Beware the illusory ego

We view ourselves and the world through our ego. The dictionary states that the ‘ego’ is one’s image of oneself. This ego, in my opinion, is like a shape-changing lens through which we view ourselves and the world. So the image that we see through this lens depends on the current shape this lens has. Let me elaborate on this a little further.

Low self-esteem: There are times in our lives when nothing seems to go right. At these times we feel small and useless. We simply can’t seem to get anything right. In our minds we are ‘losers’ and really no good. Our self esteem is at its lowest and we are blaming ourselves for everything. Everybody, other than us, seems to be superior and very proficient. The lens simply shrinks the image we have of ourself. During these times, some people beat themselves for every mistake they commit during this period.

Feelings of grandeur: We also have times when we feel that nothing can go wrong. We succeed in achieving some of the goals that we set. We seem to be on a roll. Our mind magnifies every thing that we do and makes it appear great and grand. It appears that nothing can stop us. We feel extremely proud of ourselves. We also look down at the difficulties others are having and wonder why they are not getting it right. We feel pretty cocky.

The truth is neither of this real. We are neither losers, nor are we really superior. This is simply an illusion that our ego creates. But at these times we feel that this reality. Actually nothing can be farther from the truth.

We are still the same person we were.

We really have to wary of this illusion that the ego creates. During times when things go wrong we have realize that there is no finality in this failure. Life is a marathon and we can pick ourselves up and move ahead slowly. Similarly just because the going is good does not make you superior. We need to have the humility to realize that the success is temporary and we need to move on. We can revel in the success for some time but we should not let it get into our head.

During these times of success and failure we need to step back and look at ourselves. We should neither feel crushed because of defeat nor be arrogant because we succeeded where others did not. We must realize that these are stages in life.

Moreover it will help if we have a good circle of friends who can give us a honest opinion.

So there is no need to feel inferior or superior to others. Realize that the image that you see of yourself is the creation of the ego and is not real.

Who I was, who I am, who I will be …

For a moment ask yourself this question “Who am I?”. If you think deeply about who you really are you will realize that you are made of a bundle of beliefs, opinions, biases, fears, hopes and ambitions. You want to do and achieve a lot of things in life. You have a of limited knowledge of the world.

Now pause for a moment,  and try to think about who you were a few years ago. You will quickly realize that you had a different set of beliefs and opinions. You were fascinated by certain things and hated certain other things.  A few years back you had some goals. It is likely that these goal no longer interest you.

Many things would have changed. Your opinion on things and people in this world would have also undergone a certain transformation. It is likely that you deeply believed in something. You may not possible believe any more in this. It could be that you did not believe in a leader and now you are willing to be more open to the person’s ideas and ideologies or vice-versa. Alternatively a belief you had in a faith no longer brings the same reverence and faith in you.

With changing times, the ‘I’ also changes.

What I am driving at is that the ‘I’ that we think that we know intimately actually undergoes constant change.

In your mind you are the same person from time immemorial.  But if you closely look into yourself you will realize that as your external body grows and ages so also does this ‘I’.

We are constantly learning and unlearning new things. We shed our old opinions and biases only to pick on new opinions and biases. Our ideas change. We acquire more knowledge, though limited,  of the world through learning and experience. Sometimes some event, or person has such a strong influence on us that we are willing to change our age old concepts of things. Our opinions change. Our credulity or skepticism about things also changes.

It is likely that if we happen to meet our former self  from a few years ago, we may have a lot of differences. This ‘I’  is constantly growing, aging and transforming every moment, every day, throughout our lifetime.

So who will you be many years from now? I think none of us can say this with absolute certainty. Who knows what event and what transforming event awaits us? Who will we encounter in our future? What new experiences awaits us?

All we can and should hope,  is that at least, we hold on to our core values of integrity, kindness and compassion in the years to come.

Just as we would not recognize our former self, the likelihood of us knowing our future self is also very remote!

You are not who you think you are …

1“You are not, repeat not, who you think you are”. Let this sentence sink through your mind. Take a moment and try to visualize yourself. Look at who you are and what you stand for. Barring a few exceptions most of have a view, that is inflated to varying degrees, of ourselves.

It is said that “What we think of ourselves, what others think of us and what we really are” are three completely different things.

In our mind we are honest and sincere, tactful when required, correct, upright, generous to the right degree, etc. etc.

Our view of ourselves after all is measured through the lens of our own limited knowledge. We look at ourselves based on our reasons and often incorrect perception of others.

We live in our minds. Right from birth we are constantly viewing the world and making sense of it. We are building layers and layers of reason – of the people we see and the experiences we get. We tend to rationalize things and we put people or things into different slots.

Almost all of us are slightly selfish and also have a tinge of narcissism. Our mind tends to construct an edifice of reason of the perceived world and our place in it. This narcissistic outlook of ourselves, when viewed in the mirror of our mind, results in us assuming a very pleasing, upright personality.

