Photography and Text by Jules Hovee Steffen
Our minds race with thoughts about what we think we need to accomplish. We can so easily get literally wrapped up as if wrapped around like a tightly-wound rubber band, holding so many thoughts together in our heads. The speed at which our minds can race from one thought to the next may be likened to the quickened pace of a mountain's river that races from one embedded rock to the next. Our minds grab multiple thoughts all in an effort to plan the completion of some activity, predict what may go wrong in the downward turn of a difficult relationship, ruminate about mandane minutia, stew over gossipy remarks, rehearse storylines that we worry might derail us in the next day, think about the ways in which we believe we are right and the other person is wrong, design our thoughts of blame, or rationalize and explain our behaviors in some convoluted-egoic defense. It's all here in our little heads, and these incessant thought forms (Tolle) keep us from being present in the moment. We can so easily lose ourselves in our thoughts, whether they be spoken or unspoken, and we may think that we know something because we've attached a label to our thoughts. What's true is that everything is attached to everything else in life, and as such, connected and one. Our thoughts and words barely scratch the surface of what may likely be deeper and more profound truths, if we will but consider the possibility. Our minds potentially keep us in a perpetual spin, a disorientation and disconnection of sorts.
Most people are so completely identified with the voice in the head -- the incessant stream of involuntary and compulsive thinking and the emotions that accompany it -- that we may describe them as being possessed by their mind. As long as you are completely unaware of this, you take the thinker to be who you are. This is the egoic mind. We call it egoic because there is a sense of self, of I (ego), in every thought -- every memory, every interpretation, opinion, viewpoint, reaction, emotion. This is unconscious, spiritually speaking...The content of the ego varies from person to person, but in every ego the same structure operates. In other words: Egos only differ on the surface. Deep down they are all the same...every ego is continuously struggling for survival, trying to protect and enlarge itself. (A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, Eckhart Tolle)
The ego inside of us strives to win, to be right, to survive, and exist larger than life -- our life. And it's so easy to be unaware of it's powerful presence because it potentially reveals itself at every turn and with every breath if we succumb to it's seducing lure. The storylines we create about ourselves, others, and the situations in our life, are what the ego embraces and craves. Given that the ego is all about survival and becoming larger within us, the ego faces us each moment. We may believe we need to rid ourselves of the ego, be done with it, get rid of it, cut it out of our minds and bodies, but this is not the answer. It's part of our humanness, and yet, we are fully responsible even in the moments of being unconscious in the grasp of the ego. We remain unconscious and unaware when we live at the effect of the ego, but once we name it and call it for what it is, we dissipate the ego's energy. The raging egoic waters within us may likely begin to calm as we intentionally create more space within us. Intentionally creating space within us and around us may come to us in many forms: meditation, breathing with the intention of creating space within, feeling into the body pulsations within us, singing, forms of prayer, etc.
Complaining is one of the ego's favorite strategies for strengthening itself. Every complaint is a little story the mind makes up that you completely believe in. Whether you complain aloud or only in thought makes no difference. Some egos that perhaps don't have much else to identify with easily survive on complaining alone. When you are in the grip of such an ego, complaining, especially about other people, is habitual and, of course, unconscious, which means you don't know what you are doing. Applying negative mental labels to people, either to their face or more commonly when you speak about them to others or even just think about them, is often part of this pattern. (A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, Eckhart Tolle)
Once we are aware of the ego's presence in our lives, we may be better equipped to recognize it in ourselves and in those with whom we relate. We may no longer need to create the old storylines in our minds to which we may be attached. Just because we have believed the storylines for so long doesn't mean we must follow the same rut in the road for the rest of our lives. The more we are aware of the ego's presence and persistence in and around us, we create hope for imprinting a new treadmark on our path. As for the other person near us who may be in the grasp of the ego, we may find ways to use our soft eyes when with them and seeing the truth of what is really happening. As Eckhart Tolle says, we may look through...[we] look through the ego to the sanity that is in every human being as his or her essence. As we are more present for ourselves, for others, and when in the midst of life situations, we create more space for all and in so doing, tread the Middle Ground: Where Sages Dwell. As we breathe more space in us and around us, we are more attune to the ego's lure, naming it, and staying present in the moment so as to not miss the stillness and wonder that are here.
Jules Steffen, LMHC
More from health