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Friday, June 19, 2009
Who Would Want to be an Ego, When We Can Be a Soul? Reflections on Elizabeth Lesser
I ought to be reworking the first chapters of a book I’m writing. I ought to be cleaning the upstairs bathroom. I ought to be getting dinner ready for my three children. Instead, I am blogging about death.
Standing in line at the local coffee house this morning I perused the titles of books on display: In Defense of Food; An Eater’s Manifesto, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; A Year of Food, The Kid’s Yoga Deck. My eyes fell on Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. A friend had just mentioned this book to me so I took it off the shelf, opened it about two thirds in, and began reading at a chapter entitled “A Meditation for Practicing Dying.”
It began with a quote from Ram Dass, “When we practice dying, we are learning to identify less with Ego and more with Soul.” I skimmed the short chapter feeling I must have been guided to this moment. The contents were connecting with me deeply.
This is a concept with which I am familiar. The book of Romans has a lot to say about death. In the middle of the book the author, Paul, explains that the way the cosmos is set up, the way we come to know our Creator intimately, is by faith in Jesus. And faith in his story-- which is he died. Paul teaches when we come to faith in the story of Jesus, we die with him. Our sins die with him. But the story doesn’t end there—Jesus comes back to life. Starting in chapter six of Romans, in one of the most complete manifestos on the spiritual condition of man, the Bible explores this concept of dying to self and being alive in Christ. Paul says, “The mind of a sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace….You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.”
I have been a person of faith my whole life, and my life-experience testifies to the truth of this story. When I am holding on to my “self”--when I am letting my ego call the shots and limit my viewpoint, it is death to my spirit. It steals my joy and wastes my time. But when I allow myself to live into the reality the spirit of Christ lives in me, I am able to die to self and the limiting, soul-crushing habits which are attached.
This morning, Elizabeth Lesser layered wonderful, complimentary words on my theology. She writes,
“I have trained myself now—when something is not going my way, and I feel rising up within me a big, hard No!—to take a breath or two, and to counter it with different counsel. I tell myself to “die to it.”…. What must die? Any resistance to the bigger truth. Any holding on by that part of me—my little ego—that cannot see beyond its own nose. If the situation involves another person—even if that person is being led around by the nose of his or her own little ego—it is still only necessary for me to “die to it.”…Practicing dying means living as close to reality as we can in each moment. It is the ultimate bravery. The spiritual warrior stands undefended before the truth—not some concept about the truth but the stripped-down reality of the most mundane, day-to-day situations.”
I want to be a spiritual warrior. I want to practice dying. I am not going to get it down perfect, this dying to self all the time, but maybe if I keep practicing I will get better? Because as Elizabeth so aptly points out, “Who would want to be an ego, when we can be a soul?”