Asmita is klesha number two of the five kleshas or "causes of suffering" according to yogic philosophy. It means egoism or strong identification with the intellect.
We tend to get caught up in how we are perceived by others, or how we perceive ourselves intellectually - I am a Yoga Teacher, I am a Mother, I am a CEO. We get attached to that persona and close ourselves off to infinite possibilities to discover who or what we really are or who/what we can become.
A lot of people think egoism hurts other people more than it hurts the egocentric person. The reality is that it also hurts us when we get into this state. Following a path based on externalities or perceptions of who are what we think we are might lead us feeling empty and unhappy. There are countless examples of this – take the typical millionaire who has it "all", money, fame, success, a yacht, several mansions, yet, s/he feels empty and lonely, like there is still something missing but doesn’t know just yet what it is, so he keeps looking outside. There are less drastic examples, such as the likes and followers and the selfies and the measurement of your worth based on how popular you can be on social media. Or the person who is so caught up in their own negative story, that they forget all the positives around them.
The thing is that we haven’t learned to look within.
It is only now that I hear more often of schools introducing mindfulness into their curricula, or that parents openly speak about this topic with their children. But while looking within and detaching from the “I-am-ness” becomes part of our educational system, we as adults can learn how to find a more fulfilling life and purpose. It is hard, I’m not going to lie. TV, social media, the internet, marketing, our culture, we are bombarded with messages telling us that we need something else to feel good about ourselves – we need an anti-aging cream, we need those new leggings, we need that new lipstick, we need that new hairstyle, we need the flat abs, we need the Porsche, we need to have children. Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that you shouldn’t get any of those things, I’m just saying having them should not define who you are as a person. Just like a relationship should not define you either.
The goal here is to be able to enjoy the wonders that this planet and humankind have created without attaching to them. The goal is to be able to truly express yourself as you are, without worrying so much about what other people might think. Because it is only by opening up and being who you really are, that you can be of service to society.
I recently finished reading a novel inspired by Frida Kahlo alongside her biography – she was an amazing strong but flawed human being, like every one of us – she struggled with self-doubt, alcoholism, co-dependency, physical health issues, and yet, it was only when she was painting her feelings, her thoughts, expressing herself, that she felt in the zone, without needing any externalities. If she would have listened to her inner critic and succumbed to her ego, her paintings would have never been known around the world.
So, how can we learn to look within?
I can only recommend ways that have helped me be less attached to my ego. There might be other ways that can help you and I encourage you to find them if these don’t work for you.
1. Practice yoga
Yoga helps me calm the monkey mind. When you practice the different postures (asanas), you focus only on that. The moment you look to your neighbor to see if s/he is doing it better, you lose your balance. The practice of these postures teaches you to sit quietly with your mind and not let any externalities influence you. They guide us into 100% presence. Doing this on the mat taught me to apply this also on my everyday life – no matter how stormy life gets, I can always take a moment (and by a moment I mean sometimes even only 2 minutes) to go within and check-in with myself, realize how grateful I am to have my four limbs and five senses and experience whatever crisis I or the world are experiencing.
2. Practice gratefulness
You’ve probably read about it and heard about it many times already, but perhaps it is because it really works?! Before you go to bed, think about 3 things you are grateful for. They don’t need to be anything extraordinary – it could be something as simple as “I am grateful I can breathe”. After 30 days, you will start noticing things that you didn’t notice before and get random bursts of joy. I promise.
3. Look outside with a sense of neutrality and curiosity
I mentioned this in my last post already and I repeat it here because I feel that a lot of us take ourselves too seriously and get caught up in our own little worlds. Look outside and see the world, not from what you are or what you think, but from a truly neutral space. What if the person who just yelled at you for no reason is battling with a serious illness or struggling to pay their rent or just having a really bad day? What if you can take a step back and just acknowledge and see things as they are, without judging them? What if we start asking questions instead of assuming?
Let's get out of our heads and out into the world. Stay true and present and vulnerable and allow things to unfold.