Ego identity and football:

Roughly six months ago I was having dinner with friends and discussing politics, and a mate of mine made an observation in response to some of my own thoughts about the rise of political far-right. Politics isn’t football.

I live in Victoria, Australia. We have rugby and soccer like most other countries, but we also have our own form of football: Aussie rules. I like Aussie rules football, it’s a great game. I enjoyed playing it at school, and I still enjoy a kick of the footy with friends. I don’t necessarily always like the culture that goes with it though.

I understand that for many people, that statement is tantamount to blasphemy. A significant percentage of men and women in this country live and breathe football. That is, they don’t merely appreciate the game, but rather they are totally consumed by it. Football fans of all ages often get quite obsessed with their team, and allow their emotions to be controlled by the results of the latest game. That is, grown men (and women) get angry and upset when their team loses, and can even sulk for days (or weeks) after a loss. Grown men and women scream obscenities at the players (on both sides), umpires and supporters of other teams. And of course, excessive alcohol consumption only makes this worse.

All forms of football are quite physical, and by very nature players come into physical contact with other players. Whilst players accept this, it is common for it to be taken too far, contact becomes excessive, and those on the receiving end resort to knee-jerk reactions, and brawls are the result. Fortunately, Aussie rules football fans don’t generally riot, as do soccer fans worldwide (or Ice Hockey fans in the US). So perhaps then, in this respect they are relatively restraint.

Anyways, the point is that sports fans often allow their emotions to be controlled by events that are completely beyond their control. A victory brings on a euphoric high, and a loss brings a gut-wrenching low. Whilst I admire the skill, fitness and intelligence required to play the game well, football players themselves sometimes get overtaken by an inflated image of themselves, or take on an overtly harsh personality as a result. It is good to be strong, but power and strength can have both positive and negative manifestation.

All this being so, this is not what this article is about. Rather, the reason I am writing this article is to show that life is not like football. Most football fans choose a football team to support, and then they give themselves over completely to that team. They become one-eyed, they develop narrow vision (or tunnel vision). They support their team regardless of what happens, and they consider other teams to be their enemies. They write a blank cheque to their team, and will honor it no matter what. There are of course many people that might take a more sensible, moderate approach to football. Such people may enjoy the game with a smile regardless of the outcome, appreciate and respect players of various teams, and recognize the relative strengths and weaknesses of all teams (including their own). Likewise, not all players (and other people closely associated with the game) make football part of their artificial identity – their ego. So, when I talk about football culture and the ego, I don’t mean to say that everyone who plays or enjoys the game is the same. However, the fact remains that football culture is saturated by ego.

Many people that are passionate about religion and politics display similar tendencies and behaviour to that of hardcore, one-eyed football fans. That is, many people (particularly those we would term conservatives), approach religion, politics, national identity and so forth as if they were football. That is, they choose a team (for whatever reason), and they write a blank check to their team to do anything, and they will always take their side.

But life isn’t football.

At least, it isn’t like how many people view football. Complex and important topics naturally demand a more complex, nuanced approach. Questions of how we view life as a whole, how one chooses to live, how you choose to treat others, how you sort through the myriad of competing views about the nature of humanity and the cosmos, and how best should a nation govern and regulate behaviour, resources and finances, naturally demand a sensible, objective and well-considered approach.

Complex subjects frequently demand that we weigh up opposing interests and find a sensible middle-ground. It is true that – as my brother David frequently says -, “Truth isn’t necessarily always found halfway between two opposing views”. That is, there are some areas of debate in which one side may be completely correct, and the other completely wrong. However, whilst truth isn’t always found somewhere in the middle between polar opposites, it often is! That is, most commonly, in most areas of division and dichotomy, a reasonable and informed opinion finds itself flanked on all sides by more extreme, unbalanced views.

