I love this Zen story.
A famous Japanese swordsman disowned his son Matajuro because he considered him too mediocre and undisciplined to ever reach the level of proficiency required to inherit his school.
Bent on redeeming himself, the young man headed to Mount Futara to find renowned master Banzo, in the hopes to study with him. When he arrived and showed him his skills, however, Banzo confirmed he was not good.
“If I work hard,” Matajuro inquired, “how long would it take to become a true master?”
“The rest of your life,” the teacher replied.
“I cannot wait that long,” the young man insisted. “I am willing to endure any hardship if you take me as your student. If I become your devoted servant, how long would it take?”
“Maybe ten years,” Banzo said.
“My father is getting old, I don’t have that kind of time,” continued the disowned son. “If I work even more intensely, how long would it take?”
“In that case, maybe thirty years,” the master said.
“Why is that?” exclaimed Matajuro. “First you said ten and now you say thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”
“Well,” replied Banzo, “in that case you’ll need to stay with me for seventy years. Someone who’s in such a hurry seldom learns quickly.”
Most people on the spiritual path lose heart, because the wounded inner child wants everything quickly and easy. Your path may have started out of pain and confusion, or at least the usual dissatisfaction of ego, but as your self-exploration progresses you discover there’s more to learn and unlearn, more to uncover and heal, and more time and effort to invest in the transformation of your perception of life.
At the same time, however, your resistance also grows, becoming subtler as you delve deeper, because your ordinary ego consciousness goes in the opposite direction of self-awareness. Your attention is usually focused outwards, at other people and the external world, so looking within involves courage and commitment to stop following the natural tendencies of the mind—through your desires, thoughts, feelings, and impulses, or a nagging discontentment.
To exist, ego requires a distinction between subjective and objective reality—of self and other. So in the realm of your sensory perception, this individualizing principle cannot exist without the illusion of otherness. But you can consciously direct your mind toward or away from this delusion of duality. The first step is balancing the internal dynamic between your sense of self and your sense of otherness, because both aspects of ego fight for your mental-emotional space.
Your sense of self seeks individuation and freedom of expression while your sense of otherness distorts things to keep you stuck in the past—in the wounded child archetype (see Is Your Wounded Inner Child Running The Show?). But since this aspect is all about appearances and social interactions, accomplishments, and validation, it is continuously pushing into your perception the family and cultural dysfunction and lack of love you internalized as a child, precisely because that’s what you’re here to heal, to find fulfillment.
The Nature of Ego Is Discontentment and Attachment
When you embark on a path of self-awareness, your discrimination becomes sharper and things no longer affect you as much as in the past. This clarity allows you to discern subtler forms of pain as well, to continue unraveling and get to the root of the patterns that produce it. But they get subtler and subtler as you progress. At first you feel only gross pain holding you back, in the form of anxiety or fear; then you observe the mental chatter from shame (self-consciousness) or anger (judgment) that keeps you unhappy.
And further down the road, as you keep delving within, you may recognize the unconscious guilt that colors your life gray, robbing you of energy, vitality, or enthusiasm, and cutting you off from the flow of life and love. Fear and guilt are key elements of the ego, for they go against the purity and oneness of Divine Consciousness within you. They’re also the most common emotional currencies weaving the fabric of the world and of relationships as a power struggle on every level of experience.
Fear is the opposite of love and guilt the opposite of freedom. They’re so embedded in the religious and cultural systems that it’s all too easy to activate them in you; they resonate with deep imprints feeding your egoic sense of otherness, the inner bully whose aim is to keep you small and vulnerable, like a child, giving your power away to people, circumstances, painful memories, or hurtful news.
Guilt is more often unconscious than conscious, which makes it hard to uncover. It’s not what you feel when you do something you know is wrong, for this is awareness. Guilt is subtle and invisible, and it can take any negative form to disconnect you from your path: a sense of obligation or urgency, fear of the unknown, self-doubt or shame, anger or depression (which is anger turned inwards), or anything that makes your life seem meaningless.
Fear and guilt go hand-in-hand and usually get triggered when you take steps toward emotional and spiritual freedom, because this means you’re willing to leave the past behind to discover new possibilities of experience, beyond the familiarity of the ego-mind. In other words, a subtle despair invades you when you commit to growing out of the wounded child archetype that upholds your sense of otherness. Clearly, your inner bully is going to put up a fight when you’ve mustered the courage to transcend your own suffering!
They key is to continue with your process while learning to ride the wave of discomfort created by ego. In time, your effort will pay off and get you to a higher reality, but always in accordance with your karma and Divine Grace. You never know how or when, but if you keep going, your sense of otherness will diminish and you’ll experience greater freedom to follow the guidance of your soul.
Spiritual growth means gaining self-knowledge and inner peace while remaining acutely aware of the thoughts trying to obstruct them. So contact me today to develop emotional and spiritual freedom as you observe and counter the thoughts, desires, patterns, and attachments activated by your life-movie that produce negative emotions to keep you off-center and disconnected from yourself!
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