Monthly Archives: February 2015

Why does my ego want other people to like me?

My ego pushes me to present a false image to the world so that other people will like me. This image is a version of me but it is not the real me. I try to make other people laugh so they will think I am funny. I try to talk about interesting subjects so they so that other people will think I am intelligent. I hide my flaws so other people will not judge me and abandon me. The motive behind these actions seems to presume that if the other people knew the real me they would not like me and they would not be forgiving.

The ego seems to have its own personality. Over the years I have observed the qualities of my ego. It is dishonest and unforgiving. It does not trust and is paranoid. It seeks self-aggrandizement. It seeks approval through self-deprecation and false modesty. It becomes angry when criticized and jealous when it sees other people succeeding. It is spiteful and critical. It ceaselessly judges other people and situations. It judges itself (myself) unmercifully.

The question arises, why does my ego need people to like me in the first place? Is it lonely? Does it fear being lonely? Does it think I need allies to protect me? Does it fear being attacked? Does it seek validation? Do it want me to be important? Does it fear being a nobody? Does it fear being labeled a failure? Does my ego want other people to like me to protect me because it assumes that other people will attack me under normal circumstances?

It seems like the ego is a protection device that has gone awry. It seems like the ego originally came into being to protect me. When I was a child other kids picked on me and adults shamed me. I created my ego to protect me from these forces or to mitigate the damage they caused but now that I am an adult those same forces do not exist in the same way. But my ego remains still performing its old function.

If I was alone in the world would I still have any of these fears? If I was alone in the world would I still have my ego? Does my ego exist because other people exist? Is it the separation between people where we cannot know each other’s minds that creates the ego? Do I need to create my own other person (i.e., my ego) so that I can anticipate what these other unpredictable people might do and thus protect myself?

So the challenge lies in dialing back my ego. I do not think it is possible to completely eradicate it. Being aware of its functions and behaviors seems to be the first step towards diminishing its power but awareness alone is not sufficient to happy. The next step is probably developing the ability to ignore or actively marginalize my ego. I must develop those qualities that are the opposite of the qualities the ego possesses. I will let you know when that happens.

 

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In meditation you can’t always get what you want.

Sometimes when I meditate and I do not achieve the levels of peace and centeredness that I desire. I expect to not get what I want all the time in waking life. I want to more interesting job. I want more money. I want to do more interesting things in my free time. But I meditate (at least I think this is in part why I think I meditate) so that I can take refuge from the disappointment of waking life. When I do not find this refuge there is the sense that I have failed or am wasting my time.

The obvious solution to this problem is to treat the desire and disappointment as just another thought or feeling and  that when they pop into my consciousness I observe them non-judgmentally and return my mind center. But returning my mind to center does not necessarily always bring me happiness or satisfaction the way I want it to.

I can treat this as a question of discipline. To maintain a meditative practice takes effort and sometimes it is difficult. Dissatisfaction can be seen as just another stumbling block. But there is the space within this where the question arises why am I doing this at all? If meditation does not bring satisfaction, why do it? What is the point of abiding in the present moment if it does not bring me peace? Of course this sense of pointlessness can also be viewed as another stumbling block. Just bring the mind back to center again in the face of it.

Because it is the mind and ego that wants a point to all this. It is the mind and the ego that feels disappointed when it does not get what it wants. The true self is whole and complete already. Or so I have been told. I cannot know that for certain. But I can be certain that thoughts and feelings are temporary. They change so quickly and easily and for reasons that do not seem to entirely warrant them changing. They elude rationality. To hang my identity on thoughts and feelings seems a little like playing the lottery and even if I win the lottery the next moment is another spin of the wheel.

In this context, bringing the mind center seems to be a rock in the midst of a stormy sea. It is not defiance because that is ego. It is not putting myself above the stormy sea because that is ego. All labels are ego. All judgment and comparison are ego. And there is nothing wrong with ego. Judging ego is also ego. Bringing my mind back to center and abiding in the present is akin to coming home to myself or simply being myself and not being tossed about by thoughts and emotions. It is choosing not to play the lottery. If I do not feel at peace or centered when I do this I can take refuge in the knowledge that it is a temporary situation.

