To Love the House that Ego Built

I attended a satsang in San Francisco years ago in the height of my involvement with nondual teachings focused on the absence of self, and getting rid of the ego. This one was led by a man who seemed different from the ubiquitous detached, impersonal teachers. He seemed more warm-blooded, more human, a sweetness and tender-heartedness about him. As with most satsangs, after a meditation, the "teacher" gives a talk which is not so different from a sermon, focused on different topics related to liberation from the suffering of selfhood, the illusory "false" self, that is.

Most of his talk was a variation on the usual theme of the illusory "ego" as a prison that we need to escape from, by seeing it's lack of inherent reality, and resting in our true nature by collapsing it into "pure awareness," our True Self. I distinctly remember how he used the word bondage, poignantly evoking oppression, and I could certainly relate to feeling wrapped in mental chains. "Realizing your True Self as awareness, is like going from bondage to freedom."   We were gathered together as prison-mates plotting our great escape.

But something he said at the end of his talk, I'll never forget: "Perhaps one day we could even come to love the house that ego built."  Love the house that ego built?  How would we come to love the house that ego built if our spiritual practice was all about abandoning and burning it down!? The notion of loving the ego's house was antithetical to the attempt to detonate it.  How can we love what we are actively trying to get rid of? So the thought that the ultimate goal might be self-love confused me and gave me pause, it felt so out of place, and looking back, perhaps it struck something deep inside of me, a foreshadowing that this self-detonation project itself was deeply confused, misguided and that it would end up more tragic than triumphant.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
It was also odd to hear him suggesting that self-love was actually harder to do than self-dissolution, which neo-advaita portrayed as the ultimate courageous "attainment," a feat that most won't go through with. Of course I know now that befriending myself, that self-compassion is immensely more difficult than self-abandonment, and that turning towards suffering will always be harder than running away. Perhaps what was most odd about his statement was that if self-love is the ultimate out of reach goal, why was he focusing his teachings on self-dissolution?

It was like he unknowingly admitted that this self-negation endeavor was a spiritual bypass. It seems looking back that his wounded ego, just like the rest of ours, in understandably seeking reprieve from its' pain, led him to be indoctrinated by the self-negation escapist paradigm of awakening, lured by the lofty promises of the utopian life that awaits us in our own absence. It came through in that moment that what his wounded self most longed for was to be lovingly embraced.

My heart aches thinking about it, and I feel so much empathy and compassion for him, and everyone in self-negation communities he represents (including myself then), realizing how deeply all of us were wounded and barking up the wrong tree, because the truth was that we were suffering much more-so from the inability to love ourselves, from low self-worth, than from loving ourselves too much or having an inflated sense of self-worth! Because of how deeply we were suffering, we'd dedicated ourselves to self-effacement instead of the self-compassion we truly needed. If we'd been offered a a path of self-compassion for our suffering, would we still have ran away from ourselves? I don't think most of us would have.


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