Ego and Surrender
Anyone on the path of spirituality will definitely talk about the ego, surrender and sacrifice. We are all brought up believing that the ego is the biggest villain, the highest virtue being the surrender of our ego.
I have had a lot of problem accepting this and there’ve been a lot of confusions in my mind. Hence I chose the topic EGO. Once I started this project, it took a life of its own. I got on to a roller coaster ride which took me from learning about the ego to learning about love and then surrender. Before I go on, I need to explain a little bit about my background and why this topic was so troublesome to me.
I’m the youngest of four siblings. There is an age gap of 17 years between me and my brother who is the eldest and the sister born before me is 10 years elder to me. I think my parents brought me into this world as an afterthought. My mother wanted a son. I was born a girl and a dark and ugly child at that. I grew up being apologetic for my existence.
I was the only child in a family of 5 grownups telling me what to do and more than that what not to do. I became the good girl who did everyone’s bidding. Any why I ever asked was shut up with ‘Because I tell you so’ till I stopped asking.
I lived my life as per the wishes of my family. My school, my career, my marriage, was all chosen for me. I went through all the motions of life without being aware that I had a choice. By the time I was married, I had internalised the process and I continued my life in the same way.
There was a part of me which believed that it was selfish to have any desires. Life was supposed to be lived selflessly, putting others before self. Sacrifice was supposed to be the highest virtue.
There was another part of me which was brought up reading English books, watching Hollywood movies and television serials. Ayn Rand was my favourite author and I was influenced by her philosophy called the objectivist epistemology. According to her, selfishness was a virtue and living for others, a sin. To quote one of Ayn Rand’s character, Howard Roark from the novel, ‘The Fountainhead’- ‘ I swear by my life and my love for it, that I’ll never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.’
This western notion of individuality made a lot of sense to me and I hero worshipped those people who lived life on their own terms.
This was a huge confusion for me. Why do these people who are selfish and egoistic by the social standards look so happy and why am I who have surrendered my ego (or so I thought at the time) so unhappy? Because unhappy I was most of the time. I had everything, yet something essential was missing. I went through major bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Then a major crisis four years ago brought my whole world crashing. Life had cornered me so badly that I was forced to ask the whys I was never encouraged to ask in my childhood. Why was I alive? Who was I ? What was my purpose in life?
As I asked these questions, I realised that I had been sleep walking through life till that point. The truth of Herman Melville’s poem was brought home. He says in his book, Moby Dick,
For as this appalling ocean,
Surrounds the verdant land,
So in the soul of man lies one insular Tahiti,
Full of peace and joy,
But encompassed by all of the horrors
Of a half known life.
I had had a glimpse of this soul full of peace and joy when I had gone for vippassana but now I was paralysed by the horror of my half lived life. I had lived many roles, but who was I? I was 39 years old. I had spent more than half my years living someone elses life.
Last four years were spent in trying to discover the ‘I’ I never had. I went to a psychiatrist, a therapist, a counsellor for help. I went through the process of discovering my individuality while pursuing the diploma in counselling psychology. Last year when I came to IPI, I was still a bundle of nerves. IPI and Pondicherry were of great help. Matthijs sir held my hand and guided me through a process where I could hear my soul’s voice for the first time in life, where I could feel the divine guidance and inner joy for the first time.
This year I was back. A much integrated, peaceful and happier me than I ever had been. I had learnt to accept myself as I am to a great extent.
But the question of the ego remained. There were many people like me, who naturally gravitated towards me for help. Wives who tolerated physical abuse by their husbands in the name of surrendering the ego. Men who sacrificed their dreams to provide for their families and lived resenting their duties and their lives. If they were living by their highest ideals, why weren’t they happy? What about their individuality? Did they have any ego to sacrifice in the first place? How do I help these people to build up their individuality? Where does individuality end and the ego begin?
Why do most of us live such unconscious lives?
As I started exploring this topic, a few answers began to emerge. The first passage that caught my eye is from the integral yoga. Here Shri Aurobindo talks about the Tamasic and the Rajasic ego. He says,
“By Tamasic ego is meant the ego of weakness, self- depreciation, despondency, unbelief. The Rajasic ego is puffed up with pride and self-esteem or stubbornly asserts itself wherever it can; the Tamasic ego on the contrary is always feeling, “I’m weak, I’m miserable, I have no capacity, I’m not loved or chosen by The Divine, I’m so bad and incapable-what can The Divine do for me?” or else, “I’m especially chosen out for misfortune and suffering. All are preferred to me etc…..”
