Ego Knock-Knock: More Than a Joke


“Who’s there?”

“If only….”

My ego likes this joke, for it is always on me. I hear it most often on days that I am looking to the outside world for what I want. Within, I feel a lack.  The knock-knock joke offers me entrance into the collage of my life experiences, the land of “if only.”

“If only” is a realm where life is always contained. In this world, I create the scenario to prove that what I want is all I will ever need. No matter how complex or basic, each scenario is based upon life already experienced.

Let me give you an example. If only I were able to go for a walk in a flawless autumn of red and gold or stroll on sugar sand beaches lapped clean.

“If only” allows me to travel the length and breadth of my life as it never happened—without a glitch–it sets the world right in a matter of seconds, which is also how long such a scenario lasts.

After all, it is a joke.

Just beginning 1014

If only “keeps the person facing the wrong way— backward instead of forward. It wastes time. It can become a habit, it can become…an excuse for not trying anymore” (Arthur Gordon).

In longing to return to what we are certain has been our best, we close the door on options that may be our best yet. When we enter “if only,” we exit life as it is, trading the unknown for the known.

The world of “if only” offers a smorgasbord of comfort: food, drink, all kinds of ways to self-medicate. It is the stuff of ennui, this dearth of curiosity, and therein, the ego sows seeds of doubt.

“If only” is not the stuff of dreams. Nightmares, maybe.

Life begins and ends in mystery, as Diane Ackerman says, reminding us “…[that] a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” We miss it if we close the door on mystery, too afraid to try again.

Who is to say that in this savage and beautiful country we will not discover food and drink to satisfy, to nourish, to keep us curious for what comes next. Is there not comfort in curiosity? Maybe not. Certainly, there is vitality.

The ego will always knock. It is not ours to ignore or to suppress but to observe that the ego is knocking. We need not invite the ego in or trot along its well-worn path.

After all, it is not really a path but a rut, worn deep and smooth, leading to life already lived.

In observing rather than answering the knock-knock of “if only,” we face forward, grateful for being alive—part of the great mystery–all of our wants and hopes wrapped within.

Whatever happens to you, don’t fall in despair.

Even if all the doors are closed, a secret path will be there for you that no one knows.

You can’t see it yet but so many paradises are at the end of this path.

Be grateful!

It is easy to thank after obtaining what you want,

thank before having what you want.


16 thoughts on “Ego Knock-Knock: More Than a Joke

  1. You bring up an interesting conundrum. How to look within for what we need but, that begs the question–how do we do that without becoming self-absorbed? When our focus is on our own internal compass, that works. But it’s a tightrope we walk between inner wisdom and a focus that becomes myopic. At least for me. Always a juggling act.


    1. Ah, tightrope it is. How do we share the compassion it with ourselves without preaching or being self absorbed? As part of my daily yoga routine, I express my gratitude for the day and every moment I experience as a human being. I also express my desire to meet each moment with equanimity, joy and loving-kindness for any and all I meet. This is a huge shift for me, considering the previous five decades of my life. It has helped me to step back and breathe rather than react. It’s the beginning. It has taken me some time to respond to your comment but I have returned to it often. It is a wonderful reminder. Thanks, Kay.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Karen, this is a very timely post! For a whole raft of reasons these past two months I’ve had pause to reflect on the unexpected twists and turns of life, and the infinite possibilities of the ‘if only’ that never came to pass. As you say, it leads only to ennui. Thank you for sharing your thoughts – apt, and timely! Just now I cannot yet see the path ahead: but it will be there.


    1. I know you are aware of the Zen koan, “the obstacle is the path.” These last months of 2015 have been remarkably difficult for you but it seems that in 2016, the path is beginning to open to you. As for ennui, yes “if only” is one of its stars. I have found myself gazing more than once. For both of us in 2016, let us find a new angle on our respective obstacles as our paths cross from time to time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Karen, I thought of this quote by Alexander Graham Bell:
    “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
    I can see how we can be pulled in the ‘if only’ direction and I’ve had to extricate myself from the results of that all too often. I’m inclined to think it’s as you say at the beginning: “… I hear it most often on days that I am looking to the outside world for what I want. Within, I feel a lack.’ The sense of ‘lack’ is what causes the ‘if only’. According to David Loy we are constantly propelled towards something, anything that will ease the experience of groundlessness of being human.


    1. Thank you for the link and yes, that sense of lack does “propel” us toward emptiness or groundlessness, the very opposite of what will “still” us. When I consider “if only” within the context of a joke, the ego influence pales.

      I love that Alexander Graham Bell quote and agree that we will spend far too much time on the door that is closed, unable to see what is available to us. Thank you, Tiramit, as always.


    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, Val. As I mentioned in my response to August’s comment, the structure of a joke seems to illuminate the ego as the echo of emptiness that it is. Thanks so much, Val.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fabulous post, Karen! The joke is a keeper, too. 🙂 I love the idea of not answering Ego when it turns up knocking, or better yet — responding with gratitude and shifted focus. I’ve been learning to differentiate between ego calls and inner yearnings for that which fulfills me in a way that allows me to contribute more to others. Needless to say, this post is timely! Thanks for your voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a pretty good joke isn’t it? I, too, return to it fairly often. Distinguishing between “ego calls and inner yearnings” is something that the two of us stress in our respective work. I love that this is another parallel for us. Frankly, within the framework of a joke, “if only” loses a lot of its power. Have you noticed that? The joke is so apparent and so is the false echo of ego. Thanks for your voice, August. It is always great when our paths cross.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. So true!!! To echo your ideas, let me quote a verse of a Hot Tamale song, penned by “word-ninja” Adrian Fogelin: “it takes courage to get up each day, to face the mirror, to face the grave, to yearn for what never was, but what might have been, to come up empty and start over again, you got to walk on faith, blind faith, you got to walk on faith, blind faith”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My grandson, Matthew and his stepdad, Will play a game that takes on the “all doors closed” scenario, beating it with curiosity and imagination. Together they build secret passages. One might go from their house in New Jersey to our house in Florida. It, of course, detours through the center of the earth. Perhaps the tunnel is temporal, a tunnel through time.

    The yearning you describe for what was or what might have been is, as you say, turning your back on all that is possible. Although the secret passages Matthew and Will invent are impossible, with their imaginations at work, they are both open to what may come while sitting together at the breakfast table of now, enjoying each other’s company.

    Liked by 1 person

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