Excellence Reporter: Andy, what is the meaning of life?
Andy Smallman: I think the MEANING of life is self-evident when we are able to surrender ego, or to realize on a core level that we are part of something bigger than our individual selves. But that makes it sound simple and it is not. I suspect few people, if any, are capable of fully surrendering ego or doing so consistently. This makes the PURPOSE of life to be the ongoing process of ego surrender. I think we’re all doing this all the time, whether we know it or not. And I think the process isn’t perfectly progressive, meaning it comes with some advances and retreats.
With that introduction, here is one way (there are many) I think I practice ego surrender.
I try to pay attention to those things that I find annoying or for which I feel indignant, believing I can learn something about my ego for doing so. Why am I annoyed? What does this say about me? How is this annoyance serving my ego? I also realize that even posing questions such as these reinforces my ego, having not gotten to the place of not needing to ask such questions. You start from where you are.
A recurring annoyance comes when I’m walking, something I do regularly. Sometimes the walking space is limited, not wide enough for two people to pass without one having to yield. I often feel like I do more yielding than being yielded to, hence the annoyance. It’s like playing a game of human “chicken.” Who is going to back down first? Are we going to collide?!
Part of what is interesting to me is to consider the people I encounter on my walks. Often, those walking toward me are teenagers. I wonder if they are less aware of the space they are taking, given their age. I also find myself drawing conclusions based on perceived gender. People I assume are female are more likely to yield space, especially when walking alone. Solo males much less so. In wider walkways in which a group is walking toward me, rarely does an individual, those I perceive to be male or female, make room for me.
Why do I find being the primary yielder to be annoying? I believe I’m not being valued by the other walkers, that I’m not being respected as a person, and in some cases it seems I do not even exist for the others. Do they not see me? Am I invisible? For the ego, there are few things worse than not being seen. It wants me to say, “I matter!”
So I’ve been trying to shift my experience. I endeavor to treat each encounter as an opportunity for me to practice the kind act of letting others go first, that doing so is actually a kindness to me. Practicing this, a soft spot opens up in me and expands. I can best describe it as a warmth that emanates from my belly. It wraps itself around those walking toward me, then gently carries them past me before unwinding and slowly dissolving.
It’s in this mindset that I experience the hints of ego surrender. In letting others go first, the division between us dissipates. We are no longer separate beings walking towards each other in which one “wins” the space and the other “yields.” We are united, like dancers who move in harmony, like water flowing around a rock. There actually is no yielding. Breathing requires both inhaling and exhaling. Not two things, but one. With this broader awareness, I find myself in a momentary state of bliss.
Until the next annoyance, er, I mean the next opportunity to practice ego surrender.
~Andy Smallman works to promote ordinary activities that awaken kindness, helping people connect to their true nature and increase peace in the world. Andy is also the founding director of the Puget Sound Community School, an independent school in Seattle designed to help children build on their strengths and nurture their intrinsic motivation.
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