I often wonder about the “ego” and how it resonates in my life. I try to understand the ego with an open heart and accept that we have an ego that can control our behaviors if we are unaware. I find myself reflecting on moments that might be ego driven or be judgmental of other people’s ego and I think to myself, why is it that the ego in ourselves is always being analyzed and can be such a trouble maker?
In Sanskrit the ego is called Ahamkara literally translated as the “I maker” or “I am.” It is understood as the moment at which we see ourselves and identify ourselves as a being. In Sankhya philosophy, the foundation of Ayurveda, is a philosophy explaining the truth within ourselves and understanding of the energetic forces that create our existence. When I study Sankhya my heart starts to open and there is a sense of truth in what it portrays. We come from a conscious source combined with an active will: quite literally the male aspect of consciousness and the female way of creation comes together and an “I” is formed. In other words, the moment there is an awareness of self is the moment of creation and formation of who we are. So it is the ego that is involved in this formation and where would we be without it?
So then I say to myself: we must have ego to be and to move forward. There is a purpose for the ego and if we actively begin to understand the function of the ego we may have some understanding of how it can benefit our lives in a positive way. I am writing on the ego because just recently I was on a one-month trip in Ecuador kayaking on class IV rivers and my ego was squashed for a moment.
Class IV in kayaking is an subjective difficulty level: not super extreme but still demands attention to skill and focus. Over the last 20 years of my life the sport of kayaking has been part of my identity. It was part of my job travelling the world with teenagers and kayaking on some of the most famous whitewater rivers in the world. My ego got me to all the places I paddled and the ego has also challenged me to know and identify my limitations when they came up.
In any extreme sport, I believe the ego must be at play. It must help us entertain the idea that the “I” can do it. Not only do it well but “NAIL IT” and make the line look smooth and easy. Working with the ego is about understanding the center point of focus on something: it is the truth of what we see before us. When I actively paddle down a challenging rapid I want to believe my ego is in line with my skill and at the end of the day I can feel good about it.
Just to explain a little further in Sankyha. Before Ahakara there is Mahad: pure intelligence. Ego comes from what Dr. Lad describes as a center of focus. When we focus in on something and recognize it, we identify it as something.
“Ahamkara is a process of identification based upon previous accumulated experience. The moment “I” is formed, which is the center created in the consciousness, then that creative intelligence (Mahad) becomes Budhi which is reasoning, capacity, intellect, and individual awareness.” – Dr. Lad, Volume 1
I believe is the key word to working with the ego.
I think we choose different ways in life to question our ego and challenge it. I believe the moment we start to identify with our ego is when we begin to understand it. Understanding allows us to stay truthful with ourselves. As I continue practicing yoga, I try to keep my ego open and remember that I am just a blip in the universe and my action is a part of all others actions. I work on being aware of my limitations and being a representative of my limitations: being truthful with what I have to offer and what I am not capable of offering. Understanding that my imperfections are a part of me and there are always things to work on. It is with yoga that my awareness of each moment becomes more consistent.
My trip to Ecuador was intense. Halfway into the trip, we lost a dear friend to the river. I was not on the river that day but I had spent time with the folks who were and felt the loss rip through me like a tidal wave when it happened. The young man who lost his life was an expert kayaker. Having gotten to know him, I believe that he understood his limitations and knew how to communicate with his ego well. It was an accident and when tragedy happens, our lives change.
In any case the aftermath of death is a moment of truth. I have experienced tragedy on the river before and both times there has been a surreal experience of truth amongst all the survivors. It is this moment where the ego is squashed and all of our daily concerns seem petty. It is the moment that we realize life is precious and every moment is an opportunity to become aware of the truth around you.
Tragedy like this comes with a lot of reflection on life and our choices we make. It helps us become aware of how precious life is but also question why it takes tragedy for us to shed some of the delusion and be in the moment. It makes us look at one another for a time with clarity that we are vulnerable and our ego may not always be available to help make sense of it all. Bad days will happen no matter what level of awareness we have attained. Bad days can reset our minds and change our ego’s perception of who we are and how quickly we can disappear.
A day will not go by in my life when I take time to honor the friends and loved ones we have lost. In Crested Butte, there are many. We live in a community that likes to live on the edge. It is important to remember that we all face this question of ego and how to deal with it. As I continue practicing yoga and teaching, I will always remain grateful to the students that come into class with their own work on the ego; and remember we are all in this together.
We are all doing this to better ourselves and be a participant in a greater community. Are greatest gift we can all give to one another is an unconditional understanding that we are doing the work no matter how it appears. The second we walk onto a mat and practice our awareness with the breath and body we align ourselves with our ego and that to me is how we begin and continue a loving relationship with ourselves, our community and all sentient beings.
Thank you for your time.
I love you all, no matter what.