Time for a brief recap.
What is the ego?
The ego is a collection of beliefs based on past experiences and absorbed from other people, e.g. mom believes that turmeric is healing so you believe turmeric is healing too. This creates a personality full of many kinds of preferences. Fundamentally, the ego is built off of the primal animal body and its drives to survive and continue the species.
Why is the ego a problem?
The ego projects its beliefs onto the present moment. This means a person makes a lot of assumptions about the present moment, and many of them are incorrect. People do this all the time with other people. For example, a person had a good experience with a tall man with a deep voice in the past, and their ego unconsciously says they should like other tall men with deep voices. But these are all different people in different situations.
Anyway, there is an infinite list of examples where the ego is caught up believing its beliefs, and these ego fantasies cause people to respond inappropriately to life because they don’t really see life.
But wait, there’s more. All these beliefs that people have don’t necessarily agree with each other. It’s not a homogeneous, happy ego belief family. People have all kinds of different beliefs that often conflict with each other, trying to achieve different things. These conflicts confuse people, and they are generally a big, big headache.
Now that that’s established. Let’s talk about getting some “spiritual medicine” for this ego headache.
It would be great if ego beliefs got along. But along with not seeing reality most of the time or only seeing very skewed versions of reality, many ego beliefs conflict.
Consider the forty-something woman who wants to live an independent lifestyle and do things her way. But she also wants to marry a man and have a family. However communal structures like families require compromise, and not all of her goals fit within the demands of family life. These different beliefs (the belief in desiring a marriage and family versus the belief in needing independence) cause a conflict. So who will win?
The fact is people have to make choices, and we like it when we have one clear course of action. That kind of ego “unity” is comfortable for us. It makes us feel certain about things, and certainty is a kind of safety.
However, when you have a couple ego beliefs of equal power, choosing one of them over the other can be difficult. When you do make a choice in this situation, a person still tends to feel a whole lot of doubt. For some people, that doubt may cause them to change their minds a lot. Many others are endlessly stuck in indecision. Yet others find themselves angry, despondent, frustrated, and a whole host of assorted feelings as they try to find some way to meet all the demands of numerous conflicting ego beliefs.
Trying to Resolve the Conflict
Before we get to surrendering–and my long-time reader know I’m going there already–let’s talk about all the effort we make to find a way to meet all the ego demands and resolve the conflict. In seeking this kind of ego unity, we’ll try all sorts of things to make all of our beliefs appear to agree even when they don’t. So let’s go back to our lovely independent lady on a quest for both interdependence with a spouse and family as well as independence.
She’s been on every dating website known to humankind, and she’d done all the singles stuff. Every tip and every dating self-help book has been read and tried to find a spouse/relationship that can meet all of her ego beliefs. Eventually, she ends up in a couple situations:
A. Choosing to marry and have a family, but feeling like she’s “settled” for the partner she chooses and for giving up some of her independence
B. Marrying and having a family, but creating a new ego illusion to argue with her other beliefs that she did get everything she wanted (when she probably didn’t)
C. Continuing the career and staying single while creating a new ego illusion that it is still “not time” for a family (but she’s mid-forties, and mother nature gives women only so much time)
D. Staying single and creating a new ego illusion that she never really was a family-woman in the first place (This is a denial of what she actually wants.)
You can see what had to happen. She had to create more illusions to try and out-compete her other ego beliefs. This is an even bigger headache; it’s an ego migraine destined to cause more suffering whether she’s single or married.
The Illusion of Ego Unity Breaks
Usually what happens after creating yet another ego illusion is that one of these other ego demands breaks through–usually when something isn’t going well in her life–to make its demands heard once more. It shouts all kinds of things depending on the beliefs. They can be like:
“I told you. You shouldn’t have married him!”
“My career is now a failure.”
“I can’t do the things I want to do anymore.”
“I missed my chance to start a family.”
Unresolved ego beliefs and the deeper issues they’re built on do not go away on their own. You cannot imagine them away or create better beliefs to hide them. They come back.