Sometimes Rajasic and Tamasic ahankar mix together and subtly support each other. In both the cases, it is the ‘I’ that is making a row about itself and clouding the true vision. The true spiritual psychic vision is – whatever I may be, my soul is a child of the Divine and must reach the divine sooner or later. I am imperfect but seek after the perfection of the Divine in me and not I but the Divine grace will bring about; If I keep to that, the Divine grace will do all. The I has to take its proper place here as a small portion and instrument of the Divine, something that is nothing without the Divine but with grace can be everything the Divine wishes it to be.”
So when I thought I had surrendered my ego, I was still living from the Tamasic ego. My depression, despondency came from that. That was a relief to know. So I still had hope that when I do give up this ego, I will discover the real I.
The next bit of literature that gave me further insight was about sacrifice and why sacrifice doesn’t make people grow came from a small booklet about surrender. It is a compilation of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother’s thoughts.
Sacrifice: “In our Yoga there is no room for sacrifice. But everything depends on the meaning you put on the word. In its pure sense it means a consecrated giving, a making sacred to the Divine. But in the significance it now bears, sacrifice is something that works for destruction; it carries about it an atmosphere of negation. This kind of sacrifice is not fulfilment; it is a deprivation, a self immolation. It is your possibilities you sacrifice, the possibilities and realisations of your personality from the most material to the highest spiritual range. Sacrifice diminishes your being. This is an ideal that does not give room for the soul’s deeper and larger spontaneities.”
This made sense. A lot of sense. We were all then pursuing the wrong ideal. Even Ayn Rand’s ideas about sacrifice matched these. That’s the reason she called selfishness a virtue. No wonder people weren’t happy.
So what is the real ideal then?
That brought me to surrender.
... “by surrender we mean not this but a spontaneous self- giving, a giving of all you self to the Divine, to a greater consciousness of which you are a part. Surrender will not diminish, but increase; it will not lessen or weaken or destroy your personality, it will fortify and aggrandise it. Surrender means a free total giving with all delight of giving. If you have the slightest feeling that you are making a sacrifice then it is no longer surrender.”
What I understand from this is that surrender does not come from a should or a sense of duty but from a higher part of you. Jayanti had said something similar during one of our group meetings, ‘You should not surrender your ego to another person’s ego but to your highest self.’
Easier said than done, but I decided to explore it further.
My questions about individuality were answered in Neeltje Di’s class. She talked about how children need to develop their ego because it is an aid in their development. It is futile to talk about giving up an ego before it is developed. Neelam put it beautifully when she said that a fruit will drop from the tree only when it is ripened.
Once my concepts were a little clearer, I decided to observe within me the workings of my ego and whether I could put the lofty ideal of surrender into practice.
As soon as you decide something like this life gives you a lot of challenges. Particularly,in Pondicherry. All circumstances I need to grow are always provided when I’m here. J Krishnamurthy has said that you can only know yourself in relation with others. So I started to observe myself in relation with the people around me and with people in my life back home.
It was amazing how within the group, I met certain people who reminded me of my past patterns. They were the ones who could press my buttons without their knowledge that they were doing so.
I know I was projecting people from my early life onto them. Nevertheless the emotions that were produced in me were very real. I tried to observe all the negative emotions without reacting. For 15-20 days, I was in immense pain. All my insecurities, my sense of unworthiness, the feeling of being rejected came up as strongly as it had the first time similar incidents had happened.
At one time, as I was sitting by the sea, offering all the negative emotions to it, I could actually see myself splitting into two. I was the watcher who watched myself going through the pain. It was beautiful while it lasted. I don’t know if it was my mind or the witnessing presence, but then I lost it and became reactive. And then again I could slip back into it whenever needed.
My lessons were:
- I am acting from my ego, whenever,
- I take things personally.
- I need someone’s approval.
- My happiness depends on some external factor.
- I feel superior to someone.
- I feel inferior to someone.
Some other insights were,
- All distortions of perception come from ego.
- All pain comes from ego.
- When I dislike someone, he/she is my mirror and reflects the things I hate in myself.
