hiding true self

Letting Go of ME, to be me

As I mentioned recently, surrendering my ego is one of the current challenges, goals, liberations I am working on. The ego is who I think I am. The ego is the persona I have created based on where I was born, how I was raised, and what I look like. The ego is how I choose to see life, the purpose of life, and how life should be lived. But the ego isn’t really me. A few months ago, I defined what ego is and is not. At this point, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what ego is, how it can negatively affect me, and why I should let it go. My ego, however, has different plans.

The ego has its own survival mechanism. It does not want to be easily discarded. If we don’t believe in and protect our ego it goes away, and like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction our ego will not be ignored. Like any change, releasing the ego is scary. For half a century I have believed myself to be one thing, defining myself as an intelligent driven compassionate woman who has scored some victories and made some mistakes. My ego is how I describe myself, it is how most people see me, it is what gives my life meaning. It is my boundaries and my framework. And the ego is also a trap. When we hold on to a rigid definition of who we are, we limit what we can experience. When we protect our ego, we distance ourselves from others. In protecting this persona, this role we have taken on, we can become confrontational toward anyone and any circumstance that pokes holes in what we believe we are.

hiding true self
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

To be truly me, truly deeply Type-Me me, I need to release what I think defines me – family, nation, body, job title, ambition, accomplishments, beliefs, perspective – and instead embrace my true inner self. I had a glimpse of being me without my ego when I returned from Peru. I had shed the beliefs. I had shed the labels. I had shed the judgments. I was just present. I was unaffected by the world and the people around me. Don Miguel Ruiz talked about being without ego when he said, “I don’t take anything personally. I am a secondary character in other people’s stories. I know that whatever people say about me is just a projection of their image of me. It has nothing to do with me.” When are without ego, we can not be defined, we can not be hurt. Whether others are projecting their image on me or I am projecting an image on myself or others, it is all make-believe. It is not reality. The ego is “the idea or opinion that you have of yourself,” it is not a fact. Like the old saying goes, “sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words can only hurt my ego; they can never hurt my true self.

Being without ego is pure peace, very empowering, and a bit terrifying. It is frightening because it is not how many of us commonly live. We believe that the life we have crafted is hard fast truth, when it is really perception and interpretation. To let go of this perception leaves us floating without a tether. We are ungrounded. It is pure bliss and yet our ego sees it as alarming because everything has changed; the reality we knew no longer exists. The ego wants to feel loved. To feel loved it needs to define something to love. The ego wants to be recognized. To be recognized it needs to define what is good and what is bad. The ego wants to endure. To endure the ego needs to exist and be defended. Being without ego is living without definition, good/bad, and individual existence.

When I have those moments of releasing the ego, I do not disappear. Yes, the persona I wear fades away, but my truth, my true being shines strongly. Without my self-created ego, I am the a free powerful being beyond restriction. I am tapped into the powerful oneness of the universe which is and will be eternal.

Hopefully in some of my existential babbling you received the message you need to hear today.

mask of ego

Ego and Surrender

Yoga and other mindfulness practices talk a lot about the ego and surrendering the ego. Thinking that the ego meant the self and being raised a Catholic where I heard many times it is better to serve and give to others, I interpreted surrendering the ego to mean that we are meant to be self-sacrificing. That we should release our desires and remove all selfishness. That we should be humble and put others first no matter the personal discomfort. For me this led to a life where I did not take care of myself. By putting everyone and everything else first, I became a neglected last. I thought that surrendering my ego meant surrendering my basic needs.  I’m going to attempt to explain what I have learned over the years.

Self Care

First, unlike what I assumed, surrendering the ego is NOT giving up our essentials needs. You are the only person responsible for you. Therefore, feeding and caring for our own bodies, minds and spirits is and should always be our primary concern. This does not mean intentionally harming or taking from others to satiate our desires. It does mean that we need to care for ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can not care for anyone else nor truly live our purpose.