Those that simply choose a team and identify with it may feel a sense of inflated ego as a result. That is, they feel superior because they believe they are on the right team. They feel justified when they demonize those that differ from themselves. They overlook the flaws of their own team, and refuse to acknowledge the strengths of their opponents. They are however holding on to a false sense of self, and they refuse to see the whole as it is. If you place your happiness upon the foundation of a false identity, it has a precarious existence. You will feel threatened by any challenge, as if your own being was at stake, and will react emotionally, without balance and depth.

From where I am standing, the commentary given by people that treat politics and religion like football has little value, as sorting out the half-truths from their bias is often so difficult, you are better off to start from scratch. It is necessary for reasonable and intelligent people to sort through the maze of opinions out there and offer a true alternative. We must however be careful not to be drawn into reactivity to the ego in others. That is, it is often hard not to react in kind towards inflammatory remarks made by others. We must have the courage to face up to what is not true, whilst holding in our hearts what is true.

Peace.

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The wisdom of children:

 

On a lighter note to what I normally post on, I thought I would quickly explain something I have observed since being a parent. It seems to me that many adults have a somewhat backwards perspective on growing up. That is, whilst many of us recognize the innocence of children as something that lights up our world, I think the true wisdom of youth is overlooked by many.

Certainly children can be very trying at times. They can be fickle, demanding, and can become upset very easily. If we are honest we will concede that we ourselves were the same during our early years. Likewise, the latter years of youth also bring their own problems, with the teenage mind commonly rejecting tried and tested truths and choosing to learn the hard way that fire burns (figuratively speaking).

Traditionally, older generations have been considered the gatekeepers of wisdom in many cultures. There is certainly no question that this is still so to some degree. Human beings can indeed develop more and more patience, kindness and depth as they proceed through life. They can develop acceptance and compassion through hardship, and we can learn from our mistakes as we grow older, and look beyond the surface to the deeper reality as we learn from our experience.

However, it is unfortunately very common that we develop psychological aberrations whilst young, which become more and more entrenched as we grow older. Contrary to becoming wiser as we age, it is unfortunately considered quite normal to degenerate deeper and deeper from the natural wisdom of youth as the years pass. That is, the aberrations that we developed in our youth – frequently as a response to aberrations in the world around us – become permanent, and we get worse and worse with age.

It is no big secret that babies and young children (and also baby animals) exhibit a natural innocence that can soften the hardest of hearts. However, the wisdom of which I am referring to is also the ability of children to heal so quickly, to change one condition or state into another, to learn new information and change opinions and beliefs. Also of course, the other half of the wisdom of youth is the constant and undying urge to experience joy that can quickly override the pain that we naturally experience in this world.

The world around is constantly changing, and the younger generations enter the world open to new technology, new ideas, new ways of living and thinking. They can move with the times, keep up with developments and adjust accordingly. When they start developing bad habits or tendencies, they can quickly change (with a bit of help) and leave the issues in the past. When traumatic events occur in their life, they can display incredible resilience, and find a way to be joyful regardless.

Children remind us of the importance of being lighthearted, of finding reasons to laugh, smile, sing and dance. Obviously as adults we have responsibilities to tend to, and we do not merely have the abundant leisure time available to the young. However, we must find a way to retain our youthful exuberance whilst meeting the challenges of adult life. We must attempt to retain that joy and sense of fun as we age. I do know people in their later years that have managed to hold onto this wisdom, defying their age and remaining open to the new, and I think we can all aspire to this ideal. It is also time that we come to fully appreciate the potential wisdom of our elders again, and bring back the respect and dignity which should be due of those that have been on this planet for longer than the rest of us.

Obviously I am not the first person to point this out. There have certainly been well known movements in spirituality and psychology that have pointed to the innocence of youth as an ideal of which adults can aspire, or have called for adults to reconnect with their “inner child”[i]. However, I think it is worthy of being said again, so as to be reminded of what’s truly important in life. A truly fulfilled human life should seek to balance out a community mindset and compassion for others with a passionate attempt to life ones own life to the full, to take opportunities as they arise and smile all the way.

