I think, therefore I am nuts. A search for self beyond the Ego
A week ago, I was on the nine-and-a-half hour drive home from the Finger Lakes in New York, where I had been vacationing for a whole week. My hope for the drive was to maintain the same sense of calm, centeredness and peace that I had cultivated during my week away from work and home obligations.
But, inevitably, once I settled in to the passenger’s seat, I picked up my phone, opened my calendar, my inbox, which I had dutifully neglected the entire week, and my to-do lists. Why do we like to torture ourselves so much?!
My heart rate increased. My breath became shallow and hurried. I could feel my shoulders, like hackles, rising up toward my ears. And the wave of internal criticism began.
“Why didn’t I get more of these things done before I left for vacation?” I scolded myself. “Some of these to-do items have been sitting on my lists for literally months. I don’t think I should have ever gone on vacation at all. There’s just not enough time?!”
The self-loathing and judgement was brutal. But then, something magical happened that helped me take back control.
Perhaps it was because I had just come from a place of chilled out vacay mode, but I was able to peel myself — that deepest part of me — away from my thoughts. All of a sudden, I shifted from victim to compassionate observer. I noticed my thoughts, rather than identifying with them.
I saw that my mind was being commandeered by my hyper-critical Ego, which was now wielding its fine tuned weapons (complaining, victimizing, self-loathing) to keep me small and disconnected. Paralyzed by overwhelm and fear of failure.
But I am evolving, damn it, and it’s time to put that nasty self-destructive stuff to rest.
I put my phone down. I focused on my breath. I knew that I could handle all my to-do’s like the boss-lady I believed I am in the morning.
I am more than my thoughts
I remember the first time I was introduced to the idea that we are not our thoughts — we are more than our thoughts. It was during a senior year philosophy class, and we were delving into Toaism and Zen Buddhism.
Up until that point, I thought the most “me” part of myself was my mind. My thoughts represented my unique perspectives, experiences and emotions. They articulated my opinions, which I proudly developed by reading and learning at school. And they helped me regurgitate and apply information to get good grades in school. Who am I without good grades? What do you mean I am not my thoughts?!
It didn’t make sense. Until I realized that that was the point: to stop trying to make it make sense. To just accept that I am more than my thoughts.
It felt so good to sit in that place of freedom from the bossy, confused, cranky anxious voice that lived in my head.
So who is Ego, anyway? And why is she so loud?
I love the way Eckhart Tolle describes the ego as more than just a vain, self-absorbed part of personalities. On a deeper level, he explains, our egos are a barrier built to establish and reinforce separateness as a perceived self preservation tactic. You won’t suffer a broken heart if you never open it up to love, right?
“One way to think about ego is as a protective heavy shell, such as the kind some animals have, like a big beetle. This protective shell works like armor to cut you off from other people and the outside world. What I mean by shell is a sense of separation: Here's me and there's the rest of the universe and other people. The ego likes to emphasize the "otherness" of others.
This sense of separation is an intrinsic part of the ego. The ego loves to strengthen itself by complaining—either in thoughts or words—about other people, the situation you find yourself in, something that is happening right now but "shouldn't be," and even about yourself. For example, when you're in a long line at the supermarket, your mind might start complaining how slow the checkout person is, how he should be doing this or doing that, or he failed to do anything at all—including packing the bag of the person ahead of you correctly.
When this happens, the ego has you in its grip. You don't have thoughts; the thoughts have you—and if you want to be free, you have to understand that the voice in your head has created them and irritation and upset you feel is the emotional response to that voice Only in this way can you be present to the truer world around you and see the golden shade in a pound of pears on the scanner, or the delight of a child in line who begs to eat them.The trick, of course, is to work to free ourselves from this armor and from this voice that is dictating reality.”
Claiming Control & Creating Greater Freedom
The morning after my long drive home, nourished by a good night of rest — and some healthy perspective — I returned to my calendar, my inbox and my to-do lists. This time, as I sat down before the heaps of work, instead of freaking out, I calmly appreciated how long it takes to do something well. It takes time to get things done, to conceive a new project, to complete a task, to make the changes in our lives that we wish to experience. And I felt a wave of gratitude for all that I have accomplished, how far I have come in my own life.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
One step, one breath, one moment at a time. That’s how Life unfolds. That’s how you take control of your Ego: by breathing into the spaces between thoughts. Where the deepest part of you resides — centered, wise, at peace — and where you can experience life as it is. Without criticism. Without complaints. Without judgement or ridiculously high standards of success or perfection.
It’s the good and bad news, I suppose. Because it’s mighty tough to step off the treadmill life. To break fusion with our old ways of managing life. But we are so capable of doing so. And we need to do so — our health and our lives depend on it.
Slow down. Take in the sounds and sights of nature. And just breathe.
As Tolle reminds us, “One breath — in and out — is a meditation.”