Your ego knows the rules. It knows how to dress you, it knows how to dance, how to sing, and even knows how to eat and how to sleep. And this alignment between you and these external limits is defined by fear. Your ego knows that if you step out of line you run the risk of embarrassment and embarrassment feels a lot like being shunned and that’s an ancient way to get people in line. If we lose the support of those around us we are in trouble indeed.
Various cultures have various rules and that can include anything from how they greet each other, what language they use to share ideas, or even what tools they use or don’t use to eat. You can be perfectly in line with Ethiopian culture and still potentially offend a person who’s been taught to value British culture, and yet beneath those rules those two people could potentially be very respectful best friends.
But how do you be best friends when one of you speaks Dutch while the other only speaks Inuktitut? The two souls could get along, but we have these ego-suits our cultures make us wear. And yet we see how thin those suits are, because as soon as the two people learn to communicate they literally build their own hybrid culture where they just ignore the details of their external cultures.
Some very famous friendships have achieved some amazing things in this way, including Tenzin Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest, or the closeness shared between the 14th Dalai Lama and Heinrich Harrer. Some servants become close friends to their masters and vice versa. So the rules aren’t an issue, the rules are just loose agreements that we can break, we just don’t due to fear.
The people who do break these invisible rules are progressively called, open, eclectic, eccentric, strange, weird and even dangerous, but often times the only thing they’re doing is functioning outside of the rules society silently likes to teach each child. We like patterns and our culture is a set of patterns. Anyone outside of that is an outsider to us.
This means that you have the ability to be friends with virtually anyone, which is great, but let’s focus on you. Because your ego doesn’t discuss much except these rules and your speculations about breaking them or maintaining them. Your ego is an expert on the rules, so when it’s talking to you it’s always from the rule-based, fear-based perspective. If you’re going to a party dressed like an actual clown your friend will actually try to talk you out of it and they might even desert you that night in a desire to avoid any reflected social shame you face.
Since your ego is little more than a rule expert, then the only reason for it to talk is for it to try to balance your natural drives with the rules, which is why your ego is primarily critical. The best thing to do is do what Norgay and Hillary did and just forge ahead together, but that’s only two people. Trying to get more people than to be free gets near impossible.
If you want to be a true individual living a truly spiritual life, you must surrender the rules and trade it for the Tao. You want the flow of a compassionate existence more than you want laws and protection. One is human, one is a thought-based idea. One is you behaving, the other is you feeling empathetic and compassionate.
Of off this is why you get upset if you spill food on your shirt at lunch. Imagine that: an adult having their day ruined by some mayonnaise on their shirt. Does that sound like a developed soul? No, that sounds like an ego trying to be liked by being in-line to the point where you’ll feel like everyone’s judging your stain, and if they’re following the rules they will. But so what?
What we’re talking about is just a framework in our head and the words are creations by our heads, for our heads. We certainly shouldn’t be using those words to punish ourselves. If you truly understood what was happening you wouldn’t need any rules for you to feel shame or regret. Those are nature’s way of keeping us cooperating in a way that’s good for all of us and those feelings don’t require words and they do permit for much more freedom.
Forget those words. Forget replaying some insult from 10 years ago. Stop listing all of the things that might go wrong. Stop looking for reasons you or others are out of line with the rules. None of this is hard. It’s not the start of something difficult, it’s the stopping of something difficult. Do not use your thoughts to weaken yourself. Those are only words taught to you by your culture. They cannot hurt you unless you believe them.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.