Human beings have an incredible capacity to heal, to evolve, and to express the highest ideals in their daily lives. I am still working on it, and struggling immensely at times. Being a parent is certainly challenging at times, but it brings the most wondrous rewards. Obviously parenthood isn’t for everyone. I certainly respect the choice of many not to have children, I understand that it is not possible for some to do so, and I understand arguments by some about whether or not we have (or could have in the future) problems with overpopulation, and/or related issues of overconsumption. Nevertheless, I believe we can all do well to learn from the young. Let us not think of children as inferior to us, for in some ways they are closer to the truth than we are, and they are the best teachers. May we all encourage each other to balance responsibility and vision with openness and joy. May we be kind and gentle with each other.

Peace.

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L1_9z32ZsU.

The Ego, and its role in ideology:

Summary:

Human beings commonly associate their very identity and substance as a person with their beliefs about various issues. Such association constitutes a false conception of self (the ego – noting that we are using the Eastern conception of the term here), in contrast to the true self (the indwelling Spirit), which is eternal and independent of changing physical, mental and emotional states.

We see the exact same patterns of behaviour occurring across humanity. Once someone has identified with an ideology they will go to great lengths to sustain that belief system, even in light of overwhelming evidence, which falsifies that ideology. It doesn’t matter whether it is religion and philosophy, politics and economics, racial or national identity or support of a football team or car manufacturer, the ego will refuse to see the weaknesses in the source of its identity, and will seek to diminish those that it sees in opposition to its ideology.

Whilst egoic thinking leads various people to believe that those that differ from them are suffering from a dysfunction of which they themselves are exempt, the reality is that the very same subconscious processes motivate people at opposite ends of ideological disputes. Hence, when attempting to promote progress in various fields we are not simply faced with the task of making the case for our perspective. Rather, we must face the ego of those that have identified with an opposing position. Hence, if we expect others to be willing to change beliefs which they hold sacred (whether religious or not), we must demonstrate a willingness to do the same when necessary.

Main Article:

The Latin word “ego” became popular in the English language as the translation of Sigmund Freud’s conception of “I” (as part of his three-part conception of self), though the meaning of the term has largely been expanded in everyday use. Many people are using it as an English translation for the Sanskrit word Ahamkara, and that is effectively how I will be using it in this article.

In its Eastern definition, the ego is the false self that cohabits the human being along with the indwelling Spirit (Atman in Sanskrit). The ego is our temporary sense of identity that the mind creates through association and attachment to various features of our life. Not knowing that we have an indwelling and immortal Spirit within us, we believe that our very sense of identity is dependent upon fragile and temporary structures, and hence we naturally seek to defend these structures. If our belief system is threatened then we feel threatened, and our response reveals that we believe that our very existence is at stake.

Human beings identify with various things in an attempt to increase the ego’s perception of itself, and this often involves diminishing others in return. The ego seems to think that it must drag others down in order to uplift itself, and in doing so it creates suffering for all. Hence, the ego will seek to only see the strengths of whatever it is identifying with (even to the point of seeing strengths that aren’t actually there), whilst refusing to acknowledge its own weaknesses. Likewise, it often refuses to see the strengths of those it views as opponents, and will seek to highlight, exaggerate or even invent flaws in those it opposes.

We see the very same egoic behaviour at play throughout human existence, from various forms of human interaction and relationships, to the interplay of religious, political, racial and national identities. The ego continually causes conflict, creates drama and causes suffering in many forms. Under the misguided belief that there is a finite amount of life force to be shared between living things, it behaves as if it needs to steal energy from others to be nourished. The ego sabotages relationships, causing all sort of dysfunctional interactions on the basis of various subconscious urges.

In the case of religion, the ego drives followers of various faiths to completely identify with their religious beliefs; to the point that they are willing to see those outside their sect as evil. Egoic thinking drives believers to refuse to accept evidence and logic that refutes their sacred beliefs, and leads to them developing all manner of defence mechanisms to hold their ground in face of information that should lead to a reasonable and intelligent person changing their opinion.

