the Ego: Does It Hurt?
editor was scared to let her ego go, but it turns out
that it feels wonderful
and her husband likes
A MACHO STREAK in some schools of enlightenment that
makes them talk about killing the ego. You can't just
relax the ego or stop identifying with it . . . you
have to kill it. Preferably with a rusty chain
saw. It's a kind of suicide. It takes more guts than
anything else you'll ever do. The reason people don't
get enlightened is because they are pussies.
I used to
believe this stuff. I used to get scared when I meditated
because I felt like my ego was on the verge of dying,
and I thought it was suicide.
the last few months, after years of meditation, my ego
has finally begun to slip away, and it doesn't hurt
at all. On the contrary, it's extremely pleasant.
Nothing I want is being lost. I function better than
ever in relationships and all other aspects of life.
In a moment
I'll describe what it's like so you can look forward
to it instead of worrying like I did. But first I should
acknowledge that I'm in the early stages of selflessness.
I'm not enlightened yet. Selflessness comes and goes,
sometimes staying for a few minutes, sometimes an hour.
During these periods my ego seems to be completely gone,
but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a year from now I'll look
back and say, "You thought your ego was gone! Hah!"
But so far as I can tell now, my selfless periods are
time it happened I had just been thinking about the
Advaitan idea that the Self is covered by overlays (including
the ego) so you see them together and think they are
the same. A minute later I started meditating and looked
for the thing that Ramana
Maharshi calls the "I-Thought." I think
he means a certain distinct clump of attitudes and feelings
that seems to be me, except I can look at it,
so it can't be the real me as Ramana defines
it. As I looked at this clump I let my attention relax,
exactly as if I were looking at it with my eyes and
letting them go out of focus.
like that, the clump me dissolved.
Scared the shit out of me. (How could it scare the shit
out of me if I wasn't there? I'm using the word "me"
in two different ways. It's hard to explain this stuff,
so try it for yourself, you'll see what I mean.)
the next few days I induced the experience repeatedly
and it turned out to be incredibly pleasant. Anxiety
disappeared because nobody was sitting in my head planning
for a thousand hypothetical contingencies, worrying
about what might happen, mentally rehearsing an endless
list of plays I might find myself in, scheming to maneuver
in the world to obtain what is desired. That's what
an ego is: a mental masturbator that seeks pleasure
by imagining enjoyable scenarios, a schemer and worrier,
a thinker of thoughts and maker of plans to avoid what's
feared and get what's wanted. All that activity stopped.
In its place
was the same old me, except there was no thought of
me. And there was no thought of world
either. Nobody was bothering to think of separations
of separation was so complete that the next day, while
hiking in the woods, I was startled by the sight of
two large moving objects bobbing around at the bottom
of my field of vision. (I wasn't really startled because
I was fearless but I don't know what other word to use.)
What were they? My hands pushing the wheels of my wheelchair!
The mental apparatus that normally filters my hands
out of my view of "the world" because they
are part of "my body" was shut off, and they
grabbed my attention just like any other large moving
objects would have.
day I was sitting in a crowded office while harried
customers and demanding employees dealt with each other.
I had my own business there, but for about fifteen minutes
I just sat and looked at their faces. It was utterly
pleasant and relaxing. I observed them intently, with
affection and sympathy, but I wasn't thinking anything
about them. I didn't want anything from them. I wasn't
planning what they might say to me or I might say to
I want from them except for them to like me? But this
wasn't an issue, since I wasn't there.
I was feeling a lot of affection...a general affection
that wasn't aimed at anybody in particular, since there
weren't any anybodies.
that this way of just being was familiar. It
was, I thought, the way I perceived things when I was
a small child three years old, perhaps. I used
to just look at things. Just look.
striking thing was the absence of any urge to be somewhere
else or do something else. Wherever I was, whatever
I was doing, I was content.
is so pleasant, you really have to try it for yourself.
my best story. (It happened before the events I just
described, at a time when I had reached a less complete
state of selflessness.) My husband and I went out to
dinner for a rare, precious night without the kids.
Everything was wonderful we were communicating
with a deep sense of connection and intimacy
when he noticed I was smiling.
so funny?" he asked.
not really here," I said happily, expecting him
to realize how glorious this was. "There's no Laura.
She was an illusion and now she's gone."
A look came
over his face which I've seen on actors in movies, but
never expected to see in real life. A look of grave
concern, as if I might be having some sort of breakdown.
I mean, he really thought this. He reached across
the table, squeezed my wrist, and said: "This is
Laura. You're Laura. Laura is real."
into my eyes with something close to panic. I almost
laughed but luckily I didn't.
it's ok," I told him. "Don't you feel like
I'm totally present tonight? Like I'm listening to you
more than usual? Like I'm just completely here with
you and reacting purely to you and nothing else?"
He did feel
those things; he had been noticing them too. He's very
sensitive in that way and I had been exceptionally present
with him all through dinner. That's what happens when
the ego disappears there are no distractions,
no tendencies to interpret what somebody else is saying
for personal advantage, no axes to grind. All you can
do is listen and love and react wholeheartedly.
the reason tonight is so great is
I'm not here!"
I grinned ecstatically into his worried face. I could
tell he was wondering which hospital to call.
doesn't get it, but he's stopped worrying about it,
because both of us have been happier since my ego started
I bet you
will be too. So don't worry, just go for it.
1999 Laura Olshansky
Olshansky was the first editor of Realization.org.
This article was published on December 8, 1999 and last
revised on August 7, 2001.