To Let Go of Your Ego, You Need to Make It Strong First
As the Western world adopts Buddhist teachings, some ideas are distorted along the way
When I first started meditating, I encountered the concept of “letting go of your ego” almost immediately. I found it appealing. I gave in to fantasies of “being one with all life” and “finding infinity in the present moment.”
Getting rid of my ego quickly became the main theme in my spiritual growth.
“It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego,” advises Tibetan monk and scholar Chögyam Trungpa in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. “This means stepping out of ego’s constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort or whatever it is the particular ego is seeking.”
I know I’m not the only Westerner to become obsessed with the necessity of ego abandonment that Trungpa advocates for here, but the mistakes I made as I pursued this goal are proof that trying too hard to do so can backfire.
As I began meditating, I attempted to toss away all the desires, judgments, and other constraints stemming from my ego. I wanted to go with the flow, to embrace all the challenges that life brings without resisting.
Last summer, I realized something was wrong with this approach. At the time, I was working in a hotel. I did everything from housekeeping and waitressing to greeting guests and even copywriting, and the environment was far from perfect. I wasn’t just overworked as hell, I was also fielding clients and co-workers who had little respect for my work-life boundaries.
During a midsummer staffing crisis, I agreed to take on more hours — though, by then, I could barely manage my existing workload. In the hotel restaurant, one of our chefs regularly criticized me for taking orders she didn’t enjoy making (as though the orders were my fault). The pressure was so intense, and I wanted so badly to “let go of my ego” and “allow things to just be” that I felt I couldn’t say no or stick up for myself.
I was so invested in spiritual teachings encouraging me to simply “let go of my…