The First Step
This post is an excerpt of the transcript from the audio course Reclaim Your Sanity.
Every day we have between 40,000-70,000 thoughts, the sum of which profoundly shapes the way we see and act in the world.
“The mind is everything, what we think, we become” – Buddha
When we perceive the world through fear, judgement, blame, and negativity, we act in discordant ways that create suffering for ourselves and for others.
We can’t directly control our thoughts but we can control our awareness and thereby our proclivity for adopting negative states of mind.
This blog series is a definitive strategy guide for busting through negative judgement, blame, and shame, and cultivating cognitive superpowers to maximise inner peace and clarity.
If you’re reading this it’s probably because you’re interested in cultivating peace, clarity, wisdom and your full potential over the long term. So to do that it’s really important to get real about what could be hold that back, blocking or disturbing it in your life.
Ultimately it’s important to understand that we are the architects of our life experience, the artists of our inner domain, and thus we create the inner and outer reality we inhabit. The good news is that if the things we’re creating right now aren’t fully serving you, you also hold the key to your liberation through this understanding.
To understand how all of this work, in this course I’m going to go deep into the inner workings of our mind, talk about how your thoughts create the reality your experiencing, where these thoughts come from and how you can radically transform your life experience through a basic awareness and understanding of the process.
When you understand how the mind creates itself and how you’re perceiving it, you can start to fundamentally rewire and recast your experience in ways that are infinitely more helpful and harmonious. Putting this material into practice, you’ll notice that your relationships with your friends, family, colleagues will all improve and most importantly your relationship to yourself will fundamentally be revolutionised.
So with all of that said, if we’re going to figure out our mind for the bottom up, we’re going to have to start from the beginning…
We are the architects of our life experience, the artists of our inner domain, and thus we create the inner and outer reality we inhabit.
Let’s us start with a story, your story in fact.
Years back when you were born, you came into this world a beautiful, wide-eyed baby, ready to join this grand epic we call life.
After nine months in the womb, everything around you looked equal parts amazing, fascinating and terrifying. At this point in your little brain’s development you can’t see anything too clearly but slowly for ms start to come, colours fill in and objects look more distinct.
How you saw at this early point in your life is actually how things are, completely one (more on that later), but to help you figure out how to navigate the physical world, your brain develops ‘object salience’, the ability to recognise distinct objects.
To understand the differences between all of these objects, you listened to the words that the adults gave to each one, and then you observed what they did with each object. Soon you tried to put the soap in your mouth and that got quickly taken away, so then you learnt the purpose of each item!
Now you have labels and you have meanings for things. Next you observe how your parents behave towards certain objects and in order to get their attention and affection you try to emulate their behaviour. Sometimes, you do things you know they won’t like (e.g. throwing your food across the room), ultimately to get the same thing, attention.
As you develop, you start to recognise your own feelings about things – which were largely assumed from your parents – and interpret them positively and negatively, forming attachments and aversions about things. You like your teddy bear, you dislike bath time.
Now you have an encyclopaedia of labels, meanings and attachments for things, and your ‘identity’ is born in its earliest sense – this is what we call the ego.
Labels, Meanings & Attachments
As you’ve grown older, through childhood and adolescence, this trifecta of labels, meanings and attachments has developed and sunk down into your unconscious, you’ve become a fully socialised, acculturated person that is good at hiding these subtle cravings and aversions.
Your brain is much more developed, much busier with other activities (work, raising family, socialising) and the attachments are much subtler. Instead of a teddy bear and a bath that you like and dislike respectively, it’s a glass of wine in the evening and the thought of messing up in a client meeting.
What is important to understand is that the labels, meanings and attachments you have about things, are all just thoughts, just as the objects underneath them are nothing more than objects.
A necklace is the label you might give to a small metal chain with a jewel on it. You ascribe the necklace the meaning of an item a person wears, and you might think of it as something for smart occasions as it looks attractive. Your mother gave it to you for 21st birthday, it feels special to you, you would be upset if you lost it, you feel attached to it.
Someone else might have a shared understanding with you of the label and meaning of the necklace, but unlikely to have any attachment.
So now you see the attachment is subjective, it is a thought only.
This is crucial to understand, 1% of life is subject, 99% is your ideas about it.
1% of life is subject, 99% is your ideas about it.
So why does any of this matter?
We each identify with the thoughts and ideas we have about ourselves and the world around us and this dictates to a large extent how we behave.
Interestingly, the word “identification” is derived from the Latin word idem, meaning “same” and facere, which means “to make.” So when you identify with something, you “make it the same.”
