Do you feel hopeless at times, that you can't ever seem to get a break or that other people just don't understand your life? Of course, no one other person can ever know the shoes you walk in or the pain you feel. While each person's life circumstances are unique, we also know that much of our pain is self-inflicted. What I have learned from my own struggles and from the work I do with others is this: if we are not willing to accept our flaws and embrace our humility, if we are not willing to truly invest in ourselves and replace destructive habits with life-affirming ones, we cannot move out of the struggle. The fast-paced culture we live in does little to help us feel our ONENESS with all people. In fact, it does quite the opposite, by encouraging competition and drama. And so, a very real effort is needed to shield ourselves from the cultural trappings by which we can, at times, feel so consumed.
Our EGO is a very powerful force – it exists to allow us to develop a separate identity because our present society encourages it. When we entered this world, most of us felt at one with other people and with Love. Then slowly, beginning with our own name, we become conditioned by our family and our culture to develop a separate identity, our Ego. We were taught to be good girls and boys, which would earn us approval, but which also quietly eroded our sense of oneness and unconditional love. We learned to compete for attention and love, forgetting that we are essentially precious and good. Slowly over time, our sense of personal power was replaced with Fear – fear that we might not be good enough, smart enough, attractive enough. In Marianne Williamson's A Return to Love, Reflections of the Principles of A Course in Miracles, she writes, “The Ego is quite literally a fearful thought .. our entire network of fearful thoughts, all stemming from that first false belief in our separation from God and one another, is called the ego. Thought separated from love is a profound miscreation. It's our own power turned against ourselves.” And, Eckhart Tolle tells us “anyone who is identified with their mind and, therefore, disconnected from their true power, their deeper self rooted in Being, will have fear as their constant companion.”
For most people, they are so lost in their Ego world that they have no idea they have disconnected from their consciousness. Consumed by Fear and Self-identification, it is virtually impossible to shift toward Love, because our Ego is so busy preserving the status quo. The status quo may not be one that supports our best potential, but because it is familiar, it is to be protected no matter the cost. When this happens and we are consumed by our fears, we often turn to victimizing our Selves by blaming others for our pain (to assume any personal responsibility would jeopardize the Ego we worked so hard to protect). This is a trap, which unfortunately our culture supports. The more we identify with our Ego, the more restless we become and the more we attempt to resolve the restlessness through more attachments, such as material consumption, toxic chatter or self-deprecation.
If instead, we move past our Ego and see how we are all ONE massive life force, many of our fears are stripped of their power over us. “By making this pattern conscious, by witnessing it, you dis-identify from it. In the light of your consciousness, the unconscious patter will then quickly dissolve. This is the end of all arguments and power games, which are so corrosive to relationships. Power over others is weakness disguised as strength. True power is within, and it is available to you now.” Eckhart Tolle
Observing the Ego is our gateway to awareness of and then release of Self. This requires a good deal of practice, as identification with the Ego has become so habitual in adulthood.
Be the quiet Observer in your own life and watch where this takes you. Each time you find yourself stuck in attachments, simply sit in this new awareness. Eventually, begin to disentangle your Beingness from your Ego-identification and you may notice some remarkable things in the ways you feel. Just because you were once robbed of the pure love and innocence you arrived with, does not suggest that you are not absolutely capable of reclaiming it.
Release Ego and Embrace Love – it is Who You Are.
As human beings, we tend to notice that self-expression is a vehicle for many parts of who we are. Whether it be art in all its forms, singing, dancing, writing, speaking, drama, debate, poetry, or everyday body language, our need to express our thoughts, feelings and insights is an innately human quality.
Writing in one's own personal journal is a terrific mode of self-expression. A journal is the non-judgmental friend from which we can all benefit. It is a safe place for us to express what we authentically think and feel. A journal can be short or long, focused or free-thinking, a place to hold our memories or explore our goals. It is a place to find clarity, purpose, curiosity, understanding, and compassion for self and others. It is a place to process our anger, our resentment and our fears. It offers spring cleaning and fresh perspective to a cluttered mind. Journaling is the ideal partner when we need to connect more intimately with our inner selves. It also helps to integrate our inner and outer worlds. It can be a quiet place for reflective thought and peaceful solitude, or a more playful place for light musings or even laughing at ourselves. In our journals, we can tap into our creativity, manage our emotions and exercise our mental muscle. We can process and relieve stress, heal the past and learn to self-regulate. Just the act of putting our ideas pen-to-paper allows a rich unfolding of possibilities that we may not have otherwise observed. Sometimes, it just feels good to write uncensored.
