Every now and then on this path of enlightenment and the death of the ego, I have an “ah-ha” moment that later seems obvious and mundane though nevertheless relevant. The latest such “ah-ha” moment is actually appropriate to this time of year, what with New Year resolutions and all. I don’t much believe in resolutions because, in reality, they seem to be made in order to break them. However, something has been nagging at me for a year to change and I haven’t been able to wrap my resolve around making the change until just recently.
Three years ago when I began a new master’s program I found it easiest to study away from home. But libraries weren’t what I wanted and neither were coffee shops. Bojangles and Arby’s fit the bill though. They had the particular food and drink I wanted in an afternoon snack to accompany my studies and, in these mountains we live in, the nearest ones had nice views. But a year ago I gave up that particular master’s program as it became clear to me that it and what I would’ve done with the degree were not a good fit for me. I didn’t, though, give up my almost daily jaunts to my favorite fast food places. The only difference was I was reading different kinds of books – inspirational books, novels, memoirs, autobiographies – books I wanted to read instead of assigned reading! Heaven!
But here’s the thing. While in school the daily get away’s to study were fueled by necessity and by the fact that school studies give a body an appetite! Reading for pleasure doesn’t cause the mental taxation that makes a body want to eat. So by continuing my routine, I was eating food I wasn’t entirely hungry for and getting away like that most days of the week became an escape. But an escape from what? I like my life at home…didn’t need to escape that.
I’ve drawn two conclusions about this. One is that going out for an afternoon snack and reading is a way of escaping myself. All my life the approaching dusk of each day creates tension in me if I’m at home. Parsing that phenomenon would have to be a separate blog entry! For now, let’s just acknowledge it is so. I realized that by ending errand running with a stop for a snack and reading around 3:30/4 p.m. meant I got to “escape” dusk. But more than that, I got to escape the tension dusk created inside me; which meant I got to escape something fundamental about my psychological and emotional make up. That’s why I refer to it as “escaping me.” But no matter how much I acknowledged this fact and wanted to change it, I couldn’t.
Then I had an additional realization that took root inside and is now blossoming. Heading out for a snack and to read had become one of my autopilots. It was something I desired every day that required no thought, just action. And it was something that made me feel special, safe, and secure. That’s a big conversation going on inside around a seemingly innocuous occurrence. So it got my attention.
The ego loves autopilot. When we’re on autopilot, the ego doesn’t have to worry and doesn’t have to work. Happily for the ego, autopilot does all the convincing necessary to keep us asleep – to stifle our attempts to awaken. That right there is where the rub is – where I can negotiate change. I immediately decided that “escaping me” via snacking and reading most days of the week was autopilot and therefore something I could disengage. However, disengaging would take daily discipline. It’s one thing to turn off a plane’s autopilot. When it comes to humans, disengaging from autopilot takes time. It means releasing one habit by replacing it with another. In this case replacing it with a new habit that is healthier yet challenging.
This doesn’t mean I won’t ever take myself out to read a chapter or two of whatever book I’m currently reading. And I may, like other writers, learn to love writing on my laptop in public places. The mind works differently surrounded by sound that doesn’t pull on the reader or the writer – and for some that is a very good and creative thing. In fact, most of the time my reading inspires me to pause and write - even on napkins if I’ve forgotten to bring a notebook. So there is creative stuff going on out there in the privacy of public places. But the autopilot aspect of it has been burdensome to me for some time and, too, I feel a call to face this part of me that is made nervous by being at home as dusk falls.
What does this have to do with the death of the ego? Disengaging the autopilot shakes loose the belief that the ego is solid – undermines it with the truth of its illusory nature. To the extent that dusk puts me in touch with a spacious emptiness inside, an ungrounded, death-like place that feels like the Great Unknown – well, that’s a ripe opportunity to awaken a little if I’m willing to just be with it. As Adyashanti has written:
“Human beings have a drive for security and safety, which is often what fuels the spiritual search. This very drive for security and safety is what causes so much misery and confusion. Freedom is a state of complete and absolute insecurity and not knowing. So, in seeking security and safety, you actually distance yourself from the freedom you want. There is no security in freedom, at least not in the sense that we normally think of security. This is, of course, why it is so free: there’s nothing there to grab hold of.
The Unknown is more vast, more open, more peaceful, and more freeing than you ever imagined it would be. If you don’t experience it that way, it means you’re not resting there; you’re still trying to know. That will cause you to suffer because you’re choosing security over Freedom. When you rest deeply in the Unknown without trying to escape, your experience becomes very vast. As the experience of the Unknown deepens, your boundaries begin to dissolve. You realize, not just intellectually but on a deep level, that you have no idea who or what you are. A few minutes ago, you knew who you were—you had a history and a personality—but from this place of not knowing, you question all of that.
Liberated people live in the Unknown and understand that the only reason they know what they are is because they rest in the Unknown moment by moment without defining who they are with the mind. You can imagine how easy it is to get caught in the concept of the Unknown and seek that instead of the Truth. If you seek the concept, you’ll never be free, but if you stop looking to myths and concepts and become more interested in the Unknown than in what you know, the door will be flung open. Until then, it will remain closed.
As we sometimes say in the mountains, ’nuff said.