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Wherever I go you are there…

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

Psalm 139:8 

Again and again I see in descriptions of God in the Bible the connection between the infinite Deity and my internal mind. Wherever I go there is God and wherever I go there is my mind. Does this mean I am never alone? Does this mean God is my companion? Does this mean my mind is my companion?

Is God separate from me? Am I separate from my mind? Is God separate from my mind? Are they all the same in some elusive manner?

Does it matter if they are all the same? Does it matter if they are all different? Should I spend time thinking about this?  Will this get me anywhere or accomplish anything? Is pondering this ultimately to my benefit?

Through meditation (at least to me) these questions arise. But these are thoughts and when I meditate and find my mind wondering I bring it back to center. I anchor myself in the present moment. I observe and let the thoughts pass.

But I am not always meditating and yes, it is interesting to speculate about these things. But ultimately these ponderings do not lead me anywhere. They do not build a better foundation. They only send me wandering (wondering).

In meditation my foundation is in the silence that underlies my thoughts. My rock and my salvation is in the God that underlies the reality in which my mind (and the thoughts it creates) exist. It is in the silence that I find peace because nothing can be done to silence. Even if there is noise that fills the silence there is still silence underneath it. Nothing can be done to nothing. For even the things that fill the nothingness exist within the nothingness.

I am me. I think and worry and I fill my day with things to do. And underneath all of this underlies silence and nothingness and God.

There is something little disturbing about all of this. I want to be me. I want to be immortal. I want the things that I know and love to be real and meaningful. But is it my true self that funds this disturbing or is it my ego?

Wherever I go, you are there. I am never alone and I am always alone at the same time. At times this is a peaceful thought. Other times it is a burden. When these thoughts arise and I bring myself back to center and the present moment, am I running away from something that disturbs me or am I leaving to itself something that does not serve me? I am as connected to these thoughts as I am to God and peace. For certainly it is true that wherever I go my mind and its thoughts are there. But it is equally true that wherever I go the silence and the nothingness that underlies the reality in which my mind and thoughts exist are there as well.

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My thoughts are not your thoughts

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.


As the heavens are higher than the earth,
 so are my ways higher than your ways
 and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

In a similar way that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, the thoughts of my true self are not the thoughts of my ego. When I meditate this becomes more apparent. As I mentioned in a previous post I think of my true self inhabiting this reality by wearing “reality spacesuit” which consist of both my body and my mind. I think of the mind as a computer built into the spacesuit itself. The spacesuit’s mind is my ego. Because my spacesuit has a mind, it thinks for itself. When I am not aware, I mistake these thoughts of the spacesuit with myself. But really, its thoughts are not my thoughts.

When I meditate I can observe the spacesuit’s thoughts in action. With practice, over time, I begin to see this distinction in my every day life. Without practice I cannot distinguish between myself and the thoughts of my spacesuit. This realization carries with it two conclusions. First, the “I as observer” is different from the thoughts I observe. Second, if I must wear this spacesuit to inhabit this reality, then this suggests I am not indigenous to this reality (otherwise I would be able to naturally inhabit this reality).

I suppose my true home is heaven. For some reason I have forgotten what heaven is really like and I do not know the reason why I have forgotten this information.

My ego (the mind of the spacesuit) is bound up with my reality spacesuit. It identifies with the spacesuit. My ego wants my true self to remain asleep so that there exists the belief that the reality spacesuit is the real self and this reality is all there is. As such, my ego is inherently dishonest and perpetuates falsehoods constantly.

By contrast my true self is inherently honest but has a tendency to fall asleep within the reality spacesuit. Perhaps inhabiting the spacesuit is taxing to it because this reality is not the reality it was designed to inhabit. Regardless, meditation seems to be a way to wake my true self up and keep it awake. Regular and continuous meditation develops this muscle of staying awake. The stronger the muscle the better able the true self can maintain awareness.

But then again, this is all speculation. I do not know for certain that any of this is an accurate depiction of the underpinnings of my experience in this world. Parts of it seem to make sense at times. Meditation, however, does not go down the road of speculation. It abides simply and clearly in the present moment. It observes. That is all it does. There is a beauty in this simplicity.

Where did I come from? What was it like there? Why am I here? As for these ultimate questions, it seems that I can never know the answers while I inhabit this reality. Again, I can speculate but speculations without confirmation seems to be of limited value.

