Our ego is our constant, drama-addicted and often irritating companion. Our ego tells us that we are better than other people or not as good as others. It tells us that we’re smarter than that guy down the hall in Marketing but a slacker and dumpy compared to that athletic bicyclist in the office next to ours. Our ego tells us that we aren’t doing enough to realize our goals and it tells us that we know more about health/politics/religion than our best friend.
We find it very difficult to separate ourselves from our ego, and therefore we feel exhilarated whenever information from an external source elevates our sense of self (“You did so well with that, I’m impressed!”) and devaluates it (“I’m not in love with you anymore.”), because we derive our emotions from our thoughts, and our thoughts are dominated by ego. Our mind cannot distinguish what is actually happening to us from what we think is happening.
In this way, we suffer needlessly. We tell ourselves stories about how this or that person is not respecting us. We convince ourselves that someone else is standing in the way of what we really want, and therefore we can’t truly be happy. We hold grudges and we feel anxious much of the time. Our blood pressure surges and our adrenal glands are pumping out fight-or-flight hormones in response to some perceived threat to our wellbeing.
And yet, this is all happening in our minds. Our bodies are just sitting there, staring at the computer screen or laying awake in bed at night. We are creating our own suffering.
We cannot live with the peaceful joy and sense of aliveness that is our birthright and natural state unless we recognize that who we are is not who our ego tells us we are. Our story—of what happened to us in the past or what we think will happen to us in the future—is not who we are.
So if you’re not your role or your story, who are you, really?
Are you a teacher? An engineer? A writer? A mother? Are you a bicyclist, Apple user, intellectual, athlete, urban farmer, vegan, ominvore, conservative, liberal, progressive, peak oilist, naturalist, yuppie, or sports fan?
Do you have a high opinion of yourself or a low one? Are you a valuable person? Who are you without your identities and without your ego?
We are not who we think we are. We are the awareness of our identification with form. In the moment when we realize we are placing a label on ourselves and feeling a certain way about that label, we have brought awareness in between the thought (ego) and our identification with it. We are the space that separates us from the thought that tells us, “You are not enough” or “You are better than everyone else.”
We suffer because we feel inadequate in our roles and identifications. We didn’t get that promotion, we lost that client, our child came home with an F on their report card, we suspect our spouse is cheating on us, we aren’t making progress on that project or goal we’ve been obsessing about for the last several years.
In nature, consciousness and life are ego-less and have intrinsic value.
Here’s an activity in nature you can do on a hike or just out in your backyard, that will help you answer the question, “who am I?”
Close your eyes and extend out your hand. How do you know that your hand is alive? How does it feel, inside of your body? Is there a buzzing, a vibration that tells you that your hand is alive, that you are alive?
Don’t think about the fact that your hand is alive. Don’t think, “I know my hand is alive because I can see it and I used it just now and there’s blood flowing through it.”
Don’t think, just FEEL. Feel the sensation of aliveness in your hand.
You are this sense of aliveness. You are not your thoughts, you are not your past, you are not your future. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are consciousness and life itself.
Now, open your eyes and look at a plant or some other living thing near you. Perhaps a tree, or a flower, or an insect. It’s best if you look at something you know very little about—perhaps an insect or plant you haven’t seen before.
Look at it without trying to identify or label it. You don’t need to know what it’s called or what it’s usefulness or function is.
You know nothing about this being. You don’t know what it thinks of itself or what it knows. You don’t know how long it’s been alive or who its mate is. You don’t know if it will die today or next year. You don’t know what diseases it may harbor.
Does this being have value, even without you knowing anything about it?
Why does it have value?
Why do you have value?
Who are you?