In season seven of Curb Your Enthusiasm Larry David is trying to reunite with his estranged wife Cheryl. Cheryl explains that Larry was easier to be around when he was out of the house working on the Seinfeld show. After he started to be home all the time, “Larry” was too much to take. Cheryl explained that although she missed him, a sliver of Larry was all she could take. To that Larry responded, “I got 24-hour Larry; you think I like it?”
I laughed hard, because when I am in my ego state of mind, I don’t like “24-hour Barry” any more than Larry and Cheryl like “24-hour Larry.” Fortunately for me, my wife is more tolerant of “24-hour Barry” than Cheryl was of “24-hour Larry.” If you are a fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm, you know that Larry’s ego contaminates every relationship and every encounter Larry has. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a huge hit because Larry captures the universal condition.
When we are in ego state of mind we can’t help but be uncomfortable in our own skin and a pain in the neck to everyone else. Why? Our ego is a self-constructed and conditioned identity—it’s not our real identity. When we are in our ego state of mind, we think the solution for every problem is more of us—more of our analysis, more of our authority, and more of our attempts to control the situation.
As our ego bears down, analyzes, and exerts control, the more miserable we become. We are no different than Larry in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Every situation becomes a challenge for Larry as he tries to get what he wants while conniving to convince others that he is really a good person. In the show this almost always backfires—he often doesn’t get what he wants and no one is convinced he is a good person. Occasionally he has his moment of triumph, but these moments are short-lived and his misery returns.
In his miserable state, Larry continually seeks external causes and external solutions for his suffering. Everyone he encounters is a potential target for his blame. In one episode in season seven, Larry’s manager encourages him to give the president of NBC the benefit of the doubt. Larry responds, “I’m not used to giving the benefit of the doubt; I don’t even know how to do it.”
So what is Larry to do? What are we to do? In April, at the announcement that there would be a eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry quipped, “After much soul searching – and by the way, it was nowhere to be found – I have decided to do another season of Curb. I look forward to the end of shooting, when I can once again resume the hunt for my elusive soul. I know it’s here somewhere or perhaps in the rugged mountainous regions of Pakistan.”
But what Larry is looking for? What are we really looking for? Is the happiness we seek that elusive? I know from my own experience, when I try to find “spiritual Barry,” my ego is in charge of the search. And although “spiritual Barry” may be a little bit more pleasant to be around than “24-hour Barry,” “spiritual Barry” is likely to be just as miserable and just as likely to treat other people as objects.
So, how do we find what in my book The Inner-Work of Leadership I call the True Self? The most important step is simply to realize that there is nothing to find. Our True Self already exists fully developed; we have just made a decision to turn away from it. Yet, we have the power of choice to choose our True Self at any time. If we are in our ego state of mind, no one else is to blame–we have chosen to identify with our ego. The clouds—our judgments, our anger, our anxiety—that block our True Self from our awareness have no external cause. The clouds are there because we want them to be there; they vanish the second we decide otherwise. This is a statement of our absolute freedom to choose again.
So the task of finding our True Self does not, as Larry quipped, require a trip to the proverbial remote mountains. It is instead a process whereby we become aware of and look without judgment at all the specialness we have chosen for ourselves. Our ego promises us that we are special in many ways, both positive and negative. We have strengths, and we have our problematical life circumstances which we call our special problems. We have a unique identity with which we are comfortable. We have a set of judgments and opinions we hold about ourselves and everyone else we encounter. As we look at our specialness without judgment, the clouds begin to lift. Our True Self is always there. The fear of relinquishing the identity we have constructed is great, so frequently we return to our ego state of mind.
When our ego has us in its grip, it seems like our 24-hour virtual character is here to stay. Watching Larry lie, manipulate, and seek to find happiness where it can never be found, we can laugh at our own foibles. And as we do, the grip our false identity has on us loosens. Gently laughing at ourselves is good medicine.
Warning: If you have never viewed Curb Your Enthusiasm please be cautioned that the show contains frequent swearing and adult situations.