Father Ittoop Panikulam, SVD | Contributor
"How much of ourselves is made up of ego?" questioned Bindu, a senior manager of Infosys and a known blog writer. She expressed a desire to know how much of ourselves is made up of ego. Bindu responded to the author's write-up on Radio Veritas Asia titled 'Know thyself' and join the chorus 'Laudato si.' The author offers a response below.
No one likes to be labelled an egomaniac, even those who mirror it round the clock for all to see. It would need a treatise to explain the birth, growth, development and actualization of ego. It starts off like a mustard seed that can grow into a gigantic tree upon which humans can construct their homes. It works like a leaven in the dough, almost impossible later to separate one from the other.
That little invisible virus had been living with us like an endemic all the time. It will always be an exception if you find a leader who is ego-liberated. Barak Obama once claimed that Manmohan Singh, the former prime minister of India, was an egoless world leader. I agree with that wise comment on that humble man. That's one among too many.
Pushpajiji is the title of a frequent Youtube woman satirist, presenting short, witty subtle displays. Recently, I saw her advising upcoming national leaders. She tells them that it is not important how accurate the facts are presented to the audience, the achievements they loudly bombard to the crowd, but "see that people are given to see your impressive photos in which you wear noticeable and unforgettable garments. Tell your photographers to go for the most attention-getting photos of yours; it does not matter when and where it was clicked, the onlookers should get hooked to it. You must appear important, grandiose with a vestige of high-class look, the gaze of a futuristic leader and yet ever ready to serve. Your photographers will choose them for you. Give them some easy money that you collect from the people for eradicating poverty. What matters is your spectacular appearance and catchy presentation. The very sight of you should impress them and instill in them a memory that should last till the next time they go for voting. And you will get results beyond all your imaginations." Pushpajiji is dressing up the exterior of an ego-clad future leader. I am sure even Gandhiji, 'the semi-naked fakir,' would have smiled at her presentation. Remember the king who walked naked in front of the people without his ego-vest.
Clothes often chosen to distinguish you from others are subtly ego-marked. Just like the coronavirus, the ego-bug has cleverly penetrated all spheres of life that have spread as personal egos, family egos, social egos, cultural egos, political egos, national egos and also religious egos. Humans, the world over, seek after one thing for sure - happiness. The convictions gradually settle down in us that the way forward to receive showers of happiness is by getting attention and appreciation from the onlookers through various means, like money-power, prosperity, name, fame, skills, talents and success. The underlying script is the same in the drama of all ego-games played in life: one-upmanship. While trying to climb upwards, they also rather easily get into the mind-set of downsizing other hikers, unmindful of the means known or borrowed, malevolent or mischievous.
The ego drives on intending to become somebody or someone and not the real 'us.' Nobody wants to be nobodies. Who wants to be a persona non grata? The fact is that the true self is ever greater and more valuable than the ballooned-up ego-personality. The ego accomplishments can provide us with satisfactions, gratifications, pleasures, low level fulfilments, glorifications, respects, esteem, accolades, tributes, honours, approbations endorsements and what not. However, none of them or all of them put together can offer us what we are looking for: true happiness, peace and bliss.
"A day of humble self-knowledge is better than a thousand days of prayer," came as a revelatory thought from St. Teresa of Avila. That's a big statement to make by a mystic and a doctor of the Church. This is a reminder of the importance of Delphi-temple-declaration: "Know Thyself". Self-knowledge is your homework; nobody else's, not even that of God.
The ego headed bodies seldom pay attention to their true selves. In fact, the benefit of not knowing helps them have a good-feel- aura they have created around them. They might spend a thousand days of prayer that God may help them to remain the way they are. The first and the most important step towards change and transformation of character is the gift of self-knowledge, having the eyes of humility to look and see the way they are honestly. Humble awareness can make us feel truly good about ourselves. We realize soon that what truly matters in life is not perfect but perfectly human. We have a right to fail, and grace to get up and walk.
