Most of us are convinced that we are our egos, which is who we think we are. The ego is part of our incarnation. It dies with the body, which is why we are so afraid of death. Death scares the hell out of who you think you are, especially if you think you are this body.
– Ram Dass
In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali defines ego as the misidentification of the true self for the body-mind instrument. When we incarnate in these bodies, we tend to forget who we really are. Children often have residual memories of some prior experience. They come into this life “trailing clouds of glory.” According to Wordsworth:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, 60
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 65
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, 70
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended; 75
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Jesus taught, “Truly I say to you, unless you will be converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. ” Unless we can uncover our true self under the piles of conditioning we have accepted, we cannot be free. We cannot truly love and are lost in illusion.
Children are generally playful and accepting. They are forgiving, even under the worst circumstances and eager to explore the world, although insecure attachment can undermine them quickly. However, in adulthood many of us are prone to worry and anxiety, insecurity and addiction. We find ourselves far from home. Even in our most intimate relationships we feel fundamentally alone. This is due to the alienation created by our modern ego-conditioning.
Of course, children can also be selfish, aggressive and impulsive. Once when I was talking about the spirituality of childhood, a friend countered that he remembered pushing people out of the way because he was anxious to see a film. Children are seldom little angels! We are simultaneous spiritual and biological beings. The soul, which is intimately connected with spirit, “descends” into the body. The body develops and evolves according to the laws of nature, described by Darwin as natural selection. As infants we are composed of the polar drives of survival and attachment-love; and compassion and empathy.
The early twentieth-century philosopher, Aurobindo Ghosh, posited dual processes of evolution. He wrote, “An evolution of consciousness is the central motive of terrestrial existence. The evolutionary working of Nature has a double process: an evolution of forms, an evolution of the soul”. They evolve together. The ego is rooted in biology. The soul in higher consciousness.
“Sri Aurobindo” was familiar with Darwin and did not contradict him. Instead he said there is something more going on. He writes, “This terrestrial evolutionary working of Nature from Matter to Mind and beyond it has a double process: there is an outward visible process of physical evolution with birth as its machinery,–for each evolved form of body housing its own evolved power of consciousness is maintained and kept in continuity by heredity; there is, at the same time, an invisible process of soul evolution with rebirth into ascending grades of form and consciousness as its machinery.”
Remember the tenant of yoga: the body is an instrument of the conscious soul-being. Sadhana, spiritual practice, is about shifting our allegiance from body to soul. From matter to spirit, form to formless essence. They are not pitted against each other but the awareness of one grows out of the other. Nothing exists without form, but form grows out of emptiness.