Experiencing this long stretch of pandemic stress, there is a sense of helplessness we all feel. Even the most powerful people in the world are feeling exactly the same way. Helpless.

If you read what people have been saying during this time, so many people in the world –– whether they are spiritual or not, whether they are compassionate or not, whether they are mindful or not –– have all come to recognize the same thing. We recognize the preciousness of this life, and of our connection with each other. We also see the preciousness of the idea and experience of freedom. For so many years we took all these things for granted. But through the experiences we have shared during the pandemic, we now see how truly precious life is –– just living life –– and how fragile it is as well. Wasn’t it wonderful when we had the freedom to simply walk down the street without having to worry about what was in the air we were breathing? Now we recognize the value of our freedom.

It’s similar to when you are given a family chore. Say it’s your turn to go to the grocery store and buy some carrots. Usually we feel like, “Oh, do I really have to go? I don’t like shopping for groceries.” But now, when there’s a chance to go, we leap up from the couch: “I will go!” That response shows how much we value our freedom.

Now we have come to a little bit better understanding of freedom. Before, we had it but didn’t realize it. We could just move about freely, go out to the park to run and play. We could enjoy long walks and freely breathe the air without concern. Now, as so many of us are confined by the pandemic, we are missing that precious freedom.

Another type of confinement, another type of freedom

Of course, that sense of confinement is nothing compared to all the other things restricting us and getting in the way of our experiencing complete freedom. There is another type of confinement we still do not see clearly: our ego. Our disturbing emotions and our discriminating mind, and all those habitual patterns that are still keeping us confined. Can you imagine the day when we are free from all that? How much greater freedom we will feel then, so much greater than the other freedoms we are missing right now.

Pre-pandemic, we had that freedom to go anywhere, at any time. That freedom was always with us. Now, however, we are confined. In the same way, this greater sense of freedom, our mind, is also already here; we just don’t see it. We don’t see its preciousness, its value. It is always already here. But it’s confined, or covered.

Ego is a little problematic, isn’t it? I think you and I can agree on that. Especially in recent days, we are able to see very clearly the trouble caused by ego. It’s not that anyone is free from ego in this world, of course. But we can see how being ego-centered can bring so much pain. When you become a little too self-focused, then gradually you become more egocentric. And when you become more egocentric, then, little by little, you graduate to becoming an egomaniac. We have had a very good teacher on the world stage recently, showing us clearly how an egocentric, egomaniacal mind can bring a great deal of suffering to oneself and others. There are many such examples in the world today, from a spiritual point of view as well as from a mundane point of view.

When someone is so self-centered, saying, “I know the most, I am the best, and blah blah blah,” isn’t it hard to hang out with them? If we sound like that, then it’s very difficult for whoever we are hanging out with.

So, how do we recognize our freedom, which is always right here with us, yet covered by ego? In the beginning we need wisdom, or knowledge. And then wisdom comes at the end of our path as well. If we had no knowledge of enlightenment, we would not seek for enlightenment. But with that knowledge, we are able to seek for awakening. And at the end we get the full knowledge of that awakening. So wisdom begins, and wisdom completes, the action.

That is the wisdom of ego. When you have a better control of ego, you can succeed in life, in relationships, and in work. And you definitely succeed on the journey to freedom, the spiritual journey of awakening. So we can begin by making the effort to step out of the egocentric mentality.

Key points to remember

Stepping Out of the Egocentric Mentality

1. Think of a time when you realized your ego was taking center stage. Maybe you had talked a bit too long, or taken more than your share of something. Or maybe you had forgotten to let someone know of a decision you made that might affect them too. Just breathe and recall that for a moment.

2. Consider the other people in that landscape –– those who may have helped to bring about that situation, as well any others who were present with you at the time. And then think of any others who might have been affected by your action or inaction, either directly or indirectly. Take a few moments to consider this. Notice as many people connected to that situation as you can.

3. Expand your awareness outward even farther, to include all others in the world — those who may or may not have experienced a situation similar to the one you have been remembering.

4. Now bring everyone to mind –– all those you thought of just now –– and wish them well.

What was the effect of moving away from an ego-centered, or “me”-centered focus, to a focus that included those connected to the situation, and then included everyone else?

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