Likewise, in the field of politics, the ego drives people to identify with one side of the political spectrum, and to perceive those on the other side as being responsible for all the ills of their nation, or the world. Politics concerns various issues where there are complementary truths that need to be balanced. People on both sides of the spectrum take their identification as primary in their political beliefs, and fail to consider individual topics on their own merits. Hence we see both the left and right fail to find the right balance in complex topics where multiple factors need to be considered. Rather people on the left frequently always take the same side on every issue regardless of the specific details of the case. Likewise, those on the right do exactly the same. Hence both the left and right see each other as responsible for all the ills of society.

What irony that the very same personality dysfunction is at the heart of both extreme ends! Whilst the precise ideology that those on the left and right have identified with is different, the core dysfunction is the same. Again, the same is true in regards to conservative follows of different faiths. What irony that conservative Christians and Muslims are both operating from the very same core psychological processes, despite seeing each other as being at the opposite ends of eternity!

When I first started out as a writer I had this naïve idea that human beings were rational creatures, and that all one had to do was present an argument properly, well reasoned with reference to evidence and human beings would change their opinions. Unfortunately the reality is that the ego is incredibly skilled at holding its ground and avoiding letting go of the beliefs that it identifies with. Hence, human beings do not usually change their beliefs when they encounter evidence that rebuts them. Rather, they jump through flaming hoops and adopt all sorts of logical fallacies; often simply resorting to insulting those they see as their opponents in order to avoid facing the possibility that their opponent may be correct.

Human beings need to remember that we are capable of changing our opinions. If we expect others to do so, then the first thing to do would be to demonstrate it ourselves. There is an old saying that goes something like: “If you wish to create peace in the world, start with yourself”. I can understand if many people think that this is just a copout or that it is selfish, like it is suggesting that people simply focus on making themselves happy rather than fighting for the things that really matter in life. The truth however is that if we wish others to overcome their individual egos, and if we wish humanity at large to overcome large-scale collective egos (such as religious or political organizations, or national identities), then we ourselves need to lead by example by overcoming our own egos and finding real peace within ourselves. Peace really does start within.

Finding inner-peace doesn’t have to mean that you don’t stand up for what is good and real. Rather, finding peace first will mean that when you encounter resistance you wont take it personally, and won’t let your own ego sabotage the legitimate cause for which you are standing for. We cannot expect others to stop identifying with their philosophical and political ideologies if we ourselves are unable to transcend our own personality defects. Hence, we must lead by example by honestly seeking truth wherever it lies, and being willing to change our views when presented with reliable evidence and solid logic to the contrary.

The irony is that human beings fear that we will become less if we let go of the things that we have identified with. The truth however is that the exact opposite is true. In giving up a drop of water we gain the ocean. Whilst human beings frequently go from one egoic identification to another, the release of a false identity brings the opportunity to discover our true eternal nature. When we silence the incessant mental chatter and dis-identify from the voice within our heads we realise that we are not our opinions, beliefs, skills, habits nor preferences, nor is our true identity to be found within our flesh and blood. Rather, inner silence brings forth the indwelling Spirit, and with it comes unspeakable joy that is not dependent upon external circumstances, and hence need not come and go due to circumstances beyond our control. Rather, the inner peace that comes with true presence can be felt permanently, if we choose to cultivate it and transcend the ego.

I am a big fan of Eckhart Tolle’s writing. His books are not interesting in the traditional sense; he is not a captivating writer, nor a particularly charismatic speaker. He is however a very good spiritual teacher and he is utterly brilliant at highlighting the human condition. His insights into human behaviour are essentially spot-on, and for that reason I suggest that “The Power Of Now” and “A New Earth” are essential reading for everyone. They are books that should be read over and over again; not because they are captivating, but because they are true, and they can assist in probably the most significant transformation that anybody can undergo.

Peace.