Not all learning by experience is pleasant. Like when your mom tells you that the melted, unsweetened chocolate that smells fantastic doesn’t taste good and you don’t believe her and so she tells you to try it. And then you believe.
After a few such incidents, we realize that we can learn from others’ experiences, and we don’t actually have to eat a large piece of horseradish root to accept that it’s kind of hot. OK, some of us do.
Taking others’ word for it is not quite the same, though. There are plenty of things we accept but won’t truly understand until we experience them, everything from just how scary the wicked queen in Snow White is to the level of sleep deprivation an infant subjects her parents to.
Many people—including most recently for me Richard Rohr—have said that we spend most of our days living in the future or the past because our small self, or ego self, is terrified of the present. The current moment is always beyond the ego’s control, and it doesn’t much like that. The people saying this are smart and deeply spiritual, so I have been happy to believe them. I could certainly verify that I spent little time in the here and now.
Then, for a few weeks, I focused on bringing myself back to the present as often as possible, which consisted of a lot of bringing back and not a lot of staying. Even so, my ego freaked out, as if the wicked queen/hag were standing directly in front of me with an irresistibly red apple.
Terror is not difficult to recognize, and when it shows up while doing the dishes or cooking breakfast—in my kitchen, absent saber-tooth tigers—ego protection seems a pretty reasonable explanation. It’s fascinating to watch when I can remember to watch it and not run away immediately.
It’s even interesting to watch myself run away, which I’ve done for the last week or two, under the guise of needing to get things done. Now that I can recognize the running away, though, I can at least choose whether I have the oomph at any given moment to confront my ego fear. And maybe, when all is said and done, that fear is really no more threatening than unsweetened chocolate.