Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Ego's Many Guises: Guest Teaching by Gina Lake

WELCOME to the tenth installment of Awakening Clarity's Guest Teaching Series.  One of our goals is to build an Internet resource of Who's Who in contemporary Nonduality.  Every week we bring you a new spiritual author-teacher.  We give you a little background on them, a hearty sample of their work, and a bunch of helpful links to aid you in further pursuing that teacher’s work.  Today I'm excited to bring you--by chance and not design--our first female teacher.

GINA LAKE first came to my attention in the early autumn of 2008.  I'd just read Nirmala's Nothing Personal and was back on Amazon poking around his books.  Amazon pointed me toward Gina's Radical Happiness, and my guess is it was the reviews that reeled me.  She has quite the devoted following.  At any rate, I ordered it.  I had lunch that same day with a friend of mine, and since my friend and I shared such things, Gina and her book came up.  Shame on me, but in my attempt to connect Gina to the rest of the Nondual dots my friend and I were talking about, I took a non-PC shortcut and said, "She has to be credible; she's Mrs. Nirmala."  Two weeks later when my friend and I had lunch again he asked about what I thought about Radical Happiness, which by now I had finished reading.  “Oh, man, it’s fabulous!” I exclaimed.  “Nirmala may be Mr. Gina Lake!!” 

GINA LAKE IS VERY MUCH her own person.  Adyashanti was her primary exterior teacher—she met Nirmala in 1999, two weeks after her awakening.  Her foremost teacher, however, was and is the one we are all encouraged to find: her inner teacher.  I once talked to Adyashanti about this very thing, which I then called, “The Explainer.”  It’s still not a bad description and mine continues to be a great influence and tremendous blessing.  I know Gina's does as well; the proof is all over her work.

GINA IS A FINE AND PROLIFIC WRITER and has the gift of meeting seekers where they are.  She uses whatever language she thinks the student can hear at the time.  In line with Advaitic traditions, she’s not afraid to use a dualistic thorn to pick out another dualism, and then throw both away, which I admire.  In my opinion, any tool that works is a valid tool.  Effectiveness is the only criteria I pay any attention to: it’s a better yardstick than most.  I suspect that this flexibility in Gina's teaching stems partly from the well of knowledge she gained while getting her master's degree in psychology.  Awakening doesn’t invalidate the need for counseling or psychology; each clears the path for the other. Clarity is ever the goal. 

GINA'S BACKGROUND gives her an uncommon vantage point from which to help us begin to see clearly, which often begins with clearly seeing ego and its antics.  In the excerpt she’s shared here, she shows us some of the many faces and voices of ego, which is illuminating—and sometimes funny!  Definition helps us to see, and seeing is the first step in seeing through. This ‘seeing through’ is the ultimate goal of all Nondual paths, regardless of how or where they wind.

GINA LIVES IN SEDONA, Arizona with her husband, Nirmala, who was our Guest Teacher last week.  She no longer offers consultations and says she stays busy writing and publishing books.  She says that although she is primarily a writer, she also does a few intensives/meetings and monthly tele-seminars.  Like myself, she declares herself a happy hermit.

GINA IS DEVOTED to helping others awaken and live in the moment. She is the author of numerous books, including Embracing the Now, Radical Happiness, Trusting Life, Living in the Now, Return to Essence, Anatomy of Desire, Loving in the Moment, and Getting Free. The focus of her writing and teaching is on helping people be in the present moment, live the happy and fulfilled life that is possible, and shedding light on the programming that interferes with awakening to one's true nature. She is also a gifted intuitive with a master's degree in counseling psychology and over twenty years experience supporting people in their spiritual growth.

AND NOW . . .

The Ego's Many Guises
Gina Lake 

BEING ABLE TO SEE THROUGH the illusion of the false self and disidentify from it and the false reality it creates is largely a matter of getting to know the ego (via the voice in your head), really seeing what it’s like and what it’s up to. Once you see the truth about the ego, ignoring the egoic mind’s chatter becomes much easier. And once you are able to ignore the egoic mind, you land in reality, the present moment, where it is possible to experience and express your true nature. In service to busting the ego’s game, let’s examine more closely some of the guises the ego takes on.