- When I’m fascinated by a person, he/she is a mirror of lack and symbolises what I perceive to be missing in myself.
As I went on observing as dispassionately as I could, the pain became less and less. I could see the people around me for what they really are rather than as projections from my past.
The sea taught me a lot. Every morning for 5 weeks, I’ve sat by the sea watching the sunrise. It used to be an hour long meditation for me.
The sunrise was never the same. It was beautiful whether the sky was cloudy or clear. Each day was a new day. It gave me a sense of renewal. As though I could start a new life every morning, leaving the past behind.
The waves taught me about the impermanence of everything. And paradoxically, also about continuity. Each wave broke on the shore giving way to a new wave. Everything in life has an end but every end leads to a new beginning.
I learnt the concept of the soul and self in a new way. Each drop of the ocean was like a soul which was in turn part of the greater self or Brahman.
Every time I looked at the sea, I felt myself expand. Vladimir had said that there is no cocept of pain in the vedas, only narrowness of being. When I felt the vastness of the sea within me, there was no place for the pain.
Learning about love
Sunitji’s class on Bhakti taught me about love.
I love music and I was fed on Bollywood songs which can be really stupid at times. I grew up listening to songs like ‘dukhi man mere’, ‘ek tu na mila’ and their western equivalents like ‘tell me how am I supposed to live without you’ All these songs glorify pain and suffering. As per them love means clinging and possessing and if you fail to possess the one that you love, you are doomed to live a life of suffering.
This is how I learnt to love with all my happiness dependent on the one that I supposedly loved.
I used to listen to sufi songs too and love them for their intensity and magic. But I had never understood the concept of Bhakti that was the core of these beautiful songs. During the class however I was completely mesmerised. I began to understand how these songs reflect the love for the Divine. The last song that he played was in Shubha Mudgal’s voice – Main hosh mein hoon toh tera hoon. Those 20 minutes transported me to a different plane. The music, the voice, the words were divine. I cannot explain it in words but in that moment I understood the love for the Divine, self and others. When I opened my eyes I saw everything in a different light. I was in trance for the entire day. I suddenly realised that I loved someone important in my life in a completely new way. Suddenly there were no expectations, no demands, no narrowness, no constriction, no taking. Only love and unconditional giving. The words that I had read long ago came to me. In a small booklet on love, Father Demello, an Indian priest has written that unconditional love means loving with detachment. You can love truly if you are able to say these words to the one you love-
“I’m not really attached to you at all. I’m merely deluding myself into believing that without you, I’ll not be happy.
I leave you free to be yourself, to think your thoughts, indulge your tastes, follow your inclinations, and behave in ways that are to your liking. You have that freedom and you have my love in the process.”
And I understood that if I could love one person like this, I could love all.
Ayn Rand has said that unless you are able to say I, you cannot say I love you. What she meant by ego was not the ego we understand, she meant it as the real self. So unless you love from that real self within you, you cannot love at all. When you love someone like this, there is no need to preserve the self. You can be completely vulnerable. So when you really give up the ego, you don’t become a doormat because there is no need to protect the self- respect. The question doesn’t arise because then You become the other.
My experience of surrender, came from the sea. We had gone on a boating trip into the sea. It was the first time that I had gone so deep in. all around me was water. It was an experience of being in the presence of infinity. Once we came back to the shore, we jumped in with our life jackets on.
When I was floating on my back in the sea with no care in the world, I lost all sense of myself. I was the sea and the sea was I. There was the vastness of the sky above me and the depth of the sea below. And my self completely dissolved in that. That was my experience of surrender, of complete faith in the Divine that wherever the waves of life are taking me, is where I’m supposed to go. I know all these experiences were glimpses of the Divine qualities. I know I’ll have to work a lot to imbibe in my being. But I now know what is possible. And that gives me immense strength to face whatever life has to offer.
The path ahead
As for helping others find their individuality, I’ve given up all pretentiousness that I can actually help anyone. The only person I’ll be helping through my counselling, is myself. Last year at IPI, I learnt to accept myself. This year I got a glimpse of surrender. The following poem by Walt Whitman talks about both.
I exist as I am, that is enough
If no other in the world be aware, I sit content.
And if each and all be aware, I sit content.
One world is aware and by far the largest to me
And that is myself
And whether I come to my own today
Or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now,
And with equal cheerfulness,
I can wait.
And the journey continues……………