As we begin to recognize that our desire and our incessant grasping of an impermanent world leads to chronic frustration and suffering, we sometimes set out to reduce or remove that frustration and suffering by snuffing out desire.
Put another way, if we’re experiencing hard times, sometimes we have the good sense to stop the bad habits that lead to those hard times and make better choices. But, while doing that, hopefully we realize to be successful we can’t just stop bad habits – we have to stop wanting to practice those bad habits. Merely suppressing desire often backfires into even bigger relapses and more complex problems.
As we wage war on our desires, we might be wildly successful and become very pure in our actions and even our thoughts. But, eventually we’ll realize that desiring not to desire is still a form of desiring. We’ll find ourselves still grasping at an elusive objective. For a practical example of this, just talk to any long-time church goer about their problems with pride.
This particular mental roadblock might be frustrating and confusing at first, but if we reach this point we’ve actually made a very important breakthrough. We’ve discovered we cannot not desire as we desire not to desire. That might sound silly, but that silliness perfectly underscores the ultimate double-bind, the awareness of which can be a key to our happiness.
If we stay alert and honest we’ll realize the thing that’s so impossible about this “desire-quandary” is that there’s nobody there to get out of the bind! There is no separate me, nor is there a separate you. We act, talk, and think like there is. The thought of “me having to work on myself” illustrates an embedded notion of a separate self. But, all that thought really amounts to is a reference to a non-existent concept called ego.
Ego is not real and is not an object, a person, or a thing. Ego is not even a complete concept. It’s just a component of a concept. When we say someone is ego-less, what we’re really saying is they’re more authentic, more “together”, they don’t seem to have a separate mind, body, and spirit. They’re genuine. Likewise when we encounter someone with a “big ego” they’re not together. They have a sense of self that’s separate from who they really are. They’re not real. Big ego people are annoying, whereas we’re all attracted to ego-less people. They’re fun to be around.
In reality, ego is no more than a set of social rules we all agree to use to identify who we imagine ourselves to be. Ego is nothing more than a habit. A habit which must be broken before we can ever get on with the important work of understanding who we really are.