I am reading this book called ‘Ego is the enemy.’ One of the speakers at my work mentioned this book and like all things that are on your path call out to you – this book did too. I have been fascinated by ego and always wondered if I have a big ego or not. One of the reasons is that I am very high on an individualistic scale. I love to stand apart, need a high degree of independence and freedom of expression. I also aim high and seem to enjoy power which are the trappings of Ego. And as one progresses on the corporate ladder it becomes even more tricky hence the need to read the book. Now, I haven’t finished the book but that is not a requirement for me to write a blog on ego so here we go.
To begin with Ego is not a bad thing and I don’t think we can be without Ego. Like everything else this is also a tool and we should know how to use it. Like you don’t like being angry but if you see a little kid trying to put his fingers in fire you have to act angry – Ego is a bit like that I believe.
How do you know you have ego problem? Apparently the CEO of one company has very fixed directions on how much cologne his personal steward should apply – now that is definitely an ego problem. To be honest I really don’t know what is that line when it becomes a problem but if we focus on keeping it in balance then we should ok.
What does mean to be in balance then? If something is bothering you then ask yourself is it the Ego in me – do I think I am special enough? Why is something not happening as I want it? All these are in some ways examples of ego. And if some situation in your life is causing you so much pain or suffering that you cannot stop thinking about it- then the best thing to do is to do just the opposite. This is how you will find inner peace. For example if you want your friend to call you because its her turn and now you have spent a week thinking about why she hasn’t called and how great you are etc? Then its about time you give her a call.
The book that I am reading it’s author (Ryan Holiday) says”I hope you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness.” For me that resonated with me deeply and its really hard for me to do. And we all live in a world where the world revolves around us. This whole life is a movie and we are the stars. I am not saying that all of us live our lives with puffed up egos all the time but there are times when admittedly it would make the best sense to not listen to the ego – to lose that argument with a friend even though you know you are right! When you just keep quiet and listen to somebody tell you how much fun they had in London even though you lived in London for years!
This quote sums it all
Let’s take a scenario: You have a early morning meeting at work. And for some reason you slept late the previous night and woke up late. You forgot to make your lunch and it’s your turn to take the puppy out for a morning walk.
I am sure all of us have experienced the following scenarios
1.You work up feeling really great, early morning hour traffic was non existent, your husband decided to take the puppy out – things just flowed and it felt as if the universe was going out of its way to ensure you get to the meeting. And you reached your office in plenty of time and even managed to get Starbucks coffee on your way in.
2. You woke up feeling grumpy,not only you have to take the dog out but also drop him to the day care, and there was an accident on top of the rush hour traffic and by the time you reached office you had missed a couple of meetings and rest of the day was not looking that great either.
There are lots of other examples of being in the flow – when the mojo is just right. Like for one person the promotion was like a cakewalk where as for somebody it took them years. We have all had experiences where it felt as if you were making things happen and also when everything that could go wrong went wrong. And most of the times there is no direct connection between what you did to “deserve” one of the above options.
This is why I love the book “The Artist’s way” by Julia Cameron – she has a way of saying things very clearly and seems to touch a chord in almost all of us in some shape or form if we are ready for it.
If we are on the right track – the one that will make us a better human being then things will happen – timing might not be as we expected but they will. Even when we think the things are not happening as we want them – what is happening is what we exactly need. Like a kid who has a cold but refuses to take the medicine because its bitter but that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
So then how can we make sure we are in the flow or on the right track. Let’s say you plant a seed of a Neem tree (a very bitter medicinal plant) and you stand in front of it and say “I want sweet mangoes, I want sweet mangoes.” There is no way you are going to get sweet mangoes – you will get bitter Neem leaves only. It is the law of nature – similarly if we plant bitter seeds in our life then we will bear bitter fruits and if plant good seeds then we will taste sweet mangoes in our life. [Credit of the story goes to Goenka Ji from Vipassana]
What are bitter and good seeds then? If we think kind thoughts,do good deeds, enjoy the success of others – these are examples of good seeds. And if we keep cursing others, calling them names when they are not looking or try to prove them wrong so that we can prove ourselves right, take joy in other’s plight then we are planting bitter seeds.
