‘He is his own worst enemy.’
How often, when we’re pushed out of our comfort zone, do we hear an unsupportive voice in our mind telling us to give up? Or to postpone until we’re ready, to buy more things to prepare ourselves, or that nothing needs to change afterall because you’re doing just fine (however bad your circumstances, there is comfort in the familiar).
It’s the voice that tells us to stay in bed rather than get up and start working on our dreams, or to get drunk every Friday and Saturday night so that we’re totally useless the two days we might be free to actually make a difference to things.
This is ego
I recognise this in me as my ego. It’s the part of me that never wants me to change, doesn’t want me to do anything remarkable and doesn’t believe in me as anything more than a basic surviving, consuming, self-serving monster. It is the thing that stands in the way of me and my art – In fact it is directly opposed to it. It is what makes me my own worst enemy. It makes me distrust myself, and turns me into a hypocrite before I even begin.
These are a few classic tricks the ego pulls to paralyse us, and stop us from stepping outside of ourselves and into our art:
1. Fear of Standing Out (Too Much)
There are quite understandable and justified reasons we don’t want to stand out. We are scared of what people will think and say about us, and society is structured in a way to make us require a sense of belonging. This is why similar demographics seem to cluster together. We fear stepping out into the unknown and bridging the things that divide humanity. We are tribal beings. We have agendas.
The artist transcends this and crosses the road where she becomes the outsider. She acts out of curiosity, searching empathy for ‘the other’, and an openness to change. Not from the desire to consume and subordinate ‘ther other’ to her own agenda, in order to get recognition from her own people.
The artist does not feel strong ties to those things over which she has no choice. She understands there can be no pride in such matters as race, nationality, gender, sexuality, skin-colour, class etc. These are all products of luck.
2. Stories About Yourself
We tell ourselves stories about ourselves. We love to hear these stories, and we seek identity within them. For example we love to use labels to justify our actions. I’ve talked about this before. The ego is lazy and hates it when we think or when we challenge its authority. It likes it when we live by the stories we are told about ourselves, and the stories we maintain about ourselves. Those externalities that define our identity. For example, the list in the previous point of those luck factors. Each one carries a vast swathe of stories, stereotypes and generalisations.
If I am x then I must behave like y.
That is our identity and behaviour as dictated by the voice of the ego.
The artist questions the stories that she has been told about herself and attempts to transcend them. She seeks to control them rather than giving them permission to control her. She acts out of curiousity, searching empathy for ‘the other’, and carries an openness to change. She is writing a new story.
3. Mildly Panic and Carry On
This is the motto of the ego. It keeps us in a perpetual state of mild fear about the delicate balance of our security. It requires us to act out of this, keeping us scared enough to keep us busy but not so scared that we lose our minds. It wants us to conform to the standard, accepted way of living and doesn’t want us to believe that we have any power to make a difference to anything significant. The ego IS the status quo.
The artist recognises the fear that leads her to behave and think in certain ways. She knows what she needs to survive and says no to the temptation of exuberance. She lives in simplicity and acts out of curiosity, seeking the creation of bridges between disperate elements of humanity. She reasurres people, and reminds us that together we can achieve so much more than when we buy into the ego’s story that we never have enough because no one else can be trusted.
She tells the story of those with no voice. She inspires and challenges the rest of us to give them their voice.
We can quiet the ego. But it’s hard. He is tireless. It is a daily activity. Nay hourly. Minutely. Secondly. Let’s just say it’s our constant.