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The Point of Meditation

In every group meditation instructional session I have ever attended someone will inevitably ask the question, “What is the point of meditation?” The instructors I have observed are usually reluctant to answer this question. Clearly meditation is practiced for a reason but the relation between the practice of meditation and the reason it is performed is subtle and not easily articulated to someone who is new to meditation. The instructors usually fumble a little and say something along the lines of meditation will make one calmer, or more peaceful or will make one better able to handle stress in everyday life. There seems to be a tendency to shy away from assigning a goal to meditation because goals are not rooted in the present moment.

Personally, I find meditation to be relaxing and a sort of mental reset. If I am stressed or angry, if I can find a place of meditation I do become relaxed and calm. However, I see this more as a by-product of meditation rather than its primary purpose.

The “Transcendental Meditation” advertizing describes their method as “effortless.” I do not know if this is true because I am unwilling to pay $2,000 to learn their method. To me, meditation takes some effort because it is a mental and spiritual exercise in that it strengthens these aspects of the self. It takes effort to be aware that the mind is wandering and then to return it to center. This is not the same kind of effort as lifting weights or running a marathon but it is an effort and making the effort strengthens these “muscles.”

I have heard some meditation techniques describe meditation as observing the thoughts. If a thought appears (they say) don’t engage it but simply observe it go by. This is difficult for me because I often find myself getting lost in the thoughts I am trying to observe and then I have to pull myself out of them when I become aware that I am lost.

Other techniques (I believe TM is one) talk about repeating a mantra or focusing on breathing to anchor awareness in the present moment. Similarly, when I employ this technique I find myself becoming lost in the mantra or the breath. When I am lost in any of these objects of concentration I become that object of concentration.

However, when I am able to observe a thought I realize that I as observer am not the same thing as the thought I observe. It is like I inhabit a “reality spacesuit” that allows me to function in reality the same way a spacesuit allows an astronaut to function in space. This “reality spacesuit” consists of both my body and my mind. Because the spacesuit has a mind, the spacesuit thinks for itself. In everyday life I make no distinction between the thoughts of the spacesuit and my own identity. When I meditate I become aware of this distinction and in a sense I come home to my true self. This (I think) more than relaxation is more to the point of meditation.

 

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Finding Rest

Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You, man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that You resist the proud, — yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.

The Confessions, St. Augustine Book I, Chapter I

Life can seem like a burden at times. I find myself longing for safety and rest. I feel this most of all when I cannot sleep and lie awake in the middle of the night, my mind racing about all my worries. My ego desires separation. My ego wants me to stand out, rise above, succeed. My ego castigates me when I fail. My ego separates me from God. This is its work and its work is burdensome.

By contrast, approaching God is restful. If I am to approach God and I must approach him from within me because it is within me that I generate my thoughts and feelings. Within me is the only place I can know truth.

But I must admit I don’t know anything. I must accept the possibility that there is no God. And if there is no God then all my existence is ego and the prospect of non-existence seems like rest. However, if there truly is God then I want to connect with him. I must do this internally which means he is within me, a part of me and I am with him. The opposite of this is ego.

In life I must find that space of whole-heartedness. When I act with a whole heart my work is not burdensome. When I act with ego my work becomes a burden. As I said, it is ego that wants me to separate and stand above other people. It is ego that wants me to separate from God. When I find my base in God, I can do other things in the world. But I must start there.

I don’t know if this meditation (perhaps my ego would call it ramblings) is blasphemous or in error. I suspect other egos might label it as such. But I can only know God in my own way. Everything else is “out there” and separate and something I must strive to understand. Only within me is there understanding. Where else could it be? I am grateful for those things outside of me that bring me to understanding but they are all only a means to an end. They are all things I must test and learn to trust. I can only ever truly rely upon and trust myself because I do not know with certainty all those things outside of me. But if God resides inside of me then I can truly trust and find rest in him.

 

 

 

 

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My Lenten Practice

I recently read Tony Robin’s book Money Master the Game. I recommend it for anyone who is concerned about their financial situation and does not know what the first steps would be to address that situation. Towards the end of his book he talks about a three-step meditation technique he practices every morning. For three minutes he thinks about all the things he is grateful for. For three minutes he sends out blessings to the people he thinks need help. And for three minutes he pictures himself succeeding at whatever endeavors he wants to accomplish.

