Half of motherhood is shutting up.
— Erica Jong, “Fear Of Dying”
The human struggle is with the ego.
The ego prompts us to speak, marking our space in the world.
Letting go of the ego prompts us to listen, connecting us to the world.
Ms. Jong understands this. To lead, she has to listen much more than she speaks. She has to engage the world the way it is rather than the way she thinks it should be. She has to give those around her their own heads, their own room to grow and develop their own style and their own power.
Many, many years ago a therapist told me that I did something unique and surprising. “You tell me that someone did something stupid or hurtful, but then you tell me why they did that, why their choices are understandable in context.”
I grew up with parents who had real challenges. Instead of just acting out against them, just asserting my own ego, I also had to take care of them. I knew how tender, lost and hurting they were. Without context, I couldn’t have survived, so I had put all my effort into reducing my ego and becoming compassionate and supportive.
Living with a severely reduced ego has challenges, though. While it very much supports being a visionary, one of those pain in the ass people who are committed to truth over popularity, it makes being a missionary intolerable. You just don’t have the concentrated belief that supports swagger and repetition.
Ego isn’t evil. The challenge is simply, like so many other things in a human life, to keep it in balance. Ms. Jong knows that half of motherhood is learning to get over yourself, to serve something more than your ego, and that demands that you check your own self-centrism and have the world in context, learning to shut up and listen.
For humans who are used to being self-centered, who believe that their life would be better if they are more self-centered, the ideas of letting go of the ego to spend time listening, to the world around us and to the voice of the universe, is just pretty damn weird. Sure, you should do it in meditation, maybe, at a church service or when saying your prayers, but more than that? Why?
I shut up, quieting the ego, so I can listen more closely. Much like Jaye in Wonderfalls who asks the inanimate animals why they speak to her, the answer is because she listens.
Sure, I share what I understand, but I don’t have the ego to assume that anyone cares about what I am saying. More than that, I am aware that in trying to satisfy an audience one’s ego can grow, becoming full of itself and choosing to pander to keep getting the same affirmation.
The way to be a visionary is to listen more than you speak, clearing out your old assumptions and letting the new patterns emerge and become clear to you.
It is possible to have glimpses of connection in the spaces between ego, those moments between sleep and wake, those times when you gather for worship, but you will only get fragments that way, returning to everyday quickly after.
While, for many reasons, my own ego has been incredibly shrunk down, I know that I live in a society that values the ego highly. There were times in human culture when too much ego was seen as indulgent and sacrifice for the good of the community was valued, but this is not one of those times.
Marketers understand that affirming indulgence in pleasure, in status, in convenience and such can sell more goods. You do not help people buy more things they don’t really need by appealing to their sensibility, restraint and maturity.
This world is full of stimuli, mostly designed to get an emotional response out of us. Others have to scream louder and louder to get even a tiny piece of our strained attention and once they have got it, they have to offer something easy and very desirable to keep that attention.
In this ego festival world, standing without an ego leaves one bare and jangled. Instead of asserting my ego in the face of others, I back off, avoiding confrontation. I will fight for what I value, fight in service, but I will not fight for the cause of fighting. I don’t have the armour of ego that just lets blows bounce off.
Half of motherhood is shutting up. It is learning to listen, allowing those we love to grow and heal in their own time and their own way. We need to let others be themselves so they can unfold their own wings and, after lots of failure, make strong and beautiful flights.
Maybe the hardest part, though, is knowing what the hell half is. How do we find that balance between vulnerability and ego, between assertion and acceptance, between creativity and receptivity?
Who is there to help us maintain that balance?
The obvious answer is that someone who listens to us can help with that, someone who knows how to parent the parent, how to help heal the healer.
Who hears? Who mirrors? Who mothers the motherless child?
Ego development is often seen as evil in this over-ego world. Most people need to learn to shut up, shut up their ego voice to become present for themselves and those they love.
But everyone, yes everyone, still needs to be heard.