(The Secret of the Plumed Serpent)
Once, as we discussed my possible commitment to the path, Carlos said:
“Self-pity and self-importance are the real tyrants; they prevent people from seeing things clearly. Therefore, if you really want to do something for yourself, start fighting those enemies right now, today!”
“But how can I do that?”
“By being deliberate, staying alert and being aware of every act, every thought and emotion that assaults you; by stalking yourself tirelessly and by not giving in to your vices.”
He went on:
“If you begin now, you will have taken your first big step. True, it can take you years of struggle, but at least you won’t be inert.”
By my various vices he meant the concessions we all make to ourselves when we say things like, “I cannot live without that”, or “I’ll allow myself the luxury of this” – or our old excuse, when we tell ourselves, “I deserve this!”
To be aware of one’s every thought, word and action is undoubtedly a huge challenge but I accepted it. He had been right: it took me years of work. For me, the process was gradual. When I finally realized that my actions were no longer based on self-pity, I felt I had truly cast off a heavy burden. The most incredible thing however was that previously I did not even notice it was there.
This task is really a twenty-four hour a day battle the warrior fights against himself, against his self-importance and self-pity, and is ultimately the battle against his own stupidity. To win it, one must force oneself at all times not to relax one’s vigil and to sustain round-the-clock awareness, since, if one lowers one’s guard for a single moment, one looses protection against the onslaughts of the ego.
Now I understood what Carlos meant when he said that one had no need of teachers. He maintained that fighting self-importance was like going to the toilet, something one had to do on one’s own, since it was strictly personal business. The struggle was against one’s own ego and no one could help us with that.
The only external help our peers can, perhaps, provide is to make us aware of our weaknesses. That, however, gives rise to a new problem: we often see those who warn us of our faults as adversaries or enemies when in fact we should be grateful to them, for they are our benefactors.