I can think of two situations in life when it’s painfully obvious that ego-clinging is counterproductive. The first is in dealing with very young children. The second is in dealing with dementia. In neither case will you ever win an argument using fact or reason, and when you fail and it feels frustrating, who is it that suffers? It’s not me…it’s my ego-clinging!
The Buddha pointed to ego-clinging as the root source of all our suffering, but do we really know what it is or how to recognize it? Who is this mysterious shadow lurking behind our every thought and action, spoiling every otherwise perfect experience?
I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, for the last couple of years to help care for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the last year of my three-year retreat, and I had to move her to assisted living a few months after retreat graduation in 2011. Since then, I’ve been back and forth periodically, and right now I’m in Richmond again, helping her adjust to a recent move to an all-dementia facility, and overseeing major repairs to her house.
Spending time with my mom and other people in her facility, I feel I’ve gained some insight into how to prepare for my own old age and the possibility of dementia. In a nutshell: practice as much as possible, learn to rest my mind wherever I am, and cultivate contentment with whatever is happening. (Corollary: Eat everything. Including parsnips if needed.)