Last night at meditation we listened to a tape of Pema Chodron, reading a book by her teacher. She spoke of seeing ego as we would a clown, an actor that amuses us but can also turn on us, poke us unwantingly and cause us pain. I’m not sure I like the metaphor, but I do like the teaching – to not take our ego, our selves, so seriously – even when it is a source of pleasure for us. When we can laugh at ourselves, accepting our mistakes and failings, we shake off the grip of ego.
But how we go from there is just as important. It is easy to simply fall back into old patterns, perhaps with the additional vice of thinking we had just laughed them off and were rid of them. Pema spoke of the practice of letting go. She said it doesn’t mean throwing some stuff in a bag and dropping it off at Goodwill. What is needed is a letting-go within. We all know people who seem to have radical “growths” about once a year, when they’re tossing out their old self and opening up to a new one. They eventually repeat the cycle all over again. Generally they are still clinging, white-knuckled, to some old vision of themselves.
The true letting go comes when a clear path is discovered. It needn’t be spiritual in any typical sense, but it must involve helping others. Once that is discovered, the old junk falls away on its own. Maybe not all at once, but eventually it will simply be in the past.