The Ego as Tyrant

THE EGO OFTEN PLAYS the role of the tyrant: It prods and pushes, bosses, and evaluates. The Tyrant’s voice can be harsh, demanding, demeaning, and unkind. It can also be rational, reasonable, parental, and authoritative. Either way, we tend to believe that voice and follow it. When we are identified with the ego, The Tyrant plays a big role in guiding us through our day and, we think, making sure we get things done, and get them done right. We are convinced that we need The Tyrant to keep up with life, without realizing that The Tyrant is the one that generates the to-do list that keeps us so busy.

THE EGO, AS THE TYRANT, not only tells us what to do, but also when and how to do it. It devises a list of things to do and checks to see how the list is going: “Did you do that? How well did you do that? What do you have left to do? Can you do it? Will you get it done in time? Will it be done well enough? Will you run into trouble? What problems might arise? How will you deal with those problems?”

THE TYRANT IS A COMPELLING VOICE because we really believe we need it to function. We really believe we wouldn’t get anything done if we didn’t listen to it. We’re so used to that voice that we don’t even question what it is telling us or whether we even need it. Where do its instructions and ideas come from? Is it wise? Is it true?

THE TYRANT IS DEVELOPED through the training we receive from authority figures, particularly parents. It’s a composite of the authority figures we have known, which we have internalized, and of other things we’ve learned. So now, as adults, instead of parents and teachers telling us what to do and when and how to do it, The Tyrant plays the role of a parent, teacher, or boss. This is a natural psychological process. The trouble is that, just as parents don’t always know what is best for us, The Tyrant doesn’t either. It doesn’t have the wisdom to guide us; it’s just mouthing what we’ve learned.

WE ACTUALLY DON'T NEED to have our conditioning voiced like that, since we automatically draw on our conditioning when we need it. The voice is redundant and unnecessary. Like the ego, this aspect of the ego is a sham. It’s an imposter. It isn’t who we are, and it isn’t wise; it only pretends to be.

THAT THE TYRANT is unnecessary becomes obvious when you drop out of the ego and begin to live from the Self. When you live from the Self, you still don’t cross busy streets without looking or touch hot stoves. You don’t need The Tyrant to remind you of these things.

ONCE YOU REALIZE you don’t need the Tyrant, you can ignore its voice, and when you ignore it long enough, it eventually falls away. What a miracle! No more voice telling you what to do and how to do it, and evaluating your every move. No more going over lists and checking them twice! When we stop listening to The Tyrant, this aspect of the ego eventually gives up and disappears, although usually not overnight.

THE REAL PROBLEM with The Tyrant is that it causes stress. Instead of being helpful, listening to its voice takes the joy out of life and keeps our attention focused unnecessarily in the mental realm and therefore outside the present moment, where true happiness and true guidance are available. It makes us less present to life. And when we are less present to life, we are less effective and efficient and less happy and at peace with life. The Tyrant actually interferes with functioning optimally and with enjoying whatever we’re doing. Its voice is not just annoying. It’s much worse than that: It causes us to worry and hurry and feel insufficient. It gives us the sense that there’s never enough time and that we’re never done with our to-do list. This is not a state that is conducive to peace, love, and contentment, but just the opposite.

FORTUNATELY, IF YOU don’t listen to The Tyrant, you will be guided by something wiser to do what needs to be done. You also will be guided to do what is of real value, and you will make time for that, for such things as love, creativity, meditation, service, learning, growing, developing your talents, doing what makes your heart sing, and just being. In the ego’s world, there’s no end to working, striving, and perfecting. But we are also here to enjoy life, to create, and to express our uniqueness, not just accomplish tasks.

ENJOYING LIFE doesn’t mean doing nothing, but being present to whatever you are doing. Then everything you do becomes infused with joy and peace, and you are able to express love naturally. You have the energy to do what needs to be done because your energy isn’t being taken up in doing unnecessary things or in being stressed out.

