Self-Importance is Like a Prison

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The Facts of Life: Egolessness
by Pema Chödrön, from Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion

The second mark of existence is egolessness, some-times called no-self. These words can be misleading. They don’t mean that we disappear—or that we eraseour personality. Egolessness means that the fixed idea that we have about ourselves as solid and separate from each other is painfully limiting. That we take ourselves so seriously, that we are so absurdly important in our own minds, is a problem. Self-importance is like a prison for us, limiting us to the world of our likes and dislikes. We end up bored to death with ourselves and our world. We end up very dissatisfied.

We have two alternatives: either we take everything to be sure and real, or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality, or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious—to train in dissolving the barriers that we erect between ourselves and the world—is the best use of our human lives.

In the most ordinary terms, egolessness is a flexible identity. It manifests as inquisitiveness, as adaptability, as humor, as playfulness. It is our capacity to relax with not knowing, not figuring everything out, with not being at all sure about who we are, or who anyone else is, either. Every moment is unique, unknown, completely fresh. [From this perspective], egolessness is a cause of joy rather than a cause for fear.

See also: "We Must Learn to Love Uncertainty and Failure, Say Leading Thinkers," by Alok Jha, The Guardian, January 14, 2011