Sunday, 17 January 2010

Ego & humility

The Baal Shem Tov [a great spiritual master] instructed a certain group of chassidim [pious Jews] that after his passing they should appoint for themselves as rebbe [spiritual leader] only such a tzaddik [holy, wise man] who, when asked how one could rid oneself of conceit, would answer that he did not know the answer to their question. If anyone were to offer them an answer, this would indicate that he had not yet plumbed the innermost depths of his heart, and for that reason was not aware of the crumbs of conceit still lingering there. ... the pretensions and conceit that stem from impurity are ... infinite.
After the Baal Shem Tov had passed on to the World of Truth, that group of chassidim went about from one tzaddik to the next, asking each one in turn how they could rid themselves of conceit. Each one offered them sage council, which they heard out, and then went their way, saying: "This is not the rebbe for us." At length they came to visit Reb Pinchas of Korets, and posed their question. "But I stand in fear of the same danger," he confessed, "and I know no way out." And him the chassidim installed as their rebbe.

This I find interesting because of the growing awareness I have of the indestructibility, wiliness, deceitfulness, and resilience of my own ego. It frightens me, frankly.
How does it manifest? Oh, well, every gift I get given by the Higher Power through AA my ego will want to take credit for, as though I specially merited it or even created it myself.
Take, for example, the gift of being able to help others. I am a tap; the power to help others is the water that flows through the tap provided that there is no blockage, that I am a hollow vessel.
The ego says, "look how marvellously helpful I am! Now, how could I be even more helpful? Who should be helped? How should they be helped?" It does not take long before plans are hatched, including the elimination of any obstacle or person who stands in the way of the plan being realised, in order for any subsequent achievement to reflect not on AA and God but on it, the magnificent, omnipotent, omniscient ego. And all in the name of AA and God.
Page 164 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous tells me that the answers will come regarding what I can do each day for the man who is still sick, conditional on my own house being in order. Telling whether one's house is or is not in order is not always entirely straightforward, however.
What is tricky about the ego is that it does not wear bells or announce its coming. It hides its tracks. It must not, at any cost, be detected in its stealth operations. It learns to equip itself with a Romulan cloaking device of kindness, consideration, patience, generosity, and graciousness (pp. 61:0 and 61:1).
And, before you know it:
Like the cat with nine lives, the Ego has a marvellous capacity to scramble back to safety—a little ruffled, perhaps, but soon operating with all its former aplomb, convinced once more that now it, the Ego, can master all events and push on ahead.

The capacity of the Ego to bypass experience is astounding and would be humorous were it not so tragic in its consequences. Cutting the individual down to size and making the results last is a task never completely accomplished. The possibility of a return of his Ego must be faced by every alcoholic. If it does return, he may refrain from drinking, but he will surely go on a "dry drunk," with all the old feelings and attitudes once more asserting themselves and making sobriety a shambles of discontent and restlessness. Not until the ego is decisively retired can peace and quiet again prevail. As one sees this struggle in process, the need for the helping hand of a Deity becomes clearer. Mere man alone all too often seems powerless to stay the force of his Ego. He needs assistance and needs it urgently.
[Harry M. Tiebout]
I have spent the last few months since last completing a set of Step Nine amends living as fully as I can in Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve and have found, to my horror, that the resurgence of the ego, whilst hampered by this process, is certainly not prevented.
The huge benefit of having channeled my energies into these three Steps is not so much the permanent destruction of my ego as the ability to recognise its resurgence and the awareness that periodical spiritual surgery is necessary (Steps One to Nine) in addition to general, day-to-day hygiene measures (Steps Ten to Twelve).
P. 62 tells me that "there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid." This is entirely consistent with my experience. Conversely, with His aid, the temporary ridding of the ego is entirely possible, resulting in an ability to be of great use to those around us, in the gap created by the ego's 'retirement'.
Also, p. 85 tells me "it is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism."
It is these twin statements that make clear, for me, the necessity to treat the Steps as a cycle rather than a one-off sequence.
A friend says, "the ego is almost as powerful and mysterious as God himself."
Key word: almost.

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