So when we are rude to somebody, we are being forthright, honest and calling a ‘spade a spade’. When we drop some coins to the beggar in the street we are being ‘noble and generous’. If we ignore all beggars, then we are against begging and beggars who can’t earn a livelihood.

Out mind constantly keeps justifying each and every action that we take. So we are never wrong. Our conscience is always clear. We are always striving to do the right thing. This is the opinion we generally have of ourselves.

However, the world, which can only view occasional snapshots of your behavior, can have a diametrically opposite view of you.

The view that the world has of you is nothing more than an ‘averaging’ of the encounters that it has had with you. So this also is not right.

Who you really are in the final analysis is something that cannot be easily determined.

So next time you think of yourself, do so, with a liberal amount of salt. It is quite likely that you are way off the mark!

Travel lightly in life!

travelerPeace in life is a continuum and cannot simply be isolated instances of freedom from discord. But peace in life is a mirage. We never seem to attain it and are usually burdened with worries, anxieties, fears, animosities and the like.

To get anywhere even close to peace and happiness in life the first thing we need to do is to travel light in life.  Here are some prescriptive processes that will take you closer to peace in life. As mentioned above they are prescriptive and they are processes and will need to be followed in your journey through life

Let go of animosity and hatred: This is the cardinal principle of living lightly and is embodied in Lord Jesus Christ’s immortal words “Love thy enemy”. One needn’t be religious to understand the brilliance in the above statement. Letting go of hatred is simply “smart mental energy management”. Harboring hatred and venom for another can sap your energy and strength. So simply let go and better still forgive and forget.

Strive for mental poise: Here is another no-brainer and is the utterance of Lord Krishna in the Gita “A true yogi is one who is unruffled by praise or criticism”.  You don’t have to be a yogi to realize the truth in the above statement. Praise usually makes us excited and giddy headed. Our head could swell with exaggerated pride. This is often very tiring. Similarly criticism can make us feel crushed and hurt. This is another mental energy sapper. So we need to be able to consciously brush off both praise and criticism,

Take on problems head-on: As I mentioned in my earlier post “Life sucks … big time”. All of us are given a unique set of problems to handle in life. There are no exceptions. So handle your problems head-on. Don’t put away the issues you face in life. It is your problem and your responsibility to get it solved. So get cracking and start to work towards possible solutions.

Don’t procrastinate: This is another important step to travel lightly in life. Having a large to-do-list is bad. In fact go ahead and banish the to-do list from your life.  Whatever you need to do for yourself, your family or in your profession get started and have them completed. In my opinion a ‘to-do’ list is really a ‘to-nag’ list. The tasks in your list have the dirty habit of lurking in the recesses of your mind and robbing you of your peace.

So get started. The first step is always the best step.

Let go of hatred, practice mental poise, take your problems on your chin and avoid procrastination.

Unclutter your mind.

Travel light in life!

What! … Me wrong?

wrong1Has this thought ever crossed your mind? Probably not. And if it did, I am certain your answer would have been “Never!”

We simply never admit that we could be wrong. After all, each and every one of us considers himself/herself to be the center of the universe. The universe may change, stars may be born, stars may fade into white stars but we are always the center of the universe.

It is always “I, Me… Mine”

If there is one person we know intimately, it is ourselves. We go about this world observing, trying to understand the world we are in. Everything that we know is based on the reasoning of our minds. Oftentimes our reasoning is erroneous and we come to false conclusions. We make assumptions about things. Then we go about building layer over layer, based on faulty reasoning and incorrect assumptions.

Of course, our entire edifice of our knowledge is based on a fundamental rule – “I am always right”. So despite of our incorrect understanding of the way things work we go about under the belief that what we know is correct and above any blemish.

When we argue with our friends, spouse or our colleagues we do so based on our incorrect and often inaccurate view of reality.

So it does not make sense to be inflexible when there is a difference of opinion. It often helps, if we could step back for a moment and consider the fact that we could be wrong.

This would result in a lot of your beliefs and assumptions to come crashing down. But this is an exercise that we should do. Firstly it will help us to correct our own assumptions about the world, and secondly it will also make way for us to change and learn new things.

So, every now and then, step back and look at your own assumptions.

You could be wrong!

The inscrutable but predictable mind

Our mind is a wonderful instrument and thought is probably the greatest faculty of man. We are capable of analyzing, solving, creating things through our mind. But our mind is probably also the least understood capability of mankind.

Thinkers, sages have long sought to understand the workings of the mind but it has all been in vain. Our mind is truly inscrutable. However hard we may try to understand how our mind works, we will never be closer to the solution than when we started.

