In my last blog I wrote about ego-induced stress. In that blog we discussed how the ego causes you to want things you don't need, put off happiness until a future date (like after you get that promotion) and to think incessantly (ruminate) about relationships that have gone wrong, personal inadequacies you might have and bad decisions you might have made in the past.
Our ego drives us to hate ourselves, second guess our decisions, and reach beyond our ability to support ourselves in the event we stumble and fall. When we buy a new house or a new car we can't afford, or take risks we can't handle or name-drop about the "famous" people we might have met we can almost always tie these behavioral miscues back to the voice of the ego.
You will almost surely suffer if you always follow the path down which your ego directs you. Better to live within your means in a house that isn't quite as glamorous as your neighbor's house, and drive a car that you can afford rather than to always try to match how much money your neighbor is spending. Why? Because you'll never satisfy the "hungry ghost" that drives you to want to keep up with the Jones.
In the previous blog my advice for ego stress was simple: You need to become aware of this voice in your head. This is a major first step forward and should not be underestimated. Tackling ego-induced stress is a radical concept, and you won't get a whole lot of support for this notion from the movers and shakers in the world, whose voices and minds are almost always infused with ego.
Besides recognizing this voice for what it is, it helps to think of the ego as a kind of shadow version of you. Let's call this shadow personality your other self. We know we are one person, but the ego creates this second entity that tends to be critical of everything "we" do. You can see this dualism clearly when we say: "I hate myself." HOW CAN THIS BE POSSIBLE? How can I possibly hate myself? The ego makes it possible: In this sentence the "I" is the ego and myself is YOU.
The good news is YOU are NOT this voice and you can choose to ignore it. But the key to doing this it is to learn how to amplify an even quieter voice that truly is you, but tends to get drowned out by the voice of ego. This quiet voice is the voice of intuition, the voice that emanates from your heart and it is the voice that seems to always know what the right thing to do is (even though you may not always do it).
It's also important to remember what a cutting edge idea this concept of de-amplifying the voice of ego truly is. So take a moment to appreciate the fact that you've kept reading this far and you're still open to the possibility that what I'm saying might be true - which already proves that you are a truly independent thinker.
For most of us we can only hear (i.e., understand) what we already know. (Think of how limiting this concept is and yet entirely true!) NEW and especially contradictory information like this rarely makes it in through the front door of our own heads. Why? I believe it's because the ego is guarding the door.
So how do we sneak in past our own egos? You begin by raising your level of awareness of how the ego operates (it drowns out the quieter voice with its constant I ME ME MINE refrain) and at the same time you need to learn how to amplify the still small voice of your true, inner self. And there's no single better way to amplify your inner voice than by practicing mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is a kind of open-field meditation where you get comfortable with the thoughts passing through your mind, and just seeing them objectively like you would watching clouds pass across the horizon. As you learn to distance yourself from your overly negative thoughts, thoughts of self-loathing, and the thoughts of inadequacy (i.e., the voice of ego) lose their hold on you and you eventually (with continued practice) become free of a whole spectrum of self-defeating emotions and desires.
Certainly there are times when the ego is healthy and necessary for survival (when it causes you to get out of an abusive relationship) and keeps you motivated when the odds are not in your favor. That said, I do think there's much work to be done in the area of taming the ego and overcoming ego-related stress. For now, suffice it to say that my advice to you is threefold:
Stay tuned to future blogs for much more information about mindfulness meditation and ego-induced stress. For now if you want to know more about how the ego directs us read Eckhart Tolle's The New Earth and for more about mindfulness try any book by Jon Kabat-Zinn.