August 14, 2012

Eluding our Egos

Much of the partisan issues societies face in politics, and even otherwise, is about the clash of egos. It is ironical however, that the people we elect to lead us in a democracy should be fighting their own battles and forgetting the welfare of those who elected them. Should they not be fighting the battle with social, spiritual and economic issues of the nation rather than amongst each other? This is the sad scenario sweeping the political spectrum of many countries in our world today. And sadly, Maldives is not immune to such vagaries. In all such situations, corruption is the great instigator that lurks beneath, which is defined in this case as dishonest and fraudulent conduct by those in power typically involving bribery. While the reasons for this condition may be many, the root of this behavior lies in the strength of our ego – that aspect of our being that pushes us to indulge in the pleasures of life rather looking at the negative consequences such acts can hasten. To stop corruption, we can work from either end – a punitive aspect that prosecutes and punishes such wrong doing, or deal with the root of the issue embedded in our very make-up. Modern political governance attempts to do it the first way and falls increasingly deeper into the pit, for the ego, as long as it’s kept alive and kicking, finds ways to circumvent any punishment meted out. The other way is the path through spiritual means. Here, we need no law enforcement to be behind us, but it requires us to delve into ourselves to seek out our real self by controlling the forces of our ego. That is the only lasting solution while the former could only be a temporary one.

You see, the ego is the power that gives us our selfishness and the greed that fuels corruption. In Maldives, we call this aspect of our selves “hawaa-nafs” as opposed to our real self or soul which is our “nafs”. Power, position and fame fan this human aspect within us. To the degree that we believe that what endowments we enjoy in life are ours forever (our attachment to our material world--our feeling that this situation will never end) gives power to the ego. Such egos are many in the political arena and so results in clashes among themselves that brook little compromise. So the battle goes on among those who firmly believe that this day will never end. Even bitter experiences never seem to teach lessons and so the egos march on unrelentingly. These people continue to demand and bask in the realm of attention and the limelight and their coteries ensure that this is so.

To beat the ego we need to espouse anonymity and humility. When we are in our in anonymous circumstances, the ego gives up its hold on an opinion or deemed defensiveness. But when we are in the open, and in the face of being seen or challenged for our opinions, our ego’s defensiveness kicks in and we hold on to our views with pride, helplessly unable to budge from our pre-formed assumptions. This is when our ego emerges ahead of our rational mind and keeps us tied in as prisoners of our own mind.

This power of the ego is quite in keeping with the concepts in spirituality where, in order to gain mastery over our ego, we are asked to attempt seeking the state of anonymity  -- that of seeking to be as a non-identity.  In that situation of detachment we can learn to feel ourselves to be as a part of everyone and begin to see each other as a part of a whole life process and cease to see ourselves as individual entities that stand out as separate from others in our life.

In contrast, our egos bloom in situations where we occupy the limelight of leadership, power, fame and such where the ego revels in the adulation and attention it gets. In such situations we are moved to uphold that status that continues to give us that high. It is really our ego that pushes us to be that way -- wanting the most ostentatious position in any given situation commensurate with the superior social status we may have been used to and that which we feel needs to be protected. We attempt to protect this position at all costs by always wanting to be the cynosure of attention -- and we would fight tooth and nail to get that pole position. Please be aware, it is the calling of the ego that does not want to be in the shadow, but always bask in the limelight. Simple situations such as not getting a seat in the front row at an important meeting, others not complimenting you strongly enough for a feat performed, others not clapping hard or loud enough during your speeches, challenging you on an opinion, or not laughing for your jokes, all hurt the ego of people who have assumed this status of being self important – those who harbor bloated egos. That ego wants the status quo to continue. When it doesn’t, there is the reality of the suffering we feel in this life. There is no stronger hurt than for such bloated egos which are delusional about the permanence of their social standing to be placed into a situation of anonymity. Loss of position, power and authority bring intense suffering to the ego. Highly delusional egos hurt intensely from such falls from the pedestal, and often attempt by hook or crook to gain the glory of the past at all costs. This is the suffering that egos smite on us mortals. Liberation is when we can be the masters of the ego, rather than it being ours.

Yet for experiencing the tranquility of life, it is anonymity that can only take away our ego. However, this effort would have to be from a situation of acceptance of anonymity. And this state is not alien to us at all. Being one with everything else in nature is blissfully experienced in our daily moments of such accepted anonymity. Take for example the situations of us being just one person in crowd of people (without any particular status), or when we visit a foreign country where we are just one among many tourists, or when we stand shoulder to shoulder in our mosques at prayer, or be at Hajj with millions of ihram-clad pilgrims. Many other situations can make us feel this calm that anonymity brings – when this oneness is in the condition of acceptance. And it is in these moments of anonymity, that our ego is subdued, and kept cowering, for it loses its power when we voluntarily tuck it in the recess of our mind not allowing it space to grow.  For true calm and tranquility in our lives, we need to attempt a situation of learned acceptance -- a voluntary leap into the realm of acceptance that life is transitory and evanescent. Then we will be free, and hurt no more. 

No comments: