The Ego’s Many Guises: Guest Teaching by Gina Lake
WELCOME to the tenth installment of Awakening Clarity’s Guest Teaching Series. One of our goals is to build an Internet resource of Who’s Who in contemporary Nonduality. Every week we bring you a new spiritual author-teacher. We give you a little background on them, a hearty sample of their work, and a bunch of helpful links to aid you in further pursuing that teacher’s work. Today I’m excited to bring you–by chance and not design–our first female teacher.
GINA LAKE first came to my attention in the early autumn of 2008. I’d just read Nirmala’s Nothing Personal and was back on Amazon poking around his books. Amazon pointed me toward Gina’s Radical Happiness, and my guess is it was the reviews that reeled me. She has quite the devoted following. At any rate, I ordered it. I had lunch that same day with a friend of mine, and since my friend and I shared such things, Gina and her book came up. Shame on me, but in my attempt to connect Gina to the rest of the Nondual dots my friend and I were talking about, I took a non-PC shortcut and said, “She has to be credible; she’s Mrs. Nirmala.” Two weeks later when my friend and I had lunch again he asked about what I thought about Radical Happiness,which by now I had finished reading. “Oh, man, it’s fabulous!” I exclaimed. “Nirmala may be Mr. Gina Lake!!”
GINA LAKE IS VERY MUCH her own person. Adyashanti was her primary exterior teacher—she met Nirmala in 1999, two weeks after her awakening. Her foremost teacher, however, was and is the one we are all encouraged to find: her inner teacher. I once talked to Adyashanti about this very thing, which I then called, “The Explainer.” It’s still not a bad description and mine continues to be a great influence and tremendous blessing. I know Gina’s does as well; the proof is all over her work.
GINA IS A FINE AND PROLIFIC WRITER and has the gift of meeting seekers where they are. She uses whatever language she thinks the student can hear at the time. In line with Advaitic traditions, she’s not afraid to use a dualistic thorn to pick out another dualism, and then throw both away, which I admire. In my opinion, any tool that works is a valid tool. Effectiveness is the only criteria I pay any attention to: it’s a better yardstick than most. I suspect that this flexibility in Gina’s teaching stems partly from the well of knowledge she gained while getting her master’s degree in psychology. Awakening doesn’t invalidate the need for counseling or psychology; each clears the path for the other. Clarity is ever the goal.
GINA’S BACKGROUND gives her an uncommon vantage point from which to help us begin to see clearly, which often begins with clearly seeing ego and its antics. In the excerpt she’s shared here, she shows us some of the many faces and voices of ego, which is illuminating—and sometimes funny! Definition helps us to see, and seeing is the first step in seeing through. This ‘seeing through’ is the ultimate goal of all Nondual paths, regardless of how or where they wind.
GINA LIVES IN SEDONA, Arizona with her husband, Nirmala, who was our Guest Teacher last week. She no longer offers consultations and says she stays busy writing and publishing books. She says that although she is primarily a writer, she also does a few intensives/meetings and monthly tele-seminars. Like myself, she declares herself a happy hermit.
GINA IS DEVOTED to helping others awaken and live in the moment. She is the author of numerous books, including Embracing the Now, Radical Happiness, Trusting Life, Living in the Now, Return to Essence, Anatomy of Desire, Loving in the Moment, and Getting Free. The focus of her writing and teaching is on helping people be in the present moment, live the happy and fulfilled life that is possible, and shedding light on the programming that interferes with awakening to one’s true nature. She is also a gifted intuitive with a master’s degree in counseling psychology and over twenty years experience supporting people in their spiritual growth.
The Ego’s Many Guises
The Ego as Tyrant
THE EGO OFTEN PLAYS the role of the tyrant: It prods and pushes, bosses, and evaluates. The Tyrant’s voice can be harsh, demanding, demeaning, and unkind. It can also be rational, reasonable, parental, and authoritative. Either way, we tend to believe that voice and follow it. When we are identified with the ego, The Tyrant plays a big role in guiding us through our day and, we think, making sure we get things done, and get them done right. We are convinced that we need The Tyrant to keep up with life, without realizing that The Tyrant is the one that generates the to-do list that keeps us so busy.
THE EGO, AS THE TYRANT, not only tells us what to do, but also when and how to do it. It devises a list of things to do and checks to see how the list is going: “Did you do that? How well did you do that? What do you have left to do? Can you do it? Will you get it done in time? Will it be done well enough? Will you run into trouble? What problems might arise? How will you deal with those problems?”
THE TYRANT IS A COMPELLING VOICE because we really believe we need it to function. We really believe we wouldn’t get anything done if we didn’t listen to it. We’re so used to that voice that we don’t even question what it is telling us or whether we even need it. Where do its instructions and ideas come from? Is it wise? Is it true?
