Posts Tagged ‘ego’

If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time. It’s very important to be aware of them every time they come up.

– Deepak Chopra

In meditation we use mental noting to name thoughts and feelings as we observe them and let them go. This observation of ego has helped me to be more aware of my own ego while sitting and throughout my day. When thoughts, feelings, or actions arise I’m able to be the observer. “Oh, you’re wanting affirmation. You’re afraid of losing control. You’re judging them.” Simple observations shift our mindset and take our practice “off the cushion.”

~ Namaste

So, mindfulness and meditation isn’t all warm fuzzy feelings. When you dig deep, you often dredge up some real junk. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always manifest while you’re sitting and ready to deal with it.

More and more I see my ego at work. I see emotions before they rise and they’re not all pleasant ones. The longer I sit with them lingering in the air like unwelcomed guests, the easier it is to name them for who they really are.

“Your ego wants to be stroked again. You want to be in control again. You’re judging that person to make yourself seem better again. You’re really just scared of being alone again. You’re really just scared of being a failure again…”

At least I see them now, I remind myself. At least I can do something about them instead of acting on them. At least I can edit before I press send.

So I should see it as progress or maturity, right? Maybe, but it still feels like crap! I can’t apologize for having an ego or feelings. It’s part of what makes us human.

Now I need to go sit with them for a bit. I don’t expect to get rid of them, but I want to get to know them, to make peace with them… and myself.

It only took my 34 years to learn what she has already discovered by 9.

I’ve been enthralled by Brian Swimme’s book The Universe is a Green Dragon. I trust that you already know that we are children of the stars, literally. The planets, comets, moons, and even life on earth are all products of star dust. For that reason Swimme describes the universe observing itself through us:

We are the self-reflexion of the universe. We allow the universe to know and feel itself. So the universe is aware of itself through self-reflexive mind, which unfurls in the human. We were brought forth so that these experiences of beauty could enter awareness. The primeval fireball existed for twenty billion years without self-awareness. The creative work of the supernovas existed for billions of years without self-reflexive awareness. That star could not, by itself, become aware of its own beauty or sacrifice. But the star can, through us, reflect back on itself. In a sense, you are the star.

This got me to thinking. Often we live our lives trying to discover where it is we came from and wondering where it is we are going, not knowing either for certain. What happens to the world around us once we’re gone? Did our lives really count for something? Make an impact on others? All of those billions of stars had no idea of their own significance until we came along, formed from the leftover dust of their death. Just because we don’t know what will happen in the future doesn’t mean we won’t make a difference. One day we will become dust again, and in time we will return to our source, another star in another time that will one day too explode into a world of new possibilities. It really isn’t such a small world after all, is it?

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Luke 14:1-14

I doubt that Jesus ever turned down an invitation to dinner. While reading through the Gospels, you’re as likely to find Him at a table as you are on a dusty road, and He didn’t appear to be all that concerned with who the host might be. On any given day you might see Jesus eating on paper plates with the riff-raff of society or on the fine china of the well-to-do. By His own account His freedom of association apparently fostered an ugly smear campaign, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Luke 7:34 NKJV.

Meal sharing was an important social event of the day that reminded everyone just where they were in the pecking order of the community. To be invited was a great honor, and to sit at the head of the table was a double honor. This is the sixth time that Luke records Jesus being the special guest of religous leaders. You have to wonder why He kept accepting the invitations after being repeatedly set up and exploited. Then again, why did they keep inviting Him? Jesus had a knack for working His way through their philosophical mine fields and often left them choking on their own hypocrisy, but the establishment was determined to undermine His ministry and disgrace Him publicly.

On this day Jesus was not the only invited guest for dinner. Another guest who showed up was a man suffering from a medical condition, known as “dropsy,” which caused fluid to accumulate in his body and swell his legs, most likely the result of a heart or kidney problem but often regarded as a curse for sin. The trap was sprung pubicly for all to witness. Do you heal him or not? If you don’t heal him, you’re cold-hearted and have no compassion, but if you heal him, you’re disregarding the Sabbath and have no morals.

