This article has been published on Elephant Elephant Journal at this link
I was speaking with one of my first yoga teachers the other day. He’s doing quite well for himself teaching yoga in Rishikesh and Dharmasala these days. He knows asana very well and has earned the success that comes to him. He told me that he never misses an opportunity to knock someone’s ego. If they can leave from his course with just 1% less ego, then he’s happy.
But people don’t like having their ego knocked. It’s these sorts of knocks that can put a yogi out of business. Yoga, of course, is all for allowing ones true self to shine while disparaging the karma that comes from allowing your ego to shine in a similar way.
This is the crux of the dilemma: which is the ego and which is the true self? The ego comprises all those traits that we can share with people directly thru words and actions. Within this realm of our lives everything is clouded in maya. The true self, on the other hand, is comprised of all the things that we can’t share with other people directly. We are at a loss for words as to how to describe it and when we put our minds to thinking about it we cannot even express it.
The ego seeks energy from outside of oneself. It takes energy from others thru seeking their approval or daring them to disapprove. This is why saints and rebels can be equally tiresome. Defensiveness can be a clear sign that an ego is at work. Saintly people are often passive aggressive in this regard since they ensure take every precaution so that no one can possibly disapprove. We can tell when we’re having our energy sucked even if we can’t explain it.
But expressions of the ego don’t just suck energy, they also thrive by forcing their energy onto you. Again, this can be in a rebellious aggressive manner that is clear for everyone to see, or in a saintly manner like forcing well-intended opinions on someone.
When one acts from a place of their true self they have balance in the way they exchange their energy. They are only giving energy that can be received and only receiving energy that is freely given. There’s no need to get defensive or prove oneself. This is how a true saint never makes others feel less than him, he doesn’t speak over their heads nor does he patronize them with catch phrases or spiritual baby talk. This is how a true saint can knock someone’s ego and have them be thankful for the experience. They knock only as hard as the ego is ready to be knocked just when it’s ready to be knocked.
When someone is not ready to have their ego knocked, it will do no good except serve the ego of the one knocking while firming up the walls that are defending the unready. Likewise, if one is acting with awareness of their true self, what ego is there for people to knock upon. If ones energy comes from inside then nothing from the outside can touch it. In this case, what need is there to become defensive?
The higher truth in this conversation is that it is always the true self acting; it cannot be otherwise since there is really only one self and that true self shines in everything.
However, by this line of reasoning, it’s equally true that the ego is always acting; since maya also clouds everything. This is why two people can have such different experiences from the same thing. One person experiences only the spirit of true self without judging, without defending, while another person experiences only the material of maya always judging, always defending.
Most of us are somewhere in the middle. Using the ego to get what we want in the material world while falling back on the spiritual world when karma has bruised our egos. Which makes such bruised egos quite good for yoga business.