“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. “ Henry David Thoreau
Lately, I’ve been working with several people who admit to a fear of being visible. An anxiety about being ‘seen’. Not showing up and shining in the world. Keeping their song, their gifts, their talents inside them. Hiding, for fear of being judged not good enough.
And yet it also seems clear from anecdotes and research that, at the end of their lives, it’s never the things people have done that they regret. What they regret are nearly always the things they didn’t dare to do.
Here’s a metaphor that may offer a different and helpful way to think about it.
This metaphor was shared by Anita Moorjani, who has written widely about her near-death experience in her book “Dying to be Me”.
In 2006, Anita fell into a coma as her 4-year struggle with cancer was coming to an end. While doctors rushed to attend to her frail body, she entered into a near-death experience (NDE) where she discovered one of life’s greatest truths: Heaven is not a destination; it’s a state of being. When she regained consciousness, her cancer miraculously healed and she was free of disease within weeks. Since then, she has felt called to share this powerful story with the world.
Anita writes about the metaphor of the two dials in her second book “What if this IS Heaven?”. I find it useful because it’s a more positive way of thinking about Ego than is usually the case. In most personal or spiritual development traditions, the ego is seen as something to be overcome, or disposed of. Not so, says Anita.
Imagine we all have two dials inside us.
You can call one “Ego”, or our need to be special and unique. To share our gifts with the world. To sing our unique song – with gusto!
The other one we could label “Awareness”. Our level of consciousness. The extent to which we are awake. Inherent in awareness is a deep respect for everybody else – because we have seen through the illusion of separation. So we listen and connect deeply. We have high emotional intelligence. We take others’ views on board. We are able to learn from others, without this compromising our own knowing, intuition and common sense.
The dials can be set at different points. And the numbers can change. You’re not stuck with the settings you have now.
You could have a 10 on Ego, and a 1 on Awareness. Imagine that sort of person.
Think of some examples! The ego score means that they show up, and they are often high-achievers. But there’s a cost – in the way they treat others, and also to themselves because underneath they’re often very insecure and afraid.
Or how about a 10 on Awareness, and a 1 on Ego? This is the person who hides their light under a bushel, who is always supporting others from the wings. Sometimes it can even manifest as a withdrawing from the world, because they feel that they are on a ‘higher plane’ – and worldly things just don’t matter that much to them.
It is also possible to have a 10 on Ego and a 10 on Awareness.
They are not afraid to be visible. But their awareness means this never tips over into arrogance, selfishness or ego-centricity. They get things done, they make a difference. They come from a place of “we”, rather than just “I”.
When I thought about examples of this kind of person a few names came to mind: Michelle Obama? Chris Martin (ColdPlay), Amal Clooney, Prince Ea, Tony Robbins? Oprah Winfrey? Michael Neill? Who else can you think of?
I can think of several other people I know who live from this place, but aren’t famous!
Where are your dials today?
Wouldn’t it be sad if, as in the Thoreau quote above, you went to the grave with the song still in you?