One self-awareness-tablet in the evening before sleep after an honest self-evaluation would soon cut the size of the ego.
The genuine link for happiness continues to be what the heart knows psychophysically and what Jesus told us - love. If anyone's life is directed, governed, guided by the power of love, it would turn on the heart enzymes of happiness. Jesus summed up all the laws into one: love, with a new wine guarantee if you 'love as I love.' Until we experience what the heart keeps on offering, we will be thrilled by ego supplies.
Happiness hormones: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphin gets turned on only when they get SMS calls from the love centre, linking it up with the circulatory system of our hearts, veins, blood vessels, and lymph – all act in unison. They do not respond to ego call-hubs. When you are truly happy, every cell in the body rejoices and celebrates.
One daily dose of happiness syrup made with pure love enzymes can further weaken the ego's capacity and its side effects.
Look at the faces of those in mediation. You don't see the excitement that the heart is capable of stirring up. You can almost touch peace on their faces. The mind is calm, serene, tranquil, and almost still, aren't they? You see depth and quality on those faces. Heartbeats are hardly audible. That kind of peace is not empty or hollow but filled with something unearthly and spiritual that we long for in our lives.
This is what happens to all the faces just before we fall asleep. The difference is, the meditators are silently aware of what is happening to them. The sleepers are totally in their slumbers. Along with peace, they experience the silent warmth of happiness. This, no ego can generate. Here you see on their faces a simple combination of peace combined with a thin vestige of joy. Once you learn the art of meditation and begin to harvest its rewards, the ego tasters begin to lose its earlier flavour.
A daily cup of peace juice prepared in meditation can further weaken the capacity of the ego and its key interests.
If we stay on longer in meditative consciousness, we become silently aware of something deeply real and truly spiritual in us. St. Paul calls it the inner self (Ephesians 3: 16); Meister Eckhart, the seed of God in us and Jesus talks about it as something more valuable and precious than that of the whole universe, the soul.
What most of our saints with mystical experiences have shared with us were blossoming spiritual moments. For Jesus, it was his experiences of Abba at His baptism and the Spirit as real as a dove. It is hard to find portraits when someone is lost in that blissfulness. The disciples saw Jesus once when he was on the mount of transfiguration. Other times He was always all alone in the silence of the wilderness, who knows how many times He had similar experiences. Paul felt blinded as if he was hit by lightening while the mystic was on his feet.
I believe that it is available to all who got a soul. It is such a solitary path in 'lonely places' that most prefer something else. If we begin to look at the world, others and self through the eyes of the soul, our eyes will start beholding everything and everyone similar to the way God sees. The closer we are to our spiritual core, the further we move away from ego fascinations.
Take time to seek, find and breathe in spiritual oxygen and ego flavours would turn tasteless!
No one could miss the purposeful hyperbolic 'get behind me Satan' rebuke of Jesus upon Peter. (Mark 8:33) Peter is reduced to Satan. Jesus immediately gave him the wisdom line for his statement. Peter, he said, you are "Following People's Way of Thinking." You think like a child of PWOT (Peoples' Ways of Thinking). Change your mind and follow God's Way of Thinking" (a child of GWOT - God's Way of Thinking).
A little later, in the continuing conversation, Jesus asks them: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:36-37). The baddie that lurks inside PWOT thinking is the ego. And the God particle hidden in the heavenly treasure field is the soul, the Divine DNA. The experience of the soul makes one know the heavenly truth that paradise can be in the now that the kingdom of God is possible upon this earth. I suppose we have reached a point of no return from the spell of PWOT at the cost of neglecting the real nectar of our lives available to the followers of GWOT.
Bindu, ego being only a mental concept, I would think that the real weight of ego in us, as shared earlier, is zero. However, it behaves as if it is all-mighty and weighty.
Father Ittoop Panikulam, SVD is based in Dhyan Kutir, Mumbai, India.