One of the most common questions that I get revolves around how to live when you no longer act from the ego. The above question is one way of expressing it, but here are some common variants:
How will I work a job staying as the witness?
How do take care of my kids from the space of presence?
If I don’t think, then won’t I just screw and fight and drink all the time?
This last question presumes that thinking isn’t possible in the space of awareness/no-mind and that we’ll be lost to our most basic impulses without the the ego.
There are other variants of the question. But essentially, the ego presumes that its way of thinking and acting is the only correct or even possible way of engaging with life. It also presumes that it has to know what to do and how to think to be able to do things and to think.
These presumptions are wrong. But before getting to how we make decisions and act from the space of presence/no-mind/awareness/love or whatever you want to call it, let me frame this conversation so that it makes sense.
Your ego thinks it understands things. It accepts its beliefs as correct. It accepts its perceptions as correct. It does all of this so quickly that most people don’t even realize what beliefs they are believing in nor how their perspectives are skewed by their egos. This level of ignorance/unconsciousness makes it very easy for the ego to think that it is right about countless things and situations–this is what I mean by superiority.
To be clear, the ego doesn’t necessarily believe that you are superior–just its point of view. Many people with self-worth issues accept their beliefs intrinsically. They unquestioningly believe they are unworthy of love and support and other things. This is their “superior” view of themselves, and even when confronted with love and kind words, that counter experience is regarded as inferior/incorrect by the self-hating ego. The ego with a self-worth issue says, “No. No. I don’t deserve this love.” It may say, “This love isn’t real. The person doesn’t truly mean it.” It does any and everything to protect its point of view.
Furthermore, the self-hating ego really is no different than the prideful, narcissistic ego that says, “I deserve all this love and everything else.” The ego positions may be different, but these and other kinds of egos believe they are right in how they think and perceive.
But, as many of you know, we are wrong about a lot of things. Discovering how wrong we are about ourselves and life seems to be a necessary part of humbling the ego.
Tasting a Little Freedom
If you’re fortunate, something disrupts the ego’s grip on you just enough that you enjoy a moment of clarity–a little bit of freedom. These spiritual openings are often instigators for a lot of people’s spiritual journeys. They finally get a sense that there are other ways of living other than the ways they currently believe are possible and are living right now. So the person starts to investigate the spiritual path.
Unfortunately, all kinds of problems crop up with the ego assumptions that get mixed in with this spiritual journey, and as a result of this ego corruption, many people’s spiritual paths go exactly nowhere–and not in the good sense like I mean in this blog post:
So people go round and round in life and on the spiritual path having the same types of thoughts and experiences again and again. They may be okay experiences. They may be miserable experiences. They may be enjoyable experiences, but those always pass because no one experience lasts forever. If ever there was a hallmark of the ego, it’s repetition. If life seems to be repeating itself in terms of the people you interact with, the work you do, and the other experiences you have, then the ego is at work.
Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone
Invariably, we have to step outside of our comfort zones if we want to go anywhere on the spiritual path because who decided the comfort zone? The ego. In stepping into something new to you, you engage in experiences where you may not know what to do, and this is a kind of training ground. It is an opportunity to interact more intuitively and spontaneously, but more often than not, the person will return to their typical behavior and thinking patterns.
Yet from time to time, someone doesn’t do this. From time to time, someone has a spontaneous response, and usually, it is surprising to them. They may say things like,
“I don’t know where that came from.”
“Wow. That was amazing.”
“How did I do that?”
And usually, the conversation they were having or the actions they were taking benefited them. While we don’t always have immediate benefits from intuitive responses, it seems like the Divine knows when we need some encouragement and confirmation. In these early days of learning to act apart from our ego conditioning, these moments of confirmation often appear to help people along.
Breaking the Ego’s Iron Grip
Because we have so many beliefs and levels of ego, breaking the ego’s grip on us tends to take time. For as much as we are always here now and there is nowhere to go, a natural spiritual process arises for us that we must trust, honor, and follow. In so doing, we become more confronted by our wrong or skewed beliefs. We come to understand where most of our actions come from and how misguided many of them are. As I said earlier, we keep getting humbled on this path, and that encourages us further in letting go of the ego.