The same as what? The same as you. You endow it with a sense of self, and so it becomes part of your “identity.” One of the most basic levels of identification is with things: Your toy later becomes your car, your house, your clothes, and so on. You can try to find yourself in things but you never quite make it and end up losing yourself in them. That is the fate of the ego.
A large part of many people’s lives is consumed by an obsessive preoccupation with things. This is why one of the ills of our times is object proliferation. When you can no longer feel the life that you are, you are likely to try to fill up your life with things.
With objects these attachments can be easier to see, but as we’ve grown older and developed complex lives, we’ve become increasingly identified with thoughts about ourselves. Here are some examples:
- I was top of my class at university, I always used to win everything as a child and I’m the best person at my current job, I’m a winner.
- I’ve always been the girl/guy every girl/guy wants to be with.
- I’m the popular one.
Now, nothing is wrong with any of the above thoughts and in fact some of them may be richly deserved. It is your identification with them that causes suffering and inner conflict.
The Nature Of Insanity
When life doesn’t accord with the images and ideas you have about yourself, you suffer terribly. If you’re passed over for a promotion at work, you’re fuming. If you’re rejected by a potential partner, you’re humiliated. If you’re not invited to a party, you feel ashamed.
The problem is this: As you unconsciously place likes and dislikes on external objects, events and thoughts about how life should be, you disempower your own ability to feel content with life just as it is.
100% of all your suffering comes from resistance to what happens in your life versus your expectations of it.
So the ego is nothing but this, identification with form, physical forms, thought forms and emotional forms.
If you’re anything like anybody else, you probably have an overwhelming number of thoughts each day. These thoughts create emotions which means that both your thoughts and feelings are under the ego’s control. They also feed back and forth to each other.
When every thought you have absorbs your attention completely and when you are so identified with the voice in your head and the emotions that accompany it that you lose yourself in every thought and every emotion, and therefore you are in the grip of ego.
This sounds like a difficult bind doesn’t it? Perhaps a familiar one?
Reaction vs Response
People react to the ego manifesting in their lives in a variety of ways, typically on a spectrum from self-compassion to hostility.
In the latter case, it’s quite natural to feel hostile towards yourself when you first see the ego sabotaging your happiness. Soon though one sees that reacting negatively to the ego is just fuelling the problem further, which is a counter-productive approach to inner peace. This is something we will explore later in this course.
The correct approach as we will see is self-compassion. There is no need to feel downhearted about the way things are, in the words of Adyashanti:
“Nobody told us that what we are is a point of awareness, or pure spirit. This isn’t something we’re taught. Rather, what we were taught was to identify with our name. We were taught to identify with our birth date. We were taught to identify with the next thought that we have. We were taught to identify with all the memories our mind collects about the past. But all that was just teaching: all that was just more thinking. When you stand in your own authority, based in your own direct experience, you meet that ultimate mystery that you are. Even though it may be at first unsettling to look into your own no-thingness, you do it anyway. Why? Because you no longer want to suffer. Because you’re willing to be disturbed. You’re willing to be amazed. You’re willing to be surprised. You’re willing to realize that maybe everything you’ve ever thought about yourself really isn’t true.”
This course is designed to show you how to gently peel back the influence of the ego in your life by showing you t he way it functions, becomes entwined in your life and blocks your innate wisdom.
Furnished with this knowledge you will be able to cultivate the most effective inner attitude and use of your attention to gradually release the ego over time.
It’s not an easy task – in fact it’s a lifetime’s cultivation – but on the other side is liberation of your true authentic self and profound sense of inner sanctuary.
100% of all your suffering comes from resistance to what happens in your life versus your expectations of it.
An Interesting Exercise
You’ve learnt a lot about how the ego can take over your life, but I want to take a moment to pause and reflect on why it’s there and what its useful for.
Self-compassion and forgiveness are going to be needed in the days ahead, and it helps to understand yourself more to be able to generate that over the long term.
The ego is a friend, in fact it’s such a good friend it wants to look after you 24/7. Presently though its following you everywhere and trying to get involved in almost every decision you make.
In reality, you don’t need it there which is something that will become increasingly self-evident as you proceed through this course. That said, if it hadn’t developed you would have had serious trouble making it this far in life.
Spend 3-5 minutes today just reflecting on how amazing it is that you can navigate the world safely at all. Think about it, you can judge the speed of a moving car to cross the road. You can jump across rocks and climb. Even more, you can solve complex problems because of your ability to categorise and analyse things.
You can read and write because you understand language and the words we have for things.
Take the time to appreciate these miraculous gifts today.