Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Unintended Consequences of Everyday Decisions

In August, I attended a conference on consciousness and human evolution. Normally, I avoid these events because I find them conceptual and not always derived from experience. But, as I had heard Lynn McTaggart speak before, and had been impressed, and had read the books of another speaker, Amrit Goswami, I thought that it was worth taking a chance to attend.

Among the speakers, there was one who stood out for me as a mix of vulnerability and strength. Her name is Nicola Christie. She stood out and resonated because she spoke from her direct experience about the need for the psychological ego to be integrated with the spiritual.

If I had one slight criticism of her talk, it was that she seemed to slightly overindulge her ego. Her presentation included a poem to her ego, acknowledging it for the part that it had played in keeping her safe at times when her survival was threatened but how it was now preventing BEING from reclaiming its "rightful throne." The entire poem was written from the point of view of BEING addressing EGO. I wish that we had been given copies of the speakers' presentations because, aside from the overindulgence, it was a moving poem. One experience she recounted went straight to my core and I thought that my heart would explode with compassion when she spoke about it.

As I understand it, Nicola works as a psychotherapist. At a therapy session she was attending for trainee psychotherapists, it came out that she had been adopted when she was six weeks or six months old — I can't remember which. Up to this point, she had been on a spiritual path. The therapist asked her "How do you feel about being adopted?" And she glibly replied, "Oh great, I know that I have had a soul contract with my biological mother, that she would give me up, and it's fine."

Then, the psychotherapist asked her to close her eyes and take herself back to when she was six weeks/months old and feel what she had experienced. She then said, "My whole spiritual world collapsed as I faced that pain for the first time and realized that I had been running from it for most of my life." It was this event that set her on the path of ego integration which she is now on.

This resonated so strongly with me. Since I was 11, I have been interested in the spiritual and I had progressed a long way with Buddhism in that I had an intellectual understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. I had studied Mahayana Buddhism for almost 10 years, but it was only after Kundalini rose that I had to face up to the truth that up to that point I was pursuing the spiritual to escape from painful events that had happened in my past. As a result of this, I see integration of the psychological — call it ego — as vital for a truly balanced spiritual life.

The subtle formation of the ego and how it limits what's possible in life was brought home strongly to me a couple of weeks ago when I went to a friend's birthday party. There was a young boy there aged 8/9, confident and articulate. Then some music was played and I said to him, "When someone goes out dancing, we'll go out."

To which he replied, "I can't dance!" And immediately the happy confident young man was replaced by an insecure and small little boy.

I said, "What do you mean can't, there's no such word as can't, there is won't which is different, but can't is a choice." I continued, "What happened the last time you danced?"

He said, "I fell over and my friends laughed at me."

I took a deep breath as I recognized this as one of those moments in life where something happens and the ego makes a decision to ensure that the same thing doesn't happen in the future, to avoid the shame of it. But nine times out of ten, this decision is life-limiting, not life-enhancing.

I considered for a moment because I knew that my next words would either deepen or undo the process being laid down as a neural pattern in his brain.

I said, "So you've decided you can't dance, not because you fell over, but because your friends laughed at you, right?"

Immediately, he said, "Yes." I could see relief on his face that I had somehow understood. Again, I took another deep breath, this time because of his honesty.

I then said, "Could you consider something with me? Could you consider that your friends laughing had nothing to do with your dancing, that they were laughing at something else?"

"Yes," he said simply.

I continued, "You didn't ask your friends, 'Hey, are you laughing at me?' did you?"

"No," he replied.

I said, "So, your mind told you they were laughing at you, which means you can't dance and now you're not going to dance ever again, thus denying yourself the pleasure of dancing?"

He was silent. I finished by saying, "Don't trust what your mind tells you, check it out."

He looked at me with the widest smile and said, "I will." And then we sat in companionable silence, there was nothing more to say. If this conversation had never happened, time would have gone on and the incident of his friends laughing at him would have faded from his consciousness, but the decision "I can't dance" would have remained with him for life. Moreover, as an adult, gaining access to the real source of that decision might never have become available to him.

I left the party soon afterwards in awe of how quick the ego makes decisions based on false evidence that is ultimately life-limiting. This is something I discovered in my own life as an adult and it was the result of much hard work with structured transformational training programs. To see the process happening in a young boy and to be in the privileged position of helping to unravel it without hysterics and/or drama was truly amazing for me.

I don't know what the eventual outcome will be in terms of his dancing again, but when I was leaving he gave me the biggest hug, and I quietly said, "Don't forget what I said." To which he replied, "I won't."

For some readers, this may be a trivial example, but what if the decision made is: "I'm not loved/not loveable?" What kind of life results from a decision like this? This is why the process of knowing yourself, or more specifically knowing how the ego is constructed, is absolutely critical to liberation. The irony and tragedy for many on the spiritual path is that they are either unwilling or too arrogant to do this work and, as a result, the many glimpses of awakening that occur are not sustainable because of a failure to dismantle the ego.


  1. What I love about your encounter with this young boy was your willingness to ask him questions and then to listen to his answer. So often we forget to ask as a way of helping others. Thank you for this beautiful sharing.

  2. As a teaching/learning event, it might have been helpful to ask him to dance after you'd finished talking. Showing him some basic moves and encouraging might have been a propitious move at that moment – providing him with a muscle memory platform and a sympathetic partner from which to move forward.