by Dave Davis

“Here we are with so much wisdom and tenderness, and – without even knowing it – we cover it over to protect ourselves from insecurity. Although we have the potential to experience the freedom of a butterfly, we mysteriously prefer the small and fearful cocoon of ego.” 

This is quite a profound passage, if you ask me. It’s one that I gleaned from American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön’s book, “The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.” Using the perfect metaphor, she captures the essence of the battle that many of us have struggled with at one time or another — overcoming our relationship with fear. 

One can’t discuss the topic of fear without first acknowledging the fact that at the very core of our Being lies the ego. Its sole function, its survival if you will, is almost parasitic, in that it relies heavily upon a steady stream of issues, problems, or dilemmas to attach itself to, in order to sustain its illusory sense of self. 

The ego provides an ever-present undercurrent that disconnects us from the reality of the outside world. Therefore, because of its insecure nature, it views fear as a necessary evil to thwart any form of true personal growth.

Eastern philosophy suggests that, whether we are conscious of it or not, there’s evidence that this aptly named “egoic mind” is at the root of all suffering. 

One of the best descriptions that I’ve come across is offered by spiritualist Eckhart Tolle, referring to it as “a deep-seated sense of lack or completeness. A constant feeling of not being worthy or good enough.” 

Logically, this sets us up for a never-ending scenario of inadequacy, as we seek to fill this void with such things as recognition, success, and of course, possessions of one sort or another.

Because the ego thrives on fear, it has the ability to sabotage many of the relationships we might attempt to establish. When we look back, how often have we discovered ourselves caught in a repetitious pattern of self-defeat? Maybe it was preempting a connection with a potential partner before we even met. Maybe it was putting off seeing a physician for a nagging medical issue in the hopes that it will just go away. Or maybe it was avoiding a request for compensation after taking on additional responsibilities at our workplace, hiding behind the safety and security of the status quo. Whether we realize it or not, fear is a form of self-repression.

Indeed, there are ways in which we can neutralize the ego by reducing or altogether eliminating the power that fear holds over us. The first step that we might want to explore is learning to identify and call out the lies right there, in the exact moment that the ego is attempting to unleash them. By tuning into the thoughts and emotions that we’d normally associate with a perceived, fear-based experience, we realize that there’s actually a choice to be made in this instance. When choosing to be present by rejecting the typical responses that the ego has put forth, we’re confronting the fear directly at its source. This consciousness represents the beginning of our path to becoming free from the egoic mind.

Secondly, and it’s somewhat related to the first step, is recognizing the “tactics” being used by the ego. Just as if we were to find ourselves in a critical situation where we needed to physically defend ourselves, we must also realize that the ego has relied on some tried and true maneuvers to get to where it has, after all these years. It knows exactly which buttons to push and when to apply them, only because we’ve opted to succumb to its power. Acknowledging those triggers and identifying the strategies the ego is implementing, allows us the opening to counter-act with an approach that is much more in line with our authentic self.

Clearly, the longer that we allow the grip of the ego to maintain its stranglehold, the further from our authentic self we become. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think it’s high time we ditch the safety and security of our fortified cocoon in order to spread our magnificent wings.

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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