This week’s set is a series of quotes from Ryan Holiday’s article “25 Ways To Kill The Toxic Ego That Will Ruin Your Life”
A FEW THOUGHTS ON EGO
by Nikolas List
Beforehand, as an introduction, I thought it would be helpful to clarify the first question that might come to mind: why would you want to kill your ego? Here are some ideas that I came up with as I was pondering that question yesterday.
1 – BREAKING OUT OF SAMSARA
From a Buddhistic perspective, your ego is what keeps you in “Samsara”, the cycle of suffering we are trapped in, caused by our desires and expectations. In a Vimeo staffpick that I will post next month, a Buddhist monk describes Samsara in these terms:
“When you do something with an expectation or desire to get some result, you are not there. You are looking for something better. In Buddhism, that is called “Samsara”: Life based on our desire. That means you are not satisfied this moment. You feel something lacking. Precisely because of such a situation, I think this practice and this teaching is really important and meaningful in this modern world.”
It has become a cliché to say this, but we do live in a world that worships the ego. Social media, for example, has become a cesspool of selfies, jealousy and envy. According to the Buddhists’ definition of Samsara, this cult of the ego has made it very hard to achieve any form of happiness.
2 – SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND HAPPINESS
This leads to another question: is the purpose of existence to find happiness? Most religions would refute this idea and instead place the focus on spiritual growth. Nouman Ali Khan addressed some aspects this fact in his talk “A Muslim Mind Vs Ordinary Mind” in Chicago earlier this year:
This leads to yet another question: are spiritual growth and happiness incompatible? Most spiritual growth, it seems to me, does come through suffering and painful experiences. Life is certainly full of those. It is said that “wisdom is only healed suffering”. I believe that to be true.
That might seem like a pessimistic and grim take on life. But, on the other hand, if one perceives these painful experiences as an opportunity to reach higher spiritual levels, Suffering is put into perspective, it gives it a meaning. Conversely, most of the stories in our culture illustrate the fact that indulging in a hedonistic lifestyle and pursuing an illusory notion of happiness is akin to chasing a mirage: It only leads to misery.
So, how does the ego play into all this? Well, whether you believe in pursuing spiritual advancement, or chasing an illusory notion of happiness, (or both) in either case, the ego is an obstacle to overcome.
3 – ARTISTS AND EGO
Finally, regarding artists and ego, two things come to mind: The first is a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat Pray Love”, in which she talks about the notion of “genius” and how, up to the Renaissance, the term had a mystical connotation, designating little creatures that visited artists at night, bringing them inspiration. Along with the Enlightenment, the notion of genius shifted and started to be used to describe the actual person instead of a separate entity. For Gilbert, this shift had disastrous consequences for artists, mainly because it tinkered with their ego.
The second is an anecdote from the film “Basquiat” (Julian Schnabel, 1996) in which the character incarnated by Gary Oldman tells Jean Michel Basquiat (played by Jeffrey Wright) the story of Chinese calligraphers who would change their names mid-career so they could start over as someone else. This story stuck in my mind, maybe because it illustrates the fact that being an artist is not at all about the number of fans on Facebook, the amount of money you make, the recognition, fame, or prestige that so many pursue. In fact, all these false notions of “success” go against the true nature of the artistic pursuit: continuously challenging endeavours, innovation, rebellion and humility.
I might be throwing out another cliché here, but it does seem to me that the happiest moments in my life were those when I was helping someone else or doing something for another person, without any expectation or ego involved.
But maybe that’s just my Christian education kicking in;-)