19 July 2010

Week of 19July: So Where AM I in All This?


Today's post:
* Get Thee Behind Me, Ego
* Painful Poetry - A Sonnet to Pain (in the tradition of Shakespeare, more or less)


Get Thee Behind Me, Ego

I hope that the posts thus far have established a few points about my spiritual life:

1. I do not care for or need the more intellectual exercises of theology and doctrine at this point in my spiritual journey.

2. Deep relaxation and prayerful meditation are essential to my spiritual life, the more so when I am in pain.

3. Connection to God is the guiding desire of all my spiritual practice, although I do not attempt to define or name God in any of the traditional ways. Simply, God is. To me, this means that God is always present - it is the human condition and my own fallacies that keep me from knowing and feeling God.

4. I feel a constant tension between my own language for God and the need to write in this blog in a way that is accessible. I have not resloved this tension. At this point, my default position is to use more traditional language most of the time.

So, my basic premise: God is always, wondrously and lovingly present to me. If, as I said in the final sentence of my 16July post, the more important question is not where is God in this, but where am I in this, then I need to explore what keeps me from being present to God?

Number one on the list: my ego. (Please note that I take a good bit of what follows from my understanding of how Ekhart Tolle speaks of ego, particularly in his book, "A New Earth", Chapters Three and Four.)

In this context, I define ego as a thought, habit or state of mind that takes me away from presence to God (this is mine, not Tolle's). What I understand Tolle saying about ego is that it serves the essential function of forming our identity and giving us space for establishing the self, but that its darker side shows in the way we create separations and identities that feed our egos and thus our need to be different, or better. This keeps us from understanding our one-ness with all of creation. Nota bene: This is a paraphrase, you should read the book.

For example: I am driving down the street and I pass a car that is parked more than a foot away from the curb, and crooked to boot. Maybe I have to slow down and maneuver past it, and as I do so, I scoff, "Who taught you to park? You don't need that SUV if that's the best you can do."

Example: I am in a group discussion, listening to someone ask questions for which I'd figured out the answers ten minutes earlier. Restraining my impatience, I console myself about the waste of time with the condescending thought that not everyone picks things up as quickly as I do.

Example: I am in a group discussion, asking questions and realizing that the person across the circle is looking annoyed and squirming impatiently. I console myself about my hurt feelings by telling myself that I have a finer attention to detail and clearly have a lot more patience.

Example: A friend tells me that she is training to run a marathon. Maybe my pride is stung by this, as I have long wanted to run but have never disciplined myself. Or, maybe I am self-involved at the moment and unable to be present to her. So I say, "Oh, really? I used to run in high school."

I could go on. The point is that we - in the service of our egos - find many ways, all the time, to separate ourselves from others by making ourselves better, or separate:
* gossip
* fault-finding
* complaining
* resistance to the reality of the moment
* excessive airing of grievances, including clinging to victim status
* violence and warfare

I love what Tolle says about the ego: it would rather be right than at peace.

Tolle's point is that all of this is a natural function of the ego, that entity that helps us learn confidence, self-identity and self-understanding, but the problem is that it then goes to extreme because what the ego wants to do is justify and magnify its existence, which it does by creating the other - the wrong, not-as-good-as other. (Again, read the book, Tolle says it much better and more clearly. Chapters 3 and 4 are particularly helpful.)

When I am heeding my ego, which is about difference and insularity, I cannot be present to God, ultimate Love for and presence to everything and everyone. When I cannot be present to God, the pain in my head is that much more problematic in several ways:
* I expend energy in emotions or behaviours that sap my stamina instead of harboring my strength for surviving the headache.

* Muscles tense as emotions tense, making pain worse.

* I find myself in a sort of rut, or groove, running on an energy that is self-perpetuating, so that I cannot see a way out of it even though I understand its destructiveness.

Next Post: "It's Not Only Ego"


Painful Poetry
Original if Awkward Attempts to Find Humor in Pain

A Sonnet to Pain (in the tradition of Shakespeare, more or less)

O! thou who fillst me daily overmuch
And of my life prov'st naught but hellish bane
Could I with craven visage find a crutch
wouldst not I forsake thee? Thy pure disdain
notwithstanding, I'd hie away and flee
thy fullsome clutch that harks of mythic lore.
Lo! of mortals, most joyous would I be
when 'pon thy fearsome form I look no more!
Yet thou in constant presence to me are,
ne'er moment am I of thy sense bereft
So should'st I let thee alway this day mar,
Have I not learnt I, too, in ways am deft?
Yes! Triumph shall I o'er this mortal coil
and Fie! no longer let thee my life spoil.

I'd love to hear from you: click the Comment link below or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com


  1. Carol,

    I am sorry to learn of your chronic pain. Thanks for creating this blog. I look forward to following it.

    with love,

    Killian in Seattle

  2. Thank you for taking the time to connect, Killian.