If we want to awaken, we don't need to eradicate the ego, we simply need to be conscious of the deep self as well.
It's because we experience the personal self as a source of continual problems that we are receptive to the idea that the ego is a bad thing. Who can't find parts of themselves that they wish weren't there? It's like this for everyone I've ever met. So why is this and what can we do about it?
The problem we face is that the personal self is rarely individuated into one coherent persona., but is fragmented into a collection of different personas that don't always get on well with each other. We have accumulated these disparate personas as we travel through life seeking ways to respond to our predicament. They can be seen as different bundles of responses to life that have taken on a sort of autonomous existence.
We identify with whatever persona is dominant and see the others as impostors. So if the spiritual persona is dominant, then the materialistic persona is the bad guy who is leading us away from the spiritual path. But if the materialistic persona is dominant then the spiritual persona becomes just a silly distraction that stops us getting on with real life.
Actually we are not any one persona, we are all of them. Wen we realize this, the task becomes one of individuating all the fragments into a coherent whole, which makes room for all the parts of who we are. This naturally starts to happen when we awaken to the deep self, because then we know our deepest identity isn't a person at all.
The shadow is the part of ourselves that we don't want to consciously acknowledge. The part we don't like. The part we'd prefer to repress than examine. For people who think of themselves as 'spiritual,' the animal self with its instinctual lusts can become the shadow. For people who think of themselves as 'selfless,' selfish urges become th shadow. For people who think of themselves as 'calm,' anger becomes the shadow. We all cast a shadow.
The shadow is a problem because what we repress comes back to bite us when we least expect it. Something happens to trigger the shadow and we find ourselves behaving as if we're an entirely different person. How can we prevent ourselves being hijacked by the shadow? The clue is in the name. We need to bring it into the light, we need to consciously acknowledge this part of ourselves. Only then will it stop unconsciously possessing us from time to time.
When we're conscious of the deep self and feel the deep love, it becomes much easier to to acknowledge those parts of the personality we would normally choose to ignore, because we are able to love ourselves as we are. If they arise within us we can see them coming, so we're less likely to be overcome by them. We are conscious of what's happening and can choose a healthier option.
Daring to Be Attached
Many spiritual traditions teach that to awaken we need to let go of our attachments. For years I tried to be unattached but something in me resisted the idea. I presumed this was my ignorant ego struggling to prevent me awakening. But now it seems to me it was actually the voice of wisdom refusing to let me relinquish something so integral to my humanity.
The idea that attachments are bad is so common in spiritual circles that I used to presume it must be right. But then one day I became a father and everything changed. As I held my baby daughter in my arms for the first time I knew I was forever attached and would refuse to let go. I wanted to be attached to this tiny bundle of life. I also saw clearly how attachment could cause me terrible suffering, because with great love comes great fear. I knew that if anything were to happen to this little girl it would break me in pieces, yet I was willing to take this risk. I had no choice. My heart demanded it.
That's when I knew I was looking for a new approach to spirituality that honored the poignant beauty of the personal life, rather than rejecting it as some sort of spiritual obstacle to be overcome.I wanted a spirituality that was about both waking up to the deep self and celebrating our natural humanity.
It seems to me that our personal attachments are what give life its warmth and meaning. The idea that it would be more spiritual to be unattached seems absurd. It's the sort of idea that could only have been dreamed up by celibate guys living in caves or monasteries... which is exactly what it is.
It seems obvious to me that to be attached is both natural and desirable. It's a sign of how much I love that I'm willing to take the risk that attachment entails. I'm willing to suffer for love. And this doesn't seem foolish, it feels like a heroic response to the challenge of love.
While I'm deep awake it becomes possible for me to meet this challenge because I'm conscious of both my human attachments and my deep self that is never attached. I see that I don't need to become unattached because essentially I'm always attached. The deep self is forever free. It is because of the freedom of my essential self that I am able to let go of my attachments when the time is right ... and move on to develop new attachments.
our attachments hurt because we try to cling on to someone or something in a world of impermanence. The great grief of life is that everything is fleeting. I will never be a young man again. I will never hold my baby daughter in my arms again. I will never argue with my deceased father again. I will never have this moment again.
The great grief of life, caused by impermanence, can't be avoided. But it's ameliorated by also knowing the great joy of life, which is that every moment is a fresh expression of the primal goodness. And then impermanence becomes poignantly beautiful.Each moment becomes a blessing to be cherished before it passes forever. Each meeting becomes an opportunity to fall in love that will never come again.
Powerful passions and desires can cause terrible suffering to others and ourselves, there's no denying the problem. Buy it seems to me that our natural emotions are only a problem when we're consumed by them. The solution is not to repress or deny or eradicate our human nature, it's to be conscious of our deeper nature as well.
Desire is the fuel of life. Wanting things to be better pushes us forward to new challenges. Passion is the spice of life. Feeling strong emotions wakes us up from the numbness of normality. Do we really need to sacrifice experiences that are integral to our humanity in order to wake up to our essential divinity? I don't believe life is that perverse.