I write frequently about the importance of letting go of our egos. Why? Because it’s the central plank of the spiritual path.
As such, I’m always on the lookout for creative articulations of how best to achieve that letting go. Because the better we understand this critical dynamic, the better-equipped we’ll be to achieve the desired result.
Today’s gem of understanding comes from the great Ram Dass, author of the 1971 classic Be Here Now and one of the most influential Western spiritual teachers of the past half-century.
The master communicator
Ram Dass’s most valuable skill lay in communicating deep metaphysical concepts, mostly from the Hindu tradition, to Western audiences with little to no background in these weighty matters. I’m one of the millions in that audience who has benefited immensely from his eloquent articulations.
Which brings us to Ram Dass’s pearl of wisdom regarding letting go of our egos. He compared this process to that of a snake shedding its skin:
“You can’t tear the skin off a snake. It has to molt. It has to fall off naturally.”
This is incredibly important. Why? Because many on the spiritual path, when they become aware of the primacy of letting go of their ego, go into attack mode.
“I’m going to slay this dragon if it’s the last thing I do!”
In other words, many try to ‘tear off the skin.’ How? When their ego is stirred, they address the situation as they would, for example, a work project.
“My wife just said something that really poked my ego. Let’s go inside and get rid of that feeling…Like now.”
It doesn’t work that way. The ego is not a dragon that can be slayed.
Like a snake’s molting skin, letting go of the ego takes time. And patience. And it is not accomplished by “attacking” the ego and the feelings it generates.
Awareness is vital
So what is this subtle, indirect process for letting go of our egos? The first step can be summed up in one word: Awareness. Without becoming aware when our egos are stirred, we will never succeed in letting it go.
I made this my resolution for 2023. What exactly is this resolution? It’s not letting go of my ego. It’s this sentence that I have taped to the top of my desk:
“Focus awareness on when you need to let go.”
Things happen so fast in our daily lives that we rarely realize, in time, that we’ve been poked. By the time we do, we’ve already exploded at our spouse or leaned on our car horn at the idiotic driver that just drifted into our lane. It’s too late.
How do we work on becoming aware when we get poked? We make it a priority. We use our will to be vigilant on this. That’s why I made this my new year’s resolution. It’s that important to me.
Relax, lean away, watch and let go
Once we’ve noticed we’re about to get sucked down into our lower selves/egos, we take a page from the book of Mickey Singer who teaches to relax immediately — in our heads, shoulders, chest, trunk…everywhere. Then we lean away from whatever ego-created feeling has arisen — anger, jealousy, annoyance…And we watch it. We don’t push it away. We just watch it…
And let it go.
We do this every day of every week of every month of every year for the rest of our lives.
But unlike snakes, who gradually shed the entirety of their skins, most of us mortal and fallible humans won’t shed all of our egos. But that’s okay. We put in the work and we do our best.
Because the energy and effort we put in to shedding as much egoic skin as we can is the most important work we Earthlings can do.
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