Ego

mask of ego
Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

If our bodies, minds and spirits are not are ego, what is ego? The Cambridge Dictionary defines ego as “the idea or opinion that you have of yourself, esp. the level of your ability and intelligence, and your importance as a person.” Ego is not you, not your body, not your mind, not your spirit. Ego is what you think of your body, your mind, your spirit, and your position in the world. Our responsibility is to care for our physical and spiritual being, ourselves. What we are exploring is how to release what we believe about our human presence.

Our ego, our thoughts about our self, is often out of balance. Sometimes we have a much grander opinion of ourselves than reality dictates. Maybe we think we are “the best” and superior to others. For whatever reason, our opinion of ourselves is inflated. Sometimes our ego is deflated. We can’t see our good and what makes us amazing. We downplay our accomplishments and our worth. Whether high or low, what is important to remember is that our ego is our self-created opinion. It is not fact. It is a thought or belief.

Surrendering the Ego

Surrendering the ego is letting go of our opinion, good or bad, of who we are. The first reason we strive to surrender our ego, is that our ego, how we think of ourselves, is often misguided. Whether we inflate ourselves or put ourselves down, our ego is based on our beliefs, not hard cold facts. When we surrender the lies we tell ourselves, we can reconnect to the reality of who we are.

The second reason we strive to surrender our ego, is we release viewing the world through our perception of ourselves and begin to see the reality of the world. We stop seeing people as actors in our play, and begin to see them fully and truly as they are. We stop interpreting events through the filter of our ego and begin to see the facts that surround us. We stop seeing the world as a reflection of our opinion and see it more clearly.

The third reason we strive to surrender our ego, is it allows us to connect to the universal. Releasing our opinion of ourselves, opens us to see the truth of who we are in and of the world. We let go of the personal entity we have created and can begin to see ourselves as part of the whole collective universal spirit. When we can release our ego, when we can release the belief that we can creating who we are, who others are and what the world is, we can surrender into the truth of life.

blue sky

Why is the Sky Blue?

If you have been around small children, you may have been asked a question like “why is the sky blue?” Science readily gives us answers. Like this one from NASA which talks about how blue light travels in shorter and smaller waves so it is easier for us to see. But NASA did not really answer the question. They answered how the sky appears blue, but they didn’t really answer why. The “hows” of life are very important. They help us function. They explain nature and how the world works. The hows lead us to inventions like refrigerators, cars and air conditioners. Understanding how things work helps us to relate to the world around us. What has always intrigued me are the “whys” of life. Why are blue light waves smaller? Why are there different colors in the light waves? Why do the light waves act differently? Why are their light waves at all?

blue sky
Photo by Breno Freitas on Unsplash

I don’t remember where I heard the why/how debate or if it just came to me, but the difference between why and how made me stop. In our lives there are many times we don’t have answers to why things happen like they do. Why does gravity exist? Why do opposites attract? Why does the body only have a finite number of years of use? Why is there so much pain and hate? Why can’t we all just get along? Why do we exist as we exist and why do we exist at all? The whys delve into the meaning of life.

Spending time contemplating the whys distances us from our every day life. The daily questions we ask ourselves are usually banal.  Why is the Starbucks line so long? Why can the Jones’ get a new car and why can’t I? Why does a size 8 dress no longer seem to be my size 8? Even important questions like, does this look cancerous to you or why is our relationship not like it used to be, keeps us focused on our earthly life. This day to day life can be the source of a lot of pain, anger and frustration. Taking some time to look beyond the commonplace can put things in perspective for us. Going beyond the here and now, beyond what our five senses tell us, can transport us to a thinking and a peace that can provide us with a much-needed respite. If you can’t lift yourself beyond the earthly realm, try to distance yourself using time and space. For whatever is troubling you, explore how important it will be in five years or maybe twenty.  Giving ourselves perspective by looking beyond our current viewpoint, can be a source of great serenity.

If it is hard to find perspective and peace by moving beyond, move within. Explore the whys in your own personal life. I’m not talking about intriguing but unimportant questions like, why do I like pizza more than celery? But exploring deeper whys that affect how we experience our lives. Why do I react this way to certain people? Why do I hold myself back? Why do I keep making the same mistakes again and again? Exploring these whys can help us change how we experience life. An analysis of one’s whys helps us gain understanding of our actions and with that understanding we are able to make different choices. For example, why do I react negatively to narcissists? The answer is I have been hurt by them in the past and it is safer for me to not be around them. This piece of information can help me make choices toward a better life. Knowing why you act and react a certain way can help you make better choices for a better life.

