A few years back, I signed out a library book on Buddhism, prompted by a comment in the media attributed to American Buddhist Robert Thurman (Uma’s dad!) in which he, in an apparently non-judgmental way, had said that he just couldn’t understand why anyone would believe in a higher power because, ‘it’s just irrational.” It was a snappy dismissal of religion that did away with any idea that I should extend my mind or my empathetic and compassionate bits in an attempt to understand those who believe that somebody up there is directing traffic. I liked that, and thought he might have any equally brief lesson about Buddhism.
I read about half of his book, enough to know a full embrace was out of my range, most especially because I’d never be up to the truly tough part of Buddhist philosophy, whereby I would renounce my worldly belongings and live a life of non-acquisition. But what did stay with me was the need to reign in my ego. I must confess at this point that the other reason for my book pick was to provide a thoughtful counterweight to the latest Elizabeth George thriller under my arm. I’ve got depth! I don’t read just to escape! Who knows what the librarian thought? And who cares, anyway? Robert Thurman taught me that when I go into Starbucks for my morning joe, every single person in there believes herself, as I do, to be the centre of the universe.
The especially difficult part about turning down the volume on your ego is that every single attempt to do so has a rebound effect. My ego, and I’m sure it’s not alone in its resistance, doesn’t like to be stifled. And just when I think I’ve managed to keep it quiet for an hour or two, it does a one-eighty on me and points out how good it was to allow me that.
Robert Thurman had his effect on me nearly fifteen years ago. Since then I have tried – not often enough – and failed – all too often – to adopt a quieter, simpler approach to my life. What I’ve ended up doing is to attribute some of my Buddha-like actions to a heightened and minimalist consciousness, when in fact my scaled-down acquisitiveness is due to lack of money, and my disinclination to put my writerly self forward is not because my ego has taken a back seat, but because I have convinced me not to make the effort.
Still, I believe there is merit in even thinking about the concept of ego-ablation. It’s not actually do-able – with the possible exception of those who are steeped in such a culture from an early age – but it’s fun to consider the possibilities, the sheer wonderfulness of what the world would be like without egos plugging up the works.
There are thousands of examples of what we could improve if we didn't have ego, but I'll just stick to blogging. A disclaimer might be in order first, though, and that is that nothing I have said or will say is particularly original, and that I am as conscious as the next person of the attention, applause and occasional approbation that writing in this medium will get you. But for the last many months, whenever I am tempted to write here, it is not laziness that stops me but a kind of distaste.
The world enjoys writers. People have things to say, and the democratic nature of the internet makes it possible for them to be heard. Some of those things are informative, some are just plain funny (equally important) but a whole lot of stuff is essentially self-congratulatory, a kind of literate ‘Look at me, Mom!’ I have done that, and don’t want to do it anymore. My ego likes it way too much, and I’m not going to get the thing under control by indulging it in that fashion.
When I travel, I want to share what I’ve discovered, but the nature of blogging makes me write self-consciously, or at least it sets me up for something similar after the publish button is pressed. When I write an essay, I’m waiting for- anticipating! - the attention it will probably bring. When I write something very personal, or particularly confessional, I feel the unease that comes with self-serving honesty. And just for the record, I'm incapable of making an anonymous donation of any real value.
But I still have the urge to write, so what to do? I have throttled my ideas and talked myself out of writing, suspected the uselessness of any kind of writing, and come awfully close to deciding not to do ever do it again in this environment. But it’s put me under the pressure of frustration, and I need to be able to write for the sheer sake of writing, without anything in particular to say that’s learned or original or even interesting to anyone but me.
This week’s edition of a French magazine ran a piece about some American bloggers who are championing the anti-mirror cause in the name of changing the (mostly) feminine preoccupation with physical appearance. In fact, I started an essay about my own house of mirrors some time ago, but didn’t post it because it just seemed so contradictory to what I was feeling. But my response to the obsession with self that is characteristic of so many blogs is as simple as turning a mirror to the wall.
No more comments. No more ego-feeding. No more time spent pandering to the etiquette of blog-reading – you read my blog, I’ll read yours, you comment nicely and I’ll reciprocate. I’ll still read you, but I’ll do the same thing that I do when for a column in the newspaper – nothing. With luck, I’ll have been amused, provoked or informed, but I will not feel like I’m transgressing blog standards by leaving without making a sound because I won't expect anything different from you.
I want to write for me, and if that sounds like a contradiction of what I’ve been saying, it isn’t. Ego interferes with writing, in my case at least, and it’s hard to dismiss when you know you’re going to hear from your audience. It assumes an importance it has no right to have, and for that awareness I have to thank Robert Thurman, even if I now also realize (nod to Mark Kerstetter) that some people are just born with a God gene and wouldn’t recognize irrationality if it hit them over the head.