As you go, some issues will be easy to let go of, and those are the ones you’ll forget. The ones that you will remember will be the ones you worked on over years, but then when you really let go of an issue–even a major ego issue–you forget that too. It’s not that your memory doesn’t work. It’s that the issue is no longer there to remember itself. For example, if self-worth issues have dominated your life, when you no longer have them, you just do things. You don’t think, “Hey, I should feel ashamed for doing this,” when you totally free. The issue has been released so deeply that it is not even in your conscious mind to bring it up, and at this point, you are becoming exceedingly conscious.
Increasing Levels of Conscious Awareness
It is important to not see becoming more conscious as the goal in any of this. Spiritual freedom is the goal, but it isn’t what most people think of as a goal. Spiritual freedom is the total surrender to the present moment as is. It’s not something you really get to.
Along the way, you become more conscious. As I said, a process arises from the present moment, and it’s rarely any process you would expect because your expectations are largely coming from the ego. That process tends to bring greater conscious awareness.
Becoming more conscious means seeing yourself and life more clearly and without ego filter. It doesn’t mean knowing anything in particular, although wisdom arises in this space. Wisdom doesn’t mean being always “right” whatever that might mean to you. It’s just a powerful ability to see the truth and to act from it. Wisdom also acknowledges the things we don’t know. Wisdom doesn’t presume to know things that it doesn’t unlike the ego.
The Eroding of the Primal Instincts
Invariably, this path of dissolving the ego brings us to dissolving our most primal responses to life. The drive to survive and procreate underpins the ego, and those instincts don’t go overnight. But we do become more aware of them and how they are reflected in a lot of our thoughts and actions. In this way, they become less powerful because we know what they are and how they are influencing us. In working through a lot of ego issues, we also become adept at neutralizing unhealthy responses, and we can differentiate between ego, primal instincts, and intuitive responses. As you develop, making this distinction isn’t difficult in any way, shape, or form.
Which returns me to some of the earlier questions like the one about how not “thinking” from the ego might lead us to being unable to work or would lead us to acting out our most base desires. When you follow this dissolving process, these unconscious and instinctual reactions are less likely to happen. You’ve already been working on them. If they do come up, they feel a certain way, and they are so much more obvious.
Essentially, the questions I listed out are underpinned by ego fears. These questions are also ways the ego tries to JUSTIFY itself. It has to make you believe that you’d be an unmoving blob that can’t decide anything without the ego. Then you’ll keep it around. If you realize that it actually skews your thinking and misrepresents life to you like a bad pair of glasses, you’d waste no time in throwing it out.
Confusing Ecstatic States with No-mind
Another common confusion is that some spiritual seekers think the ecstatic experiences where they feel really great, but can’t think straight are no-mind. They’re not. They’re just fun experiences. They come. They go. The space of no-mind is the perceiver of these experiences. But in many ecstatic experiences, people don’t care to pay attention to that neutral observer. They’re lost in the fun feelings they’re having.
Those ecstatic states and other altered states are not tenable. They, like all experiences, come and go. They should not be sought. They can be embraced if they arise on their own, but they’re not going to last. And for those who wonder how you could make a decision in that state, it would be really hard.
Fortunately, we aren’t trying to hold onto that passing cloud. We’re interested in resting as the sky–the awareness that perceives all experiences.
How Do You Make Decisions and Take Actions?
So how do you do stuff as a conscious person? You just do. An intuitive impulse arises to send an email to your boss. You do it. You decide to take a trip to New Zealand. You use your ability to think and plan, and you go there. You don’t lose abilities on the true spiritual path. Being in the space of no-mind doesn’t mean you can’t think. It means you are now open to ALL ways of thinking, and in that freedom, there usually comes something that feels true.
Furthermore, there is often a beautiful simplicity and practicality that comes through intuitively. The fears and desires that define a lot of ego responses are distant or entirely gone from decision-making when you stay as awareness. That leads to quite a bit of clarity. That clarity can be, in and of itself, surprising to a lot of people because people are used to trying to sort through conflicting ego beliefs. But the more you surrender and let go of the ego, the more there isn’t any conflict. There is just what is needed, and in moments when no action is needed, nothing arises.
I do have to emphasize once again that this clarity of thought and action that arises is often earned through doing inner work. Letting go of the ego and uncovering unconscious feelings and desires is key. But as you do that, you’ll find that acting and interacting from no-mind is not only possible, but it is a beautiful, intelligent, and effortless way of living.