It’s a techincal gray area for what’s permissible behavior on the Sabbath. So in His wisdom and wit Jesus deferred to the ruling of the experts, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” They would not answer, so Jesus healed the man and sent him away. Then he asked them “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” The different sects actually had writings that set precedent for just such a scenario. One group believed it was ok. The other said they should stay in the well till tomorrow. Now, they could not answer without exposing their own hypocrisy.

If people were superstitious enough to believe that dropsy was caused by sin, in their minds Jesus didn’t just heal him physically. He was actually removing the consequence of sinfulness… guilt and shame. Neither was Jesus satisfied with just silencing His hosts. He went on to tell a parable that revealed that they suffered from an accumulation of self-righteousness that was no doubt caused by a spiritual issue of the heart.

As you read the rest of the passage, it appears to be a simple lesson in social etiquette and graces, but it actually threatens to undermine a religious system that endures to this day. Luke makes a special point to say that this is a parable, which implies that there is subtext and meaning of spiritual signifigance.

When I was young we had a family tradition on Sundays that we would all go to my grandparents’ house for lunch after church where my aunts, uncles, and cousins would all get together. My grandparents had a really big dinner table where all the food was spread out like a feast, but it was still only large enough to seat the grown-ups. So there was a smaller table in the kitchen for the big kids and lap trays on the floor for the little ones. I’ll never forget when I was older in high school that one day I was promoted to sit at the big table. I thought that I had made it, but it would be several more years before I had fully arrived and was allowed to join the adults at the table for coffee in the afternoon.

The seat you sit in often says a lot about your place in the world. Just last week it was reported that an assitant high school principal in our area sent out an email to her faculty requiring teachers to sit the black boys in the front row of the class to keep a closer eye on them. While African-Americans have struggled for fifty years to move to the front row, I doubt this is why they wanted to be sitting there. Although the principal quickly recended the order and reprimanded the assistant, it’s shameful and painful to see discrimination and prejudice limping along in our day.

I have no doubt that you have also witnessed situations in life, where things just seemed out of balance. Often times, we don’t have a choice in the seats we take. We do what we must and look to a day when the scales will be even again. In Luke’s day there were enormous socio-economic gaps between the wealthy and the poor, between men and women, between the insiders and the outsiders, and those who had power and those who suffered at its hands. By the time this Gospel was written it had been several years since the death and resurrection of Christ, and many people began to question whether or not Jesus would return in their lifetime and exactly what that meant for Him to return. So there was a growing divide between those that believed and those that questioned. It was tempting to believe that injustice would prevail and the score was fixed, but Jesus told this subversive parable that counters the imbalance in the world. See vs. 7-11.

We learn in the parable immediately following this one that the kind of banquet that God plans comes with an open invitation to everyone. In that parable just like in Jesus’ day the religious leaders and the self-righteous scoffed at attending such a banquet where just anybody would be sitting next to them. Instead they scampered to be on the A-list to the members only parties where they would “see and be seen.”

If we understand this idea that God invites everybody, that puts us all on equal footing. No one is better or more deserving in attendance than the next person. A friend of mine who is a Southern Gospel singer/songwriter wrote a song called “The Ground is Level at Calvary.” The same goes for the religous leaders of Jesus’ day as well as our own. Our preachers, deacons, and missionaries must lead through service and humility and not from the power of a position and notoriety. We live in a strange modern era where many Christian leaders are operating and being treated like CEO’s and rock stars, which is just a post-modern upgrade to “touch not the Lord’s annointed.”

