Listening to: Chuck Berry, The Great 28
My Tuesday night group again which, as I said in a previous post, is my favorite group. They're motivated (for the most part), attentive, insightful, curious - really, a group-therapist's dream. With that kind of participation by group members, I'm given an opportunity to challenge their world view, I can stretch out and really push them towards a new reality. If one person out of twelve walks out of that group with a new view of the world, I'll feel vindicated.
For the past couple of weeks, we've been addressing the concept of ego (self), what it is, what we present to the world, what it is that others use to identify us. Sometimes our identity is insubstantial ("the guy who runs the automotive department"), sometimes it is vital ("my mom"), and sometimes it's transitory ("that asshole who cut me off"). The point is that there's a concept of "self" that we attach to oursleves, a notion of what we believe we are, a notion that we assume others believe, a notion that we believe sets us apart from the billions of other humans sharing this planet's limited space. We might say, "Oh, I ain't nuthin' special" but in fact, we're invested heavilly in the belief that we are special, unique, one-of-a-kind. The ego (self-idenitity) is the essence that makes "me" me and not somebody else.
Although I'm not a Buddhist (per se), I believe that "ego" is an artificial contruct determined by the summed multitude of qualities we associate with the "self" (think of the '100 Things About Me' meme on steroids). If we posted a profile on a dating site that only included physical information, someone would rightly point out that though that information tells somebody what we look like, it doesn't tell anyone who we are. Who we are is our beliefs, what we do, how we feel about things, likes and dislikes, etc., etc., etc., all things independent of us, ephemeral - subject to change. Change all those qualities and "I" still exist but "I" am much different from the "I" that was conceptualized prior to that change.
Deep stuff (as all my clients bemoaned) but it points to a larger, more important truth, that the illusion of our ego - our "self" - is a dangerous, destructive poison. It causes us to hold ourselves apart from the universe we're connected to, it enslaves us to our fears, real and imagined. It creates a self-centeredness that, given free reign, can potentially destroy us and our relationships.
I'm not an adherent of the "disease concept" of addiction. My approach is more cognitive/behavioral and as such, I've found that addicts are deeply self-centered; they fail to consider the effects of their behavior as it relates to others. Likewise, when someone gets behind the wheel after drinking is a stupid act of self-centeredness because they're not considering how they're potentially putting the lives of others at risk. Suicide is self-centeredness taken to its extreme (most suicides are committed under the influence and/or the result of substance abuse).
Really think about it and you'll see that almost every problem in the world can be traced back to self-centeredness. Greed begets poverty, hate begets violence, inconsiderate lack of regard of everyone else begets a despoiled planet. Fear is a function of self-centeredness. Even war, tribal allegiances and xenophobia, are social manifestations of mass self-centeredness.
So how do we break out of that self-centeredness? Get out of ourselves, get over ourselves - do something for someone without consideration of recognition or reward. Perpetrate a supreme act of love, act altruistically, behave in a way that benefits someone else out of no other motivation than causing benefit for someone else. Don't think about it, do it.
This is what I assigned to them: Every day, do something for someone else and don't let them know. Indulge in an anonymous act of random kindness or senseless beauty. Do that every day for the next week and tell me how it felt. Do that enough and I guarantee, self-centeredness will dissipate, the ego center will cease to lose its relevance and importance.
I was moved to write this as an elaboration on a wonderful post by The Zero Boss dealing with his own spiritual search. He states, "Smash the Mirror" and I completely agree with his prescription. My own prescription for smashing the mirror is, as I just said,
Every day, do something nice for someone else and don't let them know.