How the ego keeps us on the hamster wheel of seeking instead of finding
by Cate Montana
The old Biblical saying “seek and ye shall find” is absolutely true. Unless we seek knowledge, we’ll be forever ignorant. Unless we seek greater answers to the fundamental questions about existence, we’ll blindly accept whatever dogma is fed us. Unless we seek to change over the course of our lives, we’ll remain stuck in a rut, going nowhere.
When the accepted truths of religion and society fail to satisfy the hunger inside for truth, there’s nothing else to do but seek alternatives. And therein lies one of the primary problems with spiritual seeking.
After leaving one system of thought, it’s just human nature that most people are quickly and easily enticed into an alternative system. The human ego likes the comfort systems provide. We’re trained from childhood to believe having the “right answers”—whether to a math problem, a history lesson, or what happens to us after death—is of paramount importance. The need for right answers is so deeply ingrained we don’t even notice it.
So what happens when we leave an established religious system that no longer suits us? Most of us go straight out and quickly adopt a new system of thought. I certainly did.
As soon as I reached escape velocity from my Episcopal and Catholic roots I went on a seeking binge, devouring books about angels and spirit guides, yogis and kundalini energy, vegetarianism and high colonics. I fell into the arms of New Age thought and settled in, thinking, “Aha! Now I’ve found the truth! Now I’ve found my tribe!”
I had no idea I’d simply replaced one system of “truth” with another much more exotically intriguing but equally hide-bound system. Ten years, a zillion books and two teachers later, I knew everything there was to know. All you had to do was ask me. Reincarnation? Check. Astral projection? Check. The origin of Creation? Check. Manifestation? Check. Meditation? Check. Holotropic breath work? Oops. Missed that one.
Early on I was enticed by the idea of seeking enlightenment—the ultimate place of ultimate answers—the Holy Grail of spirituality. And because I was a nice spiritual person I wanted the whole world to become enlightened too—just preferably not
before me. After all, part of the appeal was getting there ahead of others. I quite fancied the vision of myself in white robes on a stage, teaching others “the way.”
Never mind enlightenment isn’t something that can be acquired. Never mind the ego can never “attain.” I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I wasn’t happy and that I didn’t particularly like myself and that a lot of books and teachers said enlightenment was the answer to my misery, self-doubt, fear and confusion. Once I had that in my pocket, all would be well.
Being a high-achieving “lean-in” type, I galloped onto the spiritual path and started up the mountain at a furious pace. I went to graduate school to study what science knew about the human mind and consciousness. After graduation I isolated myself in a tiny one-room cabin with no indoor plumbing in the mountains of north Georgia and spent three years living on my savings, meditating, sometimes for days on end, taking only a short break every 24 hours to have a small handful of food and some water.
Almost 20 years and some 20,000+ hours of meditation later, I discovered the joke was on me. Falling into deep states of non-dual awareness I came face-to-face with the inescapable realization that “I” could never be enlightened for the simple reason that enlightenment is the absence of all sense of “self.” The absence of “me” was bliss. Oneness arrived upon my departure. How could I take credit for that?
The discovery that seeking enlightenment was a fool’s errand driven by my ego’s desires to accomplish “the ultimate” (and escape the painful condition of being “me”) was the single-most ghastly funny moment of my life. What a shock! After that it took me years to realize the liberation I’d been seeking wasn’t enlightenment at all, but rather a state of mind psychologists are aware of called transpersonal consciousness.
Unlike enlightenment (which may as well be called divine suicide), transpersonal consciousness was something “I” could achieve and live to enjoy: that liberated state of awareness where the illusions of the ego’s separation from life and others (and all the fears that come from the illusion of separation) fall away: that liberated state where genuine connection and security, peace and fulfillment and self-love reside.
Talk about a game changer!
I’m not knocking seeking. If we don’t seek we never evolve. But in the process it serves us to remember that nature abhors a vacuum. The minute we let one set of beliefs go, others all too easily rush in to fill the void. It also serves us to understand human nature and how the ego operates.
The ego seeks security through answers and approval of others. It seeks company. It seeks specialness in safely prescribed and acceptable parameters. It doesn’t feel safe going out on a limb. Certainly the ego isn’t going to willingly off itself in the name of enlightenment. Seeking however—well, that’s another game altogether—a time-honored tradition guaranteed to keep people occupied on the spiritual treadmill for centuries.
The trick—which I only discovered after decades of inner work and, yes, seeking—is to not seek answers outside ourselves.
Books and teachers and seminars are great and a lot of fun and there’s wisdom and companionship to be found, for sure. But at the end of the day all those things are just part of the same story of seeking instead of finding. The only thing that provides authentic answers and real satisfaction is the discovery of who we really are inside—who we really are behind the veils the ego draws. And the only way we ever discover that is via deep, consistent, solitary dives within.
As much as the ego might like to think otherwise, there simply is no substitute.
About the author:
Author of The E-Word: Ego, Enlightenment & Other Essentials and Unearthing Venus, Cate is a dauntless explorer of inner and outer worlds, has a master’s degree in humanistic psychology, and writes and teaches about the ego, transpersonal consciousness, evolution, and quantum physics. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. www.catemontana.com