I remember attending a Pastor’s school at Beeson Divinity School several years ago, and Alistair Begg was the featured Bible teacher for the daily services that week. I was amazed by the way he handled the Gospel of Luke that week and the personal humilty that came through his message. Immediately after the service we were all gathered in air-conditioned tents on the lawn for lunch. I looked up to see him seated just a few tables over from my wife and I. It was strange because no one was sitting with him at first until the other tables began to fill up. I guess it was kind of like when Moses came down from the mountain and his face was glowing.  His message was just powerful that morning. I was struck that he was eating a sandwich and chips on a styrofoam plate like the rest of us. That may sound silly, but I imagine he could have been smoozing with the other speakers at a nice restaurant. I never saw any of the others in the lunch tent that week. He could have retreated back to his hotel room until the next service, but he didn’t. He ate with us, which I remember today even more than the message that he preached.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV.

We all have friends and family members that we love to spend time with and enjoy their company. Jesus set that example for us in his life, so he’s not condemning that kind of fellowship. I think in these last verses he’s condemning exclusive fellowship and challenging us to be intentional about who we include.

I have greatly enjoyed using Celtic Daily Prayer of the Northumbria Community in England as a devotional guide for my prayers and scripture readings. They adapt a form of family prayer for meals based on the Jewish prayers for Shabbat. When giving thanks before sharing a meal they mention the importance of leaving an empty seat at the table with an extra place setting:

“To welcome the Christ who comes in the guise of a stranger or ‘unexpected’ visitor. [To] remind us that we long for the coming of Christ – His returning – and yet honour his presence with us. Also, it teaches us to treat with honour whoever may come and be given the place prepared as His.”

It’s required of us to make outsiders feel like insiders and as insiders to be humble and gracious hosts. Back when I was in college and recently married, I met an older couple through a want ad in the paper who needed some help. I learned that the husband was completely blind and the wife was legally blind. They really wanted to go to church but had no way to attend. Although I was traveling about 30 minutes to serve as worship leader, I offered to bring them with my wife and I. We had seemingly nothing in common and regardless of their disabilities they were just a bit peculiar.

I remember helping them from their house to the car that first Sunday morning. The wife ran back into the house as we were leaving because she had forgotten her tambourine. I was in a panic. I knew they would stick out like tambourine players in a church full of white Southern Baptists, and I knew that my pastor absolutely loathed the tambourine playing in the services we did at the state prison. I sweated the whole way to church not knowing how to handle the situation.

When we arrived at church, I helped them out of the car, and when the wife went to pick up her tambourine I politely told her that I didn’t think she would need it. That didn’t matter, because she “wanted” it. Of course you would know that they wanted to sit on the second row in front of the pulpit. I remember leading worship and those two carrying on up front with their tambourine, while everyone was looking around to see where they came from. I felt like timidly raising my hand with a red face and announcing from the pulpit, “they’re with me,” but I didn’t want to single them out anymore than they were already. They came to church with us for several weeks before they decided to go elsewhere.

I say that to say that the people that we often have an opportunity to include may be very different from us. They may not have good hygiene or proper clothes. They may be uneducated or hungry. They not believe anything remotely close to the way we do, but still when we make room for them, we make room for Christ.

I sat at the big table as a pastor for several years. These days I feel like I’m back in the kitchen again on the floor with my Snoopy lap tray. I seem to make a mess of things often enough. From time to time I even flick a macaroni at my cousin and spill my juice, but for the first time in a long time I feel like Jesus is sitting on the floor with me, and it’s ok to be me. From Celtic Daily Prayer:

Bless, O Lord,
this food we are about to eat;
and we pray you, O God,
that it may be good
for our body and soul;
and, if there is any poor creature
hungry or thirsty walking the road,
may God send them in to us
so that we can share the food with them,
just as Christ share His gifts
with all of us.

“All relationship is a mirror to the self. Those whom you are deeply attracted to or repelled by are both mirrors of you. You are attracted to those in whom you find traits that you already have but want more of, and you are repelled by those in whom you find traits that you deny in yourself.”Deepak Chopra, Power, Freedom, and Grace

I didn’t agree with this when I first read it. I thought about the people who “repel” me, to be polite. No way, I’m not like them. After I continued reading and began thinking about specific traits in people that attract and repel me, I think he’s right.