TO BEGIN PRACTICING this new way of being, just start noticing the tyrannical voice in your head and recognize it as programming you don’t need. Accept that it’s there. Don’t fight or argue with this voice, because this aspect of the ego is just part of being human. And then, just be present to whatever you are doing, or just be. Life is much simpler, more joyous, less stressful, and runs much more smoothly without the tyranny of the ego.

The Ego as the Martyr

THE MARTYR IS ANOTHER familiar voice in the head for many. It often shows up after we have been listening to The Tyrant and have exhausted ourselves by trying to do too much or by trying to be perfect. When we give in to the dictates of The Tyrant, we often feel martyred, and the unhappiness and ego-domination continues, as the ego shifts personas to The Martyr.

THE MARTYR SHOWS UP as the voice of feeling unappreciated, overlooked, overworked, and abused: “Nobody notices all the things I do. Nobody cares. All I do is work, work, work. Life isn’t any fun. I sacrifice so much, and what do I get for it? I work so hard, and for what?” The Martyr is the voice of self-pity. Being martyred gives the ego a sense of being special. Being a martyr is an identity, but a very unhappy one. When we are identified with The Martyr, we feel burdened, sad, worn out, unacknowledged, and not respected.

THE MARTYR'S SAD STORY can result in a lot of complaining. The Complainer and The Martyr are closely related. Both of these personas try to manipulate others and life with their complaints. The unconscious strategy of The Martyr is to make others around The Martyr miserable so that someone will notice and offer some reward, attention, or appreciation.

THE BEST WAY TO AVOID The Martyr is to not identify with The Tyrant, which causes us to push ourselves too hard and to lose sight of the joy of being alive. When life becomes only about what we have done and accomplished, we do feel martyred—and we are. We are martyred by The Tyrant, who puts us in that unhappy position. Then The Martyr turns around and persecutes everyone else, which is a very poor strategy for getting what it wants. The ego is not rational, and its strategies not only don’t work, but they also backfire.

The Ego as the Judge

ALL JUDGMENTS COME from the ego, and they don’t serve us or life well. That is another great illusion: We think our judgments are useful, but they aren’t. We are programmed to believe that the judgments that run through our minds are correct, meaningful, and serve a purpose. However, judgments are the ego’s ineffective response to life and, more important, a way the ego makes itself feel superior in relationship to others. The sense of rightness and superiority that comes from judging gives the ego a sense of existing, even though the ego doesn’t actually exist, except as a mental construct.

THE EGO IS THE SENSE of being separate and distinct from others. All the ego really is, is the feeling of being a separate individual, a me. One of the ways the sense of being me is maintained is through judgments, which literally separate us from others. By making ourselves right and others wrong, judgments help maintain a sense of me as separate from who or what is being judged.

ANOTHER BENEFIT of judging, to the ego, is that the feeling of being right helps the ego feel safe in the world. Believing that its perceptions are right and therefore superior gives the ego a sense of security in this chaotic and unpredictable world. Judging doesn’t actually create security, but judging provides the ego with a sense of security. However, the truth is that judging is more likely to undermine our security than ensure it, since judging damages our connection with others, who are important to our survival.

LET'S TAKE A MOMENT to examine the experience of judging:

Exercise: Examining How Judgments Make You Feel

Think of a time when you had a judgment about yourself or about someone else. How did that feel? Did it make you feel happy, peaceful, and content with life? (Because that is how you would like to feel, right?) To the ego, judgments feel good because they make the ego feel right and superior. But does feeling right and superior actually feel good? Is that how you would like to feel all the time? Is feeling right and superior worth not feeling happy, peaceful, and content with life? That’s the trade-off.

You don’t have to feel the way judgments make you feel if you don’t give the judgments that come into your mind your attention and if you don’t speak them. But before you can ignore these judgments, you might have to be convinced that all that judgments do is hurt you, hurt others, and keep you tied to the egoic state of consciousness. They don’t bring about the change in others that you think they might. Instead, they damage relationships. Judgments kill love. Are your judgments (which are just thoughts) worth it? If you never voiced another judgment in your life, you would be much happier.

