Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chapter 3: The Core of Ego - Workbook questions

  • The first part of Chapter 3 is about complaining, which includes faultfinding, grumbling and making negative comments in your speech or thought. This week, keep a running list of how often you complain during each day. Pay particular attention to a complaint that serves no useful purpose (any complaint that is not going to bring about a positive change in a situation or another person). For example, complaints about traffic, weather, having to wait in line or on the phone. Complaints about what someone said or did (or failed to say or do). Complaints about your marriage, job, finances, health or groups of people. Notice the complaining voice in your head. Notice its only purpose is to be right, to be superior, to feel a stronger sense of separateness from others. Whenever you notice the complaining voice, are you able to see it for what it is—a conditioned mind pattern, the voice of the ego? It is not who you are. And who are you? The one who recognizes that voice. Record your running list of complaints and your observations about them here.

I am going to be honest. Before I started working with this book and really paying attention to what I was thinking and how I was behaving, I complained a lot. Since reading and applying some of what I am learning, I have noticed a huge decrease in the amount of whining I do.

For the sake of honest, here is my list that I did or currently do hear in my mind:

There isn't enough attention or support being paid to me in some relationships.
I am too unskilled and uneducated to get a "decent" job.
I don't get to do things that are fun.
I don't have very many friends
I don't have a nice car
I don't have what it takes to be a great artist
I don't have nice things when people do come to my house.

  • This week, watch out for any underlying resentment and negative thoughts about what you are doing, which invariably implies, "I don’t want to be doing this." (For example: "I don’t want to be cleaning up after my kids." "I don’t want to be in this traffic jam." "I don’t want to be doing this work today." "I don’t want to be sick at home today.") Can you see that these thoughts are futile and harmful? Are you able to let go of the complaining voice and just do what you have to do right now and be free of all negativity while you are doing it? Cite a few experiences of moments this week when you were able to release an underlying resentment about something you were doing. What happened when you did?
A big one for me: "Is what I am doing really going to matter?

"Am I painting this for nothing?"
"My family doesn't notice when I do nice things for them."
"It's not like I have any real impact when I do accomplish things."

Recognition is a big thing for me. I crave recognition. I want people to recognize that I am smart and creative. I want people to recognize that I am doing things that will benefit them more than myself. I want people to see what I have "given up" to be in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing for them. I want people to recognize that I am "nicer than most". I truly resent lack of recognition on the inside. Sometimes I voice it on the outside. I voice it on the inside a lot.

A quick story:

The other day my oldest daughter and I went to the gas station to fill her tank. When we got there, there was a big hold up inside at the cash register. It seems that the gas card machine was not working and the poor cashier could not ring up this ladies gas on the discount without this machine. The lady was furious. As I was listening to the complaining, I looked at the register and saw the amount was $17. I can afford to give $17 to a stranger. So I proceeded to hand the cashier my debit card.

The lady that was complaining stopped me from handing my card to the cashier and proceeded to let me know firmly that this was not the point. She had a card she could put it on, but if they were going to issue gas cards, then "By God they better take them when it's time to pay!" and "Furthermore, if she cannot ring this up on the gas card, then I better get my discount if I puts it on her bank card!" Well... I guess she told me!

We stood there probably another 15 minutes as the cashier tried and retried and retried to run this card. More and more people got in place behind me and eventually, there was no room inside and people were forced to stand outside the tiny little hut to pay for their gas. Eventually, the lady did give in after getting phone numbers for managers and corporate complaint lines.

The poor cashier was nearly in tears when it was my turn. "I like you! You seem like a very nice girl!" I said to her with as kind of a smile as I could make. Her friend was patiently waiting for the line to empty so she could talk to the cashier and as I left, I turned to her and said "I am sure glad you are here. She really needs a friend tonight."

When I returned to the car, my daughter asked me what the hold up was. After I explained what happened she said "Geez Mom. You should have told that lady that the least she could do is be grateful that you were trying to pay for HER gas!" I explained that in my mind, she probably went home, cooled down and thought about it. It was then that she would think to herself "Hmm.. that woman at the gas station sure was nice!". My daughter disagreed, but gave me credit for being much more patient with the situation than she would have been.

The moral of this story:

I am getting there. I still have to pretend to myself that I do get recognition, I just don't always get to be there when they realize it. Lacking that, I fed on my daughters compliment of my patience. I look forward to the day when I can do something like this and not make up some kind of story to make my ego leave me alone.

  • Is there someone in your life you have not completely forgiven, someone you have turned into an "enemy"? Write down that person’s name and a list of your grievances. Then answer the questions from page 74: "What is it in [your perceived enemy] that you find most upsetting, most disturbing? Their selfishness? Their greed? Their need for power and control? Their insincerity, dishonesty, propensity to violence, or whatever it may be?" Be honest as you write. Feel the emotion behind your thoughts.
    "Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you." (p. 74) In that sense, you have much to learn from your enemies. Go back and re-read your response to the last questions. Then list here what you can learn about yourself from your grievances about your “enemy.”
I can honestly say that I have forgiven every enemy I had before I read this book. I may not have seen myself in them to do it, but I did try to put myself in their situation in my mind and try to see the world as they might be seeing it.

