I recently started listening to the audio book A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve always loved Eckhart Tolle’s quotes, but have never read or listened to any of his work. This book from Audible.com is about 9 1/2 hours, which makes it great for my long daily commutes. This Audible version of Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose is actually narrated by Eckhart Tolle himself, which I really like because he is flat out brilliant.
At this time I’ve listened to about 4 hours or what amounts to several chapters in the book. While I never like to give away too much in these posts, as to not spoil it for the reader; I am really enjoying this audio book. Tolle spends a lot of time talking about how the ego has prevented us from being ourselves, from finding any sense of our true self. He also spends a lot of time discussing our material desires that are driven by ego or sense of a false self, and how we cling to roles that we so closely identify with as we feel they define ourselves by these roles.
This is really an incredible audio book because it makes you question everything you think you are and value. If you have questions about a world where we seek to divide groups of people, where material wealth is king, where we seek to feel superior to others, and live a life stroking our egos then you will really enjoy Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
Identifying yourself as a role
Think of all the roles you play in your life, from mother or father, provider, democrat or republican, atheist or christian. May be you are a student, doctor, lawyer, policeman, drug dealer, psychiatrist, software engineer, accountant, salesperson, American, Indian, Chinese, South African, Brazilian, Canadian, or Italian. Whatever you think you are you have over the years created this way of identifying who you are by one of these roles or associations. Our sense of self is often all wrapped up in what we do, the roles we play, and who we associate with. This sense of self is of course impermanent as life changes and results in changes in your roles.
Clinging to these roles
Clinging to a sense of self and then creating an ego based on your roles makes for a very limiting existence. Are you really one of the roles you play everyday? I know people who have been crushed by the loss of a job or a spouse because their whole identity was wrapped up in that job or person. There sense of self was all about some external factor and their life seemed over when this association was broken. Carrying around some false sense of ego and self only limits your happiness and separates us as human beings. You are not what you do for a living, you are not a political party affiliation, you are not where your ancestors came from, and you are not a culmination of all the roles you play each day.
Fruits of selflessness
I was reading the Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield this morning and there was a quote by Dipama Barua “In my mind there are only three things: loving kindness, concentration, and peace”. These are the fruits of selflessness, not of someone burdened by the self. As you approach each day think about the times your behavior and thoughts are tied to this sense of self. Does this false sense of self result in happiness?
A role is a role not you
As someone who has lived too many years thinking that my sense of self is what I did for a living; I’ve begun to realize I was terribly wrong. The more you can separate the roles you must play from who you really are, the more joy and openness will permeate your life. Being selfless doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of your own value as a human being, but it does mean you can now focus on thinking for yourself and you can be more open to valuing others.
Introspection is a good thing to a point, but just like everything else you can take it to far. I am the king of taking a good thing too far, flying right by that sweet spot that most people stop at. Don’t get me wrong it is great to be able to understand your own thinking and behavior, having the ability to analyze what you are thinking and feeling gives you opportunities to actually catch yourself when you are beginning to get negative or least minimize the damage. Often all this self-analysis will be followed by a quest to further understand your mind, and then your off on this self-improvement journey and before you know it you find out that a significant portion of your day has elapsed.
Now here is the problem, all this self-analysis and subsequent efforts invested in self-improvement have now severely impacted your ability to just be in the present. Being in the present is also where real work is accomplished, where things actually get done. I have often found that my obsession with self-analysis turned into being self-absorbed, not being fully present for others, failing to enjoy each moment. I am not advocating that you stop studying Buddhism or quit analyzing your thoughts, but don’t let that be your focus at the expense of being fully present for your co-workers, friends, family, and significant others.
Maybe there is a fine line between self-awareness and becoming self-absorbed, and once that line is crossed you are no longer as much a member of the human race, but instead an observer. It may get to the point where you think you are different or god forbid better than everyone else, so then where does that leave you?
Something to think about anyway.