LIKE THE "I" THOUGHT, the voice in our head that is The Judge is very convincing. Notice the strength, power, and certainty behind your judgments. And notice the contraction you feel when you think them, and especially when you speak them. The Judge takes on a very specific tone of voice and physical stance. When you are identified with The Judge and speaking a judgment, the body is tense and leans forward, and the voice gets louder and sharper. The Judge is tense, harsh, and not particularly just. The Judge doesn’t represent the innate wisdom and discrimination of your true nature. To discern what is right for you or wrong for you in any moment, you don’t need The Judge.

INSTEAD OF BEING WISE, The Judge is essentially a complainer. Judgments express the ego’s dissatisfaction with ourselves, with others, and with life. Judgments are easy to come by because the ego is dissatisfied with life most of the time. Dissatisfaction is the ego’s primary experience of life, and judgments represent the ego’s justification for being unhappy and for not accepting something: “I should have known better; I’m really stupid.” “He shouldn’t have done that; he’s so inconsiderate.” “Life shouldn’t be so hard; life is terrible.” All the ways we, others, and life fall short, in the ego’s opinion, are a cause for judgment.

JUDGMENTS KEEP US in resistance to life. They uphold the sense of separation that is the ego, and they keep us in a state of unhappiness. The funny thing is we really believe that judging ourselves, others, and situations has some value in changing what we don’t like. But life doesn’t change because we judge it, nor do people. Judgments are no way to win people over to our point of view. And yet that is often what we are attempting to do when we judge someone: “If you weren’t so lazy, you would get off the couch and help me.” We try to manipulate others to comply with our wishes by judging them.

JUDGMENTS ARE UNPLEASANT for everyone, so why indulge The Judge? Once you see what the ego is up to with judgments, you can let the judgments come and go in your mind without touching them. They don’t really belong to you, not the real you, anyway. The ego is a pretty nasty creature at times, and The Judge is one of its most destructive guises. The ego in this guise has a demeanor of being helpful, right, and discerning. But The Judge is none of these; it is more of a bully. 

The Ego as the Guru

THE EGO CAN PRETEND to be good and wise, but that doesn’t make it so. It can sound like it has your best interests at heart, but the ego is a con man. Underneath the supposed wisdom is judgment, because The Guru is essentially The Judge, but on spiritual matters instead of mundane ones. The ego as The Guru is a con man because it cons us into thinking it’s guiding us spiritually, when it’s really creating the same contraction, discontentment, stress, and striving the ego is known for. When we are aligned with our true nature, we feel relaxed, at peace with life, content, happy, and loving. And we are naturally attuned to the wisdom of the Self. Listening to The Guru, however, doesn’t bring such peace and contentment, but only more striving and the sense that we still don’t measure up. The Guru shakes its finger at us, saying: “You’ll never be enlightened. You have to be more (fill in the blank)­ and less (fill in the blank).”

THE GURU IS OFTEN referred to as the spiritual ego because it is the ego in spiritual guise, the ego that is trying to be spiritual by following rules and precepts to the letter. The ego doesn’t know how to “do” spirituality; it only knows how to mimic it: It pretends to be kind, holy, good, but it doesn’t want kindness, holiness, or goodness. It pretends these things only because it wants something else: power, superiority, respect, control, or other things it values. To the ego, spirituality is a means to an end, a means to get more of something or to better one’s position in life. The ego thinks that being spiritual will get it what it wants.

THE SPIRITUAL EGO drives people to try to attain enlightenment, when enlightenment is not something anyone can attain, least of all by striving, but quite the opposite. The spiritual ego strives for perfection because that is its idea of spirituality: “Be perfect, don’t make any mistakes, know everything, be wise.” It hopes to attain such perfection through practices, abstentions, and other means, but these activities are engaged in for the wrong reasons: to strengthen and empower the me instead of to dissolve it.