As I look back to what I may have seen in my enemies that I see in myself, perhaps manipulation and control is something I despised at some point. The inability to let go of the past is something I know I dislike in others that I also dislike in myself.

Probably the most important point that this section presents to me is to pay attention to what I think about people. This is everyone from my husband, to my kids, to my friends and every other person I see. After reading this chapter, I am noticing what about me I see in others. Sometimes I see things that are not there. Other times I want to stop seeing things about myself. It opens me up to a new world inside myself that I did not know existed.
  • How would you answer this question: "Do you want peace or drama?" We all want peace, of course, and yet there might be something inside you that craves the drama, wants the conflict. This week, pay attention to situations or thoughts that trigger a reaction in you. Can you, as it says on page 77, "feel that there is something in you that is at war … that would rather be right than at peace?" Can you become aware of your mind racing to defend its position, justify, attack or blame? Can you awaken at that moment of unconsciousness? List three situations this week, or at any time in your life, when you chose being right over being at peace.
Finances! When it comes to finances, I have the urge to really take a stand. I need to defend my purchases (Even though my hubby doesn't give me a hard time about them) I am not sure how my ego is so wrapped around money, but its tied in very strongly. I get anxious and defensive when my husband just looks a the register.

  • "The underlying emotion that governs all the activity of the ego is fear. The fear of being nobody, the fear of nonexistence, the fear of death. All its activities are ultimately designed to eliminate this fear, but the most the ego can ever do is to cover it up temporarily with an intimate relationship, a new possession, or winning this or that. Illusion will never satisfy you. Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free" (p. 80). What does your ego fear? What is the truth of who you are?
A long time ago, I read a book (I think it was Covey) and did an exercise where you write your epitaph. This was supposed to be a very positive exercise, but since then I have had my imaginary funeral running in the back of my mind and when I do something that doesn't turn out well, or fail to do something that I write these failures into my internal epitaph. My fear is that I will be remembered more for what I failed than what I accomplished. I am not a horrible person, but I am not a "great achiever".

The second part of this fear is that time is running out for me. I see this funeral coming closer and closer. I am overwhelmed with the urgency that I must achieve something phenomenal before I die. When I get so focused on this, my focus is everywhere but the current moment.
  • Gossip is just one of the ego’s strategies that satisfy its need to feel superior. Try to notice a few instances this week where you gossiped, acted like a know-it-all or shared news in such a way that temporarily created an imbalance in your favor. Notice other people’s ego strategies as well. Without judging yourself or others, just be aware of the ego’s need to feel superior. Write your observations about yourself and others here.
Honestly, I don't participate in a lot of gossip. I cannot say that I never do this, but its rare. I do sometimes try to be a know-it-all. I feel this need mostly around my children and my sister/cousin. I think I do this mostly because I feel as though I need to be a person with the answers around them. The topics are not usually other people, but often self evaluations and decisions that are being discussed with me. I put great value on being able to come up with answers for just about everyone around me.
  • "In a genuine relationship, there is an outward flow of open, alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever. That alert attention is Presence. It is the prerequisite for any authentic relationship" (p. 84). This week, practice not wanting anything from the people in your life. When you are with them, just be with them. If you feel yourself wanting something from them, acknowledge that emotion and release it. Does being present change the quality of your relationships?
After reading this particular section, I was pretty happy to discover that I do this quite often with my kids. We have "kitchen talks" where the subject is anything and drifts around to nothing really important. I think its important to note this because I can take this attitude into other relationships and situations and just enjoy the presence of their company. I did not pay attention to how many times I will be talking to someone and wanting them to fill my egoic needs.

Some Aha! moments in this chapter:

What you can do to a person, you can do to a situation: make it into an enemy. The implication is always: This should not be happening; I don't want to be here; I don't want to be doing this; I am being treated unfairly. And the ego's greatest enemy of all is, of course, the present moment, which is to say, life itself. (pg 63)

I say these things in my head a lot. As I read this and look around me, there is evidence both physical and emotional that this is what I am doing. There is a potential freedom that exists if I could just look around me and accept that this is what I have or this is what I am doing. In my constant need to make things better, I resort to deserting what is so that I can fix it later. Happiness and contentment is always coming tomorrow. This is where I derive my "optimism" from. It's all going to be okay because I have put made a situation available for me to fix it. Yikes! I am ashamed to admit I do that.

I live in a constant state of "I should be doing this" in my head. This is my ego's way of keeping turmoil and drama going. While I am painting this, I should be painting that. While I am painting, I should be doing laundry. While I am doing laundry, I should be vacuuming floors. While I am typing this, I should be doing dishes, or taking a shower or something else. I am catching myself thinking "Wow.. there goes my ego again" almost constantly as I go about my day. At the same time, I find myself wanting to do activities that I deny myself the privilege of doing so that I can complain about not being allowed to do them later. Very very eye opening.

I wonder how this changing view point of myself and my activity is going to change my art.

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