The French philosopher and nobel laureate Jean-Paul Sartre intuited an incredible insight in the early 20th century – our experiences in the world are not our reality. Satre said “the consciousness that says ‘I AM’ is not the consciousness that thinks.” In fact, the consciousness that thinks isn’t reality either, although it is a step closer.
The consciousness that says “I AM” – the one that identifies with a name, body, societal roles, nationality, race, and preferences – is the ego. And the hallmark of the ego is attachment. What does the ego attach to? Anything that can bring us a sense of self-enhancement.
For example, consider anything of value you own. Would you be upset if it were lost or taken from you? Most likely, any of us would. Because we’ve developed an attachment to it. It was “mine”. And now I’ve been violated or cheated or somehow wronged by losing what was mine.
We’ve equated the object of our attachment (whether that’s a physical object or person or idea) with our identity. Who I am has become enmeshed with my attachments. As Eckhart Tolle pointed out, the ego equates having with being.
That’s why we are never satisfied with what we have. The ego’s sense of satisfaction is short-lived and continually chases after more in the laborious attempt to continually validate “me”.
It is very challenging to transcend the ego and let go of the need for attachments. But not impossible. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl lost everything in the concentration camps: his doctoral dissertation, his father, mother, and his brother. The Nazi’s also killed his wife, who was pregnant with their child.
But Frankl’s consciousness was not with his ego. He didn’t respond with anger or even bitterness. He knew that he had complete freedom over his thoughts and his emotions. This is what he said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our freedom.”
The first step in moving beyond the ego – and all the suffering that attends such a level of consciousness – is recognizing, as did Sartre, that the “I” that is having this experience is the not “I” that chooses peace or pain.
Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore the nature of attachment – generally anytime we use the words “me”, “myself”, “I”, or “mine” – and how we can practice loosening the grip of suffering. I look forward to seeing you then.