THE GURU SPEAKS to us primarily in shoulds: “You should meditate twice a day.” “You should be present.” “You should be nice.” “You shouldn’t drink so much.” “You should get to bed earlier.” “You should be doing your life purpose.” “You should be saving the world.” The word should is a sign of the ego. When the Self motivates us to meditate or be kinder or more present, or even to take better care of ourselves, it doesn’t inspire us through a thought, but through an inner impetus to do these things. That impetus is true guidance coming from the Self. Such subtle nudges and intuitive messages are continually being sent to us, but we may miss them if we are wrapped up in our thoughts.

IT'S EASY TO TELL the difference between true guidance coming from the Self and the false guidance of The Guru, besides the fact that the former comes through intuitively and as a drive, and the latter comes through as a thought. True guidance is received without resistance, unless the ego comes in later and resists the impetus or drive to act. The Guru’s guidance, on the other hand, causes us to feel contracted, not good enough, and needing to strive to get somewhere. When we are listening to The Guru, we feel like we are insufficient and need to do something to be good enough, valuable, worthy.

THE EGO IS the only thing that causes us to feel contracted and insufficient, since that is not the Self’s perception. We are loved by the Self, and our humanness and so-called imperfections, like everything else, are accepted and cherished by the Self. Perfect and imperfect are not in the Self’s vocabulary. Such a categorization is a concept, like the concepts good and bad, which also have no reality. These types of categorizations belong to the ego. In truth, we are neither good nor bad, perfect nor imperfect; we just are.

BECAUSE THE EGO can’t comprehend or even experience the Divine, the mystical, the ego often misunderstands and distorts the spiritual teachings it comes across. Since The Guru is the ego, and the ego doesn’t understand the Truth, listening to The Guru’s distortions and lies results in a lot of confusion for spiritual seekers.

SPIRITUAL TEACHINGS are meant to guide seekers out of the egoic mind and into the experience of their true nature, but when spiritual seekers are firmly stuck in their egoic minds, the teachings are often misunderstood and then used by The Guru to make the seeker feel insufficient, and those negative feelings perpetuate ego-identification. The ego doesn’t really want the Truth to be discovered because then the ego can no longer remain in charge. Discovering the Truth may not completely annihilate the ego, but it changes our relationship to the ego dramatically, and that change is felt like a death to the ego.

The Ego as the Pleasure-Seeker

THE EGO IS A SECURITY-SEEKER and a power-seeker, but it is also a pleasure-seeker, and that pleasure-seeking sometimes runs contrary to its other goals. Nevertheless, one of the ego’s main personas is The Pleasure-Seeker. It’s part of the ego’s nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure, but The Pleasure-Seeker is a sensuous creature, and it’s not as interested in avoiding pain as having pleasurable experiences.

THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE comes in a number of forms. The most accessible routes to pleasure are food and sex, although food as pleasure is more of a phenomenon in affluent countries. Other routes are alcohol, drugs, and experiences that are considered fun, such as watching TV and movies, or experiences that are considered exhilarating, such as skydiving, riding roller coasters, and gambling.

THE EGO AS PLEASURE-SEEKER is seeking a transcendent experience and relief from the suffering of the human condition, which ironically, the ego is the cause of. The pleasures of the flesh and other pleasures provide relief to some extent, but only briefly. These pleasures need to be experienced again and again because they provide only fleeting happiness and relief. Despite this obvious fact, the ego doesn’t seem to see the truth about pleasure-seeking, and it goes back repetitively to things that provide only fleeting pleasure instead of looking for something more lasting and satisfying. The ego as Pleasure-Seeker is like a rat that is so consumed with pressing the lever that gives it food, that it doesn’t consider other possibilities for its life.