THE TYRANT IS DEVELOPED through the training we receive from authority figures, particularly parents. It’s a composite of the authority figures we have known, which we have internalized, and of other things we’ve learned. So now, as adults, instead of parents and teachers telling us what to do and when and how to do it, The Tyrant plays the role of a parent, teacher, or boss. This is a natural psychological process. The trouble is that, just as parents don’t always know what is best for us, The Tyrant doesn’t either. It doesn’t have the wisdom to guide us; it’s just mouthing what we’ve learned.
WE ACTUALLY DON’T NEED to have our conditioning voiced like that, since we automatically draw on our conditioning when we need it. The voice is redundant and unnecessary. Like the ego, this aspect of the ego is a sham. It’s an imposter. It isn’t who we are, and it isn’t wise; it only pretends to be.
THAT THE TYRANT is unnecessary becomes obvious when you drop out of the ego and begin to live from the Self. When you live from the Self, you still don’t cross busy streets without looking or touch hot stoves. You don’t need The Tyrant to remind you of these things.
ONCE YOU REALIZE you don’t need the Tyrant, you can ignore its voice, and when you ignore it long enough, it eventually falls away. What a miracle! No more voice telling you what to do and how to do it, and evaluating your every move. No more going over lists and checking them twice! When we stop listening to The Tyrant, this aspect of the ego eventually gives up and disappears, although usually not overnight.
THE REAL PROBLEM with The Tyrant is that it causes stress. Instead of being helpful, listening to its voice takes the joy out of life and keeps our attention focused unnecessarily in the mental realm and therefore outside the present moment, where true happiness and true guidance are available. It makes us less present to life. And when we are less present to life, we are less effective and efficient and less happy and at peace with life. The Tyrant actually interferes with functioning optimally and with enjoying whatever we’re doing. Its voice is not just annoying. It’s much worse than that: It causes us to worry and hurry and feel insufficient. It gives us the sense that there’s never enough time and that we’re never done with our to-do list. This is not a state that is conducive to peace, love, and contentment, but just the opposite.
FORTUNATELY, IF YOU don’t listen to The Tyrant, you will be guided by something wiser to do what needs to be done. You also will be guided to do what is of real value, and you will make time for that, for such things as love, creativity, meditation, service, learning, growing, developing your talents, doing what makes your heart sing, and just being. In the ego’s world, there’s no end to working, striving, and perfecting. But we are also here to enjoy life, to create, and to express our uniqueness, not just accomplish tasks.
ENJOYING LIFE doesn’t mean doing nothing, but being present to whatever you are doing. Then everything you do becomes infused with joy and peace, and you are able to express love naturally. You have the energy to do what needs to be done because your energy isn’t being taken up in doing unnecessary things or in being stressed out.
TO BEGIN PRACTICING this new way of being, just start noticing the tyrannical voice in your head and recognize it as programming you don’t need. Accept that it’s there. Don’t fight or argue with this voice, because this aspect of the ego is just part of being human. And then, just be present to whatever you are doing, or just be. Life is much simpler, more joyous, less stressful, and runs much more smoothly without the tyranny of the ego.
THE MARTYR SHOWS UP as the voice of feeling unappreciated, overlooked, overworked, and abused: “Nobody notices all the things I do. Nobody cares. All I do is work, work, work. Life isn’t any fun. I sacrifice so much, and what do I get for it? I work so hard, and for what?” The Martyr is the voice of self-pity. Being martyred gives the ego a sense of being special. Being a martyr is an identity, but a very unhappy one. When we are identified with The Martyr, we feel burdened, sad, worn out, unacknowledged, and not respected.
INSTEAD OF BEING WISE, The Judge is essentially a complainer. Judgments express the ego’s dissatisfaction with ourselves, with others, and with life. Judgments are easy to come by because the ego is dissatisfied with life most of the time. Dissatisfaction is the ego’s primary experience of life, and judgments represent the ego’s justification for being unhappy and for not accepting something: “I should have known better; I’m really stupid.” “He shouldn’t have done that; he’s so inconsiderate.” “Life shouldn’t be so hard; life is terrible.” All the ways we, others, and life fall short, in the ego’s opinion, are a cause for judgment.
THE EGO CAN PRETEND to be good and wise, but that doesn’t make it so. It can sound like it has your best interests at heart, but the ego is a con man. Underneath the supposed wisdom is judgment, because The Guru is essentially The Judge, but on spiritual matters instead of mundane ones. The ego as The Guru is a con man because it cons us into thinking it’s guiding us spiritually, when it’s really creating the same contraction, discontentment, stress, and striving the ego is known for. When we are aligned with our true nature, we feel relaxed, at peace with life, content, happy, and loving. And we are naturally attuned to the wisdom of the Self. Listening to The Guru, however, doesn’t bring such peace and contentment, but only more striving and the sense that we still don’t measure up. The Guru shakes its finger at us, saying: “You’ll never be enlightened. You have to be more (fill in the blank) and less (fill in the blank).”