Over time, a journal becomes a record of the way we have evolved in thoughts and ideas. Journaling is a terrific way to capture, process and revisit our life stories, both as they're unfolding and also as a means of reinterpreting the past with a renewed vision or more mature filter. We can take a look back at how we felt and expressed ourselves in the past, which helps us to mix and assimilate all the different parts of our lives into a more unified and congruent whole.
So, if you have never tried journaling before or it's been a while and yours needs to be dusted off, consider this addition to your daily routine. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results!
What is at the root of our resistance to our best possible selves? Why is it that we seem to generate some pretty terrific ideas only to have them die in transit to action?
You know the story – you've got some thoughts swirling around in your mind about a topic for a compelling book you'd like to write or excitement with a new relationship that's taking off, musings about running for town council or a family relocation to some long-imagined exotic location. These thoughts feel exciting and inspiring … until they either come to a screeching halt or quietly slip away. Why does this sequence of events happen so frequently? Why do we end up resisting the very thing we long for?
Enter the Lizard or Primitive Brain – our amygdala “fight-or-flight” center. The primary purpose of this part of the brain near the top of your spinal cord is survival. When doubt or fear creep into our thinking, it opens the door to the room where the lizard lies sleeping, sometimes just a tiny bit. But a little is all it takes to nudge the lizard brain awake. Those creative, innovative ideas that were just percolating in your neocortex are now at risk. Fear is almost always the trigger.
It's a bit like having two brains that operate under opposing forces. The Lizard brain has an essential role (if you need to run from a T-rex) but can become a real barrier to positive life change. Because of its involvement in processing and storing emotional memories, it has the power to hijack or impede the thoughts and actions of the evolutionarily younger cerebrum. While our cerebral cortex is processing all sorts of cutting-edge ideas and contemplating risk, our lizard brain is trying to protect us and keep us safe. Unfortunately, our “safe zone” is not where personal growth takes place. So, what can we do?
The challenge is to cultivate awareness of this phenomena and develop strategies to lull your lizard back to sleep when not truly needed. Be on the lookout for Shenpa, a Tibetan word for the urge or hook that triggers our habitual tendency to shut down. Think of shenpa as the lizard response. In a rather obscure way, we feel a tensing or tightening, a sense of withdrawing, self-rejection or shutting down. And, that tight feeling has the power to hook us into blame, anger, guilt, envy and other negative emotions that might sabotage our best efforts. We get hooked in that moment of tightening and often get stuck there. We could call the everyday experience of shenpa “that sticky feeling.” Tibetan teacher, Pema Chodron, tells us “Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing.”
To get unhooked from the attachment of Shenpa, to tame our lizard fear that is trying to keep us safe but is actually getting in the way, we begin by recognizing that moment of unease and learning to relax in that moment. If we can see shenpa just as we're starting to close down, when we begin to notice the tightening, we might catch the urge to do the habitual thing, and refrain from doing it. The ability to recognize and label the lizard's presence is the first step. This awareness provides the knowledge to begin re-patterning our habits. Next, remind yourself that the lizard likes to release adrenaline into your bloodstream in preparation for fighting or fleeing. Instead of allowing the flood of adrenaline, relax by breathing slowly and deeply. Close your eyes if it helps. Use self-talk to tell yourself that you observe the shenpa and are choosing to release it. Since you've been conditioned into shenpa for many years, it will take some time to learn to avoid your well-worn path and relearn the new awareness and habits. Consistent practice is the key.
We can restrain the "fight-or-flight" Lizard brain by counting blessings, committing to positive thoughts and acknowledging the beauty and love around us. Fear and self-protection sabotage our higher purpose but Gratitude tames fear. Just the posture of “being in gratitude” seems to disallow fear or anger because positive thoughts displace negative ones. The more you practice taming your lizard brain, the better you will become at sustaining consciousness and cerebral higher-level thinking that can move you forward in your life. Confronting our fear is less about pushing it away and more about acknowledging it for what it is and stripping it of its power. Of course, if you need your lizard brain to react to real, imminent danger, by all means let it do its all-important job. But, most often the sense of danger or fear is a misperception, a distorted amygdala hijacking, and could be preventing a real growth opportunity.
Survive or thrive – it's your choice.
Certified Health and Lifestyle Coach, Sheryl Melanson, partners with people to transform limiting habits into mindful choices that express their values, create action plans and recalibrate their lifestyle to optimal well-being.