Lessons for Living Beyond the Ego consists of commentary on a collection of fifty-two quotations, sayings, maxims, truisms, and principles about life. They come from times old and new. Some are credited to familiar names, some to me, and some to sources unfamiliar or unknown.
We will examine these sayings using the lens called Spirit. As we do so, you will begin to see that:
everyone has an ego.
it is a powerfully destructive force that thrives in the darkness of the unconscious.
ego is rendered absolutely powerless to the touch of Spirit (which is awareness), since awareness dissolves it, as the darkness of night fades to the light of dawn.
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Two of the fifty-two lessons, chosen randomly, follow.
Happiness Is an Inside Job
Capitalistic societies are sustained by a consumer economy. The more goods and services people buy, the more the economy flourishes. Predictably, this creates an environment in which the advertising industry prospers where the goal is to promote products and services in ways that increase consumer spending.
The means by which this is accomplished is only marginally regulated and this often leads to a sizable gap between what is actually true and what the consumer is led to believe is true. This is why women with mannequin-like figures, fashion magazine hairdos, and Hollywood makeup are used to model fashionable dresses. The unspoken message is that if a woman buys this dress, she will look like the person modeling it, although that is rarely the case. For the same reason, exercise equipment is demonstrated by people who, long before the products they’re promoting were even manufactured, were already fit and trim. It is why the latest models of automobiles are shown gliding along the bucolic shoreline rather than swerving to miss potholes on an average highway.
The truth is, no product can or will buy you happiness and peace, at least not for very long. Acquiring material possessions—from bigger purchases like houses or cars to smaller ones like the latest technological gadget or fancy garment—have only a fleeting effect on your happiness. This is why our cravings for material possessions usually escalate at a rate that equals or exceeds our incomes; nothing one could purchase is ever enough to fill one’s soul for long. Propelled by marketing, however, we chase objects that we often don’t need and rarely use.
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Again, the happiness we all seek does not come from outside ourselves. Real happiness—the kind that endures—comes from inside us. This is why Sylvia Boorstein calls happiness “an inside job,” and why Horace Friess says that “all seasons are beautiful for the person who carries happiness within.”
But how do you find happiness within? Clearly, you won’t succeed by pursuing it as your goal. As the hedonistic paradox states, the more one seeks happiness, the less likely one is to find it. Instead, happiness must be allowed. It is your natural state, your default position, but ego interferes with your ability to be happy. Like a storm cloud hovering over what would otherwise be a perfect sunny day, ego shadows us everywhere, though we are mostly unconscious of it. Remove ego by becoming conscious of it, and sunshine and happiness are what remains.
Socrates, a Greek philosopher who lived from 469 BCE to 399 BCE, gained his well-known reputation as a philosopher after his service in the war. Oracles, sites where people could go for wise counsel from a priest or priestess, also existed in those days. In the Athens of Socrates’ day, the most famous of these was the Oracle at Delphi.
One day Socrates’ boyhood friend, Chaerophon, visited the Oracle at Delphi and asked if anyone in Athens was wiser than Socrates. “Socrates is the wisest of all,” the Oracle responded. Chaerophon quickly reported what he had learned directly to Socrates.
Socrates surprised him, however, by setting out to prove the Oracle wrong. He consulted with anyone who might convince him they knew what was ultimately important in life. Asking question after question of people (in a manner now known as the Socratic method), Socrates repeatedly discovered that they pretended to know things they didn’t actually know. Unable to receive any answer that satisfied him, Socrates finally con-cluded that the Oracle must have known what it was talking about: that he was the wisest man in Athens. The reason? Because everyone knows nothing, he concluded, but only he was wise enough to admit it. And, having reached this conclusion, Socrates argued that one must first “know thyself” to be wise, and that “the unexamined life is not worth liv-ing.”
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Few pieces of ancient wisdom have the potential for coming closer to the heart of ego-transcendence than the maxim: “know thyself.” Thyself means yourself, and self means I—who I am—and I means ego. To know thyself means to know your ego. Find it, dis-cover where it likes to hide, learn how it functions, observe when and where it may be causing you to act superior, and note where it tries to make trouble or cause you to hurt.
As you do so, you will gradually untangle yourself from ego’s knots, and you will move into the wide world of Spirit. In Spiritual Consciousness, you learn experientially that the unexamined life is not worth living. Ego is fraught with pain and suffering, so the unex-amined life is doomed to emotional hardship and strife. It is a life that personifies the cynical saying “bad stuff happens, and then you die.”
The examined life, on the other hand, discovers the inner truths that move you forward or hold you back; it pinpoints ego’s destructive ways. Now, from your own Spirit-related experiences, you finally grasp that if ego is never discovered within, it will keep you bound up in its knots all your life. Now, by becoming aware of your ego, you can go be-yond it to a life well worth living, a life that is filled with peace, a life that dwells in eter-nal light and joy here on earth, and beyond.