One of the interesting themes this past few days has been about ego. That ‘thing’ we say is too much, too little or not there at all. Something we say that can lead to arrogance, deference, traps and pitfalls. The ego mind is a powerful justification for all sorts of things.
It got me wondering. I’ve written about ego before when discussing spirituality. There is certainly an aspect of my mind that draws my attention to all sorts of shoulds, musts, oughts and duty. This part of me is also busy alerting me to judgements I or others make about me. It feeds my fears if I let it. It feeds my admiration of myself if I let it. This ego mind shows me the world through a sharp lense. Not necessarily the world as it is but the world that my ego mind wishes me to see.
I find that a bit of a problem. My ego is busy trying to nudge me in directions it might not be wise for me to go. Then my ego mind can justify itself to me. My aim is to be my authentic self. I am loving, annoying, cheerful, talented, protective, loyal, straight talking, sensitive and so much more. I’m a mix of all sorts of human emotions. Sometimes I’m angry, sad, depressed, unhappy. Other times I’m upbeat, positive, joyful, excited. What’s wrong with that?
Ego power can shift all of those emotions in the blink of an eye. The thoughts the emotions generate can be turned upside down and inside out in seconds.
I believe that ego developed to keep us safe. In a time when there were immediate challenges to staying alive. When we had dropped out of connection with our intuitive senses. My ego serves a purpose in keeping me alive, fed and sheltered. However, it has become my controller more than my survival mechanism. Today I live in a relatively safe world. The threats I perceive are not usually life-threatening. My ego is a bit lost.
So my mind creates challenges and threats to keep me ready for fight or flight. After all, life is uncertain. Who knows when a rhinoceros might charge down the street at me. My ego wants me to be ready. Now I identify others as competition for ‘scarce’ resources. Or I have to have the same material things as others to remain a part of the tribe and therefore safe. I rush around grabbing this technique or that qualification so I can have an edge in my ability to attract people to give me their ‘scarce’ resource – money. If I can’t grab enough I tell myself I’m no good and the stress of surviving gets worse.
When I fall into the control of ego I have trapped myself in a confusion of impulses, thoughts and feelings. I have drifted away from my true core.
One of the ways I remind myself about ego traps is to stand back a little from my thoughts and feelings. I know that isn’t always easy. Some moments are too overwhelming still for me to grab a time out. However I practice taking a pause before I react as much as I can. I want to check my reaction before I respond. Since the ego is very good at what it does the ways it works can be really subtle. Is there a trap waiting to spring on me?
One key way of checking is to enter a conversation, an experience, an interaction knowing what your ego is up to at that moment. Am I feeling anxious, thinking everyone will know more than me? Do I feel that person is looking better than me? Is everyone talking about me? Does that person mean to tell me off about something? Are all the others in the secret but I’m not? Why haven’t I been included? Why are they getting more customers than me? Why does everyone else have more money than me?
All of these questions lead to ego traps because my mind is creating fear and judgement within my head. The temptation is to respond with aggression or defensiveness before anything has even happened.
That’s when the inappropriate language and behaviour starts. Once started egos go into battle and it’s very hard to find enough common ground for a truce. Fear multiplies fear. A long time ago I noticed that a reoccurring theme in my life was the influence my ego exerted. It’s useful. I need it. But I have to be in charge not it. As well as giving myself thinking time I also pay close attention to what I say. Of course I pay the same attention to what others are saying. Language is a slippery thing. I know I can drift into ego language easily. Saying I’m the best ever is not the same as saying my best skill is….
I often hear people say I’m not in it for the money or I’m not doing it to compete. Then they talk about money in terms that show they feel a lack. If I feel lack I know my ego will try get me competing again for scarce resources. So of course my language will shift to subtle and not so subtle ways of saying I’m the best there is. Or to trying to pursued people to pick me, pick me. Finding a way through this minefield takes effort. I use mindfulness to stay as much in the present moment as I can. I react in the way I choose to, not the way my ego wants.
Genuine emotion wins every time. Being real about what I feel, taking responsibility for what I say and being prepared to acknowledge when I might have chosen an inappropriate response takes over from ego with practice.
I can balance my need for authenticity with compassion for myself when it doesn’t quite work out that way. My ego is also getting quieter. It’s reserving itself more and more for genuine threats. Not that I’m expecting a rhino to turn up in the middle of Hebden Bridge but there are cars that look pretty much like rhinos. When I write, post on social media, work with others or deal with events in my life the fear of survival is much less. I have reclaimed my personal power. I understand the world is uncertain but I feel much less uncertain about myself. I’m finding a new voice speaking louder and louder. My voice. My choice.
Day 229 of my blogging challenge.