Dear Elliott and Shelby,
I know I said that this letter would be about meditation, but it’s not. Meditation must be undertaken with the right motivation and understanding to be effective and we need to start laying some bricks for that foundation. Meditation comes in many, many forms and we are going to focus on a very specific kind.
Generally, the key to understanding lies in what vajrayana buddhists call “Shamatha-Vipassana”. It’s a Tibetan phrase that roughly translates to “mindful-awareness”. Do you remember the last letter? Remember the example of your friend snapping at you and my advice about immediately trying to understand as opposed to attacking back? Warm from the heat of sensing that you’re being attacked, how do you apply right understanding?
It’s a good idea to understand why we want to attack back.
If I were to help you understand what your heart is, I would reach into my chest and pull out this bloody, muscular pumping thing and voila! There you have it. A heart. Same with a brain, it’s a gray, mushy thing in your head. What I can’t pull out of my body is my ego. It is the one thing that we all have that doesn’t physically exist, but we do everything to protect it.
“Ego”, the word, has multiple meanings and we must narrow this to a standardized vocabulary. As a scientific definition, it’s a part of the mind that mediates between the lizard brain of the id, superego values and demands of the environment. In the scientific sense, it’s neutral.
That’s not where we are headed.
As you go though life, 99% of the time when you hear the term “ego” it refers to one’s sense of self and later came to mean a state of conceit or inflated sense of self.
We’re not going there either, but it is in the same neighborhood.
When I refer to “ego” in this sense, it refers to the self centered attitudes that we are all inherently born with that prevent us from developing a love that is impartial, as well as compassion and altruism for all living things.
That’s the same attitude that our own happiness is more important than that of others.
It’s the same attitude that stubbornly forces us to subscribe to our beliefs and be unbending in our willingness to listen to other viewpoints.
It’s the same attitude that traps us in feelings of guilt.
It’s why “generally speaking” is oftentimes a bad idea, generally speaking.
In short, in every letter that I write to you, where I urge you to have compassion for all things, there is one exception: ego
So when your friend has snapped at you, that knee jerk feeling you get to attack back, is your ego. What transforms that whole situation is mindfulness, that your friend is having a difficult time and you shouldn’t be adding to it, and awareness, that you really aren’t being attacked and you don’t have to make it a drama. Again son, there’s no need for a bubble.
We will get to meditation, specifically Shamatha-Vipassana meditation, but it is not something that you can enter into without understanding why you’re doing it, or with the wrong understanding. You will find in life that rigorous questioning will service you well most times.
It’s never as easy as “oh you should have just done it in such and such a way” without knowing the why. Einstein was pretty much on the money when he said “Ego = 1 divided by knowledge. More the knowledge, lesser the ego. Lesser the knowledge, more the ego”