As an Indian living in the US for work, I’ve always found my yearly vacations to India refreshing and therapeutic. In the past, I’ve attributed it to the company of family and friends, and the fact that it has been my home for a major part of my life. However, as I’ve started analyzing my ego and the impact of it’s manifestations on different facets of my life, I’ve come to understand that there might be more to it than friends, family and roots.
In India, you’re constantly reminded of how your glass is half-full and not half-empty. The problems that you see around you – of the maid who lost her husband and is barely able to feed & clothe her daughters, yet wants them to attend school. Of the press-walla (laundy-man), who at 83 and with fingers curled from arthritis, still irons clothes for 14 hrs. a day with no weekends, to raise his grandchildren. Of the beggar being escorted out of a shopping mall’s parking lot by security, of the hundreds of people outside temples, who survive on alms and charity – there are countless examples of tragedy and suffering in everyday experiences. From shopping to praying, every experience is a sad yet stark reminder of how fortunate my life is. And even though it is my ego, which creates this separation between my fortune and the misfortune of the beggar, the maid and the laundry man, this conspicuous visibility of omnipresent suffering, pokes holes in my otherwise ever inflating ego-belly. That I believe, is the first reason why I feel more balanced in India.
Aside from being shown that your glass is half-full, you’re also constantly reminded of the irrelevance of the glass being full or empty. The energy with which the same maid will talk to you about her daughter doing well in school, and how she can now speak and write English, the satisfaction (and surprising oblivion to pain) in the eyes of the laundry-man, and the indifference with which the beggar who got escorted out, pulls out a smoke and then moves on to the next block, are all reminders of the futility of the fruits of our desires and the value that they bring to our overall existence and happiness. In your day to day experiences, you’d often find people who have all the means – ones you’d consider more fortunate than you in all aspects, and yet are more dissatisfied, unhappy and appear to be more miserable than the ones mentioned earlier. This constant reminder of the insignificance of fortune and misfortune is another chain that keeps my ego bounded when in India.
I don’t think I’m alone in observing that a masking or absence of external suffering, as prevalent in the Western world, coexists with increased internal suffering and frustration. I am merely hypothesizing that the cause of this increased internal suffering is the lack of a corresponding external suffering that fortunately or unfortunately tends to balance it. First world problems, as they’re so called, do not have the same balancing effect on ego as problems in the third world. In both comic and serious satire, the ineffectiveness of first world problems in keeping the ego in check, has often been highlighted. Aside from the video below, here is a more recent SNL sketch on the same:
So where does the ‘Elevated Experience’ part of the post-title come from? Well, that’s from a recent conversation I had with a friend. The discussion was around a related topic – if you eliminate Ego, and the attachment to the results of your actions, what of the remainder would prompt you to act at all? I’m personally far-far away from eliminating or even having significantly reduced either, but from what I’ve read and can imagine, one would be in a state of Elevated Experience in every action one performs, and that sense of elevation is what’d drive you to act. By eliminating ego from the action, I’d have eliminated any possibility of “Me” being frustrated, disappointed or dissatisfied with the action (because I’d have eliminated the notion of ‘my problems’, ‘my wants’ and ‘my needs’ in the first place), and by eliminating the attachment to the results of the action I’d also have eliminated any pressure or threat that would otherwise affect my action negatively. An oft-quoted conclusion – acting in such a manner would change my actions from being driven by a deficiency syndrome (leading to a “what can I Get from it” attitude) to actions driven by an abundance syndrome (“what can I Give to it” attitude). That freedom from the notion of the Self and from the results of “Self” actions (Self-ish or even Self-less), is true Elevation and true Freedom as I can imagine it.