I was introduced to this book through a podcast where James Altucher interviewed Tony Robins about this book. James frequently talks about what he calls “The Daily Practice” where he tries to work on four pillars of his life every day. Those pillars are physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

I have been trying to follow the advice described above from both Tony Robbins and James Altucher for some time now but during Lent I have decided to do this in a more disciplined manner.

Spiritual:

This lent I am taking 20 minutes out of my day (preferably first thing in the morning) to meditate. I use the free “Insight Timer” app as a meditation timer which rings a bell in the beginning and end of the meditation. For the first part of my meditation I follow Tony Robbins’ meditation technique. During the gratefulness section this morning it came to me that one function God serves is to be an object for gratefulness. I know being grateful is a powerful spiritual practice because it deprograms what my shame-ego tries to program me to think. It seems to me that expressing gratefulness to someone is more powerful than just being grateful and so (for me) God can be that someone. Another thing I noticed while meditating today was that the voice of my shame-ego was smaller than the voice of my intentions. It was in the background trying to undermine me but was easy to dismiss. God is the personification of the object of my gratefulness. My shame-ego is the personification of the voice that undermines me in my head. I am also reading a daily Lenten reflection book called Lent with St. Paul.

Intellectual:

For the intellectual pillar I am trying to finish a novel I have been writing for some time which I intend to publish as an e-book. I will also work more regularly on this blog. I also write down 10 ideas a day (another James Altucher suggestion).

Physical:

I run, walk, and do push ups every day. I avoid those activities that do not serve me physically.

Emotional:

This pillar seems to be the most difficult for me. James Altucher talks about avoiding negative people and associating with people who love and respect you as a way of working on this pillar. I do this to an extent but because I work from home I do not associate with people outside my immediate family with the regularity I need. During this Lent I will try to seek out organizations to join to work on this.

I am grateful for the opportunity to focus my energy in a more disciplined way during Lent. I recognize that it is important not to overburden myself with an overly strict regimen because I risk burning out and abandoning the practice. I simply try to do the best that I can with a whole heart.

 

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Lent : Your father who sees in secret will repay you

The three lines in the readings for Ash Wednesday that stand out to me are “Come back to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2:12), “Rend your heart not your garments” (Joel 2:13), and “Your father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matt 6:4). All three lines emphasize honesty over appearance. They recognize and expose a fact of life that I do not often admit to. That is, the way I present myself to the world is very rarely the same as my own internal experience of myself. The father that sees in secret can only be myself or an outside entity that knows the inner workings of my heart and mind. Either way I must be honest and whole-hearted with him. Anything less is pointless.

Lent is the time to set things right with myself. To come back to God and myself with my whole heart is freedom from ego. The symbolic way to do this during Lent is to “give something up.” To sacrifice by giving up those things that I may like in the short-term but do not serve me in the long-term is liberating, not burdensome. I firmly believe giving something up should be voluntary. If I am not acting of my own volition, I am not acting with my whole heart. To turn away from sin is to better myself. Loving God and loving myself amount to the same thing. The opposite is true as well. A shame oriented person would give something up to appease someone else. A non-shame oriented person acts with their whole heart. Giving something up is an act of devotion both to himself and to God.

Lent is a time when I feel closest to God. It is a time when I feel the most spiritual and physically healthy. I do not know God. To be strictly honest I must say that I am agnostic. But I fall more on the side of believing in God than not believing in God. I certainly want to believe in God and there are times when my faith is stronger. I was raised in the wishy-washy world of post Vatican II Catholicism in the United States of America. Religion did not take ahold of me when I was young. I do identify with its symbols, mythology and rituals; Lent chief among them. They are all I have spiritually and I do not want to let them go. I need them to approach the infinite unknowable of existence. I do not want to be an atheist. Feelings have a lot to do with it. Believing in God feels truthful to me.

Lent is a time of year I look forward to. It is a time of spiritual renewal and transformation. It is too bad I cannot feel that way all year round because when I feel that way I feel content and grounded. For me, Lent is a time of opportunity to better myself by coming back to God with my whole heart. It is a time I do not want to waste.

