The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1, Verse 11 “All of you, properly stationed in your places in the divisions of the army, do protect Bhishma”
In this verse we see Duryodhana commanding all the soldiers to protect Bhishma. The soldiers here are the following negative mental characteristics: fear of death; anger; attraction and repulsion or, taken together, greed; pride, and attachment to delusion. These five guard Bhishma, our ego, from within. Then we begin to confuse these characteristics with our true nature instead of seeing them for what they are: clever attempts to keep us trapped in the ego. The blind king represents the mind and his son Duryodhana is material desire. This son is fearful of losing his power because he knows the ego is false so he commands these soldiers or mental characteristics to protect the ego.
Fear of death for the ego is not really the fear of physical death. The true self knows that this is only a temporary form and that liberation will come one day when the soul will not return to a body. So instead the ego fears and resists its own death, which means it will fight to keep our soul in the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Our attempts to destroy it, or as much of it as we can while still in this physical form, are thwarted by the five “soldiers” listed above. Often when you begin trying to battle the ego, this fear comes at you even stronger to try to dissuade you from the path. Some say the only two true emotions are fear and love. Fear is from ego and love is from the soul or Source. Depending on which one you nurture, one of these will rule your life. The four other characteristics are used by the ego to try to draw you back into its lies instead of remembering the truth of who you really are. Anger comes up when we don’t get something the ego tells us we deserve, or when someone else does something we dislike. Attractions and repulsions, or greed, keep us tied to material desires (the leader or commander of these five characteristics) and striving for physical pleasure instead of growing spiritually. Pride tells us we are better than others or is hurt when we feel worse than others, instead of knowing the truth that there is no separation between us and we are all one. Finally attachments to delusions keep us again tied to this physical realm and thinking that this world is all that exists and all that matters.
The first step in solving any problem is admitting that there is a problem. Many people go through life not knowing or understanding the ways the ego manipulates us and causes suffering. I am very grateful that I found the path of yoga to help bring light to these issues. Becoming observant and practicing non-judgment are two great tools to battle the ego because we must know our enemy before we can overcome it. Physical practices like asana and pranayama have taught me to slow down and notice what is going on in my mind and body. Mindfulness is so important, but it must be done without judgment. Simply observing and letting go of the behaviors and thoughts that from the ego helps to decrease its power. When I notice that I have had an ego-driven thought I can acknowledge it and remember that I am still growing, realize that I am not a bad person, and reaffirm to continue to be vigilant. I have had to find a balance between confidence and humility. I realized that the ego can either build us up or tear us down, it doesn’t care which tactic it uses. It can cause me to attack myself and then lash out and attack others. By knowing that everyone, including myself, is made of the same energy and love of the Source I can better stay in that balance.
The next step for me has been talking about the ego and my own struggles with it. I have found such freedom in speaking my truth, in no longer feeling ashamed of my past. Instead I have come to appreciate what I have gone through to get to this moment. The ego wants us to feel separate from others and from god, and secrecy and shame are two ways it keeps us separate. Although my entry for the oral storytellers show was not chosen, just writing it out was healing. I plan to post the essay on my website soon to fulfill my desire to share what I have learned with others and to reaffirm to myself that there is nothing to be embarrassed about. My partner and I are both committed to eliminating the ego and we have started to gently remind one another when we see it creeping up in the other person. My sister is also on the spiritual path and when I am having a hard time I can always count on her to help gently guide me back to where I need to be. She always reminds me that everything is working for the greater good. Having people close to you who understand the path you are walking, and who want to walk a similar path themselves is a great asset because they can help you to be objective about yourself and your ego.
I have been reading books and watching movies that discuss the ego and how to eliminate it. For example, the book “Spirit Junkie” by Gabrielle Bernstein has writing exercises and guided meditations for each chapter and deals with releasing the ego and connecting to Source. I have been reading and participating in the activities. Fear and pride are the two ego characteristics that I feel are the most significant for me. For instance, I noticed several times recently while participating in a yoga class that I was comparing myself to others in the room. I would think “I’m a teacher I should be able to do that pose better.” My pride was getting the better of me and instead of using the class to eliminate the ego, that tricky ego decided to use it to try to gain ground. Since then I have set intentions to remain non-competitive and not compare myself, positively or negatively, to others in the class. I try to close my eyes more and go within instead of looking outward for approval (another classic trick of the ego). I catch myself sometimes judging others and thinking that I would never do or say something that I hear or see in others, until I realize that this too is my own ego trying to create separation. Fear is always lurking nearby and it is easy for me to get caught up in anxiety and worry about the future. Lately I have been thinking about finances and worrying about my income, which I know is counterproductive to prosperity. So now whenever a fearful thought enters my mind I try to replace it with the simple mantra, “trust.” By focusing on love and trust I can avoid fear. Fear surrounding finances also ties in to the characteristic of greed. I know that I have a home, car, clothes, food, and all my needs met. I know my friends and family are there to help me if I need it. But the desire for material goods makes me think I don’t have enough and then fear sets in, which then puts out negative thoughts to the universe creating more lack, and a vicious cycle begins. When I remember that I am loved and cared for, no matter what, then I can help to stop this cycle.
Eliminating the ego is a practice that can take an entire lifetime, if not many lifetimes. It is so sneaky it can even cause us to be proud of how humble we are! By practicing the eight limbs of yoga through the yamas and niyamas, asana, pranayama, and meditation, I plan to continue to keep watch over my ego and cut it down little by little.