Most of us aspire to be awesome friends, family and community members, but in reality a tiny little word with a massively sinister plot gets in the way – “ego”. Ego tries to convince you that you can get by just fine by yourself. Take care of yourself because you are the only person you can trust. Put up a wall of protection because people may not like the real you. Don’t ask for help because that might compromise your independence.
Speaking as a typical man who will drive for hours on remote roads rather than ask for directions, I can relate to the challenge. There is a beautiful scene in the Pixar movie Finding Nemo that illustrates this point.
Nemo is the little clown fish with a desire to explore the ocean. His Dad Marlin is a fearful, cautious man. When Nemo goes missing in the ocean, Marlin goes out in search with his new friend Dory. Marlin doesn’t want to ask directions, and says to Dory, “It’s a fish we don’t know. If we ask it directions, it could ingest us and spit out our bones.”
Dory says,” What is it with men and asking for directions?”
Marlin replies, “I don’t want to play the gender card right now. If you want to play a card, let’s play the “let’s not die” card.”
The ego works the same way. It convinces us that if we let others too close in our lives; our separate and special identity will be swallowed up and spat out like fish bones. The ego tries to convince us that our very existence is in jeopardy if we get too close to others. Of course this is a very small perspective. In your best moments you know that your life is made larger by including others, serving others, loving others. Don’t believe the ego’s lies. Nemo was right. There is an ocean of possibility to explore. Sure, there will be risks and dangers. But the risk not to set out and explore is far greater.
Ego often works undercover as fear dressed up as rationalization. Fear convinces you that it’s better to play it safe because you have too much to lose. The piece of the puzzle that fear is not telling you is that the risk of loneliness is far greater than the risk of betrayal. As long as your commitment to the joy of connection is greater than your fear, you will keep expanding your circle. As long as your life is run by the large self, you will swim in the depths of the ocean and discover that it’s safe and you have nothing to fear.
Friendships, families and communities are great places to learn–about yourself, about your fears and friction points, about what excites and enlivens you. These are your opportunities to see life from new perspectives and expand your vision. Friends are the safest people in your life where you can practice being human together and know that there are always second chances and ways back from the brink of broken trust. Friends show you a mirror of how you show up in the world, and raise the bar on your integrity. In a sense your friends coach you in how to conduct all your relationships with strangers and acquaintances alike.
The most miraculous thing about relationships is that they make you more of you who really are. We tend to mistakenly think that we have to shrink our uniqueness in order to transcend the ego. On the contrary, a true understanding of who you are puts the ego in its rightful perspective. Neal Donald Walsh, author of Conversations with God said, “The larger your understanding of who you really are, the smaller your ego.”
The larger your understanding of who you are, the more beings you feel connected to, the less separation you feel, the less fear and mistrust rules your life. Community is a great place to connect to people who are both similar and different and practice finding the balance between being a free spirited individual and being a responsible collaborator.
Friendships are a gateway to the sacred because they point you to an experience of something larger than yourself. The whole is greater than all the parts and yet present as potential within each part. We all want to believe in, connect to, and serve something larger than ourselves. If you make money or fame your larger goal, you will surely be eaten up by ego. If you make self sufficiency your goal, you will eventually implode in your isolation. If on the other hand you make your desire to show love and compassion to a growing group of people your larger goal, you will live a full and peaceful life. This sense of something larger than yourself goes by many names, including God, Higher Power, Nature, the Whole, and Collective Consciousness. Friendship and community point you to this sacred truth by offering an opportunity to get beyond your partial perspective and plumb the depths of oceanic Love.
Here are two stories about how relationships can help you move beyond your small self. The first is an African cultural practice.
The African Mandinka tribe in Gambia has a beautiful naming ceremony for young babies. On the eighth day of life, a newborn is brought to the village centre. The mother holds the child before the father who whispers the name in the baby’s ear three times. No one else knows the name at this time. The child is the first to hear their name, the first to know who they are. Then the father takes the child out beyond the village gates, holds the child high above his head, facing towards the grandeur of nature and tells the child, “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself.” Community reminds you that you are part of a village which in turn is intimately related to a universal life force.
Maybe this story is even closer to home for you, and makes a similar point. A young boy was taking piano lessons. His mother rewarded him by taking him to hear a concert pianist. On the way to their seats, the boy spotted the piano on stage and slipped away from his mom. The mother sat down and was horrified to see her son sitting at the Steinway Grand Piano on stage. The crowd laughed nervously as he began to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” When the boy realized there was a huge crowd listening to him he became nervous and started missing notes.
At that moment, the concert pianist entered the stage. He whispered in the boy’s ear, “Keep playing. We will play together.” He reached over and began playing running harmonies on either side of the boy’s one fingered Twinkle Twinkle rendition. Everyone, including the boy, was entranced. The concert pianist had chosen to express a larger aspect of his own nature and in the process had created space for a young boy to thrive.
In this month of love and intimate connections, how are you expanding your circle of love and concern? What are you doing to make another person thrive? What mirror are your relationships holding up to you? How are your relationships connecting you to that which is larger than all and yet present in each?
Take a good look around and see yourself as part of multiple intimate communities. Soak in the connections and know that you are held in the embrace of a web of life that precedes, includes and transcends you. It includes all people, past, present and future. It includes all species, known and unknown and it includes all experience, ordinary and extraordinary. Give some attention to your friendships and communities, your reminder that you are not alone and you are indeed part of something larger than yourself. Behold the only thing greater than you is you in relationship to others and the only thing greater than this is you in relationship to all that is.