When our lecturer, Michael first announced that we were to read Jane Austen’s `Emma’, I groaned in despair. I’ve never had the desire to read any of Austen’s novels. They seemed stuffy and full of romance- I’m definitely not that `target market’. So it was with great duress that I sat down and started to read `Emma’.
I hated it!
The long, exhausting sentences. The extensive passages of dialogue (Who talks like that?!! Stop talking! Oh God, I’m bored!)
I mentioned to Michael about how I was not enjoying the novel but was determined to stick with it. I had no choice anyhow. I knew that Michael had obviously chosen the book for a reason.
And then it happened. The pivotal moment of the book. I knew why he wanted us to read `Emma’.
On the surface, and in my own reading thus far, `Emma’ seemed to be about the `well to do’ upper English class. On close reading, especially towards the last part of the novel, Austen reveals, through Emma, a deeper aspect on how humans are imprisoned by their egos. Our heroine has an epiphany and realises that she herself has been hoodwinked into a false life of arrogance and judgement. For a novel that was published in 1815, I was surprised by this revelation.
The English Oxford dictionary defines ego as `your idea or opinion of yourself, especially your feeling of your own importance and ability.’
Emma has a huge sense of ego. In fact, it’s Emma herself that is the first to comment on her all-too-healthy sense of self. Taking credit for the marriage between her friend Miss Taylor and to Mr Weston, which was probably more a chance meeting than anything, Emma thinks that if she envisions it, it will come to be. It’s only when things start to crumble around her, does Emma realise that she is playing with people’s lives and feelings. Her matchmaking is no longer a game. She becomes aware of her ego.
My definition of the word is more in line with author Eckhart Tolle, who describes `ego’ as `a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind’.
Whenever we feel better than or inferior to someone else, that’s our ego taking over. It has you in its control. If we find ourselves in a situation that we feel we `shouldn’t be’, like in a long line at the supermarket we start complaining, that’s the ego. You no longer have the thoughts. The thoughts have you. Letting go of the ego is hard work. Instead of being annoyed or irritated by the supermarket line (your mind is telling you that this is waste of time), you can train your mind to actually enjoy the moment- `It is what it is.’
In my own life, as I get older, I’m trying not to take life so seriously. I want to have some fun. I don’t want to waste time on things that my ego will try and convince me is important. I choose love. I choose gratitude. I choose kindness. I don’t get involved in or create drama. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself. I don’t pay attention to what other people think of me- that’s none of my business. To paraphrase Tolle `I am not my thoughts. The real me is the awareness of my thoughts.’ That is: the part of me that is aware that I am thinking? That’s the real me.