With quarantine going strong, I notice more and more people sharing how much they miss people, often expressing this to the people they miss. There is an exchange of affection expressed. It got me thinking again how I participate in this give and take of mutual reassurance. Am I merely expressing a kind of gratitude to the people in my life I no longer see in person? Or is there a part of me who does this from a place of ego, wanting the person or people to respond back with some effusive reassurance of my importance to them?
I’ll admit that in the past, well before social distancing, I participated, albeit (mostly) unknowingly, in praising people in an ego-stroking way. I wanted, even craved, to have my battered ego stroked. I wanted to feel loved and admired and safe. And eventually that plan, as it always has, backfired spectacularly because of course I am not the center of anyone’s world except my own. We all are the center of our own world precisely because the only way we have of experiencing the world is through our “self,” i.e. our senses and mind. So when I look to bolster my self esteem from others, I am bound for disappointment.
Now, when I tell a friend I miss them, I want to do so without any expectation of a certain desired response. Perhaps because I am an extreme introvert, I don’t often feel the need to reach out to people the way some seem to be driven to by quarantine. I have no burning longing to be with people more now than I did before. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my friends or won’t enjoy seeing them in person. But I don’t require it to stroke my ego or make my life complete or whatnot.
Please note that I am not saying that anyone I know has their ego wrapped up in reaching out to people with expressions of missing them or loving to see them or whatever. There is no way of me truly knowing anyone else’s motivations for anything. In a way, their particular quagmire of stimuli to action matters very little to me, yet matters a great deal to them in terms of how it affects their mental health.
I do believe wisdom teachers who emphasize nonattachment are on to something very profound. For me, there is always a whisper of ego in any interaction, always some desire for some particular outcome, but I practice all the time letting that outcome go and taking whatever comes. The more I do this, the more peaceful my experiences.