“You’re stuck with your past when you’re stuck with the ego. The self is a whole field of potentialities [waiting] to come through.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work
In my last blog, I identified ego as the voice in your head that sources all things exaggerated. But sometimes to find the middle road (a.k.a. balance), you need to experience the extremes of both sides. Lao Tzu, the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, says “An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox.”
If only your ego would take a nap! Instead, it’s the squeaky wheel demanding all your attention. But if you are experiencing discomfort, it is likely your ego assigning judgment. Below are 10 useful tools to reach for when struggling with ego-driven thoughts. They may not seem like problem-solving solutions, but when practiced with discipline, they will cultivate a mindset to help you navigate your ego. Each one has played its part in helping me find sustainability, but I call upon different tools at different times. So although they are numbered, there is no order. Experiment with what works for you and call upon them as needed. Development never ends.
Tool 1: Zoom into the moment
Stop dead in your tracks when discomfort arises (you can do this anywhere). Set an alarm for 5 minutes – this is YOU time. Release all external circumstances and shift your focus inward. Scroll through each of your senses:
- Sight: What are you looking at? If it’s distracting close your eyes and focus on the blank canvas behind your eyes.
- Touch: What do your clothes feel like against your skin – what sensations do you feel? Cold/hot/wind, etc.
- Smell: What do you smell?
- Taste: What taste do you have in your mouth? Even if it’s nothing, stop and recognize it; feel it.
- Hearing: What do you hear? Start in the room, then expand outside, into the trees, traffic, and continue outward. Can you hear the sun’s rays? The moonlight?
For those five minutes, you are Living in the Moment where Time is Relative. Follow those links to blogs I’ve written around the topic of finding freedom in the moment. It’s a lovely respite from ego.
Tool 2: The Mirror Effect
Surround yourself by healthy people who can act as mirrors – they will reflect your ego, making it easier to recognize and redirect. If you experience annoyance, impatience, judgment, etc., it is likely your ego getting in the way of an authentic reflection. The Mirror Effect is the return trip of a projection cast by you. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to take an honest look at your reflection. In the Halsey song Control, she sings “I couldn’t stand the person inside me / I turned all the mirrors around.” When people are suffering, we tend to isolate, which gives ego free reign to dominate your thinking.
But love begets love. So in effect, you can start to cast your life by engaging the Mirror Effect with everyone you encounter, equally. Read The Mirror Effect for more.
Tool 3: Gratitude
Gratitude lists really work. If you find yourself fighting ego, take a moment to mentally list off everything you are grateful for. Stellar lunch? Cool socks? Health? Family? Do you have a roof over your head and food on your table? Sometimes these lists can be really difficult to get out but don’t stop until ego backs off. Start the list now so you can refer to it in times of trouble. It really does reset the connections in your brain and will subconsciously change your mood. Try it!
Tool 4: Love and compassion
Love is the answer to everything. Everything. Think of the biggest roadblock in your life. Is there a person pissing you off? A missed opportunity or inconsistency? That’s only ego assigning a negative judgment. What would happen if you funneled love towards those areas in your life instead of anger? Even if you can’t offer love in real life, send love mentally. The effect on your brain chemistry is similar to making a gratitude list. Love begets love.
Tool 5: Nature/Daoism
Nature gives you perspective. A friend told me looking upon a vast landscape of nature, whether it be a field, mountain, or even the sky, reminds her how small we are in the grand scheme of things. So is everything ego tells us is “Amazing!” or “Terrible!” (I imagine the donkey from Shrek here, not unlike ego’s nagging voice in your head!) Lao Tzu says “Nature does not hurry, and yet it’s always on time.”
As I explained in my Daoism blog, “I believe there is a metaphor for every life lesson, represented somehow in the natural world.” If you find yourself asking philosophical questions, look to nature for answers.
Tool 6: Science
When people believed the Earth was flat, we got a limited experience of the world. Now that we are familiar with our planet, scientific attention has shifted to the cosmos. And so today’s great astrologists ask: “Is the universe flat, or is it a finite circle like the Earth?” It turns out, there is always more to explore, discover, identify, and theorize. Just look at all the excitement around the relatively recent images of a black hole!
Let that be a metaphor for life. Our understanding will forever evolve. So how can you ever know the outcomes of any predicament? We can’t! The future is unknowable. Your ego is trying to convince you to assign judgment because a judgment call immediately places limitation. Limiting our understanding takes away the possibility for another way.
Tool 7: Simulation Theory
Inspired by the Double Slit experiment in 1801, Quantum Physics has slowly set out to dissect the idea that reality does not exist until we experience it. Simply put, this is the theory we live in a matrix. Or that our world only populates when we walk into it, just like a computer game is programmed to respond to the player’s chosen direction (e.g. Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto, etc.).
The value of this concept takes away all negative judgments around your circumstances because it’s all for you! Instead of spending energy with negative interpretation, consider what value it provides. Flip the script and enjoy the world as it is being sculpted for you: the trees, the birds, friends, strangers, art, coincidences, and circumstances accompanied by opportunity. This sounds like a gratitude list!
Inside a simulated reality, everything is for YOU! But all things must be in balance. Love begets love.
Tool 8: Surrender control
Despite all the misguided proclamations around the Law of Attraction, your life does not unfold at your whim. To borrow from OutKast’s Ms. Jackson: “You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.”
The current social isolation that has been thrust upon us has not been ideal circumstances for most people, but the pandemic has offered numerous hidden opportunities. You can’t always control the circumstances in which you find yourself, nor the people surrounding you. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and sometimes you’ve got to swim with the sharks. One way to temper Ego is to recognize you don’t have control over anything external. You can only control yourself and your reactions. Don’t let ego convince you you can control the weather. Breathe deeply and release all your frustrations to the wind. Surrender control.
Tool 9: Release judgment
The earliest memory I have of my ego was learning to ride a bike. I remember feeling convinced the weight of the bicycle was too heavy for my little body to ride it. I thought there was no way an adult could understand that feeling because they weren’t as small as me – it wasn’t heavy to them. There was judgment.
I resented the feeling that no one could possibly understand me. That was ego speaking. Placing judgment on people, situations, and relationships is an ego-driven mindset. Recognize the uncomfortable feelings as ego and trace the judgment that is behind it. (e.g. The bike is too heavy. Nobody understands me.) Remove the judgment by evaluating its opposite. (e.g. The bike is mine to navigate & adults are helping me.) You can see your opposite by engaging in The Mirror Effect (Tool #2) with an opposing personality, as long as you are open and compassionate with the reflection. Love begets love.
Tool 10: Release attachment
Judgment is usually masking an attachment. If you can get past the judgment, you will likely unveil an attachment. The most common attachments I’ve encountered in the Arts are around money. Feeling limited by your financial situation is only an attachment to money. If you release that belief and focus your energy elsewhere (i.e. development, networking, your craft), resources tend to reveal themselves.
These resources might not come in the form of funding – they offer possibility. I am always surprised to discover hidden resources from the artists I work with, sometimes after months of coaching. They might slip out an inside connection they felt was tapped out or not useful. All resources are advantageous if employed strategically.
None of this work can be done alone, so accept help when it is offered. Every moment is an opportunity if you choose to make it so. It’s hard work; it’s mindset work. You can even begin to appreciate the ego’s bombardment of extremes by remembering solace can only be found in the middle.