Water: Antidote to Ego
“I look upon the ego as nothing more than an idea that each of us has about ourselves. The ego is only an illusion, but a very influential one. Letting the ego-illusion become your identity can prevent you from knowing your true self. Ego, the false idea of believing that you are what you have or what you do, is a backwards way of assessing and living life.” -Dr Wayne W. Dyer
Several events have brought the issue of the ego to my attention lately. I had spent a lot of time last year attempting to deal with the monster ego that I had been feeding, and for some reason I stopped. Picking up the quest has led me to Dr. Wayne Dyer (as usual). Google searches for Dr. Dyer and Ego brought me back to his book Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao, that I read last year. Every Video that I watched in which Dr. Dyer spoke of ego and the Tao, he always used the example of water. For an exercise in overcoming ego, I have decided to look deeper into what we know about water and how it is useful for thinking about the ego.
Water is the reason that there is life on this planet. It makes the plants grow, and gives us an atmosphere that allows life. We are mostly water. Water is the element of life. Verse eight of the Tao Té Ching says, “The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to, it flows unmurmuring to places men despise.” Despite the necessity of water for all life on earth, it nourishes all things without trying to. The desire to be intentionally nourishing to others has not even been on my radar lately, not to mention nourishing others without even trying. Is our goal in life to be so in tune with God, Source, Tao, Divine, the Infinite Consciousness (whatever you choose to call it) that you are nourishing to the world without even trying? I know that it has not been my goal lately. In fact, there are times when I actively attempt to spit poison at those around me for the purpose of boosting my own ego. In a time when opposing views are freely espoused, discussed, debated, and argued about (be they political or religious) it is very easy to shoot venom backed by conviction. It is easy to insist that we are in the right because we hold the truth. Dr. Dyer says, “when faced with the choice to be right or be kind, always choose to be kind.” To insist on being right is to feed the beast of Ego that we should be trying to subdue. Being like water is being kind and nourishing, and not needing to be right.
Verse 78 of the Tao says, “Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water, but for attacking the hard and unyielding nothing can surpass it and there is nothing like it. The weak overcomes the strong, the soft surpasses the hard.” and verse 76 of the Tao says, “All things … are soft and pliable in life, dry and brittle in death. Stiffness is thus a companion of death, Flexibility a companion of life… the hard and rigid will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.” In the book Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, Dr. Dyer talks about how if you try to grasp water with a closed fist you will lose it, but if you are gentle and scoop the water with an open hand you will attain it. All of this is a clear lesson to my life. The Ego wants us to be rigid like stone and to grasp at our identity (things, money, job, intellect, talent). It wants to cause others to break upon our hard corners of unyielding smugness. The last two sentences are a good description of my interactions with the outside world lately. The Tao associates this kind of mindset with death. While I am physically alive, my rigidity is robbing me of an abundant life of joy. I am more likely to snap than I am to adapt. Being right can often feel like the most important thing, and that admitting defeat will crumble who we believe we are. However, the stone cliff does not stand a chance against the pounding waves. It will take time, and the water must be patient, but it will ultimately win that battle. The water has the most power because it can channel energy and be willing to move with it. Water does not have to be destroyed by a rock in it’s path. Water simply has to be patient and be willing to adjust to the presence of that rigid mindset that has been put in its path. It does not have to change it immediately so that the water can feel like it has achieved its purpose. If the water cannot move the stone, then it simply goes around it or dances and plays in front of it. Water is powerful because it is flexible and adaptable, and it does not waste energy focussing on what is in its path.
Water has the unique quality of always settling to the lowest point. The 66th verse of the Tao says, “Why is the sea the king of 100 streams? Because it lies below them. Humility gives it it’s power.” this idea is absolutely the opposite of what the ego wants to achieve. The ego tells us that we must be better than; have more than; be smarter, stronger, better looking, faster, than everyone else. In the bible, Philippians 2:5-7 says that in our relationships with each other we have to have the mindset of Jesus. Though he was divine in his nature (as we all are) he did not consider equality with God as something that was possible to be attained. Instead, he humbled himself and took on the very nature of a servant. Philippians 2:3 says that we must esteem others as better than ourselves. These are the properties of water. Though it is, arguably, the most important substance on this planet, water makes itself low and seeks out the lowest places to dwell. It does not try to move itself above anything, but is constantly trying to get lower. My existence in the last few months has consisted of trying to find ways to make myself appear better than others to employers. This led me to doing the same in my relationships and in discussions. This is a sure way to damage relationships. Dr. Dyer says that when we believe that we are what we have or what we do, then when we don’t have or do anything we feel worthless. This can be avoided by what I call “living at sea level”. The water does not look up at the mountains and wish for their demise for it’s benefit. Water keeps its eyes down and seeks the low places.
The ego cause us to seek our own nourishment and edification above all else. Ego would have us believe that being rigid and unyielding is the only way to be safe and secure in who we are. The ego is good at convincing us that we must be more that those around us, and that we must proclaim that fact to the world. In all cases, the Tao uses the example of water to show us the flaws in the ego’s way. Our goal should be to nourish others at all times, even when we don’t know that we are. We should be flexible and patient with those that are put into our path. We should seek to be low and at rest instead of at the top. In short, we should be like water.