At the heart of your teaching, and of many other spiritual teachings, is a kind of demand to let go of our ego’s wants and needs. I get this at a cognitive level. And when I sit down to meditate, I find it fairly easy to simply let go of everything. But when I get up off the cushion, I find that letting go is much more difficult. I’m afraid that if I let go of my own personal needs and wants, then I’ll end up being influenced by others. I won’t be in control of my life and I’ll get pushed around. Is this fear reasonable and what do I do about it?
This is a very important question. Thank you for bringing it to light. A lot of people have this fear when they begin to seriously engage with letting go of their ego’s agenda and surrendering to a deeper wisdom and care. And the thing is, in a world where the primary context for our lives is defined by the ego, it’s a justifiable fear. If all we have to guide us are our personal egoic needs and wants, then we’re in a kind of zero sum game with everyone else’s egoic needs and wants. So if we suppress our own egoic drives, we’ll end up getting pushed around by others. Our behavior will be driven primarily by the needs and wants of those around us.
This is something that many people have experienced in their lives. Many of us know what it’s like to not stand for our own needs. We’ve had the experience, to varying degrees, of self-abandonment where we find that we’re living in service of everybody else’s needs—often at the expense of our own. And many people have done a lot of important work to learn how to take a stand for themselves, their needs and wants and value.
So when we encounter a spiritual teaching that’s telling us to let go of our needs and wants, we’re naturally skeptical. We’re told that if we can let go of our smaller, pettier motivations and align with something bigger, then a deeper part of ourselves will come forth and begin to guide us. But this takes a huge leap of faith.
And so we experience a lot of fear. We’re afraid of what’s going to happen to us if we stop standing up for ourselves in the ways we’re accustomed to. We’re afraid that we’ll end up becoming a doormat for everyone else and that just won’t be fair. No one will look out for us but ourselves. And if we’ve already worked hard to be able to stand up for ourselves, this fear is even greater.
So in an ordinary or conventional context, this is a justifiable concern. But if we’re interested in spiritual awakening, we need to find a way to leave it behind. The simple truth is that if we’re constantly worried about fulfilling our needs and wants, there’s not going to be any room for the divine to come flowing in. There won’t be space for the deeper dimensions of who we are to shine through and become the driving force of our being—which is the ultimate goal of this kind of spiritual practice.
If we want to be able to take this leap of faith so that we can become a vessel for something sacred, we need to develop a profound degree of trust. We have to trust that if we relinquish our personal egoic needs, we won’t get overwhelmed by everybody else’s.
And the question is, when you take this leap of faith, who are you really trusting? I would argue that you’re actually trusting yourself. You’re trusting that you have the strength to hold your ground when it matters, and to not be swayed by other people’s egoic needs and demands.
Think about it. What is it that knocks us off center? What makes us vulnerable to being swayed by other people’s ego motivations? What causes us to become doormats?
I would argue that it’s because we actually want something from other people. We want something out of the relationships we have with others. We want people to like us, to notice us, to support us and take care of us. The only reason any of us can get thrown off by other people’s demands and needs is because of our own wanting.
So when you take a stand in yourself and take the position of not needing or wanting anything from this world, then you’ll also stop needing or wanting anything from other people; and then their egoic wants, needs, and desires aren’t going to have any impact on you.
Because at the end of the day, is there really any difference between the needs and wants of everyone else’s ego and your own? In a sense, they’re really one in the same. So you’re trusting yourself to take a stand in your own deeper motivations against the egoic tendencies of both yourself and others.
If you can get to a place where you relate to them as the same, then it simplifies things. You’re not choosing between what your ego wants, and what everybody else’s ego wants from you, and then what God or the Evolutionary Impulse wants from you. You’re really choosing between the motivations of the divine and the ego—in both yourself and others.
This clarity and simplicity only really begins to show up when we decide to take a stand. When we decide to let go of wanting and we really go all the way with it, we’re no longer affected by what anybody else wants us to do.
When you take this stand, you have a kind of clarity. You just want to do the right thing for the right reasons. In any given situation, you just want to do the best thing for the highest possible good. You don’t need anything from this world or from anyone else.
From this place of simplicity, you can then discern what’s needed in the moment. You begin to perceive the highest, truest, best, most wholesome, healthy, evolutionary response that you can give in each and every moment. That becomes all you really care about. You don’t need anything from anyone else. You don’t need their affirmation or their approval. You don’t even need their love. It’s a profound freedom. And this freedom ultimately comes from your ability to trust.
The best way to build this trust, is simply to do it. When you take the risk of trusting your highest and deepest self, then you discover the freedom I’m talking about. And that gives you even more trust and confidence. It gives you faith.
The more you experience this mysterious quality of wisdom and energy that comes from letting go, the more your faith will grow. The more you see that it keeps showing up, the more trust you’ll have that it will show up in the future.
At the end of the day, this willingness to relinquish personal wanting is really an act of surrender. You have to trust that if you do it, you’ll still be able to find your way and take care of everything that needs to be taken care of. You have to have faith that your response to life will lead to good things.
To use theistic language you’re learning how to trust in God. You’re learning how to trust in this deeper intelligence and knowing and strength and creativity that will fill you up when you get out of the way. You’re trusting that this divine power will come in and give you everything you need to meet the challenges of any moment you could encounter with grace and wisdom and care.
When you can trust in this way, you’ll begin to experience this mysterious faculty of wisdom and strength that seemingly comes out of nowhere. You’ll find yourself overwhelmed by this energy that compels you to respond perfectly in the moment. It’s not you. It’s something else, something bigger. Something you can’t claim or own. Something you can’t even hold onto. Where it comes from is a mystery. But it’s always there when you trust, when you let go.
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