The aim of life is to live strong; take strong action on things you can control, and have strong awareness to let go things you can’t control. It requires a balanced sense of self; responsibility for your choices, without imagining you make choices in a vacuum, believing that your life is significant without forgetting that your life is a grain of drifting sand in the infinite scope of time and space.
Ego gets in the way; playing small on things you can control, and playing stubborn on things you can’t. It’s cunning; playing small when what’s called for is strength, responsibility, initiative, and leadership and playing large when what’s called for is humility, gratitude, perspective, patience and service. John Lennon said,
Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.
Both are, of course, equally delusional. But when the ego feels threatened, it pulls out the big guns; the need to feel special, the need for certainty (security) and the need to protect your worldview at any cost. Note, it protects the worldview, whether the beliefs make sense, whether they serve your best interests or the good of the world.
Have you ever driven past a self storage building and wondered how much of your “self” you could store in one of those units? They can hold all of your stuff. But they don’t make storage units large enough to hold the human ego.
The sooner we accept that the ego is firing blanks; we AREN’T special, there are NO certainties and a stagnant worldview is a dead worldview, the sooner we can get on with living fully.
Think about this tenacious desire to be special. We look for excuses to parade our specialness in every star and stone. We “name” constellations and asteroids as if by naming them we somehow control them. Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson points out that the most boring name for a constellation ever is Triangulum Australis or Southern Triangle. It’s boring because ANY 3 stars in the sky make a triangle. But we need it to be special, because it makes US feel special.
Then there’s the famous Southern Cross. It appears on multiple flags for southern nations, songs are written about it, and ancient Egyptians, Aboriginal leaders and astrologers tote its spiritual significance. And yet it’s the smallest of all constellations, is shaped like a kite more than a cross and is most significant because it’s a sign post for other stellar attractions. The Southern Cross is fine. It’s not trying to BE anything. It’s us who need it to be special, to make ourselves feel special.
We do the same thing with the moon, creating all sorts of elaborate superstitions to puff ourselves up. deGrasse Tyson points out that the difference in size between the so called full moon and the super moon is the difference between a 15 inch and a 16 inch pizza. As he says, if you look at a full moon backwards and between your legs, it doesn’t look so special.
You get the point. The moon has nothing to prove. It’s us who use it to make ourselves special. We do the same thing with belief in God. I’ve heard it said that EGO stands for Edging God Out. I think it’s closer to the truth to say that EGO is Egging God On; the false God of human arrogance.
We devise elaborate beliefs around an all-powerful God who is in charge of all things, past, present and future, time, space and beyond, and then have the gall to suggest that we are special to this God. Who are we kidding?
Let me ask a different question- does it matter, or this just a harmless, human preoccupation?
It matters if our need to feel special makes us indifferent or irresponsible to our role in the world. Apparently, and this is news to me (which in itself is amazing that there is so little said about it), but apparently there is a massive asteroid due for a collision with Earth in 2036. Apophis it’s called! In 2029 it will make some moves which will give us the final clue as to what will happen in 2036. It could potentially devastate the west coast of America, and set off tsunamis all around the pacific. So we have two decades to do what we can about it, prepare, prevent, something. Experts tell us there ARE things that can be done, but it requires a large commitment of funds, political will, collaboration etc.
It’s just one of many examples, where the future of the planet depends on us stretching to fill the gaps of our understanding with knowledge rather than glibly filling the gaps with superstition, a vague and egotistical appreciation of mystery or creating a cosmic too-hard basket.
The human ego is the biggest risk to the future of the planet; both the rampant need to feel special, and the puny preoccupation with playing small.
There is a Jewish tradition that everyone should have two pockets in their coat with a note in each pocket. One note says: “I am but dust and ashes.” (not but-dust, but just dust) The other says: “All the universe exists in you”. Keep both in your coat, and take out whichever one you need to be reminded of.
When you are feeling self important, pull out the note that says: “I am but dust and ashes.” Life is larger than you and will continue on with or without you. When you are playing small, pull out the note that says, “All the universe exists in you”.
Or as K Steele said,
You’ve spent an infinity years not being born yet and you will spend another infinity years being dead. Finish your cereal and go outside.
That’s it. Go outside, and look up at the sky. Don’t fool yourself. You’re not special, and there is nothing certain or unchanging in the world. BUT the world is drop dead amazing. It’s awesome. And you have a responsibility to live with awesome respect for the planet.
As Chogyam Trungpa said,
Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.
To be enlightened is to know yourself, know your place in the cosmos, and do what you can with what you’ve got where you are, to make the world a kinder place, even by touching one life with kindness.