Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: How do I know when my desires and the signs around me are really from my soul and not from my ego? I ask this question as I stand at a crossroads about several things, the main one being whether or not to stay in my current relationship. I have been mostly sure for the past six months that I want to move on, but I'm trying to be as sure as possible about it before I end it because I have young kids to consider as well.
You say that if you are living from your soul that you are selfless, and yet I feel like I am being selfish for wanting to leave, even though I really believe that's what would be best for me. When I think about staying, I just don't want to, even though it would be "easier" and there are a lot of good things about the relationship. How can I trust myself? How can I know when my desires are true and not being influenced by my ego? In some cases, I'm sure it's obvious—wanting peace versus wanting a fancy new car—but in matters of love and career, I'm not sure how or when to move forward. Thanks for any advice you can offer.
— Tracy C., Portland, Oregon
You've put an intimate situation in rather abstract terms, which makes an answer more problematic. Are you dropping a clue with the phrase "wanting peace?" That implies a tempestuous, angry or even abusive relationship. Yet the rest of your letter seems to come from someone who is musing about her relationship with such distance that it could belong to someone else. This tone of lofty confusion is hard to address.
But let me try. Human awareness isn't actually split into ego and soul. Those are terms of convenience. They arose because of our divided nature. We have a long tradition of seeing ourselves as good versus bad, sinner versus saint and so on. In this state of duality, our awareness became divided against itself, which is why you—and everyone else who admits to feeling conflicted—find it hard to sort your feelings out.
As I see it, all conflicts have many dimensions. Past conditioning, old hurts, escape fantasies, reluctance to let go, blame of the other person and old wounds are just the beginning. To these can be added the parenting you experienced, the good and bad marriages you have observed, your self-image, your view of yourself in the future and much more. This entangled set of elements is the situation, not a clean split between ego and soul.
All such conflicts turn messy because there are only two ways forward. Either you untangle the mess or you don't. I hate to disappoint you, but the way you want—a clear decision based on pros and cons—is a fantasy. Unresolved issues lie at the heart of almost all relationships problems. So what to do? You must honestly confront your partner, find out if he is willing to work through these issues you share, and then see what comes next. Sitting alone in a tower of hazy confusion only perpetuates the problem.