Recap: The ego can be gradually dissolved through becoming aware of its patterning and through non-reaction towards it. The three powerful pillars of your mind to do this are awareness, forgiveness and humility. (See previous article).
There are a number practical things you can integrate into your daily life that slowly and surely help to dissolve the ego. These can be grouped into the same categories as we previously discussed, awareness, forgiveness, and humility.
We learnt that using your attention and intention, you can cultivate awareness of the ego that dissolves it into the wider field of your total awareness, and thereby dilutes its control over you. There are multiple approaches to doing this.
One of the most effective ways to cultivate awareness is through mindfulness meditation. This involves sitting quietly for 10-20 minutes per day and observing your thoughts and physical sensations as they arise without reacting. In this manner you are cultivating both awareness (through watching) and non-reaction (through not identifying).
There are myriad tomes of advice and resources for how to meditate as well as useful apps like Insight Timer for giving you guided meditations, tracking capability and motivation.
Having meditated for six years and been through many styles of practice, my advice would be to try a few disciplines to begin with and then settle with your preferred route.
Over the years I’ve found that there are in fact many, many ways to meditate ineffectively, most of which have to do with your attitude towards the practice and what comes up during the sessions.
Here are some common pitfalls and guiding principles:
Thoughts – You can’t switch them off and you won’t be able to bring them to cessation for years, so don’t frustrate yourself with this. Your thoughts are like the radio playing in the background, your attention controls the volume. The more you direct your attention away from your thoughts and onto the physical sensations that arise, the less volume the thoughts have.
Reaction – Many people think meditation is a nice, relaxing, calming activity. It can be, it can also churn up a huge number of things you’ve been ignoring for quite some time. This is an unpleasant experience and something we would usually look to avoid, but the point is not to avoid it because that is a reaction. Meditate with a ‘mirror-like’ quality of attention, reflecting back exactly what you observe without adding anything to it. Yield to the experience to go deeper and deeper into it.
Consistency – We’re all busy and when meditation becomes a chore it’s something easy to forget doing or give up. Meditating is just like going to the gym but for your mind. If you want to get fit, you have to exercise consistently. The same is true for meditation. Also like exercise, for the first few weeks, meditation is not that much fun. Once you get better at it and start to feel the benefits, you find the process much more tolerable and somewhat enjoyable. Most people stop and start, stay consistent for a few months and then trail off. Don’t be too harsh on yourself, just keep returning to the cushion as much as you can.
In summary, the purpose of meditation is to develop the qualities of the mind that allow you to see the truth of reality. At all times hold to heart awareness and non-reactivity in your practice and you’ll be well on your way.
Journaling every day is a very effective way of keeping track of your inner environment and with it, the repeating thoughts and emotions that the ego tends to manifest. It can be good to do this at the end of the day before you go to sleep so that you can reflect on a full day of activity as well as empty out your mind before bed, but in any case it’s a personal choice.
It is worth asking yourself at the end of each day:
- How did I feel today?
- Did I fall into blame, shame or guilt about anything?
- Do I keep thinking about the same thing?
These are useful prompts to identify egoic behavioural patterns that you can slowly wake up to and peel back from. It’s useful to look over the course of a week or a month to see longer term repeating patterns.
Write about anything you identify in a neutral, disassociated way. There is no need to make a drama out of this, doing so feeds the ego’s sense of identity. Once you are aware, you can create that sense of spaciousness you need, rather than a whole narration about the miraculous discovery.
Questions are a powerful way to shock the mind into waking up to its current situation, particularly with its tendency to move into autopilot during our day-to-day experience.
The ego likes fixed, predictable outcomes and answers. It actively dislikes open-ended, big questions. The next time you’re doing something completely mundane like shopping at the supermarket, ask yourself:
How is the moment perfect?
Questions such as this arrest your attention, seize your focus and help to shake off the neat, grid of logic that the ego tends to put over our experience. They also serve a dual benefit of breaking your ordinary thinking patterns with new ways of appreciating the world around you.
Here are some other questions you can work with:
- Where am I in the space between one thought and the next?
- If I deleted the history of my mind, who would I be?
- How can I describe emptiness without comparing to something else?
These are exercises you can take with you anywhere to routinely promote cognitive arrest and cultivate awareness outside of your normal scope of focus.
Ask yourself: “how is this moment perfect?”
Forgiveness & Self Compassion
Cultivating your capacity for forgiveness and compassion (towards yourself and others) arises out of two main beliefs that are as follows:
- You’re human, imperfect, on a journey towards the truest version of yourself
- Everyone else is exactly the same as you
Even more distilled, all human action that creates suffering for ourselves and for others, arises out of ignorance. All suffering is shared.
Once you deeply embrace these truths you can start to cut off the root of your previous reactions to negative things that have happened and instead ask questions like:
- I wonder what that person was feeling like to make them behave like that?
- Are they suffering somehow? Is it something I’ve also experienced before?
- I wonder how I could help them?
These questions help reframe situations, place a compassionate lens over others’ behaviour and realign you to a peaceful state of acceptance.