Asmita and an Open Mic

ekatmata iva asmita

False-identification is confusing the nature of the seer or Self with the nature of the instrument of perception. In other words, false identification happens when we mistake the mind, body, or senses for the true Self.
— Yoga Sutra 11.6

Most of the time, when people speak about Ego, they are talking about people who are full of themselves. "That person has a huge ego." translates into "They think they are hot stuff." But ego can also be how we view ourselves. We tend to define ourselves by what changes: our looks, our financial status, our friends. Not always do these things uplift us. Sometimes, we can feel downright awful about how we view ourselves.

Pantanjali's sutra on asmita warns us about taking what changes about ourselves to be true. Rather, it clouds us from our purusha, or that which does not change, within us. Since the world is always changing, clinging onto the outside world leads to sadness when things don't work out the way we want them to.

I was sitting in a park not too long ago debating whether to go to my first open mic. I had been around the New York comedy scene as a writer, but never had I gotten up in front of people to tell my jokes. As much as I wanted to, I would always visualize myself, just me up there, with a mic, alone in the dark. In my mind's eye, I stared into silence as my jokes fell flat on judging ears.

I wished I could be one of those that fearlessly walk out on the stage or in life. Those people that make living and breathing look so effortless when everything seems to come so hard to me. Those people that have ego and aren't afraid to use it to their benefit.

It was then I realized that I was also falling into the trap of asmita. I was viewing myself as someone that didn't have the ability. Someone that would fail. I realized that hating on myself was also just my ego. I was putting a label on something that was changeable and acting like that was the immoveable truth. My ego was getting in the way of doing what I wanted.

As Swami Vivekananda says, "whatever you think that you will be.
if you think yourself weak, weak you will be;
if you think yourself strong, you will be."

There in the sun, I became determined to get out of my own way to to calm the fluctuations of my mind telling me who I am before finding out who I could be. I told my ego to shut up.