

The Higher Self speaks softly through actions, and is a place that is not high at all, but actually there, in the lowest of lows, waiting for life to bring us humbly to our knees. It’s the open arms inside that choose to love ourselves when we’ve messed up or caused harm. It is believing we are enough. It’s the hand on another’s back sharing their struggles with an empathic, “You are not alone. I’ve been there before too, it is a deep, and dark, and challenging, and uncomfortable place.” 

The good news? My banana has a few more brown speckles today. While the fruit may take a while yet to fall, I can feel my ego softening and it is a real feeling of being more human than ever before, and more humbled by how much I am learning and have yet to discover.

What fruits do you bear? What does your overpowering voice inside sound like? How does it provoke you away from the place that’s truly “higher”?

The process of maturation takes time yet as ripening teaches us, proves to be a sweet one. As you meet your own crises remember these check points are essential lessons to learn from and just through awareness alone, that which is overpowering will begin to have less power over you. Sayonara, Whipping Man, R.I.P.

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Me, Myself, and I-and i

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Me, Myself, and I-and i

That’s right, I am a two-for-one-deal. A yogi twofer. A soldier awarded the Medal of Honor gone AWOL while waging the battle between Self and self. A wise old owl, and a tireless woodpecker. A Saint of the 21st century and a Bonnie, desperately searching for her Clyde. I am often blue, but sometimes red, with unpredictable streaks of jet black. I am the seasoned teacher and new kid in school alike, and the best lesson I have every taught myself is that I-and i–still have a heck of a lot to learn.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a twofer too. As the great philosopher said, “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’.” I know that ascend; it’s that summit of self where you feel you’ve finally “made it” despite the canines chomping at your ankles, and then you take a step back to survey the landscape realizing you’re not quite sure this is it. 

And is it ever?

When it comes to the climb towards betterment, liberation, moksha, nirvana, disillusionment–whatever you want to call it–it often feels like the journey is never-ending. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all traveling with the proverbial monkey on our back, as the notorious yoga Sage Patanjali suggests, blemished by the dot of asmita: egoism.

The ego is defined as the driving force behind maintaining and enhancing favorable views of oneself, the ultimate, “fake it ’til you make it”. We’ve all done our fair share of wrestling in this arena. The fatigue that comes with this facade can actually help us soften to the idea of no longer suppressing our fears and insecurities. Quite oppositely, allowing them to fully manifest and serve as a trusted guide up the mountain. There was a saying that struck me while contemplating this very subject with a yogi friend of mine in India, “There is no need to pick at the unripe fruit, first let the fruit ripen. Ripened fruit falls from the tree itself.”

Truth.

Connecting with this idea from a real and vulnerable place allows liberation to evolve from an end, to the means to an end, when we are willing to embrace experiencing and expressing where we are in the ripening process of being completely, shamelessly, unapologetically, freely.

There is said to be an Asian tradition that when something is broken, its cracks are mended with gold because that which has cracked and broken appreciates in value. And so it goes for our cracks too. I have come to revere the valiant fails and destructive streaks, the constant pecking and the humility in not knowing. I have discovered that a bit of red mixed with blue blends into a divine shade of purple after all, and in the end, all of this is golden. It turns out that my own inner challenges and skewed perceptions of Self known collectively as “i” have served me immeasurably as one of the greatest teachers I have ever known. Is there ever a final peak, a pivotal point in the merging of our two selves? I cannot say for certain.  I do know however that for now, there is plenty of trekking to endure and enjoy with the ever-blemished me, myself, and I–and i.

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