Thursday, December 2, 2010

Me? Yes, me.

Facts undoubtedly exist. If you say: “Light travels faster than sound”, and someone else says the opposite is the case, you are obviously right and he is wrong. The simple observation that lightning precedes thunder could confirm this. So not only are you right, but you know you are right. Is there any ego involved in this? Possibly, but not necessarily. If you are simply stating what you know to be true, the ego is not involved at all, because there is no identification. Identification with what? With mind and a mental position. Such identification, however, can easily creep in. If you find yourself saying, “Believe me, I know”, or “Why do you never believe me?” then the ego has already crept in. It is hiding in the little word “me”. A simple statement: “Light is faster than sound”, although true, is now in service of illusion, of ego. It has become contaminated with a false sense of “I”; it has become personalized, turned into a mental position. The “I” feels diminished or offended because somebody doesn’t believe what “I” said.
The above passage is from another book by the author I sampled a couple weeks ago – Eckhart Tolle. Thoughts, comments, musings?


  1. My first thought: why did you post it?

    When I state what I believe to be a fact, then it's nothing but a statement. I could question why I believe it to be a fact, to know more about how I determines fact. When I know WHY I believe it is a fact, then I'm better equiped to the next question:

    How do I react when other people challenge what I believe is a fact? does it matter how they do it? what I know about them in advance ?

    How open am I to listen and consider what their view of "facts"? - or as Tolle put's it: does my ego get affended?

  2. My first thought would be an egoless, "Ego doesn't exist."

    That being the case, I would focus less on the "I" component and more on the "diminished/offended" component of my reaction.

    When you find yourself saying, "Believe me, I know", the motivations could be anything from self-doubt to self-confidence, from wanting to be accepted to wanting to save time. In all cases, there's an "I" involved, but for me the significance would lie in what is motivating the "I".

    As to facts, I had friend who when asked what time it is would frequently respond, "You mean now?"


  3. Hi Sree,

    Here you got me. I WANT to respond immediately. When I read Eckhart Tolle, the hairs in my neck regularly stand straight up. A couple of years ago someone gave us a CD to listen to, where he is reading his first published book. I clearly remember that I responded to many of his statements with "this is ridiculous or absurd".

    I don't believe there are facts or right and wrong. It is just a way we created to decide our next steps to take on our self-chosen path (See my ego talking!).

    I do believe most of us have created a structure in which we decide what is right or wrong, or said differently what we like or dislike, or said differently what motivates us or doesn't, or said differently again what we want or choose in life and what we don't want or choose in life.

    In my opinion facts are a groups- or persons perspective about what is right. Sometimes many support the fact, other times only a couple. In Eckhart's case, it seems that when you are in the group where the belief is supported by many, you can label it as true without involving your ego. If you are in the other group, ahh well... Then he seems to continue to say that when you hold on to your belief you always involve your ego.

    Taking the ego out, seems to me almost a way of judging the ego for what it has us do. “Ego you are bad. You make me hold on to my beliefs and I don’t want that so I am going to ban you!”

    We can become empowered by leaving our ego out guys! Let me help you and show you how to do that! Leave your ego at home and you will no longer be judgmental,
    and you will always end up in the group of the right people whom do not use their ego to justify their choices. Wanna join?”

    I believe life is not about living without ego or without right or wrong. People’s unique perspectives and ideas make the world this place where everything is changeable and inspirational.

    For me this whole discussion is not about leaving ego out, but about taking ownership for who we create ourselves to be. I know what I believe; I know what actions I take because of my beliefs; I accept the consequences of my beliefs and I am the one who decides which beliefs I hold and for how long. This way I can change at any time, and I don’t have to blame my ego...

    Just to be clear: “I am not right at this”! I use my beliefs to shape a world I want to live in and share it with the people I who like to take ownership and show flexibility.

  4. Wow, what delightful questions and comments. A few quick hits from me (I plan to come back later):

    Among the issues you all raise include
    - is there an ego (Tef says no)
    - is it helpful to suppress/judge this ego
    - what constitutes a fact, and right/wrong

    I would first say that words are merely signposts. So if somebody (like this author) refers to ego, obviously it exists - for them. So it may be more useful to explore what they are labeling the ego, and then inquire into it. Tef, want to start us off?