 

 

 

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Ted Leonsis’ Six Secrets to Achieving Happiness and Success (through the lens of shame)

I recently listened to a podcast by James Altucher where he interviewed Ted Leonsis (former president of AOL and current owner of several Washington DC professional sports franchises) who talked about his six secrets to achieving happiness and success. The first secret is to actively participate in multiple groups of interest. That is, a happy and successful person must be a contributing member of more than one organization involved with activities the person is actually interested in. Second, a happy and successful person makes an effort to listen to others and also experiences regular opportunities for self-expression where other people are listening. Third, a happy and successful person has empathy for others. Fourth, a happy and successful person gets out of the “I” and into the “we”. By this, I take Leonsis to mean that a happy and successful person is not looking for opportunities for self-aggrandizement and is motivated to be a team player. Fifth, a happy and successful person finds a higher calling in all pursuits. That is, his pursuits are motivated by goals that benefit the greater good and not just the bottom line. And sixth, a happy and successful person creates situations that give rise to a “double bottom line” (i.e., multiple beneficial outcomes).

I found the interview inspiring and I highly recommend giving it a listen. But while I was listening I  kept thinking that shame actively works to undermine each one of these secrets to success and happiness. First, shame does not like to participating groups because shame feels judged by other people, jealous of other people’s success and ashamed of its own failures. Shame perceives the success of others as a personal failure in comparison. Group situations tend to exacerbate these feelings and as a result shame will avoid them.  Even when shame operates within a group setting and receives acceptance the high is really high and then shame tends to sabotage it and turn it into something bad. Shame then becomes suspicious of success and avoids it (or becomes incapable of embracing success) when it arrives. Second, shame does not want to listen to others because it finds others annoying or it becomes jealous and ashamed when listening to other people’s success. Furthermore, shame is afraid to put itself out there and express itself because it is afraid of judgment and criticism. Third, shame does not have empathy for others or itself. Fourth, shame is dominated by the “I” both in desperately trying to look good in the eyes of others and in criticizing the self to appease others (in order to look good in the eyes of others). Fifth, shame has no higher calling but to look good in the eyes of others. Sixth, shame never gets to be in a position of creating situations that give rise to a double bottom line because shame undermines its endeavors in the manner already described.

The bottom line I take from this is to be happy and successful a person must overcome shame at all costs.

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What is the purpose of religion from God’s perspective?

No blasphemy or hubris intended, but if I could put myself in God’s shoes I wonder how I would then look at religion. My first observation would probably be that there are many different types of religions with differing views as to what I am, my nature, what I like, dislike, how I have structured the universe, what I do with souls after people die, etc. It seems that many religions take the point of view that they have it right and everyone else has it wrong. Further, because the others have it wrong they will face eternal damnation after death. But, if I’m God I would be thinking how could those people down there possibly know which set of beliefs is correct? There’s the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Upanishads, the Book of Mormon etc. all claiming divine inspiration (some to the exclusion of others). There are faith traditions claiming authority to interpret these books and thus my will. But how could I possibly hold someone responsible for being born into the wrong faith or being confused or not entirely sure about their faith? Let alone, would I really care about the difference between Presbyterianism and Methodism? If I don’t show myself to man and haven’t shown myself to man in many generations can I really fault him for questioning whether I exist, let alone the specifics of my true nature? Can I really find fault with man for wondering if a text written thousands of years ago is relevant today? Life seems hard enough without all these extra pressures.

Would I really want man to believe anything because he feels guilty not to? Why is it so important that he believes in me anyway? And if it is so important, why not just show myself to him? People only follow a particular religion because other people told them to (initially). Perhaps at some point they come to their own particular appreciation or connection to that religion, perhaps not. If I am going to play this game where I hide myself and then become displeased that they don’t believe in me, is it really moral of me to hinge their eternal salvation upon whether they do or do not believe in me? This really seems like a situation where I am fucking with man and if I am a loving God why would I want to do that?

This life I created is some kind of test or amusement park. Maybe those who live down there were bored with living up here with me in the celestial realm and wanted something a little more challenging.  Is it enough for me that they long for some relationship with me. Maybe we have been separated and they are trying to find their way back to me. Perhaps I am not in a position to help them. Perhaps I agreed not to. Perhaps we entered into some sort of binding contract before they entered into life.

Can I make a rock so heavy that I cannot lift it? Does this question deny my omnipotence or does this describe a limitation of the language used to describe me?  I know, my thoughts are not your thoughts but perhaps there is some point of intersection.

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