MEET MY EGOS (Some of Them)
(This is the draft of one in a series of essays I'm working on for possible inclusion in a new book. I'd welcome feedback.)
I’m a Leo. I’m not much of a fan of astrology, but the descriptions of Leo characteristics I have read do seem alarmingly apt. In any event, I subscribe to the notion that we have not just one but multiple egos/identities, either those we adopt as we move through life, of those that we accept through the eyes of those around us. It’s a committee, an advisory board. Some members are useful, some delusional, and yet others actually detrimental to the conduct of our lives. We don’t have to be saddled with them, of course, but we do need to know who they are before we can dismantle or dismiss them—if we choose to do so.
I have been giving some thought to this, in the attempt to identify some of those who sit on my personal board. I do this not to give them a platform from which to perform their antics, but rather in the attempt to put them under a microscope, like specimens, where I can take a better look at them. Here are some I recognize fairly easily:
Peter the Writer is my main man. He’s the one who wants to be known to the rest of the world. He thinks he's pretty good at what he does, and takes his work seriously: he’s at it virtually every day, and feels bad about himself when a day goes by without something he can claim as an achievement, no matter how small. He is ambitious for his efforts, strives for recognition, and feels disappointed when recognition does not come his way. He thrives on response, particularly on praise for his efforts, and is never happier than when he hits the right chord for some reader—preferably for many.
A close relative of Peter the Writer is Peter the Perceptive, who was known for many years as an art critic for national publications and an occasional book reviewer, and who continues to this day to review books, movies and art exhibits on his various websites. He loves to hear from artists and writers when he has hit it right, when he has identified just exactly what it was they were trying to achieve. He prides himself on his aesthetic sensibility and on his sensitivity to the work of others. He takes pleasure in saying nice things, and in this way is related to…
Nice Peter, also known as Peter the Charmer, who was born and bred in England. It shows. He is always careful to offend no one and to do what he can to make life smooth for others. He is quick with a disarming smile and an encouraging word; quick to open the door for any and all comers, and to stand back whilst everyone else goes through first. He “would not hurt a fly,” but is painfully aware in lucid moments that niceness can be hurtful in its own way, too. He tends to overlook or subordinate his own needs, but then will turn around and get mad because they have been neglected. Or else he'll store the anger inside until it bursts out in unexpected and unwanted ways.
Peter the Dad has been around for what will all to soon be fifty years. He harbors two main qualities: guilt and pride. The pride is understandable, since he has three terrific children—not children any more, but grown people, each with their own life and independence. By one, he is the proud grandfather of three fine grandchildren. The guilt is about not having managed to do better as a father; about having failed to be a constant presence for his sons in their young years; and about the difficulty he has had in freely and fully making known his love. His reward for clinging to guilt is absolution through self-punishment.
Peter the Gourmand, otherwise known as Peter the Eater, just loves to eat and drink. He is inclined, in fact, to eat more than he needs to, whether out of enjoyment or simple greed he is not sure. A bit of both, perhaps. In recent years, he knows, he has put on more weight than is in the best interests of his health—but that knowledge apparently does nothing to deter him, since he does not think of himself as “fat.” He also loves his wine. In part, granted, it’s the taste; but in part, to be honest, it’s the nice buzz a glass affords him in the evening. He uses both food and drink as an easy way to assuage any discomfort or unhappiness in his life.
Peter the Wise is a relative newcomer to the board. He made only occasional appearances before reaching “a certain age,” but now he’s likely to show up pretty frequently. He’s the old guy with grey hair who likes to think he knows it all, who basks in the limelight of his (imagined) reputation as a thoughtful and compassionate elder who sees things in the broad perspective of time and space. He thrives on love, respect and admiration. He ‘s also the one who thinks he has learned a lot from the teachings of the dharma, and who prides himself on the equanimity with which he views the world—though he’s not always successful at practicing what he preaches. He can laugh at himself, but there are also times when he fails to notice his own self-righteousness and pomposity…
And there are others, of course. We each, I believe, have our own advisory board that meets—or sometimes fail to meet at critical moments—to discuss the future of our lives. It’s good to be able to identify the members, because they otherwise can act in secret, making decisions and establishing directions that might not be in our best interest. It’s good, too, to be able to recognize the agenda each brings to the table, because we need to know whose voice is predominant at any given moment, and to what end. It’s only with such awareness that our minds can be clear and free to negotiate a skillful path through the vicissitudes that otherwise beset us. The best way for me, always, is to call a meeting of the board, so that everything is "above board"--and be sure that it's me who's sitting in the chair.