Hollowing the Bone

Chief Fools Crow's humility was the most impressive quality that I have ever seen in anyone I have ever met. He seemed to be a completely selfless person, deeply concerned about the well being of not only his Lakota people but all people, as well as the natural world around him. The only thing for which he seemed to have no concern was himself.

It raises the question, what is the nature of the self that inhabits our bones and prevents them from becoming "hollow"? and how might we "empty our bones" and experience the death of the ego?

We may sometimes notice other people whose ambition and self-serving actions might prompt the observation that they are on an "Ego trip." If we are unflinchingly honest with ourselves, we may even look back on our own actions and on occasion recognize that quality in ourselves. This does not make us bad people; it makes us completely normal human beings (though the ability to recognize these qualities in ourselves may make us somewhat more in touch with ourselves than most.)

Observing such behaviors in others is not nearly as helpful as examining and understanding the basis of such behaviors in ourselves. We may speculate about the motivations of others, but we have the ability to perceive or feel the basis of our own motivations. Without any value judgement whatsoever, we can conclude that we are motivated by desires. Desires are human-normal. We may desire to succeed, and even to excel as surely as we desire tasty food when we have not eaten in a while.

Our desires are not evil; they are the motivational factors whose function is to keep us alive by motivating us to provide for our sustenance, shelter, security, and long term success and procreation. They are a survival mechanism, not just for the individual, but also for our species. The problem is that some of our desires tend to influence us in ways that are more befitting a solitary hunter rather than a member of an extremely well integrated social structure. The other problem with our desires is that they have no off switch that we might throw when we determine that all of our needs have been reasonably met.

There is Chinese wisdom from the Tao Te Ching that says, "Those that know they have enough are rich." The structure and function of our desires tends to prevent us from recognizing that all of our important needs have been met and letting us rest in contentment.

The Lakota and many other Native American tribes have a ceremony / practice called Give-Away. Among West Coast tribes this is called a Potlatch. The most successful members of the tribe would compete to see who could give away the most possessions and thus be awarded the highest social status in the tribe due to their generosity and willingness to give away all of their possessions. (The acknowledged richest member of the tribe often possessed only the clothing they wore.) These practices would help the person giving away their possessions to value generosity as well as membership and status in the tribe as higher and more important than personal possessions, it would also help the giver to rest in the peaceful recognition that all of their needs were met (they knew that they had enough and were rich) and it helped equalize the disparity in possessions between the wealthiest and the poorest members of the tribe and provided the helpful reassurance to all members of the tribe that the tribe would take care of and look after all of its members. No one needed to fear failure. It was a safety net that did not require the sacrifice of the dignity and self respect of the poorer members who received assistance. Everybody won.

We tend to associate happiness and contentment with achievement, specifically with the achievement of that which we desire, and this causes us to think of our desires as the source of our happiness. However, it is not the function of our desires to make us happy, quite the contrary. The function of our desires is to make us unhappy in order to motivate us to achieve some survival or procreation goal. Perhaps the most fitting, but least flattering analogy is the image of a donkey pulling a cart while the driver of the cart dangles a carrot hanging from a stick out in front of the donkey always just barely out of reach. The objects of our desires are dangled out in front of us with the promise of happiness once we achieve them, but of course once we achieve our goal, the taste of the carrot is short lived because there is always a bigger carrot just out of reach. The worst part is that we invariably focus on the carrot and we forget that the driver is not in a cart behind us; we are the driver, or more specifically, a part of us, of which we are at best barely conscious is the driver.

In light of the information in the preceding paragraph, we will be best served and the happiest that we can be if, when struck by a desire, we mentally step back and as rationally as possible, decide if the the object of our desire is something that truly stands to benefit us and make our lives better and ⁄ or more secure, or if the object of our desire is little more than a shiny bauble which, when obtained, will only serve to turn our attention to the next shiny bauble and so on, thus preventing our happiness and peace of mind rather than leading to the desired state. We are quite likely to find that most of the objects of our desires tend to be of the shiny bauble variety. We have the ability to look inside, question and challenge the motivational decisions of the driver, focus our intent on a goal that is selfless, and thus begin to slowly hollow our bone. The more we intentionally practice selflessness, the easier it will become make that leap that will result in our ego death. (Of course, this is all much more easily said than done!)

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