  • What are some of those traits in people that attract me to them?  I enjoy being around people who are inquisitive, creative, independent, humble, selfless, positive, and enjoyable.
  • Those traits in others that repel me? I loathe people who are judgemental, narrow-minded, critical, elitist, negative, and sour in disposition.

I would like to think that I find some of those positive qualities in myself. I certainly hope that they increase, but I have a hard time confronting those darker qualities in me, “my shadow,” as Chopra calls it. Truthfully, while I have come a long way, I can look back and see many of those darker elements in my life history, and from time to time they try to raise their head and have their way with me again.

How does recognizing these familiar traits in others impact your relationship with them? First of all, it goes a long way to breaking down the walls in “us vs. them.” He may be a sorry, terrible, no good son of a bitch, but he’s really not all that different from me. When I was still pastoring churches, the phrase I used often to keep from judging others was “there for the grace of God go I.” Especially, when I worked with inmates for years in the state prison, I recognized that there was only one wrong decision between where they were and myself. Strangely, I often felt more in common with some of those inmates than the people in the churches that I pastored. That’s the subject for a whole other post, but mostly I identified with the inmates because their weaknesses were on display. There was no pretense about perfection, as there was on Sunday morning at church.

If I recognize those “repulsive” traits in others as being similar to those tendencies in me, I am less likely to judge and more likely to empathize with them. In doing so I come closer to accepting myself with all of my faults and shortcomings. I shared this other quote from Chopra’s book as a comment to a friend’s post earlier today: “Self-acceptance, total self-acceptance, means self-forgiveness. When you forgive yourself and stop judging yourself, then you won’t judge others, and there will be less conflict in the world.”

Now it seems we are digging close to the heart of the matter and must tread softly. Our ego’s are a many fragile thing, to turn a phrase. One of the compulsive reasons we have for judging others is that we do not accept ourselves. Chopra urges us to “embrace your shadow, understand your shadow, forgive your shadow.” I have come to believe that the driving force behind dogmatists that are bent on making everyone agree with them is that they are very insecure and need the agreement of others to reinforce their own shallow ego’s.

If we enlightened moderate types can be honest with ourselves, we too crave the agreement of others. We all need and want affirmation from others. I’d love to have ten comments to this post from people telling me that they relate to what I’m saying and support my opinion, but self-acceptance means that I am at peace within myself whether or not people agree or disagree with me. It means that my self-worth is no longer dependent on winning others over to my side. Dialogue and debate can be good and healthy. There’s nothing wrong with having different opinions, sharing them, or defending them, but there is a huge difference in conceding a point versus picking up a gun and killing your neighbor over it.

The greatest battles today rage inside the heart of man. The secret to peace in the world isn’t that everyone relinquish their positions and embrace uniformity. Perhaps the secret to peace in the world is that we learn to embrace ourselves.

“Living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us.” ~ Brennan Manning, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat

I can’t say that there was a time in my life when I tried to portray myself as anything more than what I am, but there have been plenty of times when people have assumed me to be more than I am. While I have never intentionally embellished my persona to win the approval of others, I certainly never offered my weaknesses and failures for public consumption. No, we keep those close to our chest. So my silence indicts me still.

Our sense of what really matters goes through an evolution as we continue to grow. Like all humans I spent the better portion of my life hoping to be liked, to be accepted. Realizing what was required to be accepted by some people, I opted to be considered odd by those in hopes of counting others as friends. I grew more and more comfortable being my own person, but enjoying the favor of others never grew tiresome.

I lived too long with a flawed belief that if people really knew me, the real me, that they wouldn’t like me. Regarding some that’s probably true, but I came to painfully learn that those who despised me most were those that did not really know me at all. For the last few years it seems for me the sum of life’s purpose is to know and to be known. At this point in my life I would much rather be known than to be accepted. If those that take the time to truly know me also choose to accept me, I will not think more of myself but will think most highly of them.