THE SPIRITUAL EGO drives people to try to attain enlightenment, when enlightenment is not something anyone can attain, least of all by striving, but quite the opposite. The spiritual ego strives for perfection because that is its idea of spirituality: “Be perfect, don’t make any mistakes, know everything, be wise.” It hopes to attain such perfection through practices, abstentions, and other means, but these activities are engaged in for the wrong reasons: to strengthen and empower the meinstead of to dissolve it.
THE PLEASURE-SEEKER is behind all addictions. It might be more accurate to say that negative thinking and feelings are behind all addictions, since negative thoughts and feelings create the suffering that people are trying to rid themselves of when they turn to food, drugs, sex, and other things for pure pleasure. Behind every addiction are unmet, unhealed, feelings and negative thoughts about oneself, life, and others that need to be seen and seen through. The ego can produce a tremendous amount of pain by convincing us of terrible lies about ourselves and life. These thoughts and feelings can make life seem unbearable. Compulsions come from negative feelings that have been buried, and these compulsions initiate and maintain addictive behavior. Those caught in addictions usually need help identifying the negativity they have bought into and help moving beyond that negativity to a more positive perception of themselves and life.
THE PROBLEM isn’t seeking pleasure, because that’s fine in moderation, the problem is that The Pleasure-Seeker is never satisfied. It doesn’t know when to stop. The problem is also that when we are involved in pursuing pleasure compulsively, we aren’t doing anything to uncover and heal the negative thoughts and feelings at the root of our unhappiness.
The Ego as the Buddy
ANOTHER GUISE of the ego is that of a friend. This guise is experienced more positively than The Tyrant or other more negative guises the ego takes on, such as The Judge. When the ego can’t get our attention by shaming us, scaring us, bossing us, or making us feel bad in some other way, it may take the guise of our friend. This is the most deceptive guise because it can feel good and more like yourself than any other persona. It is the most benevolent form the ego takes: It chats with us like a friend. The kind of conversations we have mentally with the ego as The Buddy are similar to the conversations we might have with a real friend. The Buddy is the most positive side of the ego.
WHEN WE HAVE evolved beyond listening to the negativity of the egoic mind, the ego as The Buddy is often what’s left. Even though giving our attention to the friendly, chatty thoughts of The Buddy isn’t likely to cause us to contract or feel stressed or tense, like identifying with other thoughts does, giving our attention to these useless thoughts means we aren’t being more present to what else might be arising in the moment, such as intuitive messages or other possible communications from the Self. As long as we are giving our attention to The Buddy, we are still identified with the egoic mind, which means we aren’t having as full an experience of the moment as we could be having. Furthermore, listening to The Buddy reinforces the habit of paying attention to the egoic mind, and doing that can quickly lead to giving our attention to some other less benevolent guise of the ego.
THE VOICE OF The Buddy is friendly, upbeat, supportive, conversational, and chatty: “I think you should wear the blue dress; you want to look your best.” “Let’s have lunch a little later so that we can take a walk first.” “If anyone can get all that done, you can!” When we have seen through all the negative guises of the ego, The Buddy is the ego’s only hope of keeping us identified with it.
WHEN THE THOUGHTS in your mind are primarily chatty, that’s a good sign. The next step is to ignore even those. You don’t need them. They only take you away from being more present to whatever you are doing and experiencing.
Copyright Gina Lake, 2005
All rights reserved, used by permission
Gina’s website: http://www.radicalhappiness.com/index.php
Gina’s online bookstore: http://goo.gl/tTzZj
Gina’s Amazon page: http://goo.gl/HUIvh
Gina on Barnes & Noble: http://goo.gl/1Fcgt
Gina on Facebook: http://goo.gl/48Od7
Scott Kiloby interviews Gina: http://goo.gl/XT6o9
Gina on Never Not Here: http://nevernothere.com/gina-lake
Gina on YouTube: http://goo.gl/l4MVb
Quotes on Goodreads: http://goo.gl/dCBEX
Gina writing for Spiritual Now: http://goo.gl/6GJs9
Gina writing for Advaita Vision: http://goo.gl/ZDgcA
Let me welcome Togo and Peru as countries number 74 and 75 to visit Awakening Clarity. They joins thousands of readers around the world.
Scott Kiloby will be next week’s Guest Teacher.