12 Jul The 21 Masks of The Ego: Alleviating Suffering Through Emotional Integration
“Truth is not information, it is an experience.”
Mahajrya is a non denominational tradition founded by Maha Vajra, which adopts insights from many different spiritual practices. One of their foundational practices includes the releasing of suffering through a process called emotional integration. This is a practice of bringing conscious awareness to aspects of ourselves that cause distress. Through observation of our attachments and our emotions we can take back the power that these feelings can have over our minds.
This practice requires you to take responsibility for your emotions, projections and beliefs, allowing you to deeply resolve the core issues which all egoic behavior stems from. While the premise of the practice is incredibly simple, it can be extremely difficult for people to sit in their fears and fully face them without trying to change the past or remove the fear itself. Rather just sit and observe how it makes us feel.
Maha has a wide array of techniques to help effectively integrate these emotions over time, though the main principle is that our consciousness created the illusion of suffering, and therefore it will be through that same consciousness that we will resolve them.
One of the main components of emotional integration is a technique called “happy facing”. This is the practice of feeling, exploring and contemplating happiness, for no other reason than your decision to do so. The idea behind it is that we far too often create feelings of suffering because we are focusing on our suffering, but when we decide to take a few minutes to sit and contemplate happiness we in turn create more happiness!
This exercise is important to know going into emotional integration, because it balances out the emotional spectrum you will experience. After diving into the feeling of fear, it is important to balance yourself out by taking the time to feel happy again, and we do so by focusing on it. To begin, sit in a comfortable position and breath deeply. You can then imagine as if every cell in your body is a bright, smiling happy face. Your organs are happy faces, pumping happy blood cells through your happy veins. Every aspect of you is a shining, smiling face, all working together to keep you alive and happy. In this meditation, you are not happy because of the possessions you have or because of your partner or job, but simply because you are choosing to focus on the feeling of being happy.
What does happiness feel like? Sit in the feeling of being happy, for no other reason than you want to, and because you are focusing on it.
Maha explains, if you are happy because of your house, material possessions or social status; you would experience suffering if these things are taken away. True happiness comes from an inner peace within all of us, and while we can still appreciate the material gifts we have in our lives, we can also be happy after those things leave if our inner happiness was not bound to them.
Once you can hold a space feeling true happiness for no external reason without getting pulled out of it by other thoughts, you are ready to dive into the 21 masks of the ego.
If you are just beginning this practice, try meditating for 10 – 20 minutes a day on each mask, dedicating 3 days per mask, then being sure to practice happy facing afterwards for the same amount of time.
Beginning To Integrate
What follows are completely transformational practices that can shift your life and how you interact with the world, if you are willing to truly dedicate yourself it to. Maha explains that when we look at an upsetting experience, the more we observe it, the more it turns into nothing but raw information. It loses it’s power over us when we shine consciousness onto it, and see it for what it is.
This negative emotion, experience, or memory is now just information that we can choose to learn from. When we run from our fears, or shove them in our mental closet and close the door, these emotions accumulate over time and build up stress within us. This can then overwhelm us, and dictates how we navigate the world, our relationships, and our lives.
We are able to free ourselves from these emotional chains, and understand why they are there simply by taking the time to sit and observe how that experience made us feel; and then learning from that information.
The 21 masks are split up into sets of 3 and build upon each other, acting as a ladder that we can climb up or down. The 21 masks don’t have to be done in order, but there is a natural flow to them when practiced in this particular order.
How to Integrate The Masks
Similar to happy facing, the process of emotional integration at it’s essence, is simply sitting in and observing the emotion itself. Without trying to change the experience or pass blame for it, we just sit and look at how it made us feel, and what we can then learn from that experience. This practice is done the same way for each mask which is listed below.
To begin, get in a comfortable position and breath deeply. It’s suggested that you sit up because lying down can lead to falling asleep, or relaxing to a point where you stop the process.
Focus on your breath for a few moments, clearing your mind and focusing your intention on what it is that you are about to do. Then, bring up the emotion you are integrating. As fear is the first mask, this will be used for the example. Picture in your mind a situation that caused you to feel afraid. What does it feel like? What is it exactly that you are running from?