    I'll also answer Joy's first question - why did I post this? For a long time I've been very amused to see people visibly swelling in importance and righteousness as they state and defend a fact - a fact that might have otherwise seemed innocuous, perfectly capable of standing on its own and in no obvious need of aid. This happens most frequently with sports and politics. My guess is that they are feeling inadequate in some respect and are borrowing the perceived strength of this fact (or viewpoint) to feel better, stronger, less threatened.

  5. Sree, thank you for inspiring this playful discourse. I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

    The id, ego and super-ego are simply constructs created by Siggy Freud as he attempted to explain humans. The id is basically his version of what we might call right-brained thought (the intuitive, ontological stuff) and the ego what we might call left-brained thought (the structured, rational part). The super ego is kind of the moralistic reconciler of the other two.

    All three are simply components of his attempt to model how and why we do what we do. They don't exist any more than atoms or molecules (as we see them modeled). They're just ways of thinking or of organizing thought.

    My take from what Eckart Tolle wrote is that he's not using the Freudian definition of ego, but instead the pop-culture definition of ego which is more about pride and sense of self. Clearly, the effect of pride and in this case, violated sense of self leads to behaviors that are not necessarily what we would ideally desire. When we experience wounded pride, we abandon the pursuit of the facts for the preservation of our self-perception. I'm with him on that count.

    However, I think to blame all this on ego or self as though they were actual entities is to abandon responsibility for the decisions we're making.

    It ain't your ego that causing you to respond belligerently to someone questioning your veracity or authority, it's simply YOU acting on a perceived threat to your self-perception. The degree of your response is directly proportional to the value you ascribe to that perception. If you're thoroughly wed to your self-image, well, you're screwed. However, if you're good with, "Wow, I thought I was really good at this, but apparently, I'm not", then you're golden.

    So, it's not your sense of self that's at issue, it's the flexibility you have regarding that sense of self.

    This idea of shutting down self and finding your oneness with the universe is cute and all, but to me it's just a way of avoiding dealing with the real issues. I mean, who exactly is it that is eradicating your self anyway?

    So as I ramble on here, I guess I'm coming to the conclusion that rather than viewing self as evil, it might be more useful to view self (ego) as a child that is developmentally challenged, one that you want to nurture and grow.


    I'm totally and selfishly digging this whole thread.

  6. Tef: I'm following you on the Freud thing (in that I've heard he invented those 3 concepts), and also that Tolle is using a different construct. I also see the truth of your observation that one's response is proportional to one's attachment to one's self-perception. However, I came to a halt here: "...YOU acting on a perceived threat to your self-perception", a point you later raise with "who exactly is it that is eradicating your self anyway?" What are your thoughts on that question?

    Both you and Iris make the point very clearly and strongly that being flexible about one's sense of self, for instance acknowledging that I'm not as good with something as I previously thought, offsets the much-vaunted evils of the ego. Obviously that's a pretty mature viewpoint - one which probably arrived after awareness of the undesirable effects of inflexibility. But I'm sure another component of the viewpoint was also the recognition that this self-perception is different from me and doesn't define me - and therefore changing parts of it wouldn't be fatal. I don't think the average person realizes the difference; I know I didn't before I started studying beliefs. And even now, I have a set of beliefs that are more core than others (My name is Sree, I am a kind man, a good writer, etc :-) that I'd be more loath to change or drop. Calling those beliefs (& the arising tendencies) the ego is just one way to illustrate the difference. What you do once you realize the difference is another story. You can recoil in horror and start condemning the ego, or you can simply be in the clear-eyed acceptance mode and do what you will with it.

    Which brings us around again to the question: who is it that's holding the beliefs?

  7. Sree, this is really great!

    There seems to be this age-old question of "who is the observer", one that has been answered in so many ways. Is it the super-ego, is it the left-brain, is it the soul, is it the spirit. Who is YOU, or as I asked it, "who exactly is it that is eradicating your self anyway?"

    As is typically the case, the challenge lies not in the answer, but in the formulation of the question. The assumption that drives the question is one that there IS a YOU, one that transcends time and situation. What if there isn't?

