I was thinking about our ambitions and our egos recently and how, as time goes by, as we struggle to do our inner work—our meditation, our contemplative practice, and our prayer work—the ego starts to shape itself into a functional, helpful form. Of course we know that the end purpose of all things is not ego gratification. That’s not what this is about. It’s about finding our purpose, and maybe in theistic terms, finding God’s will for us, even in our day-to-day lives, and lining up the higher self and the lower self, with the higher self leading the way and the small self, or the small “I,” following. This is when the small “I” really finds its place in the universe.
There is great joy and great satisfaction in the knowledge that we’re actually doing what we’re supposed to be doing. In fact, this is probably one of the greatest joys in the world—when we realize we are doing what we were sent here to do this time around, and acting as an “instrument of peace,” as it says in the Prayer of Saint Francis.
But sometimes ambition is just for the ego’s satisfaction. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. When you are at a certain level developmentally, when you’re a child or a young adolescent, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing; working out your ego stuff; getting your needs met among your friends, among your relations in school.
Eventually, as Bill Plotkin, author of Soulcraft, puts it, we grow into initiated adults. When I first heard the term, I said, “What the heck is an ‘initiated adult’? Does it mean you go to some kind of ceremony?” Well, maybe, but not necessarily. Being an initiated adult means figuring out what we’re here to do, what our task is. “I’m here to serve my people.” “I’m here to accomplish this.” “I’m here to be a father, a mother, bring in buffalo for the tribe, or create whatever.” You’re not playing around with life anymore. You’re pretty serious; you work through a lot of your stuff; you’re on the path; and you know what you’re supposed to do. When you’re an initiated adult, the whole ambition thing shifts a bit. In other words, you’re not always only trying to get more kudos for your little old ego, you’re really here to serve the evolutionary purpose of the universe.
For example, in the realm of spiritual teachers, I’ve had issues with the fact that if you’re a spiritual teacher, and you’re ambitious in the ego sense, then that really is not so good. It seems to cause all kinds of havoc and problems. If you’re ambitious in the other sense—if you’re trying to follow your vocation, to serve your people, and to do the best you can; if you are preparing yourself, studying, and practicing to make yourself more skillful and more wise so you can really do some good in the world, then that’s a good thing. That becomes a pretty inspiring story.
In my work, I teach about spiritual things, but I do not consider myself as a spiritual teacher with a capital “T.” It’s just part of the work I do. But one of the things that I’ve noticed in my own practice is that I have to keep surrendering myself to the inner depth, to the higher self. When I do that, it purifies my ego desires and my “stuff” that gets in the way.
Some time ago, I read a book on U.S. Marine Corps leadership. It said there’s a 60-40 rule that is key. In a tactical combat situation, when you’re 60% sure that a decision is the right one to make, you go ahead and do it. In most cases, it will come out all right. This is because if you sit around in a fast-moving, changing, tactical situation, all your men are going to be dead. You’re going to be dead too, and the mission is not going to get done. This is what happens if you wait until you’re 100% sure about what to do. Most of the time, you don’t have that luxury.
This 60—40 rule resonated with me, and I have applied it to my own internal process. When my heart is around 60% clear and pure, then I think, “Okay, that’s good enough.” Because if I sit around and wait for my ego not to have any knots, bumps, or stuff going on, I may never get anything done. The other 40%, which is my ego and my stuff, I hold lightly and laugh at, saying, “Thank you for being there. I love you. Okay, let’s get on with what we need to do.”
In my interior work, I have to surrender every day, surrender to God. I hold my ego desires and stuff up to the fire of my deepest, interior self, watch the dross get burned off, watch my stuff get clarified, and get back on task. I find that this is the only way I can really be at peace and feel okay about what I’m doing in the world. My interior process of constantly looking at my stuff, surrendering it into emptiness, spaciousness, and spirit, keeps me connected to my purpose, connected to others, and connected to life and to all sentient beings in a way that makes the meaning of life really clear. When I’m in that place, I ask, “Does what I do matter?” Yes, it really does.
I think it was Gandhi who said that all an individual can do is actually so, so small, but it is absolutely essential that one do it. It seems to be the way the universe is wired, so that little, insignificant things can make huge differences. The butterfly sneezing in Alaska can cause a rainstorm in Chile, for example. This is called the butterfly effect in chaos theory. People have actually done the mathematics to show how this stuff works.
I’ve been going over The Lord of the Rings again—re-reading it after a 30-year hiatus—and I’m loving it. One of its many messages is that it is the little people—the insignificant, humble, average people—who, at the end of the day, are the ones that really make the whole universe head in the direction that it needs to go. No matter how small and insignificant you think you are, if you do your best, be brave, and be loyal to your friends, your family, your world, your planet, and your home, you can cause a tipping point to happen in a really good way.
As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “There’s more good than evil in the world, but just barely.” So, when we’re talking about “just barely”—when we’re right on the edge—then a little breath, a little sneeze, any breeze can tip things in the right direction. It’s really important that we show up and practice as if we matter, practice as if life matters, and practice as if practice matters.
Adapted from iAwake Technologies’ free, weekly teleconference call on February 20, 2013.
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John Dupuy is the CEO of iAwake Technologies and the founder of Integral Recovery, a holistic addiction treatment approach inspired by Ken Wilber’s Integral Model. As a pioneer in the use of brainwave entrainment in therapy and personal development, John has dedicated his life to helping others deepen their spiritual practice and transform their lives.