WHEN IT'S TIME TO AWAKEN, the aspect of the Self that is waking up from the illusion finally sees the futility of continually seeking fleeting pleasures, and it starts looking for deeper fulfillment. Once true happiness is sought, it can be found because this treasure isn’t really hidden. True happiness has been available all along but simply not recognized. Many already know the secret to true happiness, and are freely sharing it with those searching for it.
THE PLEASURE-SEEKER is behind all addictions. It might be more accurate to say that negative thinking and feelings are behind all addictions, since negative thoughts and feelings create the suffering that people are trying to rid themselves of when they turn to food, drugs, sex, and other things for pure pleasure. Behind every addiction are unmet, unhealed, feelings and negative thoughts about oneself, life, and others that need to be seen and seen through. The ego can produce a tremendous amount of pain by convincing us of terrible lies about ourselves and life. These thoughts and feelings can make life seem unbearable. Compulsions come from negative feelings that have been buried, and these compulsions initiate and maintain addictive behavior. Those caught in addictions usually need help identifying the negativity they have bought into and help moving beyond that negativity to a more positive perception of themselves and life.

THE PLEASURE-SEEKER'S VOICE is the voice of temptation: “What difference will eating another piece of cake make? It tastes too good to not have another. You only live once. I’ll go on a diet next week.” “Another drink would be great. Why not? Let’s party!” The Pleasure Seeker goads us on and on toward more of the same pleasure, until that pleasure turns into pain. It prods us past the point of satiation to the point of pain or actual damage to the body.
THE PROBLEM isn’t seeking pleasure, because that’s fine in moderation, the problem is that The Pleasure-Seeker is never satisfied. It doesn’t know when to stop. The problem is also that when we are involved in pursuing pleasure compulsively, we aren’t doing anything to uncover and heal the negative thoughts and feelings at the root of our unhappiness.

WHEN WE ARE IDENTIFIED with the ego as The Pleasure-Seeker, we actually aren’t enjoying life very much, but running from the pain caused by believing the egoic mind. We aren’t really happy, and we aren’t really having fun. Addictions are anything but fun. The illusion is that our favorite pleasures are necessary for our happiness. For example, those addicted to food really believe they need their chocolate cake and other goodies to be happy. Giving them up seems unthinkable. The illusion that they need something outside themselves to be happy keeps them in the grips of addiction, and numbing their feelings out with their addiction keeps them from discovering the real cause of their unhappiness, and the solution.

The Ego as the Buddy
ANOTHER GUISE of the ego is that of a friend. This guise is experienced more positively than The Tyrant or other more negative guises the ego takes on, such as The Judge. When the ego can’t get our attention by shaming us, scaring us, bossing us, or making us feel bad in some other way, it may take the guise of our friend. This is the most deceptive guise because it can feel good and more like yourself than any other persona. It is the most benevolent form the ego takes: It chats with us like a friend. The kind of conversations we have mentally with the ego as The Buddy are similar to the conversations we might have with a real friend. The Buddy is the most positive side of the ego.

WHEN WE HAVE evolved beyond listening to the negativity of the egoic mind, the ego as The Buddy is often what’s left. Even though giving our attention to the friendly, chatty thoughts of The Buddy isn’t likely to cause us to contract or feel stressed or tense, like identifying with other thoughts does, giving our attention to these useless thoughts means we aren’t being more present to what else might be arising in the moment, such as intuitive messages or other possible communications from the Self. As long as we are giving our attention to The Buddy, we are still identified with the egoic mind, which means we aren’t having as full an experience of the moment as we could be having. Furthermore, listening to The Buddy reinforces the habit of paying attention to the egoic mind, and doing that can quickly lead to giving our attention to some other less benevolent guise of the ego.

THE VOICE OF The Buddy is friendly, upbeat, supportive, conversational, and chatty: “I think you should wear the blue dress; you want to look your best.” “Let’s have lunch a little later so that we can take a walk first.” “If anyone can get all that done, you can!” When we have seen through all the negative guises of the ego, The Buddy is the ego’s only hope of keeping us identified with it.

WHEN THE THOUGHTS in your mind are primarily chatty, that’s a good sign. The next step is to ignore even those. You don’t need them. They only take you away from being more present to whatever you are doing and experiencing.

Copyright Gina Lake, 2005
All rights reserved, used by permission


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Scott Kiloby will be next week's Guest Teacher.