First we learn words, then we assemble them into ideas. Before long, as thoughts pile atop thoughts, we eventually grasp at least some percentage of our parent’s ‘rules.’
We also begin to slowly –through an invisible cultural osmosis– evolve our lives conform to the fact that society has strong feelings about things like adults singing at the office or, when people’s toddlers try to use the middle of an escalator as a toilet.
Most of us build these fairly sturdy structures without ever noticing them. In fact, this the single most advantageous thing that resulted from my accident. For whatever reason, the head injury meant I was keenly aware of these larger structures being formed by people’s silent, collective agreement. My problem was I thought you saw them being built too. 🙂
What we both formally and informally know as ‘society,’ is little more than some largely unconscious thought-based ‘rules’ that form our various frameworks. Depending on our history and attitudes, we are all destined to revere some frameworks (never lip off your mother, don’t be late for work, don’t cheat on your taxes), but find others worthy of active disrespect (racism, sexism, or when populations overthrow governments).
In fact, when generations fail to understand each other, it is usually only because each group is innocently applying their epoch’s frameworks to the other group’s behaviours from a different era in time.
No matter what age we’re at, these invisible rules form the reality around our egos. Our egos move through these frameworks like the ground we walk on. When we’re young, it’s as simple as ‘don’t eat those cookies!‘ As we age, it shifts to things like, ‘try to look young and energetic for the interview,’ or ‘smile and be nice to your spouse’s jerk-boss.‘
Our egos are about us performing the act of being a human for the sake of some other human we want to impress for our own sake, as when we work to collect food and shelter –also known in the modern world as ‘pay.’ These are largely just examples of intelligent cooperation, so there’s nothing wrong with engaging with these efforts, as long as we keep them in context.
Where we can grow to be unhealthy is if we mistake our ego’s desires, expectations, and disappointments as being our reason for being alive. Those things motivate the act of us living, but they are not themselves the point. The living of life is its own point.
If we run a business and it fails during a recession, committing suicide due to that ego-world failure is to mistake the illusion for reality. The only price for that ‘framework failure’ is another set of experiences, just as with the price for success. If we watch life closely, it’s obvious that ‘failing’ can easily turn out to be more enjoyable than ‘succeeding.’
Even more importantly, those experiences will be shaped by our awareness within them, in the moment they happen. They will not be dictated by our ego’s judgment of itself as a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ at any given point in history.
Our spirit is always in charge. If we are a loyal and dedicated employee to the government, and our agreement is to collect pay to do as we’re told, we still won’t hurt or kill some other person just because our boss said so. Our egos can only obligate us.
Our souls operate on the basis of a responsibility to itself and its compulsion toward connection. Every soul is ultimately One, so helping another is helping ourselves.
If we cannot earnestly convince ourselves that an action makes sense –even if only temporarily– then we cannot get our ego to override our soul. In a fight between our ego and our soul, how often our soul wins is known as ‘the depth of our character.’ And most people have more character-in-waiting than they realize.
Our egos are strictly interested in fulfilling their own desires and in satisfying others as a route to that objective. Our soul exists in the larger world. While our ego will put another person down to elevate ourselves, to our soul that makes no sense because, again, our souls are all One.
The reason Buddhist’s tell us to surrender is because we don’t need anything, we aren’t lacking anything, we are where, when and who we are and that’s perfect. Any idea that it isn’t perfect are merely thoughts that are acting to reject the otherwise judgment-free reality before us.
We will think those thoughts. Our job isn’t to stop them. It’s to interrupt them with clarity as efficiently and sensibly as possible. The ebb and flow between those two, is the yin and yang of life.
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.