Both Eckhart Tolle and yoga have helped me become more conscious lately. As a Christian, I had always been a bit of a spiritual hypochondriac. Believing in the ultimate external body that had an opinion about my body – how it should feel, how it should be positioned – left me self-doubting and scrutinizing every moment for possible infractions. Christianity is supposed to be the peace that passes all understanding, but I think I had turned it into a moral gage that would never land on perfect for very long.
Furthermore, it was always difficult for me to believe what I was supposed to without being filled with ego about it. But let us face it, as someone who had journeyed outside those fundamentalist leanings, I was still a hypochondriac (it was simply that grad school had given me more physical conditions to be suspicious of) and completely full of ego, perhaps even more so. Except here I mean ‘ego’ not in a reductive way, but in the broader, more all-encompassing way that Eckhart Tolle describes.
One good way to explain ego is to relate the story that is found in Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth but that I first encountered in Yu Dan’s Confucius from the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World. This makes me think it is a familiar story to many people, but perhaps even those people will enjoy reading it here once again. Dan narrates the story as such who also tells us it is a Buddhist tale:
Two monks came down from their mountain temple to beg alms. When they reached the bank of a river, they saw a girl, who was upset because she was unable to cross it. The old monk said to the girl: “I’ll carry you over on my back.” And he gave the girl a piggyback ride across the river. The young monk was too shocked to do anything more than gape in astonishment. He didn’t dare to ask any questions. They walked on for another twenty leagues, and at last he could bear it no longer, so he asked the old monk: “Master, we’re monks, we’re supposed to be celibate. How could you carry a girl across the river on your back?” The old monk said coolly: “You saw how I got her across the river and then put her down. How come you have carried this thought with you for twenty leagues and yet you still haven’t put it down?”*
That is me: that young monk. And that is ego: the reactive, compulsory thought-feelings that I too often identify with or at least allow to dominate the self. Tolle suggests the idea reiterated in the philosophy of Siddhartha Gautama, the poetry of Rumi, the text of the Tao Te Ching, that a great amount of suffering created for the self and for each other is self-created and unnecessary. When I wake myself out of mindless reverie, I actually feel connected to the cosmos, to energy and life because I suddenly feel life. I can lay down my thoughts that do not serve me. I feel this reminder of what many spiritual leaders have already observed and responded to has great potential for liberating so many people and stopping structures of oppression.
Yoga has become my spiritual practice that aligns with these ideas because it is an entry to what spirituality is an entry to: connection, healing, and peace. Yoga asks one to release ego, the self that judges, frets, or compares. Poses are created by melting into what feels right for your body and remaining fluid yet strong; otherwise, you could injure yourself. It is about letting go of negativity so that you don’t pollute the space for others. It is about emptying yourself so you can become aware of the energy and life that connects you with all other beings. It is what I imagine Hildegard of Bingen meant when she spoke of self-annihilation into God.
Without ego, I am taken to a place before the founding of Christianity as a religion where the messages of Jesus indicate he was a spiritual leader who wanted to respond to suffering in the world in a way that would help those who create their own suffering and create suffering for others. I can read his messages through the interpretive lens of ego, the pain-body, and consciousness, the words themselves which are not as important as how I understand them; I do not want to make idols of these terms. Jesus, though, was already, for me, liberated from structures of oppression he seemed to endorse through my study of feminist theology. And now his messages make sense to me on additional levels. I also realize that, at least for now, I want to let go of attempting to redeem Christianity. I do not think I can go back to the religion, but I can go back to re-discovering his spirituality.
*Dan, Yu. Confucius from the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World. New York: Atria Books, 2006. 25.
The author has asked to remain anonymous (though she is not anonymous to FAR co-founders) in order to maintain an emotionally safe space in her current home where she resides because religious/spiritual differences are not always honored. The author has a Ph.D. in religion.
Update as of 12/02/2016 – This piece was written by LaChelle Schilling. The FAR Project is pleased to now have LaChelle as one of our regular contributors. At her request, we’ve updated this piece with her byline, as she felt it was now time to add it. Thank you, LaChelle, for your continued contributions to the FAR conversation!