What is the nature of the ego? What happens when we identify with the ego? How can we prevent the ego from keeping us trapped in mindlessness?
The ego is preoccupied with superiority and self-image, always wanting more and better—such is its nature. When we overidentify with the ego, we are consumed with wanting, which traps us in a dysfunctional state of mindlessness. According to spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, the only way to escape this state is to evolve our consciousness to a higher level—one where we are present in each moment rather than constantly wanting. He calls this state being or presence.
Here’s how to control your ego and ultimately achieve a state of mindfulness.
Keep Your Ego in Check
In his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle offers five suggestions for how to control your ego and live with non-attachment, nonjudgment, and nonresistance and finally break free from the state of mindlessness.
- Recognize and ignore the compulsions of the ego that strengthen it: The ego compels us to strengthen our identity and reach for superiority. So, resist the urge to do things like express your opinion when it’s not asked for or needed; demand recognition; make unnecessary requests; have strong expectations of people; or try to make an impression through your beliefs, knowledge, or looks. These are the compulsions of your ego.
- Detach from the thoughts and emotions of your pain-body: When we get upset over things like disrespect, lack of attention, or other people’s behavior, we cause ourselves unnecessary misery and strengthen our pain-body, making ourselves more prone to these reactions in the future. When you recognize these thoughts and emotions cropping up, detach yourself from them and acknowledge that they’re not you, but rather the pain-body trying to bring you down. With repetition, it will become easier to separate yourself from these negativities.
- When someone damages your ego (they accuse, blame, disrespect you, and so on) don’t fight it with a reaction or response—let it happen. Your ego reacts to these offenses as a restoration tactic. But when you don’t react—when you stop defending your “self”—you’ll stop identifying with your ego and strengthen your connection to your inner self.
- Focus on your breathing and take a break from thinking. When you focus all your attention on breathing and feeling your body, you become grounded in mindfulness and the present moment. This is a form of meditation. This will make you aware of the gap between your thinking mind, which is the voice of your ego, and your inner self, which will allow you to feel the conscious energy that flows through every part of your body. You are not your body or your mind, you are the conscious energy within it.
- Do every single thing in a state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm. You can’t always be joyful or enthusiastic about things you have to do, like cleaning or working, but you can accept them by simply living in the present moment. If you just accept what’s happening right now without seeing it as a bridge, a barrier, or an antagonist, there’s no room for negative thoughts and emotions, only mindfulness and peace.
The Dalai Lama Adds to Tolle’s Advice
In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama’s assertion on how to achieve peace and enjoyment in life closely aligns with Tolle’s: Stop resisting the things that happen to us in life. The Dalai Lama says we must accept that suffering is inherent to life. When we resist the unfavorable things that happen to us, we cause ourselves more suffering—for example, if you missed your train, it might be an inconvenience, but when you get angry about it, you’re simply adding unnecessary suffering to an already unfavorable situation. Ultimately, the Dalai Lama is making the same assertion as Tolle: To achieve peace and enjoyment in life, we need to live with mindfulness—non-attachment, nonjudgment, and nonresistance to the outside world.
To achieve this state of acceptance, the Dalai Lama and his co-author Howard C. Cutler make a number of recommendations, many of which closely align with Tolle’s suggestions:
– Don’t take things personally. When we take offense to situations, we’re ultimately operating under the belief that everything is about us. Tolle’s philosophy would label these negative thoughts as compulsions of both your ego and your pain-body. To help resist these thoughts, the authors suggest that you objectively question why the situation happened—for example, maybe your friend was late because of traffic, not because she doesn’t care about you. This practice can help you weaken the pain-body by dismantling the belief that everything is about you.
– Don’t indulge in guilt. Everyone makes mistakes. Obviously, we should never intentionally cause anyone suffering, but if we do so by accident, we must remember that suffering is inherent and we are only human—we can’t be perfect. Simply learn from the situation and move on. While this suggestion adds to Tolle’s list, it’s closely connected to his beliefs about how our thought elements dictate good and bad. When we follow the Dalai Lama’s suggestion to learn from the mistake without feeling guilty, we’re also detaching from these underlying thought beliefs that make us feel like we’re a “bad” person—guilt is ultimately a reaction and affirmation of these thought elements.
– Contemplate your body. Because we possess a physical body that can experience sensations like pain, suffering is inherent and natural. Consequently, there’s no need to resist it. This adds to Tolle’s recommendations to focus on your body: Tolle’s advice seeks to help you use your body to find mindfulness, and the Dalai Lama’s advice seeks to do the same, but through suffering.
– Stop resting change. Nothing is permanent—experiences, plans, and even life itself. When we attach ourselves to these things, we will end up suffering when they inevitably end or change. This encapsulates Tolle’s suggestion to live with non-attachment and enables us to do everything in a state of acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. If we aren’t attached to external things, we can do them with acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm because we won’t be concerned with them changing or ending.
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