Humans, above all other animals, are uniquely conscious of their own existence, with the ability to observe their own thoughts – some call this our ‘inner voice’. This same sense of self is also referred to as ‘ego’.
The word ego has different meanings for different people, however, in most spiritual teachings, ego means the identification with form – any form – a thought form, emotional form or physical form. This is where the human dysfunction lies, and from where most of our pain arises.
This identification with form gives rise to a false identity, a false sense of self. It is often referred to as the illusory self. It is a mental construct that you identify with. To identify with something means that you believe it is who you are.
As our ego develops from a young age we build attachments and learn to identify ourselves with form; in some cases defining and labeling who we are by roles; ‘I am a ….’, ‘this is my house’, ‘my car’. Marketers understand the power of identity and the ego, which is why we like to identify with latest on trend ‘things’. The thought of removing any of these attachments is scary as it feels like removing our identity. If you remove all of your things, who are you?
Constant thinking and living in your head therefore nurtures your ego’s identification.
Living in your head and the information era
It’s my belief that technology plays a significant role in generating thought, pulling us away from being fully present and resulting in us believing everything we tell ourselves.
Thinking transports us to illusionary past or the future, removing us from the present moment. Checking your smart phone, for example, whilst out for dinner with friends is taking you away from experiencing the meal. Instead of tasting the food and enjoying the company of friends/family, you’re now in your head thinking about the information (form) you’re reading on your phone.
It’s important to listen and feel to make the right choices
Our ancestors wouldn’t have experienced this separation from mind and body; they relied on their senses to truly listen and feel which provided the right information for survival and to make the right choice.
In this technology driven world, we’re beginning to lose our ability to listen and feel, to use our intuition, and we’re not making choices based on our experience, we’re making choices based on what we think – and that is normally driven by our ego. For example, we ignore cues to rest when tired, or cues to realise that certain foods make us sick, even ignoring our body’s need to go to the toilet!
We’ve lost the ability to make healthy choices based on our needs.
The gap between two thoughts
At HealthTribe we help people bring balance to their lives teaching the 4-Doctor System. These are internal doctors we can consult to address our needs, bring balance and encourage a state of wellbeing. The Doctors are Happiness, Movement, Diet and Quiet.
Doctor Quiet teaches us to get adequate rest – mentally and physically. Most clients I coach struggle prioritising adequate quiet time; too much ‘doing’ and not enough ‘being’. This of course leads to fatigue and the inability to recover from the day’s activities. If work and family life are not busy enough, the addition of constant distraction from technology means our minds never rest and we become removed from experiencing life fully. Watching television at the end of the day is a hypnotic way of ‘relaxing’, but in reality the mind is still busy, and therefore so is the body as they’re inextricably linked.
Move towards ‘no mind’
True rest and relaxation therefore is derived from ‘no mind’; reducing thinking. Being totally present and using your senses to experience the reality of the situation is the simplest method to relax. ‘To know that you are sitting’, ‘to know that you’re driving’, ‘to know that you are talking to someone’, rather than thinking about the next thing and the next thing, rushing from here and there to get stuff done.
Mundane situations like sitting waiting for somebody, the commute, in between chores, standing in a supermarket queue – these are all times we can practice just ‘being’ and not trying to ‘do’. Accepting the present situation, using our senses, and paying attention to the here and now; these are really opportunities to experience life; this is what is called ‘no mind’.
The gap between two thoughts (no mind) has powerfully rejuvenative and creative qualities, which is why meditation is practiced widely. The noise and distraction from gadgets and technology means we rarely experience gaps in thought. This, strangely, becomes addictive and more and more people identity themselves (ego) with the past (depression) and future (anxiety). The key to changing this unconscious pattern is first to recognise we’re ‘doing’ it; awareness is the seed to change.
What steps can you take to help?
Below are some simple practices you could adopt to move out of your head and start experiencing life in full (notice I said ‘practices’, because like any change of habit it takes conscious awareness to change, it’s not always a smooth ride, so be kind to yourself).
Take one conscious deep breath
If you notice you’re detached from the present moment and you’re overthinking, focus your attention on one deep belly breath; notice your body sensations.
Try a body scan
Scan your body parts from head to toe and notice how you feel. Notice if you are holding tension in any particular part of your body, simply acknowledge and let go. Practice this before bed if you struggle to sleep.
Naming emotions is a great way to separate yourself from them and realise you are not the emotion. If you notice you’re worrying, for example, simply say, “There you are worry”. Don’t try and change your state, gently congratulate yourself for recognising the emotion.
Turn off notifications
Switching notifications off and flipping to aeroplane mode on your phone reduces the distractive nature of gadgets, which take us away from the present moment, simple but effective. Avoid carrying your smartphone in your pocket and turn it off when commuting.
Embrace mundane tasks
This is one I‘ve been working on! Washing the dishes, loading the dishwasher, brushing your teeth etc., are all tasks that can get in the way with what we really want to be ‘doing’! It’s these tasks that can build resentment, but you could see them as an opportunity to be fully present and practice mindful awareness. Use your sense perception to pay attention to how the bristles of the brush feel on your teeth and gums, what the toothpaste tastes like, how cold he water is…. be curious how quickly your mind wants to move on and gently bring it back to the experience the now.
Try ‘being’ and ‘doing’ nothing
Perhaps not all day, but when you have the opportunity to sit and do nothing, try and be fully present and just ‘be’ like a cat. Notice how quickly your ego wants to attach itself to ‘doing’ something.
For me, embracing the gap in the modern world is our greatest challenge but where the greatest rewards are.