Matt Kahn and Adyashanti are perhaps two of the “highest level” spiritual teachers of our time, yet they go about things very differently. Matt focuses more on love and loving what arises, while Adya tends to direct attention to our illusions, inquiry, and pure awareness.
But I find that their teachings display two sides of one coin, as it were, specifically on the subject of ego.
Within their teachings—and in many more teachings, besides—it is understood that the consciousness dominated by ego, or “egoic consciousness,” is a kind of consciousness much less satisfying and rich than the consciousness “free of ego.” At the same time, ego is not the problem per se, but the situation in which it dominates consciousness, is. A healthy ego is integrated into the larger consciousness of the individual to whom it belongs, and serves its proper purpose.
So “free of ego” really means free of ego-domination rather than annihilation of an ego-entity altogether. We realize we are much more than the small self we take ourselves to be, but we have no need or desire to destroy something within us. Everything is allowed to be as it is.
To turn back to Matt and Adya, they describe the state of egoic consciousness in different languages. In Whatever Arises Love That, Matt talks about ego as a product of an “overstimulated nervous system.” In Falling into Grace, Adya describes the consciousness created by the egoic mind as the “trance of ego” in which struggle is an absolutely necessary ingredient. Without struggle, the trance cannot continue! Adya writes, “Egos… are addicted to struggle.”
Actually when you combine the two pictures being painted, of an overstimulated nervous system on the one hand, and a trance perpetuating continual struggle on the other, you begin to get a more complete picture, an almost visceral feel for the way ego operates.
The overstimulated nervous system means we are always on the go. (Ego = “I go.”) We are always rushing around, trying to get to the next moment, in the thrall of anticipation, doing, worry, and “efforting” to make things go our way. This originates, Matt teaches, with an overstimulated nervous system that was created in childhood by misunderstood emotional reactions to a world that frightened our innocent, childlike hearts.
This also sheds light on the prevalence of fear within egoic consciousness.
The “trance of ego,” on the other hand, means that we are caught in the virtual reality created by our minds, which we take to be reality, and by believing in or identifying with that virtual reality, we see ourselves as separate from life. We are then combative with life, struggling with it, trying to control it, manipulate it, in order to make things go our way, so we can be happy.
During the whole time this is going on, we are unaware that it is not possible to be truly happy in the egoic consciousness, that our struggle as egos is making us more dissatisfied all the time, and all of the things that our minds are telling us are reality, are just its virtual creations.
But I believe that Adya, with this concept of a “trance,” is endeavoring to put something into words that does not easily lend itself to language. Believing in the virtual reality of the mind, and struggling with life, actually has a hypnotic effect on consciousness, in which we lose a sense of perspective that keeps us sane and, actually, in amazement of life. The state of amazement is lost within the trance; life ceases to seem amazing because it becomes something ‘I’ have to control and ‘do battle’ with.
The complete picture is interesting. We see that ego is rushing, struggling, doing, seeking, and underneath all that is… fear. And underneath that is… misunderstanding.
Peace is something foreign to the ego-mind. In a way, peace is like the opposite of everything ego does. Peace implies unhurriedness. When we are in “higher consciousness,” living from our deeper knowing, we are not in a hurry. We may not even be trying to get somewhere.
Thus, even though Matt and Adya take different strokes, their advice and insight, in terms of how to respond, astonishingly converge. In one word: Relax.
In his love-centered teachings, Matt suggests that the ego-mind and heart actually move at different speeds. The speed of ego is unrelaxed. He suggests that “relaxation in the body reminds you when you are abiding at the proper rate of speed,” and that relaxation begins to unravel the overstimulated nervous system which underlies ego.
In another video, Matt goes so far as to call relaxation “the key to all spiritual success.”
Adya, on the other hand, invites us to let go of the faith in thoughts that make us want to rush, tense up, and struggle:
You don’t need to struggle against yourself. Just the opposite. All you need is the willingness to question your mind’s conclusions, the willingness to just relax. Instead of trying to change now, just let now be as it is, even though your mind may have plenty of reasons why you should resist. (Falling into Grace, 65)
. . . What comes up for me, in comparing these teachings, is that I find resistance within myself to the prospect of awakening consciousness being so easy and “boring” (according to my mind). My hypothesis is that the ego finds the activities that unravel it uninteresting and/or not intense enough for it, so that it makes up clever excuses and thoughts to get us “hyped up” or “worked up” again, which takes us deeper into the trance, the rushing around unconsciously, and the suffering.
And yet, if we authentically desire life beyond the egoic trance—”truly living,” as it has been called—then we will do what is counterintuitive and possibly very boring to realize it. And if we are tempted to stop relaxing and get back to struggling, then it just becomes a matter of discernment and staying true to that authentic desire.