The Pervasive and Ponderous Ego

What is it about rivers, mountains, and clouds that are so peaceful and make meditation so easy and natural? As I sit out on a porch outside my yoga teacher’s private studio overlooking the Ganges, I notice how the Himalayas cup the town of Rishikesh and meditate on the nature of the ego. On our first day at yoga school, the priest held a ceremony where we symbolically burned our egos. Reared on western philosophy, I learned from Descartes that all thinking invokes an “I” that thinks: I think; therefore I am. Nietzsche sees the ego as a linguistic fiction. Unreal as the ego is, it controls us and separates from ultimate reality and the happiness of understanding that ultimate reality. To destroy it, we need joint action of the mind, breathing, and body. The ego is not just somebody’s attitude or the legendary male ego. The ego is everything we think, feel, remember, and anticipate not simply on the level of cognition, but as deeply impressed into every muscle, bone, and cell in our bodies. Through yoga, we learn to still our minds, bodies, and breathing. This is what is known as “letting go.” But letting go is only gained through long practice and removing what I want to call the “deep ego” impressed on us by experiences. I would like to say it is the big ego that is the problem, because if it were a single, easily identifiable ego, its extraction like a tooth would be easy. The ego is ponderous and pervasive and removable only as bits and pieces. Its removable is a tricky business.

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