When I was 12, my best buddy, Caryl, sent me a break-up letter at summer camp. I was no longer invited to her bat mitzvah because I had “too big an ego.” Luckily we made-up and we’re closer than ever. At 23, a Ms. Magazine co-worker told me that if “egos were measured on a scale of 1-10, you’re a 12!” A couple of years ago, a friend let me know that I had “the biggest ego” she’d ever seen.
Today I was reminded of that ego when I overheard two students talking before class. “It’s hard to control change,” said a young woman. “It’s impossible to control change,” countered her older companion.
I realized that, in the past two years, I’d gone from being squarely in agreement with the first comment to leaning towards the second.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the sage advises that the kleshas—ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life—are the impediments to samadhi. Ego, in this case, is the will of the mind, and the rub comes when that individual mind wants to move in its own direction, in contrast to the direction “nature intends to move.”*
In other words, I’ve identified myself as an object rather than a part of something greater. I’ve thought of myself as a mother, a wife, a friend, a publisher, a writer, and at least a dozen other things. And, until recently, I thought I had the power to control the circumstances those aspects of personality found themselves in.
I believed that my mind was more powerful than anything, and that, through the power of my mind, I could overcome all obstacles.
While getting ready to sit, I turned to my young classmate. “You can’t control change,” I commiserated, “you can only control how you go through it. That’s what the yamas and niyamas are really about.”
You’re born, you die, and no amount of grasping, clinging, or avoiding is going to revise that equation. The only thing you can control is the grace with which you go from point A to point B.
There’s still a healthy amount of “I-ness” to my being, and I’m not ready to completely give up the notion of free will, but I think my old friend Caryl would be happy that I’ve gone from a 12 on the ego scale to a more respectable 8.