There was an old tree stump in the middle of my yard. I’d been tripping over it for years. Despite knowing that it was there I would distractedly stumble over the thing, stub my toe or trip, losing my balance. Finally, I’d had enough. I got my shovel and pickaxe. I had my husband get the chainsaw and every other tool I could think of.
I got to work . . . my husband helped, and finally, the darn stump was uprooted.
I filled in the hole and put all the tools away.
Where the stump once was, is now an open, clear space.
This is, perhaps obviously, a metaphor for the way I might address attachments, unconscious habits, addictions or obsessions.
I start by waking up to seeing that a behavior or attitude exists that may not be aligned with my desire and intention to live a purposeful life. After numerous encounters with resistance and denial, I finally engage with this obstacle to happiness and peace in a meaningful way. Engagement leads to identifying and unearthing the roots of the issue. I ask for help when I realize I can't do it alone. Eventually, I find I am releasing and dissolving beliefs, ideas, and deep attachments to that particular way of behaving, that way of being.
After many cycles of processing, the spiritual tools I used to detach and shift tend to reassemble in the background of my awareness. The attachments are releasing, gaps are filling with insight and understanding. My inner being is clearing. Tripping and toe-stubbing on that particular old idea or belief about myself is no longer in the forefront of my awareness. The tools I used kind of recede, stored in body memory until needed again for another awakening to some behavior or attitude that stumps me.
What's left, after all the effort and practice, is spaciousness.
Initially, I do notice being less reactive and thus, suffering less, but after a while, even the noticing of the clearing or spaciousness no longer registers as important because the new spaciousness is integrating and normalizing. The ego identity that was invested in the old behavior is diminishing as I continue to adapt, and my body learns to regulate to an experience of less suffering.
Less suffering! Quite a jarring state of being for the ego remnants who know themselves by my discomfort. Shame, ignorance, hatred, blame, resentment; all good reminders of my ego’s existence. I will often hold onto my developing spaciousness as a kind of ego accomplishment versus a spiritual softening. My inner dialogue will be something like:
"Wow! I moved this massive stump out of the way.""I did that!" "I am awesome or proud or smart.""Hey, did you notice I am no longer stumped?"
But I am increasingly aware that, mostly, no one else really cares about my stumps or what I do with them. Mostly, people are involved in their own ego stories, and aren't paying attention to mine. And after a while, as my transformations become more spiritually integrated, it matters less and less to me whether anyone else notices.
As I let go of more ego, I have the paradoxical experience of being more “here” and also less here. I cause myself and others fewer issues. There are many problems I simply no longer have. Ego isn't seeking as much validation so it isn't creating as much drama! This means my ego has less to identify itself with in everyday worldly terms.
If I’m not getting into arguments with colleagues, if I remain calm in traffic, if I maintain emotional balance with my partner, my ego has to reorient around an organizing principle of spaciousness, openness, nothingness.
It is becoming clear that many of the benefits of realization and actualization are noticeable by the absence of things. The absence of strife, conflict or trying. Living on purpose, embodying spaciousness can mean living in faithful relationship to the invisible, to the significant, yet unseen. When ego is not seeking validation for its existence, existence becomes a matter of fact that no longer seeks an echo or any acknowledgment.
Of course, I go through phases and stages of releasing ego; it's the on-going work of being human, and these ego/identity deaths can often feel like physical death. But personal transitions and transformations, like stump removal, lead to greater understanding and inspire me to keep going, to keep digging and excavating when remnants of ego come back periodically to attempt to co-opt my spiritual progress and claim spaciousness or awake-ness as an ego victory.
Finding my soulmate, my dream job, my life’s purpose, a divine spiritual teacher/guru, or a healthy body . . . all of these things the ego wants to own. But the spiritual path does not ensure that the having of any of these things will bring an end to suffering. I already have many of the things on the list just mentioned. Yet there is still, now, and will be, difficulty and pain in life as I continue to uncover all the ways I remain attached. What is changing is that I am needing less and less to be seen or validated for how my life is unfolding. I am learning that I needn't add to the inevitable challenges of life by trying to show others how well my spiritual path is working for me.
As my ego dissolves further, having nothing to show for all of my spiritual work, no one noticing how I’ve changed or grown, is less and less a bother as, over time, there's less and less ego to be bothered. No one else will know there was ever a stump in that clearing, and eventually, I will no longer be the one who remembers.