As a teenager, I thought a lot about ego—relinquishing it and all that. I remember, working very hard to be here now sans ego. overhearing a woman at the checkout stand turn to her friend and say, “Egos are like as_ h_les, everyone’s got one.”
Wow. How Profane…Embarrassing, even, but oh so…Interesting…It made me laugh…then I suddenly felt liberated. Egos, No big deal. Sounds good to me.
Then I worried… Shouldn’t I work harder to rid myself of this unduly obstacle to my transcendent self? After all, overcoming the dreary shackles of ego was thee goal, right? Going from giddy to guilty in an instant, I left the store deflated.
Several weeks later, I walked into the living room while my father was watching TV and heard this loud voice, confidently, obnoxiously proclaiming. “I AM THE GREATEST” “I AM THE GREATEST” ….dancing around, jeering others while celebrating himself. “Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee. I AM THE GREATEST.”
Who is this guy?
My timely introduction to Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali, while still in my ego-pondering funk, prompted me to pay very close attention to his ways from that day forward. He was my moth in a glass jar, my personal bacteria under my mind microscope. First, I was aghast that he would be so blatantly egocentric. I had never seen such raging hubris before. Neither did most of the world, I later found out.
Of course Ali played with us and played us, too, while psyching himself up to go into that ring to pummel and be pummeled. He took himself and his talents seriously and carried his ego in his back pocket. Sure, I’ll take it out when it’s handy, when I need it. I got an ego and I hold it in perspective—but you don’t need to know I know I am not my ego do you? If you believe I believe I’m the greatest, then I win, right?
Ever the provocateur, his ego proclamations kept getting bolder. After beating Sonny Liston, he shouted-sang, “I am the king of the world. I’m pretty…I shook up the world.”
Mohammed Ali had an ego that’s for sure and yet didn’t seem to give a damn about it. Finally my teen mind got it. Not in a light bulb moment, as we would say today, but more gradually like a summer sunrise, slowly shedding light on my dilemma until it sparkled with clarity.
Ali was actually living my new mantra. “Egos are like as_ h_les, everyone’s got one.”
If ego-less defines someone who serves others and sacrifices self for the good of the whole, then Ali certainly qualifies. He tapped into the paradox of losing self to find self; of letting go of ego to live mostly from a transcendent self—the best that humans can do. He did.
In tribute, President Obama said, “He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.”
Ali stood his ground. Sometimes the only way to do that is to say, think, and believe, “I AM THE GREATEST.”
In his book The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey, Mohammed Ali said he wanted to be remembered as “a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous, and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, and who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what.”
Ali was a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. Sometimes the only way to do that is to say, think, and believe, “I AM THE GREATEST.”
His role as an ambassador of peace started in 1985 when he traveled to Lebanon to try to secure the release of four American hostages. In 1990, he was credited with securing the release of more than a dozen American hostages from Iraq just days before the start of the Persian Gulf War and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.
His wife Lonnie Ali said, “He is very much more a spiritual being. He is very aware of his time here on Earth. And he has sort of planned the rest of his life to do things so that he is assured a place in heaven.”
Muhammad Ali was a spiritual being. Sometimes the only way to be that is to say, think, and believe, “I AM THE GREATEST.”
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.