Allow yourself to go into the feeling and let the experience play out without trying to hide from it or change how you feel. If you find yourself having a panic attack or getting scared, observe this reaction and know that you are safe in the moment; there is no real danger, only the perception of it.
Your ego will likely try to pull you out of this experience, it will distract you and try everything it can to stop you from shining your light of awareness on it; keep pushing through. Bring yourself back with your breath and allow that to be the anchor that keeps you going. If you feel too overwhelmed, come back to your breath.
Now let go of the situation or experience that caused you to feel afraid and just look at the feeling itself, as an observer of it. Do this until the fear itself becomes information that you can now use to learn from. It is no longer a shadow of daunting emotion, but a valuable lesson you as a soul needed to experience to deepen your understanding of love and forgiveness.
Once the situation that caused you to experience fear no longer triggers the fear response, you have successfully integrated a layer of it. Now, spend the same amount of time you spent focusing on fear, focused on happiness for no reason. Balance the emotional spectrum out, and allow yourself to return to joy and bliss.
This is the basics of integration, and really only scratches the surface of what it means to integrate our experiences. Maha suggests doing this for 3 days per mask to go deeper into your own subconscious and find the light that may have been masked by your ego. Integrating the same mask for several days in a row or for longer periods of time will reveal more layers underneath or even deeper fears that you many not have even realized were there.
The 3 Denials of The Ego
The first 3 masks are called the denials. These are feelings that many people will deny having, or downplay them because they are either too ashamed, too fearful, too full of pride to even look at them, or likely a combination of the three!
Fear is the strongest denial and many of the masks that build on top of it can be seen as different facets or flavors of fear. It is, at it’s core, a survival mechanism that our ego uses to protect us. Fear is an avoidance because we don’t want to suffer.
Shame is a feeling of humiliation or unworthiness that stems from taking on other people’s doubt or rejection. If no one told you to feel ashamed for a given accomplishment, you would not have felt that way. It is because we allow others to project their negativity towards us that we believe that we should feel shame. This can also be passed down through family members or picked up through our peers and environments. It holds an energy of looking down upon yourself because you accepted the thought that what you were doing was wrong, this self confliction is shame, and is largely linked with pride.
Pride is an experience of feeling attached to a particular outcome or view that you have of yourself or others. This can essentially stop you from growing or learning because it suggests that you already know all there is to know, so why keep going? We use pride to protect our image and justify our mistakes.
The 3 Emotions of The Ego
The next three masks are called the 3 emotions. It is said that there is only one emotion, which is emotion itself, and happiness and sadness are just different points on the spectrum of emotion. Here we look at some of the more difficult emotions on that spectrum, and address some of the root feelings that cause us suffering.
Abandonment is a huge one that’s deeply seeded in many of us. It’s the feeling of something leaving us and we are left by ourselves, all alone either emotionally, mentally or physically. It can be a physical person, object, job, death or relationship. Even if you are the one leaving someone, you can still feel abandoned. It is said that all humanity has a deep rooted abandonment feeling from God, when we choose to separate from unity and become souls to have this human experience, we created the first feeling of abandonment. Taking the time to integrate this experience, knowing that you were never abandoned, you can find your spiritual faith once again.
Rejection is the experience of pushing something away. This is something we learn as we grow older. It is very popular to experience in school as we first discover ourselves and want to feel accepted, but are rejected by our peers. Where abandonment is the feeling of being alone, rejection can be felt while you are still close to others because they are not accepting you in the way that you thought you needed.
Guilt is whether or not others approve of what we have done. We can feel guilty even when we do something right but are judged for it by others. For example if you did well on a test but your friends didn’t, you may feel guilty for doing better than they did. Guilt is often closely tied to our denials of shame and pride. When we can can see through the root level denials, and find the lesson we needed to learn from these experiences, we can face our darker emotions, and honor that every step along the way we did what we thought was best, and will always keep moving forward!
The 3 Roles of The Ego
These are the three roles we can take on in attempts to alleviate the suffering that the previous three emotions may cause us. Often this applies in reverse too, you may have felt abandonment, rejection, or guilt as a result of one of the roles you were playing.
