What's On Your Bumper Sticker?

By Donna Waddell

This presentation was delivered to the congregation of Mountain Light UUC on 2008 December and was kindly provided by the speaker.

What is on your bumper sticker(s)?

What do they represent?

Recently while driving in Atlanta I saw a white, late-model Mercedes Benz with lots of bumper stickers on it. I was taken back. It seemed incongruous. Then I realized that I held the belief that well-to-do people did not, as a rule, put bumper stickers on their cars. Well, maybe a slick, stylized "W".

Then I listened and watched myself have this conversation in my head about whether or not I should remove my bumper stickers. I had a HRC equality sign, an Obama '08, a St. George Marathon, and a 26.2-euro sign bumper sticker. In addition I had two UU window stickers courtesy of Caryl and David. I wondered if I would appear to be more upscale if I removed my bumper stickers. This was an interesting debate going on in my head. I had fun observing it as a silent witness. I never made a decision about the bumper stickers.

First, let's explore the concept of the silent witness.

From the Rig Veda, "On the Tree of Life there are two birds, fast friends. One bird eats the fruit of the Tree; the other bird, not eating, watches."
Are you listening to me?
Are you listening to me?
Are you listening to me? Good.
Now I want to speak to the listener.

The two birds in the story represent the two values of our identity. The one eating the fruit is our conditioned ego personality that eats, drinks, feels and senses life around us and in the process of experiencing each sensation; it is affected and overshadowed by it to the extent that it only knows itself in terms of that experience. The other bird is our higher Self, the silent witness that is awake and aware of it and what is going without being affected by it. This is the inner observer or listener. As I asked if you were listening I was first getting you to notice your conventional experiencing self. Then by asking whom it is inside you that is listening, I was facilitating the cognitive shift out of the ego mode of functioning to the silent witness mode that has an uninvolved awareness of the ego. It is dramatic when it happens for the first time and you discover that there is a pure, quiet Self inside you that is more authentic than the self you have constructed throughout your life. Meditation is the tool to directly access this silent witness and make it the foundational presence in life.


I think bumper stickers are labels that cover up the mystery of what some thing is. I think it's my way of telling the world what my ego thinks I am. But, is that who I really am? No, the "I Am" that is really me is the listener.

The remainder of my thoughts are based on or stimulated by the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It was Oprah's selection for her book club earlier this year. Last spring she and Eckhart held weekly web seminars on Monday nights. You can still view these on her web site. [Click Here] The concepts in the book are not new. In fact, they are based on several of the world's major religions: Hindu, Buddhism, Judaism, Muslim, and Christianity.

Most religions share a common tenet – that of flawed humanity. In Christianity it's known as original sin. Thus religions have given rise to some form of transformative experience such as enlightenment in Hindi, salvation or being born again in Christianity, and the end of suffering in Buddhism.

The flaw of humanity is the ego. I am probably using the word ego differently from Freud and other psychotherapists. And to think of the ego in the manner of pride – "too much ego" meaning "too prideful" is too narrow. Ego is the illusory sense of identity. My ego looks to the physical world, the empirical evidence to explain who I am. Tolle calls the physical world the world of form. So, when we say something is formless we mean it is not of this physical world. The physical world is only energy – we treat it as if it's real, but it is only energy.

Our ego wants to survive and does so by feeding itself. Bumper stickers feed the ego. I look at my car and say "I am a democrat" or "I am a lesbian" or "I am a runner." These are true statements about me. That is, they are accurate descriptions or aspects of me in the world of form, but they do not constitute who I am.

The ego always causes suffering. Let me explain how,

If I say, "I am a runner" then if something comes along that interferes with my running, then I suffer loss of part of who I am. Thus, I suffer.

If I say, "I am a democrat" and then Obama loses the presidential election or Jim Martin loses the Senatorial run-off, then I lose something of who I am. There is a difference between disappointment in an outcome and suffering.

