The Hanged One asked me to hang out for a while on the World Tree. He asked me to see life, time, and fate from a different perspective. He flipped me upside down and suddenly everything was dissimilar, unfamiliar. The vision that I acquired betrayed what seemed to be everything I had known and held dear. That betrayal made me look again, re-spect, what I thought I had seen before. As I contemplated the nature of that betrayal, I wondered, “Who is actually betrayed here?” Further reflection helped me see that it is my ego that is betrayed, and not my Self. When someone I have been helping or teaching finds her own legs, when a friend’s life takes a different turn and he is no longer in my life in the same capacity, or when I realize that a value I have been standing on is something I now find inappropriate, I can feel betrayed. But it is really my sense of ego, of importance and fulfillment, that is betrayed.
My ego has a desperate fear of non-existence. That fear is the one thing that keeps me most tied to the safe and comfortable, or at least familiar, places in my life. When I say ego I am not talking about that arrogant part of me that makes me egotistic, or that psychic part of me that Freud explored…the ego, the id, and the super ego. I’m not even sure I know what that means. What I am talking about when I say ego is the piece of my knowing that tells me that I am separate from all of you, that I exist in space and time, that I have a past, a present and a future. It is the part of me that wears clothes…and masks. It is the part of me that thinks it needs to be something. It’s the part of me that tells stories so that I can know who I am, who you are, what happened yesterday, my place in the world, and what I hope, or maybe fear, will happen tomorrow. And…it’s that part of me that keeps me from being the all that I am.
The all that I am. What is that? Eastern religion might call it the void; physicists might agree and say that I am mostly just empty space. Some might even call it transcendence. I call it dissolution: when every fiber of my being is no longer my being, but the universal Being. It is in those moments that I check my ego at the door. It is in those moments that I can exist as the pure spirit that I inevitably am…nothing to define me except the spaciousness that I feel when I am in my center. No stories. No ego.
I have heard it told that we need that ego. I’ve argued that myself. I say, “How can I have a relationship to my life if I don’t tell stories about it? After all, isn’t that why I incarnated – to have experiences, to feel the broken heart of true love gone awry, to know that I am me and you are you so that we can relate to each other, to feel the sunlight and the rain?” These are things I struggle with, answers I do not have. What I do know is that darn Death card asks me what is essential? and I find myself standing in front of a closet full of dreams, deciding what to wear.
The stories in that closet hold me in so many ways. They keep me feeling in response to them, and confirm my weaknesses, my strengths, my friends and my foes. They confirm my past and create my future with an assurance that a place for my past will be held. They tell me what to expect and what to fear, what to look forward to and when not to hope. They keep me dancing in the safe embrace of my ego, skirting the edges of the all that I am.
It is said that once you stand for something, you can no longer stand for everything. Quantum physics proposes that a ‘thing’ is not a ‘thing’ until we define it as such. Until we limit objects by saying “tree, dog, person, chair,” they exist as swirling, ambiguous potential…pure energy. When something is nothing, it has the possibility of being anything. I wonder if that’s what I am when I stop identifying myself with my stories. That’s the part that scares my ego, scares it so much that I run back to that closet and quickly find my favorite, comfortable sweater.
So here’s a handy little trick I have learned. I ask myself, “And what would it feel like if I don’t tell this story?” Whatever that story may be…maybe it’s the story of my life’s purpose. Maybe it’s the story of what I need from you; that I am OK if you will tell me I am. Maybe it’s the story of my childhood, the one that carries forward into my future and what I expect from people. There is a plethora of stories that I use to walk through the world; they hang in the closet as I contemplate which one looks right with these shoes. At any moment, I can slip the current story on or off, like my favorite pair of faded old blue jeans…you know, the pair with all the holes. I can slip them down over my thighs and step out of those jeans, those stories. I can take off all those comfortable, familiar garments and stand naked with mySelf. That is what my ego is worried I will do.
There is a tool I once learned that helps me step out of my stories and into my center. That version of this tool is made of laminated disks. One laid in the center, aptly called Center, which is the place of no stories, pure spaciousness. Left and right from center are Self and Other, the places where these stories of who I am and who you are reside. Forward and behind center are Past and Future, the place of these stories. When I lay out those disks, my ego knows it is in trouble. I get up out of my chair and stand fully in the story I am telling. I feel it…I feel it on my skin, and on my soul. Then I step out of it and into the center of my existence…into a place where there are no stories, not even the ones I am telling that are true. Just because I choose to not define myself with a story doesn’t mean the story isn’t true. I step to the center, a place of pure being where I am not defined, the place of utter innocence and total spaciousness where everything is new, everything is happening for the first time. There is no fetid air to rebreathe here.
The next time you find yourself in a story – a story of your pain, your past, your greatness, your future hopes and fears, or what you think or feel about another – I invite you to try this exercise and see how it feels for you. How does it feel to walk away from that closet of dreams, of responsibilities, of misunderstandings and desire, to be naked with your Self? How does it feel if you don’t tell the story?
Hanged One – Pamela Coleman Smith – RWS
Death – Lady Frieda Harris – Thoth