While on the one hand the mind is a puzzle that is still be cracked there is a certain predictability in the way we behave under certain circumstances. We get angry when our ego is hurt, we feel annoyed when people irritate us, we become slaves when we see objects of desire. We may try as hard as we want in trying to distract ourselves but when the situation presents itself we just tend to behave in extremely predictable ways be it anger, hatred, contempt or envy.

So while the mind is truly conundrum which cannot be understood, there are many aspects of its behavior that is really predictable. The interesting thing about the mind is that we cannot train the mind to behave in a different way. While we can train our bodies to lift weights, we cannot train our mind to be magnanimous when somebody hurts our ego or suppress the envy we feel when somebody succeeds where we fail. We cannot learn to be tolerant when we are irritated. The mind will just continue to behave in the way it always does.

Probably a lot of our behaviors are the legacy of our forefathers and are deeply ingrained in our mind. Most of these behaviors are hard-wired into our brain and we cannot unlearn or train the mind to behave differently.

What is needed is to be able to transcend our mind much like those who are truly enlightened be it Lord Krishna, Jesus Christ or a Buddha. We have to be able to rise above centuries of programming. While these enlightened souls point the way to transcend our minds there is no certainty we will reach there.

Till that time we have to live with our inscrutable but truly predictable mind!

The Roots of Misery

Suffering is inevitable in human life. Nobody is immune to it. The moment we are born in this world we are destined for our quota of pain and misery. We cannot wish it away nor can we escape it. This article looks at some at most common causes of human misery. By being aware of these causes we are better prepared to face pain and misery head on

A look at the roots of suffering …

Desire : This is by far the most common and most prevalent cause of pain and suffering in this world. We want more, we want better, we want bigger than before. This desire and this want of ours remains in our lives and cannot be easily removed. The Gita clearly stresses that “desire is the root of all suffering” and we should overcome this desire of ours.

Ego: This is another major contributor to agony in life. We are nothing more than “walking egos”. We feel we are better, smarter and cleverer than most of humanity. When this ego of ours is hurt in anyway we feel truly miserable. Our egos are crushed when we are insulted or humiliated. We just fail to understand why the world cannot acknowledge our greatness. While we should rid ourselves of our swollen egos we should never compromise in our self-pride. Self-pride and self-esteem are extremely important for successful living.

Expectation: We generally expect the world to behave in a certain way. When things do not happen to our expectation we feel hurt. We may expect that people treat us a particular way. We may expect that our child do well in his/her studies. We may expect to be rewarded for something we do. When our expectations are not met we feel let down and miserable. To be free of misery of unfulfilled expectations we should adopt the philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi who states “Expect nothing, enjoy everything”.

Attachment: As a mortal we are attached to people, to things and hopes. When we are forced to part with our children, when we have to suffer losses in the family or when something that is extremely dear to us like our car is damaged we are hurt. While we can get rid of attachment to things it is very difficult to get rid of the bonds we have with our dear ones. But still we have to rise above ourselves and understand that everything in this world is transitory.
These are the most common reasons for most of human pain and misery. When we are aware of the causes behind our sadness we can address them better, mitigating to some extent at least the intensity of our suffering.

Inner Victories

Most of our attention is focused on success in the external world. We are concerned with achievement of power, wealth or fame. There is nothing wrong with achievement of success in this world of ours. However this success will be hollow if it is not accompanied with internal victory.

What is really required for enduring happiness in our lives is the need to achieve internal victories. We are assured of long lasting happiness if we achieve the following

Temptation: We have to conquer desire. Desire over money, fame, power must be completely eradicated. If these come to us as a result of our efforts that is fine. But we should not make achievement of these as our primary goal in life. Temptation will come to us in many forms and being human we will succumb to this in our life. It is not enough to resist temptation. Resistance of any form is only tension. We need to completely overcome desire and temptation from our lives.

Ego: As we grow older in life we tend to become egoistic and self-centered. We view the world through colored glasses. We generally have an exaggerated view of ourselves. We get hurt and angry if somebody does not treat us the way we assume they should. We have an image of our self importance. Defeating one’s ego is not at all easy. This requires sustained effort and complete understanding of our own strengths and weakness and a true sense of humility. However a victory of over one’s ego is not only a true indicator of one’s greatness but it will also bring great happiness and peace to one if it is achieved.

Overcoming evil emotions: We also have to attain master over own emotions of anger, hatred, jealousy and greed. These vices can take complete control of us and make us slaves. We lose complete control of ourselves when these emotions overpower us. We need to completely exterminate these evil emotions from our lives.

If we achieve these inner victories any success in the external world will be more enduring. These inner victories will increase our self confidence and our own self-esteem. Achievement of fame, power or wealth accompanied by true inner victories should be one’s goal.

Also it is possible to live peacefully with inner victories alone regardless of external achievement. But any external achievement without the corresponding inner victories will at best be hollow and cannot be truly enjoyed.