This life is full of ups and downs, yins and yangs, happys and sads. There are moments when I am bursting with joy, and there are moments when I am the guest of honor at the pity party. There are moments when I am confident, content, completely in the zone, and moments when I feel like a total impostor on the verge of complete and utter failure. But I know these moments don’t define me. They are temporary manifestations of my ego, a momentary sense of my self.
Our sense of self is not a constant. We feel our selves differently in different situations. We are all more comfortable in some places than others. More confident in some situations than others. More at ease with some people than others. We feel more like our self in certain places and with certain people. Our sense of self is ever changing.
The ego swings like a pendulum. Sometimes we think our own existence, our own expectations are immensely important. We think our problems, our accomplishments, our opinions, are a very big deal.
Sometimes we feel unimportant, insignificant. We believe that no one cares what we think, or do, or say. None of it matters. So, we shrink ourselves down, make ourselves small, and shut ourselves off.
Whenever you are stressed and frustrated you are almost certainly caught up in your own ego. You are most likely thinking things are bigger and more important than they really are. You are all wrapped up in your royal I-ness. When you find yourself angry, stressed, frustrated, ask yourself if what you are stressed about is really that big, in the grand scheme of things?
When you are anxious, sad, unsure, and full of self doubt, you are also caught up in your own ego. You are most likely afraid, so you are shrinking. When you find yourself hesitating, and doubting yourself, ask yourself if you really are as small and insignificant as you think you are?
There is a middle ground. A place where your ego can rest in contentment. If you practice equanimity, you can learn to balance in that calm space in the center. You can find the space between the body and the mind. Between the self and the environment. Between the ego and the universe.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim Bonhart of Peshischa tells my favorite story about equanimity. He explains that in order to achieve this balance, everyone should have two pockets. There should be a note in each pocket. At any time, we can reach into one of them, depending on what it is we need. If we are feeling depressed or discouraged, we should reach into the right pocket, and find this note:
“For my sake was the world created.”
And whenever we are feeling self-righteous, self-important, larger than life, we should reach into the left pocket, and find this note:
“I am but dust and ashes.”
Neither note is better than the other. Neither is more useful, or more important than the other. Both are necessary to keep things balanced.
When you feel like life isn’t meeting your expectations, like things should be going your way, like you are entitled to more, grab a handful of humility.
When you feel unworthy, insignificant, filled with doubt, grab a fistful of fortitude.
We can stand here, in the middle of two pockets, resting in the center, always remembering that both exist. In all situations there is a bit of both. The whole of the universe is mine-all-mine, and I am nothing more than dust and ash.
Wherever I am, whomever I’m with, whatever I am going through, there is nothing to worry about. There is no need to stress or fear, no need for pride or sadness, because I am nothing more than dust and ash, and the whole entire universe is mine.