One night a few summers back I went to the gym, and feeling quite proud of myself decided to walk home to keep the momentum going. As I was briskly walking along, with my rainbow New Balances and a big grin on my face, a young artist who could’ve been my age asked me to look at his photographs. I admired them, complimented his artistic eye, and was about to continue on my way home. But before I could, he started asking me if I was going to buy them. I told him I had no money on me but that I wished him good luck with his work.
Instead of the usual disappointed face and goodbye, I received a totally unexpected barrage of questions. Did I really have no money at all? Couldn’t I go to the ATM? Don’t I just live off my parents’ money anyway? I admitted I was blessed and did in fact have some money to my name, but that I too was an artist, working part time. He wouldn’t stop asking questions. I could have made the choice to walk away. In my mind it was important to just watch him and see him as a human being. But when someone is completely taken over by the voice in their head, as he clearly was, the most helpful thing can be to choose a new situation, and exit.
Saying things like “I am blessed” and telling him how, as a poet, I understand how difficult it is to make money, set me up for a barrage of attacks on my religion, and my art. “Oh yeah right, we’re all poets aren’t we?” he sarcastically remarked. Along with, “If you really were religious you would go and get money right now but you’re not, so I guess you aren’t really what you say you are.” On and on he went. And I just stood there in awe, listening.
Eventually I gave it up as a bad job and walked away, tears streaming down my face. He had attacked every identification I held dear. He tore down all of the things I associated with to give me an identity. He acted as if he could not see me at all, as if I were not a real person standing in front of him. He may have appeared like many of my acquaintances from art school, with his hipster clothing and shaggy hair, but he didn’t seem to relate to me on any level.
I was in shambles the rest of my walk home; you would have thought something truly terrible had happened. But I knew in the deep recesses of my consciousness that something terrible had not happened to me, it happened to my ego. The part of me that attached itself to things and ideas had been belittled. The voice in my head that demanded others take it seriously, and believe in what is says, had been attacked with no chance of retribution. Not my true self, but the mind which seeks outside things to feel secure and to attain an identity, that ego self, had been greatly diminished. He had claimed to know me better than myself. He took everything I thought I was, and laughed at it, claimed it was all one big hoax.
Now I can say, thank God for this stranger. Everything he said, all of the parts of me he attacked, were much too specific to be meaningless. The universe is a beautiful being, who used this man, a person completely taken over by his ego, to show me the vestiges of my own ego. The universe teaches lessons through joy, but it can also use negative people and situations for your good.
Since I couldn’t defend myself after parting ways with this stranger, my ego could not repair itself. It couldn’t build itself back up, dig its heals in, and explain why it was what it said it was. Whenever the ego is diminished without being repaired, space is created for your true self to emerge, that which is beyond thoughts and emotions. Instead of defending my beliefs about who I was, I allowed myself to let go of what others thought of me, along with letting go of what I thought about of myself. No thoughts, no labels, are who I am. Nothing I can ever think about myself will ever come close to the reality of my being. That stranger was a small flame of refining fire, burning up the egoic mind-made self, leaving room for my eternal being to live more fully through me. It did not feel good. I was amazed by how truly terrible it felt. But through acceptance, the pain dissolved, along with the resilient attachments that are the ego, and I was still there. Completely whole, undiminished, and open to life as it really was. We don’t need others to define who we are. We don’t need ourselves to define who we are. Beyond definitions, we just are.
12 thoughts on “The Stranger Who Killed My Ego”
Good on you for being able to go beyond the difficult feelings to a realisation that who you are is so much more. I can’t resist saying that I would’ve found those remarks incredibly insulting and uncalled for and in my opinion it is absolutely okay to feel like that. I don’t believe anyone has the right to attack another person, ego or no ego. I know it happens but we’re entitled to our feelings about it and they really don’t need to be dismissed at all. But it’s really impressive that you have used the pain to go deeper and understand your surface identifications rather than remain stuck in defensiveness.
Thanks for your thoughts I really appreciate it! And I totally agree that emotions are not to be dismissed. Until an emotion is fully experienced it will live on inside. In this situation after all that crying and truly feeling the negativity that I was bombarded with I merely used the situation as something that would be helpful to me. Because at a certain point after the emotions were experienced, enough of my own presence shined through and I had the ability to release the negative energy or to hold onto it, in which case it would live on through the pain body. It doesn’t excuse his actions, but it frees me from the harm they were meant to cause.
I once heard the expression ‘energy vampire’. Its a person (not always knowingly) who drains you of your energy. It was a terrible thing to have happened at the time….sounds like he had some problems…possibly aspergers…I don’t know of course. It is great that you were able to turn this around and make it a teachable moment. And you are right; it wasn’t your true self (spirit) that was hurt but your ego (or soul or mind). You are not a label.
Thanks for your comments! And he definitely was having a difficult time, because a peaceful person doesn’t treat others this way. He must have been in a lot of pain, and his pain body was attempting to strengthen itself through me.
That is an insightful comment…’his pain body was attempting to strengthen himself through me’. I like that! He was also desperate for money it seems. Poor guy…actually.
I love this post, good way to think up a positive twist on a negative situation. One of my favorite “tolle” pieces of advice: allow the ego to die… (not to say that you deserved to be bullied, because his behavior was totally unacceptable but i admire the way you held it together, I may not have done the same lol)
Thank you Cathy, that is such beautiful advice!
I understand how this impacted you, and how it was helpful to refine your belief system. Sometimes a shock can be just what we need.
I’m pretty sure the stranger needs to figure out a better approach if his goal is to get folks to buy his stuff!
Haha very true Elyse! I appreciate your insight and understanding.
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