The prosecutor is like a judge, acting on behalf of others to say what’s good or bad. This can manifest as judgement or knowing more than those around you. This role is similar to pride in that you perceive that your way or viewpoint is best, and then extends beyond your own internal feeling and is now being projected towards others. We all have lessons to learn from life and it is our own individual karma to experience the results of our actions without judgement of others for how they choose to express their freedom.
The savior wants to help others, whether you want something in return or not, this specific role is attached to the idea of other people accepting your help and valuing your insight,and then being hurt if they don’t. If your sense of self or feeling of worthiness only comes from helping others, you could be attached to playing the savior role and can then experience suffering when someone doesn’t want your help. This is also putting yourself in a position of a martyr, putting others before yourself in order to “save” them.
The victim role is simply the act of not taking responsibility for our own actions in every moment and that the suffering we are experiencing is solely everyone else’s fault, taking no blame for ourselves. This is the part of our ego that is obsessed with focusing on the negative side of every experience and making sure that others know how terrible we feel. In every situation we choose the actions leading up to being where we are now. Whether that was as a soul choosing to be born with our specific parents or into a specific place where we experience lessons in this life exactly as we needed to in order to grow and move beyond.
The 3 Tools of The Ego
These are the tools that the ego will use while playing the different roles. These tools try to influence the free will of others in an attempt to get what we think we want.
Power is an act of imposing ourselves on others to try to get something that we want. It is the idea that we may not obtain our desires if we do not act aggressively or forcefully. When we feel powerless internally our that our efforts are not good enough, the expression of external power may be the result. This can come as a toddler not getting their toy and throwing a fit, or as an executive not feeling self worth unless they are dictating the lives of others.
Control is what happens when power or brute force isn’t enough for us to gain what we desire, it becomes more subtle and more manipulative. The expression that is often used here is “relax, nothing is in control.” Let go of the desire to have everything go our way and try to find the silver lining or the beauty of things as they are.
Manipulation is the next step after control isn’t enough. It is the act of convincing others that they will gain something from doing what we tell them to. It’s sneaky, very subtle and sometimes difficult to see when we are manipulating others or being manipulated ourselves. In either case these tools are all manifestations of our own expectations and goals. By moving forward through these masks you will be able to see the root cause of why you were creating this experience in the first place.
The 3 Expectations of The Ego
The three expectations are our desires of a certain outcome or experience happening in the way we want it to. This is largely covered by our denials as when we hold pride within ourselves, claiming that we know it all, we cannot see that we were expressing false hope or over certainty. The universe is so massive and the amount of information out there is so vast, to claim that we know it all is a sure cause of suffering when we are proven wrong. Holding a space of bewilderment and a childlike awe and wonder for the world around us, being open to learning new experiences and not claiming that we have all the answers will help move through our expectations.
False hope is knowing or wanting something to turn out fine, but not seeing the bigger picture of why it might not. It’s like eating processed food everyday, believing that it’s good for you when it’s actually causing you harm. It could also manifest as believing that some great mystical force will come down from the sky to fix all of our problems instead of taking the actions in our day to day lives to improve our situation ourselves.
Over certainty stems from false hope, ensuring us that what we believe is true even when it might not be. It’s having blind faith about something without looking deeper into the situation first. It can be seen as careless and often takes everything for granted. Faith itself is necessary for our spirit, however being closed to other sources of information, claiming that your way is the one and only way, can be a sure sign that the person is attached to their over certainty.
Egocentrism is focusing all of your attention on yourself. It’s thinking that the importance of a situation is solely about you, and that your feelings come before everyone else’s. It’s greedy and doesn’t take anyone else into consideration. We all play incredible roles in each others lives and not appreciating the impact of others around us will be a cause of suffering. Taking the time out of our days to help a person in need or to selflessly give a donation without expecting anything in return are actions we can begin to break free from being egocentric.
The 3 Needs of The Ego
The three needs, or goals of the ego, are the expressions of not being enough just as ourselves and that we need something more in order to feel validated, or protected. This can be a physical thing, such as needing more money to feel better, or even can be something like needing a degree or formal certificate before you will feel worthy yourself. Not to say that there is anything wrong with obtaining either such things, but only that the attachment to needing it for your own gratification becomes a cause of suffering.