    What if there is nothing other than the sum of your actions, thoughts and emotions in the moment? What if YOU only exists in action and momentum?

    What if YOU is like the wind or a flash of lightening, nothing permanent, nothing fixed, but simply the transient perception of phenomena?

    Perhaps all attempts to isolate and nail down self are akin to trying to capture the wind or a flash of lightening. Even if you caught something, the something wouldn't be the IT you're trying to catch. This isn't to say that the IT doesn't exist or that IT should be eradicated, it's to say that the IT doesn't exist within the dimension in which we're trying to nail it down.

    So, who is YOU?

    YOU is the net-sum of all you are doing in any moment. Sure, there is a momentum effect of all that you've done before and how it influences what you're choosing to do now. Still, regardless of WHY you're doing what you're doing right now, all you have is WHAT you're doing right now. And of course, in the next moment, that can all change.

    So perhaps the more useful question would be: who do want to be next? I have no idea who exactly would be asking it, but maybe that doesn't matter. Similarly, the early artisans who crafted bronze and iron and silver into utensils, jewelry, tools and weapons, had no clue regarding the molecular make-up of those materials. Nonetheless, their focus was how to accomplish what they wanted. They didn't get hung up on the fact that they had no clue.

  8. Very well put, Teflon. I'll go with that, except I can't resist the temptation to add one last (long) quote on the topic.

    This one is from "End of Faith" by Sam Harris, a book that appears to be a painstaking chronicle of the evils of organized religion, except for a strikingly contemplative section at the end where this passage figures.

    Thanks for the robust exchange!

    "The contents of consciousness - sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, moods, etc. - whatever they are at the level of the brain, are merely expressions of consciousness at the level of our experience. Unrecognized as such, many of these appearances seem to impinge upon consciousness from without, and the sense of self emerges, and grows entrenched, as the feeling that *that which knows* is circumscribed, modified, and often oppressed by *that which is known*. Indeed, it is likely that our parents found us in our cribs long before we found ourselves there, and that we were merely led by their gaze, and their pointing fingers, to coalesce around an implied center of cognition that does not, in fact, exist. Thereafter, every maternal caress, every satisfaction of hunger or thirst, as well as the diverse forms of approval and rebuke that came in reply to the actions of our embodied minds, seemed to confirm a self-sense that we, by example, finally learned to call "I" - and thus we became the narrow locus around which all things and events, pleasant and unpleasant, continue to swirl.

    "In subjective terms, the search for the self seems to entail a paradox: we are, after all, looking for the very thing that is doing the looking. Thousands of years of human experience suggest, however, that the paradox here is only apparent: it is not merely that the component of our experience that we call "I" cannot be found; it is that it actually disappears when looked for in a rigorous way. "

  9. I haven't read any Sam Harris, but I like his recognition that of "that which knows" being displaced by "that which is known". It seems so often the case that the more we learn, the more we doubt ourselves. As we start with little or no knowledge, we're filled with hope and confidence. However, as we learn, rather than becoming more enthusiastic and excited, we often begin to doubt our potential and capabilities.

    I'm not quite sure what Harris is saying regarding "implied center of cognition that does not, in fact, exist". Does he refer to the concept of "mind" or the physical embodiment of the brain?

    I think that perhaps our finally learning to call it "I" is more a reflection of our gaining language than it is gaining a sense of self. I believe that we can remember things from a self perspective long before we understand or can articulate the semantics of self.

    Regarding the search for self, paradoxical or not, it seems silly to me to search for something that is there all the time, something that is not in need of finding, but rather, ready to be sculpted and developed. No paradox there. You can develop yourself as you would develop your body or your skill or your craft or your knowledge.

    In fact, all these are so closely intertwined with the self that they're indistinguishable. Even from a spiritual perspective the self is often tied to the body as much as it is to the soul or spirit.

    In Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis (via Screwtape), speaks of how the satanic realm is confounded by the hybrid nature of humans, neither purely physical, nor purely spiritual. Not one or the other.

    I believe the self disappears when looked for in a rigorous way, not due to the rigor, but first to the fallacy of looking for what need not be found, and second, to looking where it cannot not be found, either by making it overly spiritual or overly physical or overly something else, something other than it is.



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