The picture below says it all
The story goes – Abraham Lincoln’s brother wrote him a letter stating that he wanted to move from his current location because he didn’t like the people, didn’t like the place. His brother moved places and after a few months the same story and the same letter to Lincoln. Lincoln wrote back and said, “How could you expect anything to change when you took the problem with you?”
Let’s look at another example, you have got a boil on your arm that refuses to go away and causes a lot of pain. You keep changing the shirts and even move places but the pain does not go away. Any logical person would point out that how could the pain go away when the problem is in you?
It all seems very logical and common sense to us now. How about the situation in our life when we wished that somebody would leave our team? if only the family member we found annoying would go away? If only the next guy I date was really serious? If only the difficult stakeholder would get a new job? If only my boss would quit? The list is endless – everybody else should go away because I am squeaky clean. Sounds familiar?
The world is like a mirror – it reflects back only you. Everybody including the people you like, don’t like, detest, hate, care about are all showing you some part of yourself. If you take it a step further then you actually created them in some sense too, but let’s leave that for now. Wishing other people to go away is not going to take away your problem unless the root of the problem is solved. And it is all within us and we have the power to change ourselves but often times we don’t because it is easy to blame others and be a victim as then I don’t have to do anything else.
Universe wants the best for you and like a loving parent will do whatever it takes to make you better or learn the lesson so that you can grow. And like the casino , universe wins ALL the time so you better listen to it. If you don’t pay attention to its small nudges it will give you a tight slap but it will make you learn the lesson.
Next time when you find the person who annoys you in your life be grateful as now universe is offering you a chance to learn the lesson. Make the most of it with gratitude and courage. It take courage to face our fears and work on one self. The hardest part for working on ourself is that the image we have of ourself breaks and we don’t like that. In our mind we have this lovely beautiful image – I am so great, I am so this and that. And when somebody comes into our life and shows the mirror to us we don’t like what the mirror shows so we blame the person showing the mirror.
As Goenka ji says in Vipassana – if we become aware that we have created the image and have become attached to it. And it’s that attachment that is causing us suffering then light will shine.
When I was in London I took up Bikram Yoga and took it up with a vengeance – I went almost daily for two years until one day I decided it was too much and stopped doing yoga for six months. And now I practice Ashtanga Yoga at a more moderate pace. It is all about the golden mean – which means the ideal moderate position between two extremes.
Aristotle talks about morality but the golden mean can be applied to anything really. So we all know intellectually that yeah that makes sense. But the bigger and most important question is how do we go about getting to the golden mean. Each to his own – for me I have to know what my extremes are before I can find my middle.
This applies to everything – let’s say you are trying to work on communication skills – for example: How to remind somebody of something they need to do? You will start from your default style which let’s say is a direct approach. You go to the person and tell him, “Hey you missed the deadline on this – Which part of my instruction was not clear, eh? or you tell him, “Hey, sorry to bother you but do you know by any chance if you have had a chance to think about the deadline that was due this afternoon?”
Both of these statements and any variations will depend on a lot of situations like culture (are you in UK or Amsterdam?) or person you are dealing with (sensitive or driver). But in either case you start from somewhere and then refine and adjust. If you don’t then you will never improve your style – you will be stuck in your ways. And let’s say you adjust/refine yourself ones and then situation changes and you need to do it again. If you fail to refine yourself then you are inflexible.
The point here is we find our balance by trial and error method. All the experiences we have in our life are a means for us to find the balance. In most cases we just fight the issue or run away from it instead of using it as a vehicle for self improvement or to find our balance.
Why do we have to find our balance? Its a good question – we can be just as we are and go about our daily lives. Just like anything else this is a choice we make. What style suits us? and are we ready to deal with the consequences. For me personally the only life I have known is of constant change – so if things do not change after a while it feels weird but for some change is foreign. And I guess there is no right or wrong – it depends on what kind of lifestyle you want and what’s your personal style. But in order to find the personal style we have to experience things and welcome all situations, people that occur in our life with open arms.
Be a scientist and observer at the same time!