Giving up the Fight Without Quitting
Many people end up sunk in a funk of unhappiness from all of this inner conflict. In this funk, another ego belief has arose, and she says, “Poor me. I can’t ever have what I want.”
Ah, the ego. It’s got 99 ways to feel bad about itself, and it never assumes that it is the problem.
But instead of fighting onwards to find the magical way all ego beliefs can get what they want, we surrender on the spiritual path.
And surrender is not quitting. Far from it.
Instead, surrender means accepting that you have conflicting beliefs. Surrender means you start to investigate your conflicting beliefs, and you learn to let them go to be with reality.
Journaling to Get Conflicting Beliefs into the Light
If you’re experiencing some of what I’ve detailed earlier in this post, you clearly have beliefs that run contrary to each other, and it is causing you suffering. Accepting this is step one, and now it’s time to get out the trusty journal and write down those beliefs to begin the self-inquiry. See? There’s no quitting here. There’s actually more work, but it’s a smarter work than trying to make all these square pegs fit into round holes.
The ego has a lot of power over you when it hides in the back of your mind. When its beliefs are written on a piece of paper, typed on a tablet, or dictated into a phone (seriously people you’ve got options), it can no longer hide. This immediately begins to re-empower you.
Part of being re-empowered is seeing the ridiculousness and impossibility of many of your beliefs. They can be truly absurd.
“Really? Did I really think I’d just get that dream job to show up for me by Feng Shui-ing my apartment?)
“Why did I ever believe that other people would always know what I want?”
“Was I really just posting on social media to get people to make me feel better?”
We can go back to our intrepid man-hunter, businesswoman. She can begin by questioning a variety of things, starting with:
“What is independence?”
“Why is my career important to me? Where did I learn to believe that? What I am trying to get out of my career? How did I learnt to think one type of work was valuable and another type is not?”
“Why do I want to be a mother? Is this a true interest or a socially and biologically-conditioned impulse?
“Where do my ideas of a romantic partner come from? What determines who I feel attracted to and who I’m not attracted to?”
These are a few questions to help our dear lady out of her quandary, and she’ll find even more beliefs as she does this inquiry. There are so many beliefs that she and you will find. As you do that, it’ll be easier to find the ones that are conflicting, and from there, you can inquire deeper to get to the root of beliefs so that you can release it and be free of the beliefs and the conflicts that get created.
Dissolving All Beliefs
This may be jumping ahead, but it is important to emphasize that you are not trying to pick a new belief champion. That’s a recipe for disaster. The ego will never be fully happy. It can only be momentarily content. The gift of conflicting beliefs is that it reveals some of the problems with the ego. Surrendering means accepting everything all of this. You don’t run from it, and you’re not trying to run run towards anything either. You are where you are.
Actually, surrender makes taking action easier, but for now and for the sake of this blog post, just focus on being here now. Practice noticing your different thoughts, and find out from what beliefs that they come. Then you can journal about them. This will teach you soooooooo much.
Be Here Now
Finding Even More Beliefs
However, we have to really want to see our beliefs, not protect them. If we want to protect them, then we still don’t really want to see them. Because of our impulse to protect beliefs, getting external help can be very useful to show us what we’re protecting as well as other blindspots that we have.
In general, there are plenty of people who can offer external perspectives about you and what you do. And certainly, the people in your life often reflect similar beliefs as yours, and so what they say and do offers possible mirrors the same beliefs that underlie your words and actions.
The more you look, the more you find.
Resting in Spaciousness
As I said, you’re not here to choose which beliefs to keep. You’re also not here to find a new set of better, less conflicting spiritual beliefs. This is the path to spiritual freedom.
So you do this type of spiritual inner work, and then you can observe these things inside you more clearly. You surrender to what you find. This brings a time of not knowing what to do, which is natural. But if you pay attention and do your work to let go of your beliefs, you’ll find that you’ll move towards simplicity. The basics like focusing on eating, sleeping, and other important things become increasingly obvious as things to do, and that generally makes it easier and more natural to support any loved ones you have. At the same time, you keep coming back to the space of the witness, and beliefs and the old ego conflicts dissolve themselves.