“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Let me answer Mr. Shakespeare: “Quite a lot, actually.”
I remember back in college, this philosophy professor who could never get my name right. Drove me nuts. No matter how many times I corrected him, he continued to call me by this other name. Which, by the way, was a name I would never have wanted. I didn’t think it fit me at all.
Anway, I’d raise my hand in class and he’d call on me using this other name he’d given me. I’d turn around to see who he was talking to, disbelieving that he’d gotten my name wrong again. It was a very jarring semester.
And so… Because this absent-minded professor couldn’t seem to help himself, I decided to use his memory issue as an experiment to shock me out of this ego identification I had with my name. If I wasn’t Karen, who was I? If I also wasn’t the name he was calling me, who was I?
It was startling, the way this mis-naming revealed the immense power my name held over my sense of self, over my ego.
Our lives are so deeply intertwined with ego identification, determining who and what we think we are. We protect it, encourage it, and rebuild it anytime we perceive it to be under attack. Without our egos, who are we? If we peel away the layers of this constructed self, what remains at the core?
The more invested we are in our ego, the more we feel compelled to lie to maintain its facade. We lie to convince others – and ourselves – of who we think we are. And/or who we wish to be. Lying becomes the norm. Even when we could tell the truth, often we’ll lie out of habit or cultural pressure (the “harmless” white lie) because we’ve convinced ourselves it’s easier. In these lies, we construct a reality where our minds become trapped by the fear of being found out. Then ego is pushed to fabricate even grander tales to persuade ourselves as well as others that we are who we say we are.
The Illusion of Identity
Our personal identities, unique and seemingly separate, are in truth a tapestry woven from countless threads: our names, our ‘biographies,’ our relationships, our jobs, our possessions, etc. We lean on these fragile and often artificial props for support and security. But what happens when they’re stripped away? Do we have any idea of who we truly are?
Ego is the absence of true knowledge of our real selves, coupled with a desperate clinging to a makeshift image – a chameleon self that must continually adapt to perpetuate the illusion of its own existence.
Our perception of reality is equally flawed. We solidify our internal and external experiences in a way that has been repeated for lifetimes, leading us to the false assumption that our subjective view is the objective truth.
So, what are we to do with this knowledge?
Vision Through Purification
As we go further along the spiritual path, we can learn to challenge and transform these fixed perceptions. Our old concepts of the world, of matter, of our very selves, can purified and dissolved, allowing a new field of vision and perception to unfold.
But we shouldn’t underestimate how exceedingly convincing the ego is. We’ve been under its spell for too long. The thought of shedding our egos terrifies us. Becoming egoless, we fear, equates to losing the richness of human experience.
Facing the Mirror of Truth
Sometimes, the truth about ourselves is so daunting or difficult to face that we reject it in self-defense. Instead, we project these issues we can’t deal with onto the world around us – the nameless, faceless other. It’s easier to make this projection the enemy.
The Possibility of Change
Change, however, is possible. We can begin to integrate all our experiences in an awakened way that allows us to see the innate perfection in all, as it truly is.
Most of us choose to continue to sleepwalk. BUT…. enlightenment’s sole requirement is that we awaken to our true nature – to become fully conscious and aware. It’s not about seeing different things but about seeing things differently.
Deconstructing the Ego
Honest self-inquiry and sustained meditative practice can help dismantle the ego, allowing us to experience the vastness of authentic being.
By accepting the impermanence of all, by releasing the fear of loss, we begin to live in the moment. In these moments, we find gaps in our thought processes, and through these gaps, we glimpse a greater reality.
The Quest for Truth
There is nothing that should be believed blindly. There is everything waiting to be discovered. Seekers become finders through critical examination of their personal experience. Honest investigation and inquiry are necessary steps toward transformation and enlightenment. Static dogma won’t cut it.
Learning how to disentangle the layers of ego is not about obtaining temporary highs or indulging in mystical escapades. It is about liberation – finding the truth that sets us free so we can come to the understanding of the nature of things as they truly are.