Approaching Asmita with Care
Remember those pesky kleshas I wrote about? That dust or grime that fogs up the bright and shiny mirror that is your true self. I think early in the calendar year is a fantastic time to revisit this concept. First off, because you probably need that reminder that you are that beautiful self without changing a thing (cough cough new years resolutions anyone? ICK!).
Now that we've followed the path of our drag queen inspirations to overcome the heteronormative gender roles and self-ignorance of Avidhya, let's turn to the second of the kleshas, Asmita. Asmita translates to an over the attachment of the ego. It's probably one of the most difficult of the kleshas to work on because of the delicate tightrope walk required to preserve self-care during that reflection. What do I mean by that? Have you ever been in a yoga class (like mine, for example, lol!) where the teacher encouraged you not to let the ego drive? Have you heard a lot of vilification of the ego in wellness spaces? Me too! I'm just going to say it, it's overkill, and I’m guilty also. I'm going to start this description of how to deal with attachment to the ego by first exalting all of the benefits that our egos bring:
Setting healthy boundaries on your time --> Ego.
Standing up for yourself when needed --> Ego.
Demanding to be compensated for what you're worth --> Ego
Maybe it's more illustrative to look at how an underperforming ego can manifest. Have you ever found yourself spinning into negative self-talk because you're mad at someone who wronged you, and you don't like that feeling? Especially when those angry feelings conflict with the image of yourself as a good and kind person. What if you let a more healthy developed ego show some compassion for yourself and your valid feelings before jumping to (or spiritually bypassing!) right to the warm and fuzzy feelings you feel like you are supposed to have? If it's ok to feel those feelings and be mad, they are more likely to stop torturing you so much. All credit to my therapist for teaching me this lesson again and again. Thanks, Dr. C!
I say all this about the beneficial and valuable role of the ego to maintain a relationship with it as you work on the attachment. Let's now look to how that over-attached or overdeveloped ego can manifest:
Identification with what a successful person should be doing causing you to stick with a career path you hate --> Overdeveloped Ego
Identification with your age or stage in life with having a partner causing you to stay in a toxic relationship --> Overdeveloped Ego
Smug looking down on others feelings because they are not as spiritually developed as you --> Overdeveloped Ego
This last one is sneakily masquerading as your highest self. Watch out for this one yogis! It was a treacherous one for me for many years that I still have to work on.
So how to work on this klesha healthily? Be so gentle and kind to yourself and your ego! It is natural to have an overattachment to it, and beating yourself up about it will not help. Think of your highest self and the ego as thin wisps of paper that have been glued together. We want to carefully pull them apart so they can stay nestled close but not stuck. Slow and gentle is the name of the game. If you think the overdeveloped ego is driving a big part of your life, there's no need to make radical decisions quickly or without preparation to be practicing Asmita.
Opening up to the idea that a job or a partner isn't making you happy is a huge step. Just naming and recognizing that is part of the process, and we can't skip steps in practice. Imagine if you walked into a yoga asana class and the teacher said, ok, everyone let's start in full splits. We need to warm the body to prepare, just like we need to warm up to significant life transitions. It's those small movements in practice that contribute to the most progress. It's that decision to carve out some time just to explore what other jobs may be out there. Choosing to be brave enough to say something isn't working even if it falls neatly into societal norms or your expectations of where you should be, or you're scared about how others will react.
“Ellie, you're telling us to work on the attachment to my ego, but my self-care could be harmed in the process. We don't get it.”
Fair enough! It is a tricky business. Let me share a personal Asmita practice. I am a yoga teacher and feel super passionate about sharing the physical asana practice of yoga. The line between that love that comes from my highest self, and my ego that is attached to the identity of a "good" yoga teacher are so delicately close together. When I get negative feedback on a class, that ego roars to life with defensiveness and why the person providing the input is wrong, and the class was good. I have to navigate in steps:
Step 1: Let my central nervous system calm down. I know that it will take at least 20 minutes.
Step 2: Recognize that I am worthy even if I didn't teach the best class of all time.
Step 3: Recognize it was an overdeveloped ego that caused that reaction and the inability to take that feedback in.
Step 4: Only when I can soften there can I take in that feedback and improve my teaching.
Notice the steps! There is no shortcut to step 4, and if I try to race to that first, I wind up being mad at myself for not being able to because I am still fired up. It is frustrating and ineffective. Go slow, stay receptive, and be gentle with yourself.