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To Dive in or to Deconstruct the Ego?

| Nirmala | Suffering

To Dive in or to Deconstruct the Ego?

Published on
05 May 2012

Q: I am a big fan of both your work and Gina's. It is very inspiring but also I find a conceptual conflict. This is it:  I would like to enthusiastically committ myself to awakening, by deconstructing the ego and resting in awareness. This is pretty much what most nondual approaches suggest. But this is the wall I've come up against: the reason for doing so is to escape or transcend suffering.  In other words, the nondual path has reinforced the belief that what is happening now is not good enough. The suffering is evidence the ego/I notion is still operative and so now I strive to achieve nondual oneness as a way to escape suffering. But another voice in my head says that the attempt to escape suffering is a form of resistance, such that nondualism has just become a new, more subtle and sophisticated way to deny what is.

An alternative approach might be to dive into the suffering and see where that leads. I've found such an approach fruitful but not liberative. It adds depth to my life and prevents me from being swept away by samsara, but hasn't led to transcending it. So in a nutshell- to go into, or dive into the suffering or to go for the deconstuctive approach by coming back to spacious awareness? Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.

A: Your questions are very good ones that get right to the heart of the dilemmas inherent in all spiritual paths and approaches. Practically, I would answer by suggesting that you pursue both approaches. Sometimes dive into your suffering and other times deconstruct the ego by going directly to spacious awareness. My own sense is that the biggest freedom comes from a flexibility of consciousness and not from any particular state of identity or non-identity. And for the greatest degree of flexibility, both approaches can be helpful. 

Ultimately though, you come up against a bigger dilemma, which is that there is nothing you can do to actually bring about an awakening and/or freedom from suffering. Both approaches you mention are not capable of actually causing a profound release of over-identification and/or your suffering. It is because both approaches to some degree reinforce the idea that there is something wrong with what is happening, as you point out about nonduality. If you check, you may find that when you dive into your feelings, it is also because on some more subtle level you are still trying to fix them or change them. And when you deconstruct the ego, you are also reinforcing your ego identity as the one who is deconstructing the ego!

However, even though the efforts you make are completely futile in causing any shift in suffering or dis-identification from ego, these shifts still happen. And the true benefit of all of your efforts is simply that when one of these shifts happen, you are "here" to experience them. Understanding this can allow you to hold the results of your practices more lightly, since that part is not up to you. And at the same time, it can help inspire you to give even more attention to the subtle workings of your inner spiritual life, not to fix it or change it or make something happen, but simply to be as present as possible to what is happening. What is really happening when you dive into the suffering? What is it like when you deconstruct the ego, both when it seems to be working and when it seems to be making things worse? Since these practices do not actually cause any profound shifts, the experience could be different every time you do one of the practices. And what is really happening then when a shift does happen? Do you make it happen or does it happen to you?

It is the by-product or side-effect of all of these approaches that we are more present to our experience in the moment. This does not cause anything in particular to happen, but it does mean that we are "home" when a spiritual opening is happening. You might enjoy a couple of other blog posts that also explore this dilemma: Staying Awake Until Grace Comes and Sitting on the Beach Does Not Cause a Tsunami.

I hope this is helpful.


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