The more stressed I am, the more active my emotional and reptilian brain parts become as my Ego-mind takes control. Ego-mind creates space. It is my survival mechanism and it has its place. It has extricated me out of many a needly situation with its ingenuity born of necessity.
Trouble is, it tends to overstay it’s welcome. When the danger situation is over, my mind state should return to normal, but I find that I stay in high alert, fight-or-flight mode long after the the threat has passed. At one point, I got so used to this state of emergency that it became my new normal. When I relaxed a bit, I felt lost. I even remember overreacting to mildly concerning situations just as an excuse to be back in the familiar anxiety state. Although dysfunctional, it nevertheless felt like home – at least I knew which end was up there!
Clearly, this needed to change and so I began extricating my Self out of the clutches of Ego. Here’s what I learnt:
When we are ruled by Ego, we resist the present moment. To escape it, we create space and time. We live in the past and future and elsewhere in the now, removed from actual experience.
8 ways in which we escape into space
- Obsessive thinking about problems:
A problem is a situation we dwell on without intention or possibility to act now. When I am in this mode, the present moment becomes completely obscured. I am constantly on my mental toes and feel guilty if I don’t respond to every scenario my mind produces for me. I struggle to keep my head above water in the waves of emotions that result.
- Seeking refuge in academic thought and false spirituality:
The truth is simple. Complexity is of the ego. We separate ourselves from our experience by analyzing, classifying and comparing it. Spiritual paths based on intricate knowledge do nothing but feed our ego. We may end up with a lot of elevated thoughts carefully cleansed of the intent to act on them.
- Seeking external fulfilment:
We chase after things, experiences and people as a substitute for the joy of being… here…now. Even the so-called spiritual can fill our gaping hole. ‘Spiritual’ experience-mongering is a thriving industry, servicing restless minds in search of experience-fixes. Consumer spirituality, the accumulation of spiritual props and artefacts, meets the need for spiritual ‘things’. (This is in itself a contradiction in terms, since spirit does not live in matter.) Entertainment is escaping from our mental world into yet another dream world. Rarely are we ‘at home’ – fully engaged in the present experience. We’ve all gone out, searching for ‘home’ elsewhere. Then we wonder why we end up feel disconnected and why life seems to have lost its meaning.
- Being addicted to ‘more’:
If we are destitute and find food, clothing and shelter, our sense of well-being improves. The consumer industry, however, wants us to believe, that if some of this stuff will make us happy, more of it will make us even happier. We end up
‘Buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like’. (Dave Ramsey)
We continually compare ourselves to others and feel diminished if something good happens to someone else. It irks us if another has more, knows more or can do more than we can. We need ‘more’ and will grasp at anything. If all else fails, seeing ourselves as more unfairly treated by life or more ill than another, will do.
- Seeking affirmation:
We want, expect and demand.
‘We seek instant sympathy and comforting recognition of our merits. We avoid anything Ego threatening, preferring, before any humility, life’s countless humiliations. We seek out teachers, who will flatter us, allowing our Egos to continue leading the way unchecked’. (Paramhansa Yogananda)
- Being self-absorbed:
We feel sorry for ourselves and are quick to defend ourselves. We play the victim, blaming when things go wrong or justifying as excuse to not even try.’Ego struts in self-importance or wallows in self-pity. Self-importance unmasked is self-pity and the Ego drifts between the two. Ego’s self-importance requires us to spend most of our life feeling offended by someone.’ (Don Juan – Carlos Castaneda) The truth is that the world presents us with circumstances, and we decide what they mean and label them. We give them name, form and meaning. No condition is intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but when we come from Ego, we judge everything, we cannot just observe. For instance, we will say things like: – ‘What a miserable day’ – ‘He didn’t have the decency to call’ – ‘She let me down’. These little stories enhance our Ego. We put ourselves in the right and someone or something else in the wrong. Habitual mental judgment creates a reactive relationship to life, and we suffer.
- Going drama-hunting:
We dig in the lives of others or anything dramatic, emotional or not according to plan. The habit of analysing people, for instance, seems positive on the surface: We’re ‘trying to understand them’, but the time and energy would be better spent understanding why we need to analyze others in the first place.
- Distorting our self-worth:
All sense of inferiority and superiority is an inability to see our own innate value. We then distort ourselves and our lives into something we imagine will bring us peace and happiness. In the process, we fight and injure everyone and everything around us, including ourselves. Inferiority is just as destructive as superiority here: If our life changes for the better, for instance, we may feel guilty and then sabotage our own progress as a result.
Imagine conserving all this thought energy to apply to what’s actually in front of us…