Meet Doris. When she is in her ordinary superficial awareness and feels angry, she will say,”I am angry.” Think about this for a second. Her totality is anger. This is because at this moment she is identified with her anger and there is no room for anything else. She is so overwhelmed by the anger that choice is difficult and she may lash out at others. This identification with one’s feelings and thoughts is ego.
Through meditation she can cultivate the ability to experience herself as the space in which thoughts and feelings occur. Then she will say, “I have anger”. In this spaciousness, there is peace and choice as well as anger. There is more openness to take in other people and their needs. The spaciousness is called shunyata. It is one of the meanings of shunyata.
This openness is a major step towards selflessness. To complete the journey, one also needs to cultivate compassion. The practices for developing compassion are karuna bhavana and tonglen. There are plenty of scripts for these available online.
One does not “kill their ego” though. I believe this idea started with Jung’s psychic death, which is a misunderstanding of Buddhist principals. In college, influenced by the writings of Timothy Leary, I attempted ego death. I succeeded in becoming depressed.
Practice for Loosening the Grip of Ego
Take some time out. Find a quiet place. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Place your attention in your left hand. Feel the sensations in your hand. The air on your skin. You may begin to feel a pulsing or tingling in your hand.
While maintaining your attention in your hand, you can begin to notice your thoughts. As you notice your thoughts, notice the size of the space that the voices seem to be in. Is it closet sized? bathroom sized? Box sized?
Now I would like you to imagine expanding the sides of that container outward so that it grows larger. Continue expanding this room until it is the size of a football stadium. I want you place the voices in your head into the stands. Spread them out evenly around the stands.
Notice how small and tinny the voices sound. Notice how spacious you feel. Notice how small your feelings are compared to this vast space. Who you are is larger than your thoughts and your feelings.
At any point, you can become aware of the air on your skin. Become aware of the sounds in the room. Then open your eyes.
When you identify yourself by what you think and what you feel, you are trapped in ego. It is a contracted state. When you relax into spaciousness, you have thoughts and you have feelings, but you don’t mistake them for who you are.
©2016 Stephen L. Martin
Painting: The Lament for Icarus by Herbert Draper