We have two teachers we can choose from. Depending on which thought system we choose, we are literally deciding whether to live in hell (where ego takes us) or heaven (the Holy Spirit’s neighborhood). These are not places in the afterlife; they are the ways we experience existence right now. We will experience our existence exactly as we choose: “Your picture of the world can only mirror what is within. The source of neither light nor darkness can be found without.” (W-pI.73.5:1-2) For example, when I was going through my divorce, my ex-husband once called to express some anger that left me feeling very sad. My ego reaction came up right away: Who does he think he is? What a jerk! Poor me! I haven’t done anything wrong. He should be paying me alimony….Blah blah blah. After a while I caught on, looked at where my thoughts were taking me, and began to pray: “Holy Spirit, I am feeling very sad. All my thoughts are hurting me now. I must have chosen wrongly, so now I choose again. Heal my mind, Holy Spirit — I want peace instead of this.” To my surprise, a stillness came over me right away. Soon I even began laughing. I realized that what I was thinking was just coming from my ego, the fear-driven part of my mind, and that I did not need to buy into it! I remembered this principle of the Course: Whatever you accept into your mind has reality for you. It is your acceptance of it that makes it real. The rest of my day was wonderful!
The Four Tricks of the Ego
Why do we choose the madness that is the ego? It’s simple: We believe it’s us. We don’t know how not to. Our minds are undisciplined. We forget our innate goodness, leading us to believe what the ego says. The Holy Spirit is the part of the mind that reminds us of the truth, which is that we are created by Love itself (also known as God). The Holy Spirit is our direct line to God. By forgetting that we are created from Love and thus are part of God, we fall asleep to our own reality. The Holy Spirit knows this and can help us wake up if we so choose. The key to waking up is to understand the ego’s tricks — that is, the tricks we play on ourselves. Let’s look at the four major ones.
Ego Trick 1: The Shoulds
The ego has a favorite theme: shoulda, coulda, woulda. As in: “I shoulda done this better.” “I coulda gotten that job.” “If I’d followed my hunch, things woulda worked out differently.” Not only does the ego use “should” to punish us inwardly with such judgments, it then projects them outward onto others: “If you loved me, you would do so-and-so.” “You should have done things my way, then it all would have worked out.” “You could be doing more for this relationship.” Whether we’re punishing ourselves or others, there’s no winning the ego’s game. We will only end up feeling disappointed and frustrated with ourselves and others. When you have these ego-programmed expectations, you can’t be happy because you are too busy worrying about what the other person should be doing, instead of recognizing the real cause of your frustration: yourself. Also, having expectations is not being loving; it’s actually the opposite. You are not allowing others to be as they are, but instead imposing your ideas of how they should be. This is a trick of the ego that will always take you to hell. It’s best to focus on healing our own mind, letting go of expectations, and trusting — a subject we will address at the end of this book. Trust is vital to living your happy.
Ego Trick 2: Obsession with the Past
The ego likes to keep us in the past, thinking about how we messed everything up and how we could’ve done it better! Our mistakes seem to be the source of our guilt, but in fact guilt always begins with the choice of separateness. We actually feel guilty because we fear love even as we go around looking for it, and so we settle for its opposite. For instance, after her breakup with her boyfriend, a client once told me that she wished that she had not acted as if she had cared so much while they had been together. By “caring” she meant acting jealous of the attention he had received from an ex. Had she not acted jealous in the past, she kept repeating, then they might still be together. She was stuck in the past, regretting that she had not lied about her real feelings! This is just one example of the ego’s delusional thought system, convincing us that real love is impossible, so we might as well settle for some variety of guilt instead. Whenever we focus on the past in a negative way, this is a choice we are making.
Ego Trick 3: Focus on the Body
Above all, the ego believes in separation, and the body is the ultimate proof that each of us is separate, different from everyone else, and thus special. Serving the body, taking care of the body, and finding distraction and pleasure through the body are the ego’s preoccupations. In fact, we tend to believe that happiness is found through taking the best possible care of the body. Yet the body is more often our “problem center,” especially if we are trying to find fulfillment, purpose, and intimacy through it. Great sex, for instance, is not a bad thing, but just how often is it reliably great? How many times have you felt terrible after having sex with someone when you knew it was not a good idea — as in so-called makeup sex? In my marriage, physical intimacy was a major issue, so after we divorced, sex was all I wanted. My hurt ego convinced me that I would be happy again if I had enough sex, yet all the “hunt” brought me was sadness. I might feel good for a hot second, driving home from some guy’s place, but soon I just felt empty. Now my experience of the body is totally different because I use it to extend love, rather than try to find love through someone else’s body. Let me repeat that: I use my body to extend Love. I ask myself, how may I serve with this body? How can I serve through this body? Now I use this body to collaborate with other teachers, giving a talk, workshop, or sermon. My body is an instrument, which means that it’s not who I am. It’s there to serve me and others, not the other way around.
Ego Trick 4: Your Happiness Is “Out There”
When ego is running the show, you need to make things happen, and so you try to manipulate the world even if it kills you! The ego is always whispering in your ear (and it’s pretty loud — what in showbiz we call a “stage whisper”), telling you that you will not be happy or free until you get enough money, or the right person, or the perfect job. If that were true, then we would not hear so many stories of people who “have it made” on a material level but who are also alcoholics, drug addicts, or suicidally depressed. The truth is that nothing “out there” will ever give you freedom or happiness. That’s because you already have it — it’s your divine right to be happy as a perfect child of God. It’s vital to understand the ego’s tricks, which describe how the ego projects fear. Then we can recognize the ego whenever it becomes active in our minds. We must also build a relationship with our internal teacher, the Holy Spirit, so that we give to it all our false, negative thoughts, which are of no use. This is your job if you want to live your happy! Each day you have the opportunity to remember that you are not your ego thoughts; you are the decision maker who can choose a different way of thinking. As A Course in Miracles puts it: “Each day, each hour and minute, even each second, you are deciding between the crucifixion and the resurrection; between the ego and Holy Spirit. The ego is the choice for guilt; the Holy Spirit is the choice for guiltlessness.” (T-14.III)
May you have a blessed day & not be tricked by the ego,
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