”Your goal on the spiritual path should be to free everyone else from your ego.” – Ken Wilber. That’s what my friend Scott posted on facebook the other day, which stirred some polar opposite reactions, from my “wow” to others certainly not in agreement. It got me thinking about how much am I impose my ego on others here and there without noticing. Then of course, I had to ask what constituted such an imposition. If I interrupt someone to say something funny, am I kind sort imposing my ego? If jostle for attention or avoid dealing with a mess, I’m clearly not freeing others of my ego.
And all this made me remember the best quote on the ego I’ve ever heard, from Pema Chodron:
Ego is like a room of your own, a room with a view with the temperature and the smells and the music that you like. You want it your own way. You’d just like to have a little peace, you’d like to have a little happiness, you know, just gimme a break. But the more you think that way, the more you try to get life to come out so that it will always suit you, the more your fear of other people and what’s outside your room grows. Rather than becoming more relaxed, you start pulling down the shades and locking the door. When you do go out, you find the experience more and more unsettling and disagreeable. You become touchier, more fearful, more irritable than ever. The more you try to get it your way, the less you feel at home.
I think about this often since like many of you, I love a good room: at the right temperature, with the food and sounds and smells I like best, and absolutely with the people who most please and least challenge me. Yet, as William Stafford in his poem, “Pretend You Live In A Room,” writes:
You have this world. You wander the earth.
You can’t live in a room.
So from this girl’s vantage point, I write this from a room, a nice room in the back of the cottage, with windows overlooking the green unfolding of the Vermont woods, and inside this room, one of my colleagues quietly napping on the couch, her sneakers hanging over the arm. But I tell myself as much as I like this room, this isn’t just where I live. There is the world, and finding ways — small as nodding at someone I pass on the path to the dining room or large as deeply examining my motives in wanting to go to town over trying to change someone — to free the world of my own ego is the work. It’s what’s required for us to treat each other with greater compassion as well as to open our eyes and hearts to the other-than-human world buzzing and unfolding around us. It starts with doing this very work in whatever room I’m in at the time, comfortable or not, navigating from where I’m free from my own ego.