As you go about your day, notice how you are perceiving the world. Is stopping to ask why on a global or personal level a potential source of calm for you?

books

What Can You Trust?

Like many coaches and psychologists, I have looked at the famous Stanford prison experiment to show how power and perception of rank changes how we treat each other, see our place in the world, and believe in our ability to affect change. The results of this experiment state that those pretending to be guards began to treat those playing inmates harshly as soon as they were given the power. The inmates in turn became depressed and powerless. Truth is though, the experiment, which is still being included in college text books, was falsified. Additionally, it turns out this experiment taken as real for years, is not the only one purposefully or unintentionally misleading.

When I ran across this great article exposing issues with currently accepted psychological experiments, it reminded me of a time when I was doing marketing research for a company. The research did not reflect positively for the goals of the sales department. The managers of the company pressured me to manipulate the research data so that it was more convincing for our clients. I refused. The managers, however, adjusted the results on their own, eventually winning the contract and creating issues when the product did not perform as well as the doctored research.

books
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Never in my lifetime have I seen more of a need to qualify and confirm the information being presented to us through books, articles, and news sources. In this time of easy information and no supreme governing body over the quality of information, it is very important to analyze the source of the information, the quality of the information, and the conclusions drawn.

Analyze the Source

What is the agenda of the source? What does the source have to gain by swaying you one way or the other? If your best friend of 40 years tells you that your new spouse is cheating on you, but your spouse says s/he is not, who has the most to gain by lying? Even when I read news from a source I trust, I often look for corroborating reports. I’ll especially look for news outlets removed from the topic so they have less of a tendency to create bias as they have no stake in the issue.

Analyze the Quality of the Information

Where is the information coming from? Is it first-hand experience or a game of telephone? What scientific, objective methods were used? Can what is being told be proved? Is the information presented as tangible facts or conjecture? Is what is being relayed objective or an interpretation?

Analyze the Conclusions

Before we could see the subatomic particles of an atom, we thought the atom was the smallest component and therefore any conclusions around that topic were limited by that belief. Are the conclusions in what you are reading limited by what we currently know? Are there facts missing which would affect the presented conclusions? Is there social or cultural bias affecting what is being presented? Can you see alternate conclusions based on the facts?

If you are only trusting one source, or even one person for your news, you are giving your power away. Gather a broad palette of information and then question everything before accepting what is presented. We can be easily deceived by those who are intentionally or unintentionally trying to manipulate us for their own purposes.

simon electronic game

Everything You Want

As a child back in the 1970’s, I remember spending weeks pouring over the Sears Catalog to compile what I wanted for Christmas. The latest doll. A pair of roller skates. The Simon electronic memory game. The list would go on with every gadget and toy I could find. Santa was usually pretty good to me. I wouldn’t get everything I wanted, but I would receive a lot. And usually by February, I was bored with it all. I had everything I wanted, but nothing I needed.

simon electronic gameIn contrast, two years ago, I gave my husband some plain white socks for Christmas. He was ecstatic. He could use the socks. He wears socks without shoes while working and usually wears them out quickly. With this practical gift, he received something he truly needed and was very grateful.

Look around you right now. Are you surrounded by what you wanted? Do you have the house, car, and clothing you desire? Do you have a room filled with collectibles or your passion? How full are your closets, your basement, your garage? Do you have everything you want? If not, what else is on your wish list?

It’s exciting to have a dream and work toward having what you desire. Yet how often once we have a certain thing, do we find it does not fulfill us? When you look back at your life, is it things that make you happy? Or are your moments of joy due to an experience?

One of my and my husband’s desires and dreams was to have a boat. We would spend wonderful weekends on her exploring the Chain o’ Lakes. The boat itself did not bring us joy. What did satisfy us was what the boat provided. It gave us time together. It gave us projects to do together, and it showed us how to work together even when the projects were not going well. It brought us closer to nature. It allowed us to relax after a hard week of work. What we thought we wanted was a boat; what we really needed was time becoming and being a loving, strong couple.