If I am comparing myself to others then I am caught up in my ego. The ego tells me that I am better than others (marathoner) or less than others (lesbian). The ego is the mind-made sense of self. The ego never believes that there is enough (money, food, sex, clothes, house).

The ego wants to survive and, therefore, generates whatever it needs to feed and strengthen itself. The ego loves negativity. It thrives on it. Comparing against – whether for the better or worse – is an endless source of negativity. And it is easy to pile on in either case. The ego doesn't only cause suffering; it needs it to survive. (Misery loves company). I have completed 8 marathons. Only 0.1% of the US population completes a marathon in a given year. In 2008 I completed three. In every single case I crossed the finish line disappointed in my performance, feeling that I could have run faster, I could have trained better, I could have fueled my body better or hydrated better. That's my ego taking a perfectly "good" situation and generating negativity in order to survive.

I came to believe that my bumper stickers were an expression of my ego and every time I looked at them it fed my ego. The stronger my ego becomes, the more suffering I could experience. So, I took off my bumper stickers – all of them. The hardest to remove was the 26.2. I removed them as a spiritual practice.

Bumper stickers are neither right nor wrong. For me, they were an expression of my ego. My bumper stickers were incredibly reductionist.

Our egos identify with things, money, income, cars, houses, clothing, education, occupations, accomplishments and roles. Roles are the functions we carry out in life; only they are roles when we do so unconsciously.

I am a mother. That is a true statement. But, that is not who I am. I fill the function of mother and grandmother, but that is not who I am.

I am a nurse. In the world of form that is a true statement. But, it is not who I am. I have filled the function of being a nurse.

OK, so we are not what we have (money, toys, PhDs, etc.) and we are not what we do (job, family relationships). We are not any of these things, but what ARE we??

I am

I am life

I am the expression of life in this universe.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin." Matthew 6:28. They have no role. They own nothing. Yet, they are a glorious expression of the creation of the universe.

We are human beings.

The human part is the world of form and ego where we are anxious that we will not have enough. Human is made up of the physical body, our thoughts, emotions, roles, and labels. Our bumper stickers are very human.

The being part is the real part. This is the I AM. This is the I am that I am. This is the spirit that is a part of the Great Spirit. This is my authentic self. Being must be experienced. Words are insufficient to describe or communicate Being. I am the Truth [p. 71].

Deepak Chopra says, "Notice the silent witness, the silent listener who is always present. This presence exists not only in yourself, but also in the space around you. It is that part of yourself that is beyond the thoughts and feelings of the moment, the part that never tires and never sleeps. Nor can this part of you ever be destroyed. Recognize that this silent witness is always there." Chopra also addresses freedom. "Freedom comes from the experiential knowledge of our true nature, which is already free. It comes from finding out that our real essence is the joyful field of infinite consciousness that animates all of creation. To have the experience of our real essence is just to be. Then we are free. In this state of freedom, we understand that life is the meaningful coexistence of all opposite values. We may experience happiness or we may experience pain and suffering, but we do not get attached to pleasure and we do not recoil in fear of pain. In freedom, we even lose our fear of death, because the belief in mortality is just a spell that we have cast upon ourselves."

The ego confuses being with having. I have, therefore, I am. If I have more, then I will be more.

The ego complains.

The ego compares.

The ego wants to be right and make you wrong.

The ego identifies those who are "other".

The ego is the source of unhappiness. Ego deprives us of inner peace.

Being present in the moment, the Now, is the way we experience our Beingness. When we are present, we experience inner peace. Let's do that now.

Get centered. Put both feet on the floor to connect with Mother Earth. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Let the compulsive thoughts in your mind continue. Bring your attention and awareness to your breath. Now turn your hands palm up. Now bring your attention to your hands. Feel the life force in your hands. Feel the inner peace, the joy, the "I Am." This is the peace that passeth all understanding.

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." [p. 80].