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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 51 But what is this identity worth? The word personality comes from the Latin persona, for an actor’s mask—the mask through which (per) the actor’s voice resounds (sonat). While the actor is aware of wearing a mask, we often forget to distinguish be- tween the role we play in society and an honest appreciation of our state of being. We are generally afraid to tackle the world without reference points and are seized with vertigo whenever masks and epithets come down. If I am no longer a musician, a writer, sophisticat- ed, handsome, or strong, what am I? And yet flouting all labels is the best guarantee of freedom and the most flexible, light- hearted, and joyful way of moving through the world. Refusing to be deceived by the ego in no way prevents us from nurturing a firm resolve to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves and at every instant to relish the richness of our relations with the world and with others. The effect, in fact, is quite the contrary. Through the Invisible Wall How can I expect this understanding of the illusory nature of the ego to change my relationships with my family and the world around me? Wouldn’t such a U-turn be unsettling? Ex- perience shows that it will do you nothing but good. Indeed when the ego is predominant, the mind is like a bird constantly slamming into a glass wall—belief in the ego—that shrinks our world and encloses it within narrow confines. Perplexed and stunned by the wall, the mind cannot pass through it. But the wall is invisible because it does not really exist. It is an invention of the mind. Nevertheless, it functions as a wall by partitioning our inner world and damming the flow of our selflessness and joie de vivre. Our attachment to the ego is fun- damentally linked to the suffering we feel and the suffering we inflict on others. Renouncing our fixation on our own inti- mate image and stripping the ego of all its importance is tan- tamount to winning incredible inner freedom. It allows us to approach every person and every situation with natural ease, benevolence, fortitude, and serenity. With no expectation of gain and no fear of loss, we are free to give and to receive. We no longer have the need to think, speak, or act in an affected and selfish way. In clinging to the cramped universe of the ego, we have a tendency to be concerned exclusively with ourselves. The least setback upsets and discourages us. We are obsessed with our success, our failure, our hopes, and our anxieties, and thereby give happiness every opportunity to elude us. The narrow world of the self is like a glass of water into which a handful of salt is thrown—the water becomes undrinkable. If, on the other hand, we breach the barriers of the self and the mind becomes a vast lake, that same handful of salt will have no effect on its taste. When the self ceases to be the most important thing in the world, we find it easier to focus our concern on others. The sight of their suffering bolsters our courage and resolve to work on their behalf, instead of crippling us with our own emotional distress. If the ego were really our deepest essence, it would be easy to understand our apprehension about dropping it. But if it is merely an illusion, ridding ourselves of it is not ripping the heart out of our being, but simply opening our eyes. So it’s worthwhile to devote a few moments of our life to let- ting the mind rest in inner calm and to understanding, through analysis and direct experience, the place of the ego in our lives. So long as the sense of the ego’s importance has control over our being, we will never know lasting peace. ♦ Adapted from Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, by Matthieu Ricard. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company. © 2006 by Matthieu Ricard. SIT IN A COMFORTABLE position. Your body remains in an erect but not tense posture with eyes gently open. For five minutes, breathe calmly, noticing the in-and-out flow of your breath. Experience the gradual calming of chaotic thoughts. When thoughts arise, neither attempt to block them nor let them mul- tiply. Simply continue to watch your breath. Next, instead of paying attention to outer sights, sounds, and events, turn your “gaze” inward and “look” at the mind itself. “Looking” here means observing your awareness itself, not the content of your thoughts. Let the mind gently come to rest, as a tired traveler finds a pleasant meadow in which to sit for a while. Then, with a deep feeling of appreciation, think of the value of human existence and of its extraordinary potential for flourishing. Be aware, too, that this pre- cious life will not last forever and that it is essential to make the best possible use of it. Sincerely examine what counts most in life for you. What do you need to ac- complish or discard in order to achieve authentic well- being and live a meaningful existence? When the factors that contribute to true happiness have become clear to you, imagine that they begin to bloom in your mind. Resolve to nurture them day after day. End your meditation by letting thoughts of pure kindness embrace all living beings. From Happiness, by Matthieu Ricard Visualize Happiness A meditation to nuture the causes of happiness by Matthieu Ricard