I have been working with a colleague, for several days, on an issue of conflict and resultant personal attack. The two of us are students of the same teacher and know each other through the organization that has sheltered, nurtured, educated and infuriated us for many, many years. I have been fascinated, as I’ve grown older, to note that not only have I remained very much a human being, but a very flawed human being. In the past, I have tended to be very frustrated by this: I am a perfectionist. I have also been frustrated and deeply annoyed with other human beings who suffer the same afflictions I do, as well as others. I really thought that by now we would all be these very peaceful, loving, wise teachers who are no longer at the mercy of our egos.
Damn. Did I get a wrong number.
As far as I can tell, this ego of mine is not only going to be with me until the end of this particular phase, but that I actually need it, annoying though it is. A teacher of mine pointed out to me that in meditation, the ego is necessary as a safety mechanism, to keep us from floating off into the blue, as it were. And this is certainly true, as I can always count on mine, in the form of my mind, to start chattering just as I’m entering a particularly sublime state. Or my body to start aching or whatever. Freud said the ego functions in an executive fashion, and it would seem to be demonstrating this in situations like this. But Freud, although I do not necessarily agree with his overall perspective, was less awed and disgusted by the ego than some of us tend to be. I respect him for that. I do think that the root of this inner conflict that most of us have in the West is engendered by the Judeo-Christian culture we live in. Eastern philosophies take a more matter-of-fact view of the ego than ours do. As I grow older, though, I notice that I tend to be more accepting of my ego, too. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, I am fairly certain, now, that I am never going to reach my vision of perfection on this plane. On the other hand, I stand an excellent chance of becoming whole, which I see as a good thing. Second, I have gradually found some grudging appreciation for my ego, as it really does act as the source of much growth and realization, although it does take a number of years to “get” that. All in all, now that I have accepted this strange plane of existence for what it is, I am not displeased, although I am often frustrated and tired.But what about conflict? What about what we do to others when our egos collide? Well, I have noticed, over the years, that we are prone to draw into our orbit others with similar issues. This fact is frustrating and baffling when one first perceives it, but it, too, becomes not only acceptable but useful over time. For one thing, it is a ready gauge of our growth and realization: I’ve gone from “that person is an idiot!” to a grudging willingness to consider that maybe the reason that person makes me crazy is because they remind me of something I’m in conflict with in myself. These days, when I realize that, I am often even able to laugh at that, or at least smile ruefully. I notice that as this tendency grows, I feel closer to my fellow human being, yet I seem to become more impersonal in some ways, if only because I can see less and less difference between us. Or something like that.Here’s how I think it all happens: when we’re born, we are still largely in an angelic condition. Our vision is clear and and we see things the way they are. But that tends to get people hurt, if not entirely decimated, on this plane, although there are always a few souls who can seem to retain that quality in safety. But as we grow, we not only become alarmed by the coarseness of this plane, but those who have been here for awhile, usually those we love most, try to keep us safe by encouraging us to develop the safety mechanism of the ego, as they have. I started to write “the false ego,” but it isn’t really “false,” is it? It has its own reality and its own usefulness, it’s just that eventually the soul outgrows it and rebels. So here we are, trying to find a balance between, let’s say, the temporal and the eternal. And how do we learn? Why, through relationship, of course. We are constantly seeking to see ourselves by looking into other faces, so that we can be reminded of what we look like. A hall of mirrors, as they say. In this way, relationships are the proving grounds for our own inner growth. Inayat Khan says that we should, as all humans, cultivate a quality of what he calls “wise pride,” i.e., pride in our divine inheritance. That is where the balancing act comes in, as we teeter between false pride, pride in something that is only part of us, and this wise pride, which is a full knowledge of who we are and where we come from and where we’re going….and that what we see here, in ourselves and the whole of this creation, is only the tip of the iceberg. If we can reach that station, we become able to see struggle and conflict within the parameters of this urge toward remembrance. I think that’s what it’s all about: remembrance.
One day I was walking in the city and met a dervish with a beautiful personality. He was clothed in rags, but his speech, his voice, his thought, his movement, his atmosphere were so winning. At that time I was very young in the pursuit of philosophy. Youth is a time when pride has full play. So, as we were walking along and he called me “Murshid” (teacher) I was very glad. He addressed me as “Murshid” every time he spoke to me! Presently we met another person who seemed to be without any education, seemingly without any knowledge of philosophy or religion or anything out of the way. But he called him “Murshid” also! So my pride was broken, for next he came across a policeman and called him “Murshid” too! So then I asked my teacher what could be the meaning of all this, and he said, “Your dervish shows you the first step towards recognizing God: to recognize all beings as your teacher. A foolish person can teach you, a wise person, a learned person, a student, a pious person, a wicked person, even a little child: everyone can teach you something. Therefore have that attitude towards everybody. Then it may be said that you recognize God. When the chela is ready, the guru appears.” That is, when you are ready to discern it, you find your teacher beside you. We can even learn love from doves, and faithfulness from dogs. –Inayat Khan