The ego has many traps, but one of the worst is self-identification with one’s talent. If one self-identifies with one’s artistic or creative talent, this inevitably leads to suffering as the ego’s unquenchable needs and desires can never be satisfied by that talent.
Indeed, the world is filled with “hungry ghosts” whose attachment to their talents makes them ravenous for recognition, for success, for adulation. Starved for what their talent can never bring them—a genuine self-love that is not based upon talent, performance, or success—their talent becomes a curse that dries up their humanity and makes them hate others for not recognizing their talent and meeting their emotional needs. Because such people lack compassion for themselves, they inevitable have little compassion for others.
The thing is, our talents are a gift; we did nothing to deserve or earn them, though we may sometimes think we can take personal pride in how we practice or utilize that talent. But even this pride of practice is an illusion of the ego, another false way to identify ourselves. Why? Because no matter how much we practice our talents, it will never be enough, it will never be good enough, to fill the hole in one’s heart.
Even worse, we have now identified ourselves as the “talented person” who should, indeed, must, succeed because he “paid his dues,” or was the dutiful son or daughter who used his God-given gift, his talents, and thus deserves to succeed. The delusion is that one is still seeing one’s worth as something one creates by his or her actions, by his or her relative success. There is no compassion in this ruthless view. It is suffering itself.
Worth Does Not Come from What We Identify Ourselves With
The problem is, genuine worth and value can never be found by self-identification with anything, no matter how good or great. Genuine worth and value are a priori to all conditions. True worth and value are not a fabrication. They are not dependent upon anything. Worth and value just are. We discover they are the very condition of our being—when we let go of all false identifications, grasping, and clinging, and just open ourselves up to what’s already there.
When we own our talent, instead of being owned by it, then we are like a beautiful rose. The rose is just what it is. It doesn’t practice to be a rose. It’s very nature is rose-ness! Letting go our egotistical self-identification with whatever talents we have, we are then free to discover the full potential of our talent. To the world, from the outside, this sometimes might look like “practice” or “paying one’s dues,” or damn hard work! But in reality, if one is truly free and unattached to the talent one has, then what one is really doing is honoring the gift one has been given without seeking taking self-worth or identity from one’s gift. One is then not driven by talent but takes care of it with wisdom and compassion.
The Buddha’s teaching on “not self” is so very helpful in freeing ourselves from attachment to anything, even wonderful things that we may admire and love. If we can really get what “not self” is about—and it’s not about self-annihilation or self-obliteration—then we discover a happiness that circumstances, successes or failures, cannot take from us. We can have genuine compassion on ourselves, not judging or condemning ourselves or others for human weaknesses or failures.
Success and Failure are Fabrications—Don’t Be Fooled!
Success is a fabrication—sometimes a mighty fabrication, but a fabrication nonetheless. Failure is also a fabrication—and yes, at times, a mighty big fabrication—but a fabrication nonetheless. Neither human success or human failure define us unless we make the mistake of self-identifying with that success or failure.
Always remember this: We are more than our human successes and failures! And we are more than our talents, even talents that may seen little less than “divine.” How much more we can never know until we let go stop identifying ourselves with things we have no control over and talents we did not create or originate. At best, we are simply caretakers of our gifts, but we do not own them, and we certainly should not allow them to own us!
I love the great teaching in yoga that whatever one does, one does it “as unto God” and then lets go of attachment to results or outcome. The outcome is left to God, to the unfolding of the divine, to the cause and effect of right actions. I think this profound wisdom is the flip-side or positive complement of the “not self” teaching of the Buddha.
Doing Things for Love and with Love
To do things selflessly, for Love itself, and to let go of all attachment to what we want, to what we think should happen is a true sādhanā, or spiritual practice. It requires letting go of ego and ego needs. It means letting go of the idea that we deserve success—or failure—because of our efforts or lack of effort.
It means putting aside all of that, and entering in to the joy of Being itself, without reference to a small self or ego and its limited wants and desires. Yes, it can feel like death to let go of the ego’s most-cherished dreams, but dreams they are, because they lack a realistic sense of what we truly are. Letting go and trusting the process, trusting Love itself, what we gain is a true life and more genuine self-fulfillment that we can now possibly imagine. Nothing good will ever be lost in letting go this way.
Awakening to what is, we find that self-expression is no different than Self-expression, and not-self is no different than Self. This is indeed bliss, release, and undying happiness. This is the way to take care of ourselves and our talents on a compassionate path of liberation.