Sunday, April 5, 2015

Supporting Roles

True Story.  My family is very casual with death.  As a child I learned about death at an early age and had even been to a few wakes and funerals by age 10.  Well, that was until the Aunt Shirley incident of 1979.  My great Aunt Shirley died in 1979.

I remember her well.  I went to the wake and can remember standing on the stool meant to be used for kneeling to take a peek at Aunt Shirley.  I was unafraid.  I was also bored and was expected to be quiet as were my cousins around my age.  In our family we have 3 days of wakes and then a funeral.  It’s exhausting.  I think it was on the second day of wakes that the incident happened.  The visitor line had ended, we were all sitting quietly, restless and bored child and adult alike.  It was quiet and we still had an hour to go. My cousin Christy who was 12 at the time had had enough.  You see Christy craved to be the center of attention and would do most anything to get it.  Christy mounted the stool in front of the casket and in a voice not unlike Ethel Mermen began to belt out Everything’s Coming Up Roses.  Christy got attention alright.  She was snatched from the stool and escorted out of the funeral home.  I don’t think we saw Christy for 2 weeks.  Christy is 47 now and still is the center of attention.  We still laugh at the Aunt Shirley incident of 1979.
After a good laugh we processed the incident.  Christy is well aware of how her ego can sometimes cause chaos, cause her embarrassment, and make it hard to maintain relationships.  Christy’s ego will never let her take a supporting role.  She needs to be the star.

When we worship only at the altar of our own egos, our own self-importance, we are worshipping at a really small altar.  Sometimes, we need to know that we are not 'masters of the universe", but that we stand profoundly humble before the greater forces of the natural world and the unfolding cosmos -- and humble before one another with whom we share this earth. It is only by rooting our lives within those greater forces, and directing our sights toward those greater goals, that the so-often-absurd, always-limited, oh-so-finite lives of any of us can grow to become truly meaningful.

If we cling with all our strength to our own little lives as the center of all meaning, then we ultimately drown in a sense of our own absurdity -- or we grow tired and lose hope and give over control of our lives to some outside authority.  The point isn't to get rid of the self, but to cultivate it and develop it until it becomes a greater self.

Ego isn't a bad thing. It's just not everything. It has to grow, and become something more.  It needs to consider a supporting role.  Ghandi once wrote “I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.”  Ahimsa is referred to as nonviolence or causing no injury.  You see when in a supporting role you do bring yourself down to zero and are available, accessible, present to others.

American writer and philosopher Ken Wilber asks, "What existed before human beings had ego?" "Was it something better, holier?" Then he answers his own question:  "Prior to the ego was not angels, but apes; and prior to that, worms; and prior to that, ferns; and prior to that, dirt. The [development of the] Ego was not a Fall down from the Ground [of Being], but a major step up" toward the realization of human possibility and our greater consciousness of who we truly are.”

Spiritual growth for Unitarian Universalists has never been  about denying the self.  It's about letting the self evolve.  “I guess you could say it's about replacing the lower case self with the upper-case Self,” says Unitarian Universalist minster the Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz.  “Lower-case self,” he says, “ the good old little ego, is made up of fear and defenses. There is another Self inside of us, the greater self, the capital-S Self, which we neglect only at our own emotional and spiritual peril. It's what Emerson called "the Oversoul": "that the Highest dwells in us; that the sources of nature are within our own souls"...

How can we sit back in a supporting role while as Gandhi says “putting ourselves last” once in a while. What should we listen for in our minds, spirit, and in Emerson’s definition of soul?  A wise woman named Sandy Alemian-Goldberg gives us some pointers for learning how to listen:  "The soul is continually speaking to us," she writes, "but it often cannot be heard through the chattering [of the ego]. But there are a number of ways to connect... We [can] create a sacred and safe place for [us] to connect with the wisdom, truth, and love within [our] soul[s]."  And Sandy then enunciates some of the ways we can discern between the voices.

  • The Ego will tell us: "You need to be perfect."
  • The Soul will say: "You are perfect in this moment."
  • The Ego will tell us: "You have to be right."
  • The Soul will say: "Do the right thing."
  • The Ego will ask: "What if..."
  • The Soul will say: "So what..."
  • The Ego will shrug: "It's just a silly coincidence."
  • The Soul will respond: "Coincidences are guideposts."
  • The Ego screams: "Show me the money!"
  • The Soul whispers: "Follow your bliss. Feel the passion."
  • The Ego demands: "Ignore your pain. Repress it. Stuff it way down..."
  • The Soul says: "Face your fears. Hug your demons. Learn your lessons."
  • The Ego says: "Don't risk a broken heart."
  • The Soul says: "Love is always worth the risk..."
  • The Ego warns: "Stay on the path you already know."
  • The Soul says: "Follow your heart. Follow your calling. Discover your path."
  • "Be like everyone else," the Ego demands.
  • "Be who you are," the Soul invites.

Clearly to sit in a supporting role we need to let go and listen. Our ego and self importance is brought down to zero.  Rev Barbara Merritt once wrote: “Whether or not you believe in God, you need to realize you yourself are not God. For some it takes a lifetime to achieve that realization; for others it’s a daily discipline to remember it. This may be one way to understand what is meant by the term, “spirituality” -- the task of discovering, and then remembering, that we are not God.”

To illustrate Merritt’s point let’s consider the story of two wolves:
An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life...
He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
One wolf is evil -- he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.
The other is good -- he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.
This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too."
They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied: "The one you feed".

I would like for each person in this room to ask these questions right now.  Which wolf do I most feed?  Who am I creating with my person?  Since I awoke this morning … have I acted out of my ego or through my love and my generosity?

There are so many definitions of what Ego is to people, but mainly ego is a part of our self, it helps determine and define our personalities while on this earth.  Not our true personality, however, but the one that gives us reason to fear, loath, control, isolate and to feel insecurity, to hold back forgiveness & strike out with anger.  Ego believes there is never enough, so it must hold on to and stake claim upon.  It is like a cocoon that we build up around ourselves for all the reasons I just mentioned. Ego is small, inflexible, and judgment-based, it holds truths about us that turn us away from each other and ourselves, providing yet more reason to distrust and isolate further.  Most importantly, I believe, ego is something we are ready to leave behind. Our judgment of people and of circumstances, the way we view situations and the attitude we maintain while engaging them is critical in the decision as to which wolf inside, you will feed.
Albert Einstein wrote, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Sometimes the best way to care for ourselves is to care for others, and vice versa. Sometimes the best way to care for others is to care for ourselves.  To me, both statements are true.   May we in our service to one another be ready.  Let us be willing to serve in a supporting role versus a role of self importance, a destructive need to be right, to be greater than, better than the people around us. Let us evolve, together. Choose the good wolf. Buddha said,” We are never separated from our enlightenment.” I believe the Journey is not about seeking out, but about discovering what is already inherent in each of us. It’s about peeling back the layers of ego that make us who we are….Or may I say, who we are not, the first key is awareness.  My Challenge to you……Be your Self
May it be so.

Supporting Roles, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, March 22, 2015.

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