Eps 30: How To Become Less Arrogant

Shakti in Waterfall

So I gave myself this assignment of writing 100 posts during the 100 Day Warrior course. On a night like this it becomes quite problematic. I really had no clue what to write about. Funnily enough it is harder for me to find a topic when I am ok with myself. But Facebook came to the rescue.

Some readers might remember the Shakti Princess, the Russian girl I was dating when I was traveling through Asia. I just received a message from her and I asked her if she had a question or a topic for me to write about. She came up with a great question:

“How do I find balance between feeling full potent and of power and not being arrogant and not feel or act as if I am superior to others?”

She phrased it little bit different, which was telling in itself. She used the second person in her question. She said: “how do you find balance without feeling of acting as if you are superior to others?”

If we have a personal question it is better to phrase it in the first person. If you put it in first person we immediately take responsibility for our behavior. Speaking in the 2nd person is the more cowardly strategy. It is as if we hope that by speaking in generic terms we will be experienced as less guilty, especially by ourselves. There is some victimhood in there too. When you talk about a situation in the 2nd person it is as if you can’t help it, as if you are the victim of some universal pattern. In today’s example it created such a funny paradox because if you look closely she is whining about her liberation.

The first feeling that comes up when I read the question is there is a lack of openness. When we feel empowered after receiving some insights we feel really free. It feels liberating when we are relieved from a burden we have been carrying for a long time. We get a taste of basic goodness. But that basic goodness is not something we can own. It is not mine and it is not yours. You can only fall in the trap of feeling superior to others when you think you have something that others have not.

But if that happens anyway you can trust that your ego is still steering the ship. The ego is always looking for ways to feel better than others, or more precisely: to find ways to avoid feeling inferior to others. They say that insight is candy for the ego. With every insight you feel your ego swell up. You hear yourself thinking: “ha, from now on I am a little bit more enlightened than yesterday and – even better! – than others!”

Our egos are great at embarrassing us. I once passed a particularly difficult koan pretty fast. Not only did I pass it quickly, I also knew about a Zen teacher who worked on it for 3 years and I have a close Zen friend who had been struggling with it for ages. I was called in for private interview with a Zen teacher, I answered the koan and he said ‘yes, this is the right answer’ and he rang his bell. So I went back up the stairs to the meditation hall that I had left only 10 minutes earlier, back to my meditation cushion. Same guy, same hall, same cushion. Only now with so much pride that I almost felt like exploding. It was shocking to see how my mind produced a flood of thoughts about my amazingness and uniqueness. Not only was I way better at Zen than my friend (I felt lost of compassion for him that he wasn’t as good as me) but I was also clearly more talented than that particular Belgian Zen master which basically put my in the top 10 of European Zen talent (modest estimation). I was as proud as a dog with seven cocks (Dutch expression).

Your ego always wants to separate you from the rest. It is always comparing and likes to celebrate an ego party when it finds itself on the preferred side of the fence. Quite often the ego feels a lot of self-pity but now and then we can feel a good dose of conceitedness. Unless you have an ego like I used to have: then you can feel a lot of conceitedness all the time. But what I found out the day that my ego collapsed was that I was hiding my inferiority for myself and the world. From that day on I knew that arrogance was overcompensated inferiority. It was my strategy to not feel the inadequacy I was carrying.

What I learned from my experience is that we use arrogance to keep a barrier in place between ourselves and the others. We use it as a strategy to prevent feeling vulnerable by hiding inadequacy and inferiority. So arrogance is a tool to keep ourselves separated from others and from ourselves. Therefore it is an expression of fear and selfishness that you want to transcend. In simpler language: you need to learn to live with your arrogance, not from arrogance.

That means that you can use your arrogance as a guide. Arrogance needs some inequality. You need to elevate yourself or you need to lower the other, for example. You can catch yourself when you do that, you can feel it in the body. You can ask yourself why you are doing that. In this manner you can learn to understand your arrogance better.

I would ask myself the following questions:

  • Am I arrogant?
  • How does my arrogance feel?
  • When do I feel it?
  • What am I hiding? Or: what is underneath?

Personally, I find it a relatively easy personality trait to work with, although uncomfortable. Did that sound arrogant or what? Ok, let me explain: I have been hiding behind arrogance for more than 30 years so I am quite closely acquainted to it. Since I have behaved like an arrogant prick for such a long time I might as well own it. It is impossible to deny anyhow, others will be happy to remind me. But what has changed is that I don’t take my arrogance so seriously anymore. It is just arrogance, or masked fear, and it is a pity that I still use it now and then and sometimes it is fun too. You shouldn’t perceive your arrogance as real in the sense that you are really better than others. You are not. It is just you telling yourself a story because you still fear the truth.

If you sense that your arrogance goes hand in hand with your spiritual growth rest assured that you are deluding yourself. You are not liberating yourself, you are only boosting your ego. But owning your arrogance makes you – paradoxically enough – humble and vulnerable. Arrogance is not something to hide behind but to apologize for. When you apologize you have evened out inequality; you come down from your high horse. Now you have created the horizontal relation you both feared and desired.

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This is episode 30 in a series of 100 blog posts that will be published daily during the 100 Day Warrior, a unique program around physical strength, inner wisdom and meaning. All posts are written by Atalwin Pilon, founder of Basic Goodness and creator of the 100 Day Warrior. For requests for motivational speaking, in-company workshops, online coaching and mindfulness training click here. If you would like to join our international community of brave and inspiring human beings or just follow this blog and receive updates, please click here or sign up on the right side of the page. Atalwin specializes in coaching smart and creative people, both groups and individuals. If you are interested in a free coaching session click here.

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