The ego has rights too?
I lost my ability to hear in my right ear when I was three years old and often miss things that other people get clearly.
As an energy medicine practitioner and wisdom coach following in the footsteps of indigenous elders and ancient sages, I often get associations that other people miss entirely.
In a recent conversation about old Saturday Night Live episodes, I was talking with a friend about the fictional character played by Gilda Radnor named Emily Litella. Emily was a half-deaf old lady with a squawking voice who played editorialist to Chevy Chase’s newscaster character. With her hearing impairment, Emily would rant on with her opinions, mostly off-topic.
When Chevy would interrupt, she was famous for ending her dissertations with a raucous “nevermind.”
My friend mentioned his favorite skit was when Chevy talked about the equal rights amendment and Emily misheard it as the eagle rights amendment. Feeling Emily’s wavelength and perhaps a bit jaded by my own spiritually oriented perceptual filter, I listened to him and heard a third possibility, the ego rights amendment. At the time, we enjoyed a good laugh over it.
Ever since, I’ve devoted a lot of thought to ego discrimination and the ego’s millennia-long poor reputation in spiritual circles.
Somebody really needs to take up the mantle for the ego.
Entire religious streams and many wisdom traditions condemn it altogether or at least spend most of their efforts attempting to transcend it. A multitude of rules and practices have been put in place to avoid it. At the very least the ego is tagged with getting in the way of spiritual evolution, and at the worst it runs amok, creating a variety of unsavory results, from the socially unpleasant to the outright disastrous. I admit there is some well-earned basis for this reputation.
There’s a story about a Zen student who asks his teacher just how much ego needs to be retained on the quest to remain true to the spiritual path. The Zen master’s reply was: “Just enough to avoid stepping in front of the bus.”
Okay, I get it. I sit with my ego all the time and know the potential hazards. I watch my competitive edge, my worldly pursuits, my self-importance, my desire to succeed at the expense of others, and on and on the list goes. Lucky for the world, at least much of the time, I am watching it internally, not acting on it literally. But let’s be real. I act on it more often than I would like to admit. And if I am unwilling to admit it—then I’m unwilling to see it.
Maybe there is a reason that the ego is the first thing we encounter on the spiritual journey. If we limit our value of the ego to a life/death discriminatory function, aren’t we really choosing to throw the ego under the bus?
I am in recovery from a perpetual practice of doing just that. For years I tipped the scales toward generosity and pursued transcendent truths while trying to dodge the ego. I practiced generosity toward everything with the exception of myself, leaving the precious resource of self behind.
I had no grounding for the mystical journey.
And the mystical is not a place to muck around without a grounded compass. On the level of the worldly, this habit left my energy level—and my business checking account—chronically over-extended.
In my life long attempts to attain enlightenment, I was complicit with the instruction to avoid even a fleeting glance at ego. I was told tobeware of it. For most of the places I sought for spiritual truth suggested various equivalents to hiding the “bad” ego in the corner like a mischievous child in desperate need of restriction.
Admittedly, one wouldn’t want the ego, or a mischievous child to be driving a bus either.
The root of the word “beware”, according to the etymology dictionary, is “to be ware, or to defend.“ Maybe the enlightened action isn’t to defend against the ego, but to defend the ego in the face of the normative spiritual movement, to strip it of its rights.
Isn’t the ego part of the One, too?
Surely the ego doesn’t deserve to be permanently relegated to the back of the bus just because it has the potential to careen out of control. So, who will advocate for the rights of the ego to bring a little loving compassion to that scoundrel of spiritual evolution when it arises as a nagging critique or pestering judgment of oneself or one’s neighbor? Emily Litella, I am with you. The ego has rights too.
In order to step into our fullest potential and possibility, we first must build the ego, our sense of conscious personal power. From there we can surrender the ego to access higher consciousness—which those spiritual traditions indeed got right—we are available to be a strong presence in the world for holding the knowledge of unity within duality. Without the willingness to befriend the ego, it will indeed sneak around and slip into the driver’s seat when we aren’t paying attention.
I want my ego riding right next to me as I pursue spiritual practice on earth during these tempestuous times.
I want to have it where I can see it, strapped safely in its seat beside me. I don’t want the ego to drive, but I am no longer willing to kick it where I can’t see it. It is the hallmark of being human and these times we live in are about carrying a consciousness of the divine in human form.
Yes, Emily, I am an advocate of the ego rights amendment. To those who correct what they believe I have misheard, I too, say “nevermind.” For as etymology tells us, the early use of the word “never,“ in its emphatic form, means “not to have.”