Here are a few ways to focus on fulfilling-needs versus unsatisfying-wants:

  • Look through all the things you wanted and now have. Do they bring you joy in themselves? Do they sit on a shelf? If they provide you with joy, is it the thing itself or the experience that the thing provides? Is there another way you could have that experience without the thing?
  • For the things you still desire, what do you hope they will provide? Do you have to have that thing to receive what you really need or should you just focus on having a similar experience of what you believe it will provide?
  • Start a gratitude list for everything you have that you truly need: food, shelter, clothing, family, friends, health. Focus on the fulfillment from the true necessities versus the disappointment of yearning for your desires.

For many years my husband and I worked hard to have the boat and a beautiful home with the items we desired. I don’t regret spending money on the Elfa closets I desired or the Mid-Century furniture and art my husband wanted. When it came time to move and we had to leave much of what we had wanted behind, over time it has shown us the beauty and gift of having only what we need. No more, no less. Feeling free and more fulfilled that any of the items every gave us.

fish out of water

Out of My Comfort Zone

Practicing yoga is doing a lot to take me out of my comfort zone. The other day one of my fellow yogi’s said she noticed that I had moved from the back to the front of the room and then she read my blog about the experience. We discussed how my fear had kept me at the back of the room; the lack of confidence in my practice, the concern that others would make fun of my ability, the desire to blend into the woodwork. We also talked about how once I let go of those fears and made the physical shift within the room, my practice improved because I could now do it without all the mental blocks. In the end, it was better moving out of what I thought was my comfort zone, into a space that truly served me.

As I began working up to a headstand, I had a similar experience. The fears and beliefs I had in my ability, held me back mentally and physically. My old thoughts and beliefs kept my legs planted and stuck. Through help and practice I am now close to doing a headstand on my own. What changed? I began to believe I could do it. I released my old story of negative self-image and any thoughts of “I can’t.” The experience was night and day. My first attempt with all my restricting beliefs increased the weight of my legs ten-fold and made it feel like magnets where locking my feet to the floor. My most recent attempt my legs floated into the air like feathers. I still needed a little spotting, but for the most part my legs just went where I directed them. What changed?

fish out of waterOn the physical level, I have been building my core and learning how my core, not my legs are the power of the move. But what I needed to do first, before I could even have the mental space to allow myself to work on my physical ability, was to shift my mind.

First, I had to release what was, what I believed was the truth, and what I experienced in the past. How many times do we keep ourselves stuck in old ways of being, simply by believing what happened before will happen again?  The first step to making a change or trying something new is to release all that we learned from the past which holds us back. In releasing this we now have the power to make baby-steps toward our goal.

The next challenge is the process of trying, learning, failing, and trying again. Especially in our instant gratification society, we may expect things to change overnight. Sorry, that’s not usually the case. More commonly it is a journey to get where we want to go. It is during this two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back phase that I find myself the most challenged. Being a perfectionist, I am always on the lookout for what I am doing wrong. Making judgements if things are not quite right. Putting myself down for not getting there fast enough. It is during this phase that it is important to focus on the minor accomplishments, not being focused on the ultimate goal or the setbacks. This is similar to what I tell job seekers. They are usually focused on and disappointed because they have not yet landed their dream job. They focus on what they messed up in their interview, instead of seeing all they did to get the interview or focusing on the lessons from the experience. I change their focus to celebrating their efforts – improving their resume, networking, following up, and learning. It is in these small efforts that they continue to move forward, and hopefully, now that they are celebrating the efforts, the process is also more enjoyable, or at least not constantly stressful.

Once I make it to my goal, I am always amazed on how it is much better on the other side. All of my fears of what would happen, how I would mess up, or who would be upset, are dissolved. I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner. I see how my fears kept me from moving into a space that is much better for me.

Where do you feel stuck? What do you want to change or accomplish, but feel like it is impossible? How are your fears of change creating reasons you shouldn’t even try? Reframe your thoughts so they support your goals. Celebrate your efforts and accomplishments along the way. Then accept and embrace your newly found space. You will find it better outside of your comfort zone.