Confronting the Ego Within the Practitioner

 

“A great man is always willing to be little.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of my students told me something not long ago that has since stuck with me.

An indigenous elder they spent time with was asked what their one wish would be for the people of the Western world. He answered simply, it would be for them to become smaller. He went on to explain what he meant by smaller, since he wasn’t referring to physical size.

It’s an understatement to say this prayer struck me deeply. I have felt its echo through me since. At the time this was shared with me I’d been reaching back into my Quaker roots and into the practice or attitude of selflessness and humility. In Quaker philosophy and silence, I had been meditating on the presence of smallness.

In our culture, we are taught to be big and do big. To have a big life, make big money, reach big audiences, have big love, own big things, have big dreams, big businesses, and big beauty. That is measured against other people’s bigness, otherwise your big doesn’t know how big it truly is. Those of our culture are so often assessing how big they are, or their life in any given moment… hungry souls eating feasts of emptiness. Metaphorically we are always on the search for the largest ‘meal’ we can find or offer, even if for a short time to have the illusion of being full, until we then desire something bigger. The ego grasps onto this concept of big and learns quickly that there is always someone or something ‘bigger’ to try to be, to have, or create… no matter what.

The spirit of big it seems, always wants to be bigger. And as most of us have observed, it tends to consume things and other beings/people in order to get bigger. Often what is consumed are many things we see as ‘small’.

In the weeks that followed the prayer I’d received about becoming smaller, it began to seep in more and more – the spirit of small. It seemed to be the answer my soul had been seeking for many years now, always feeling that this race was not something I wanted to be a part of. The prayer to be small, for the sake of my happiness, peace, and for the happiness and peace of all beings, rose up from a place that had been residing within me for as long as I can remember. The desire to remain hidden or in the background is unusual for someone who teaches – but there it had been nevertheless all my life, and still where I find the most peace. Slowly the understanding that trying to be big does not help anyone, had rooted deeply within my heart.

Spiritual and healing pursuits are often not handled much differently. We want big breakthroughs, big healing, big experiences, big connection to spirit or earth, big wisdom, big peace – measuring how big we are by different criteria… what we feel is the highest wisdom, most healthy, most connected, or most enlightened. We forget the simplicity and beauty of the small.

 

 

In the realm of the healer, and very much since Western medicine came into being (though it’s certainly found in many traditional cultures as well), the healer is seen most often as the “big” one with the power and control. Magnificent feats performed showing just how incredible this wise person is, or how powerful their medicine. You know you’ve come to the right healer because look at their big results! Look at their amazing medicines! Look at the big line of people waiting for them! You know they are big because look at all the things they have that you have decided (or the culture has decided for you) are big… the big letters after their name, or their big recognition. Look at their big prayers! They must have the big medicine that will have the big effect. Just from these words it’s likely that somewhere inside you’re wanting to know who this person is so you can go to them, and quickly, for results.

What you fail to see is they are just the same size as you. Small, as we all are, and each filled with the presence of the infinite.

You learn that what can appear to be very small, simple, and available can be what is most treasured and precious to one’s soul and heart. It often contains the most powerful medicine, as you see with our common weeds. I’ve also witnessed that as we become smaller, we become translucent enough to allow something much bigger than us to shine through… the presence of love, peace, or compassion. It does not take becoming a ‘big’ enlightened being that has done ‘big’ spiritual work, it most often means erasing your self enough in order for something to be seen through you. This is when the deepest nourishment and healing seems to occur, when the ego self dissolves and the divine is allowed to work through us. A prayer I’ve often held as a teacher is let me only be seen and felt as much as needed so that the student is not distracted away from themselves and the spirits by the image/presence of me in the way. I pray to become hidden and small enough, so that as I fade into the background, all they see is themselves surrounded by allies… as if they were alone in a room with the spirits, unable to see me there.

In healing practice I’ve noticed more and more the ego at play, especially as natural forms of medicine and holistic living gain more attention and respect. Unfortunately it means that it’s also swept into the arms and influence of Western culture, consumerism, and paradigms of thought… Western ideologies on who the ‘healer’ is, and what ‘medicine’ is seems to take over. We don’t see at times the damage that can be done when we make some medicines or people “big”, or take what has been invisible and try to have it seen by as many as possible. Often some of the magic, spirit, and integrity is lost along the way… as well as invisible things that cannot be named.

Medicine comes to us in an infinite number of forms. Healers come to us in an infinite number of forms, not just in the form you would recognize, and often not from well known sources. Sometimes in the forms of those who challenge us or make us uncomfortable. Sometimes in the one you barely noticed in the room… In an ant, or a shadow, or something you overlooked because you were busy trying to find something else.

“Humility does not mean you think less of yourself. It means you think of yourself less.” – Ken Blanchard

To most of us in this culture, small is misunderstood. We have experienced it only as the state of not being big, not being enough, and not being able to take up space (often due to others trying to be big). Instead of thinking of small as the absence of bigness, I began to invite the true nature of small into my consciousness.

 

I started observing within myself this presence of small and big. I spent time with the energy of big in my own consciousness and ego. I spent time with the presence of small, trying to set aside judgment about either, open to just observing how I am affected by them. Small seemed to silence my ego and nervous system, make it feel comfortable, content, loving, and gentle. It has simple needs that are easily fulfilled and enjoys silence. It does not seem to worry. Big I noticed in contrast, seemed to rile up my ego and make it feel excited, frantic, uncomfortable, charged, and careless.

In my spiritual life I came to understand and experience true ‘bigness’ as a kind of merging with something bigger than just my small self. ‘Bigness’ of the individual continued to remain uncomfortable, as it seemed to always mean the oppression of others in some form I noticed – an unequal sharing of space, energy, and resources.

I came to see quickly that being ‘big’ does not help others, not my students or anyone looking for support in their healing. Teaching or reinforcing the culture and presence of false ‘big’ does not tend to help others find peace or wholeness. Small can be the greatest gift and teacher, often because small does not overshadow or fight with you for space or things to consume, but helps you to see and look out for all those beings we can knock over or overlook in our fight to be big. I have learned that Grandmother/Grandfather shows up most often in those who are ‘small’ (an elephant has very deep wisdom of ‘small’) or the ones least often seen and heard. I watch them, silently experiencing their beautiful energy and presence… watching them unaware of themselves, simply lost in the present moment, not trying to be any bigger than they are.

When you’re having a bigness crisis, try on small. See how she feels.
She holds treasures that most of us have yet to discover.

Thomas Moore wrote, “Humility, that low, sweet root, From which all heavenly virtues shoot.”

May your sweet root grow deeper.

One thought on “Confronting the Ego Within the Practitioner

  1. A powerful Plant Spirit, friend and teacher I’m getting to know is Forget-me-Not. Small and inconspicuous, delicate and humble in appearance, this plant sure holds BIG opportunity for some deep karmic healing. In a nutshell, from a little nut who sometimes longs to grow into a BIG Tree Woman, we can do wonders without second guessing how the little ripples we make in our little lives are joining others to create a big ring of collective healing. This is a beautifully written article. I’m delighted to have found your site and gracious offerings of wisdom. In Gratitude, julie and Julie, the yin/yang of my little/big being.

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