Acquiring is getting something that we need or want, but is usually something that we want more than actually need. This mask is also called “Obtain” and is the energy that we need something external in order to feel safe or to be seen as worthy in the eyes of others. It’s usually physical in nature, like material possessions that we can hold onto.
Accumulation is getting “more, more, more!” Even when you already have enough. It is like a feeling of wanting that can never be satisfied, no matter how much you have or buy.
Attainment is the process of trying to reach an objective, something like social status or reputation. It is usually led by self-infatuation in order to make yourself feel good about where you are in life. This can be expressed by saying “I’ll be happy when ____ happens” or “Only after ____ will things be better”. The way that we can find peace here is by finding happiness in the moment where we are now, and moving forward without the need for any attachments.
The 3 Attachments of The Ego
The next three masks are the final three, and they are called our attachments. These are things that we tell ourselves we need, and without them we will suffer. The premise here is to find balance enjoying what we have when it’s there, and letting things go when it’s time. When we live in this state of allowing what is and what is not, we can truly transcend suffering. If you are attached to your possessions, to your friends and family, or to your ideas of what others think of you, eventually you will realize that all these gifts can cause suffering if we are attached to keeping them. Love truly and strongly all the wondrous things in your life, and be willing to keep moving forward even if they get taken away. “Eventually, in the next 500 years, you’ll lose your job!” -Maha Vajra. So love life now without attachment to the past or future!
Physical attachments can include our possessions, things we buy and own like clothes, houses, cars and money, but can also include our physical bodies. We are attached to how we feel physically, if we feel pain or pleasure. Many of us are attached to existing in a state of only feeling good and therefore will not eat foods we don’t like or not exercise because of the pain we experience. By losing our attachments, we can start to eat the food that is best for us, and begin acting in ways that are conducive to health. If we believe that we need these physical sensations to be happy, we have put our power into the material items, and they can cause us suffering.
Emotional attachment is predominantly about being attached to our feelings and relationships with other people, or the idea of them. When we feel like we need someone else to complete us, we have emotionally attached ourselves to that experience and can undergo suffering if that person or feeling goes away. Having feelings is a very important part of our human experience, however, being attached to always feeling one specific way is not. As humans we will experience a full range of emotions, these feelings are there to teach us lessons and help us find the strength we need to transcend this reality. To do so, we must first become completely unattached to any specific emotional outcome and express love in all situations. Happiness for no reason!
Mental attachments are the very thoughts that all too often run rampant through our minds. Try thinking no thoughts for an hour and see how attached you are to having thoughts and opinions. Our minds are there to help us translate our experiences, but all too often we try to always rationalize the present moment as opposed to stepping back and just experiencing it. This mask is related to our identities and personalities. It’s who we think we are, who our ego tells us to be rather than just letting what is be all that is. Free yourself of all judgement and expectations and a clear mind will follow.
Transformation From Within
The essence of these practices is taking the time to observe all your past experiences and learning from them. Surely you can think of a moment in your past where each and every one of these 21 masks were triggered, therefore you can either learn from the lessons of the past, or continue to create more of the same experiences in your future. If you want to create more love and happiness in your future, you must take the time to learn from your past. Send love and forgiveness to yourself and all those in your life who taught you lessons, no matter how painful the lesson was.
The more we look at these masks and our past experiences, the more we can learn from them and transcend the suffering we caused ourselves. With time and practice, as you go through and forgive everyone that has ever caused you pain, accepting the experience as a learning opportunity for your soul, you will reach a state of inner peace that could be described as enlightenment. It is an open state of allowing, an ebb and flow of energy passing through you that you do not hold on to, you just learn from it and see yourself in those around you.
The practice of consciously observing our suffering allows for our higher love to be shined onto our darkest depths until we can truly be at peace within ourselves.
Remember: Take the time to bring your focus back to your happiness after any integration. Of all the feelings and emotions you could experience at any moment, why not choose to feel happy?