The concept of the ego has been one of the hardest for me to grasp on this sort of introspective and spiritual journey I’ve been on this past year. The very concept of “mindfulness” and “creative living”, which are terms that I throw around and hashtag all the time, are really centered on the idea that we are of two minds - the ego and the, well, the not ego. The higher self. Your inner voice. Your intuition. That’s the voice that we should try to listen to more often and it’s so incredibly hard because the ego is the one that’s been screaming at you your entire life, the one in your head that you think is YOU but it’s not you.
It’s the one that worries about what other people think. The voice that tells you how bad you look when you catch yourself in the reflection of a random door or car mirror. The voice that tells you how you will never be enough, or that you’re not special, that keeps you up at night with your thoughts racing. That’s the ego. It’s bitchy and critical and probably telling you right now that this blog post is stupid woo-woo bullshit. The ego operates from a place of scarcity and fear, and I think that it’s the whole reason that we as humans have made it this far. The ego protects us, it worries about us getting kicked out of the tribe, it’s really just trying it’s best to keep us alive.
Meditation, creative living, intentionality (okay my computer is telling me that’s not a word but I’m keeping it) are all different ways of quieting the ego voice so that you can hear the inner voice. Apparently that voice has all the goods if you can get still enough to listen. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my ego and trying to catch myself when I start getting caught in a negative thought loop. This really ties in with one of my very first blog posts on deliberately changing your thinking and watching your reality follow suit. I would definitely go back and read that for a real life example of how our thoughts can create our feelings which shape our reality. It totally does! Read it. I’ll wait.
Okay now is where we get to the part where I totally had it out with my ego on Christmas Eve-Eve. I was cantoring (a fancy word for leading the congregation musically, singing the psalm, mass pieces, etc) mass on Christmas Eve, with our church band, and had a ton of music to go over. I was singing for 25 minutes straight before before mass and then basically through the entire service however long that would be. So on the 23rd of December I met at the church with my music director and the “girl” who was going to be “helping out with harmony”. I had never met her, but was assured that she was great at harmonizing and sang at the Christmas Eve mass every year so she was familiar with the music. I pictured her as my little backup singer hanging back with the band, cute!
The reality was that I was splitting the music with her. Sharing the music. MY MUSIC. But I thought I was singing ALL the music! It’s not fair! I worked hard on the music! Then came the worst part.
She was good. She was really good. She was….
Better. Than. Me.
She was a lot better than me. She’s a high school choir teacher and can read music and is genuinely talented. She also went to the same college I did and completed the music program that I totally quit and still, sometimes, regret having done so. And she is 10 years younger than me.
I was furious.
I felt small and terrible and was so completely flustered that I rehearsed worse than I would have otherwise. The whole time I was thinking - Who does she think she is? God I am a terrible singer. This music is terrible. Who picked this music? ALSO WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?
I mumbled some form of “nice to meet you” and “see ya tomorrow” and left pissed off. In the car on the way home I immediately, as one does, called my sister to bitch and complain about the young talented girl stealing my spotlight. Afterwards, I didn’t feel any better, so I started to call my mom to do the same. I needed a fresh audience for my complaining! Then I would feel vindicated! Agree with me, world, for I have been wronged!!
Then suddenly it hit me that me ego was running the show and I was right on cue. Next I’ll call my mom to complain, and before the intermission I’ll complain to my husband about how the music director bamboozled me into singing with her, then for my grand finale I’ll worry about trying to look better than her at church tomorrow and secretly hope she bombs her stunning rendition of “Mary Did You Know?”
But I didn’t do that. I didn’t call my mom. I had a good laugh at myself in the car (helloooooo I might be a crazy person tbh) and calmed down my ego to check in with my inner voice. Why was I upset about having to give up my music? Why was I feeling so threatened and insecure? I’m volunteering at church, to sing Christmas carols, and getting angry about it? Something is wrong with this picture.
It didn’t take long for me to find the answer.
Since I left my job I’ve been using cantoring to fill that void of self worth. I’ve taken on a lot more singing gigs lately (most of which I don’t get paid for, although some I do). I get dressed up and go to church and sing my heart out in front of tons of people, then I collect compliments and feel good about myself. I am good at singing. It feels good to know that. It feels good to have people come up afterwards and thank me or tell me I have a beautiful voice.
She, this (truly very sweet) girl, was trying to take that away from me (that’s the ego talking). My bubble where I feel important and proud and accomplished was being threatened. My ego was going crazy.
Once I acknowledged this then I could deal with it. I had let cantoring fill a void that it shouldn’t have, and now dealing with self-worth and it’s relationship to work or my lack of working, in my case, is something I need to explore.
We sang together the next day and it was awesome. I felt great and strong and had the best time. After mass I hugged her and said “I had the most beautiful time singing with you, thank you so much”, and I really meant every word. Because it had nothing to do with her, she was just a sweet, talented girl who likes to come home for Christmas and sing at her old church. My ego was twisting me into being a victim and trying to ruin my night. Instead I felt beautiful and musical and very humbled, and I’ll take that any day of the week - especially on Christmas.