Ego - what ego?

I have been pondering this word “ego” for many years now. It crops up a lot in spiritual circles and in the personal development world… but what do we mean?

When someone says something like “it’s just my ego getting in the way” or “so and so has such a big ego” I realise that something in me cringes slightly. Not from embarrassment but more from a sense that it doesn't fit what is happening at the time and for me, can point to lack of empathy for what is there.

I often end up saying that our poor ego gets a bad name!

Speaking from my own experience (rather than any academic or psychological/spiritual definition of ego) I have never found “an ego” - that is, some kind of discreet entity that lives inside me doing its ego thing. It simple is not like that for me. But before you might think I am saying I have gone beyond this… I will add, I have found many processes in me that could be called “ego like” if you wanted to label them. They are many…trust me. And as i notice them i sense they are not even things really, but more like processes. And I am open to the fact that maybe there is an “ego” as yet unfound!

It seems to me that to call all that “ego” is an unhelpful label that might create distance and a lack of empathy and curiosity for what is actually there. It can be a useful shorthand perhaps but to actually begin to change those deep seated self oriented processes, I think we need to get beneath the label of ego and sense freshly what is there.

What do I find when I do that?

Well, I find what Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin call “parts” or “partial selves”. Again these are not fixed things (like inner child or inner critic) but more like processes. They have continuity of course and we may feel them like they are constant in their nature, but my experience shows that they are not fixed like that and in fact they love to be related to with fresh curiosity and empathy. Just like you would not like someone to come up to you and start telling you what you are and why you are here, and calling you names, it is the same for those parts inside. They want authentic, real empathic company. I doubt any part of you would enjoy being called the inner critic or even the inner child. They are not really “bits” like that.

And these parts have a wanting for us in some way. If we are not conscious of these wantings, then they can “take over” and start to run our life. What I have seen is that these wantings come from a deep sense of something missing (usually from our childhood but not always). It is so easy to then live our life from this place of missing and wanting. This is at least one thing I think we mean when we say ego. For me an example would be how I can behave as a participant in group events. It often starts with a vague feeling I am not good enough, or like I don't belong…I might then start trying to impress someone or wanting some special attention from someone (usually the teacher or leader if it’s a teaching environment)… Deep down what I am wanting comes from an older experience of missing being accepted and loved as I was in childhood. This gets played out in approval seeking behaviours in the present. This is the kind of thing I would have called ego a few years back, yet if I do call it that my curiosity stops and nothing really changes. I suppose for a moment i might feel relief. Instead if I really sense what that part of me is feeling and then wanting right now, and meet it with empathy then things can change. I need both to be in empathic connection and in the present moment with how it is…from there the steps can come.

And I know this is a simplistic example. We are usually more entangled by different parts, perhaps swapping from one to the other in a moment, perhaps then criticised by other parts of us. It can get very complex.

So how else could we be?

Well, we could act from “self” or “self-in-presence”. This in some approaches is labeled “the adult” but I think it is more profound than that. We can act from a holistic sense of what feels right for me as a whole (not just parts of me) and the situation (remember, we live in a context and our body knows this). If we are not being driven by a part, then we can sense the bigger context and act with awareness of the other beings in it. The holistic sensing and knowing holds both awareness of us and all our parts and holds awareness of others and the bigger situation. And this can be done at the same time as really holding those parts of us that are scared or wounded or wanting love for example. They come along on the journey and are not pushed aside or belittled. Living from wholeness (my name for it) feels so different than living from a part of us. It feels more open, pliable, flexible, resourced and free… and a word I like… “undefended” How wonderful!. And again, it is not a static thing - it is a creative way of being… open to each unfolding situation we find ourselves in.

and it begins and ends with curiosity…


Small steps from wholeness

Small steps from wholeness

Following on from my other posts on decisions (what the body knows and voting with my body) I wanted to end the series with a post on how we can make small steps towards our goal - and in a way that works.

I have just returned from two weeks holiday. I loved it in so many ways, and having two weeks away from my emails and phone was just wonderful! Life was spacious again. I did not miss them at all. I say this because before I went I found myself regularly checking my emails on my phone or getting involved in apps and online shopping with my phone at all times of the day. I would even switch it on when I woke up at 6am. Quite rightly my three year old son sometimes shouts “put away the phone, no phone!” (see my previous post on this here with a funny and insightful clip from US comedian Louis CK)

In a Focusing session recently, I sensed how good that spaciousness I felt on holiday was for me. I sensed a deep wanting for more time like this and what it brings for me (in particular a deeper connection to others, to life and “the bigger picture”) and found myself coming up with a simple and small next step to have more of that in my current life. Don’t turn on your phone before I start work! When I checked inside if that would work, there were no alarm bells or rebellions. Sure, it is not a lot in some ways, it does not create everything that I wish for! but is it a step and it will bring something. And it has so far. I like being more present to my son and wife in that precious part of the day. I feel more present to what is there - less in planning or obsessing mode.

So here are some simple tips for finding a small next step with a decision or change you want to make:

A. From a Focusing space, from what we can call “self-in-presence” invite a small manageable step that would help with your situation (be it a decision or some change you want to make)
B. Check inside - Do all parts agree? Is there anything that says “NO!” or even whispers “i am not sure” take time to listen to that place. Don’t override it.
C. Check also, is this step good for whole situation: For me this means how does this step impact on my family life. After all, we don’t live in isolation. We live in a context and our actions are part of that. This is actually part of the knowing of the felt sense. Hopefully the step you come up with already includes this implicit or explicitly. That is the wonderful thing about what the body knows.

D. When you make the small step, check again how it went. Keep in touch with yourself - does this still feel right or might it need adjusting somehow. Also keep an eye out for what we mistakenly label as “rebels” The parts of us that we may, unknowingly put aside to make a step. Put it this way, If we find ourselves rebelling, then we know we have forgotten something along the way. These parts hold something essential and life serving.

It reminds me, I have made so many attempts to get fit and started jogging and then three weeks later… no jogging! Decisions made from just one side of us always backfire. We all need to be involved.

And the steps can be very small indeed. I remember Gendlin talking about this in his book “Focusing” He gives an example of someone wanting to find a partner… which is a BIG and may scary step for people. He says why not start just by just driving to the place where you meet people (a singles bar in his example) and then don’t go in, just drive past, and see how that feels. Then just pop your head in the door and then leave, and see how that feels, and so on. Lovely

So often, we collapse under the bigness of the change we want to make and therefore don’t make any steps at all. But if we make a small step from the body and then sense for how that has gone, we can make a further step from there which has not yet been brought into life and that we can never really predict. I can guarantee this further step will be more in tune with all of you.

Online decisions course coming soon in 2015

What the body knows (about decisions and more)

Following on from my recent post on decisions, I wanted to say some more about what the body knows. Why would we ask “it” about decisions anyway? And perhaps do we ask too much of it?

Very often, we we are stuck with a decision, we ask ourselves things like: What should i do? Which is the right way? or even just “help!” The trouble is that the body (and I use this word broadly) finds it hard to answer these questions. They are either too open ended or too binary: too limited by an A or B response. I am not sure our body works like that… let me say more. Read More...

Guest Blog: "Why do I go blank?"

My friend and fellow trainer Elizabeth English, shared some helpful teachings on “pausing” This is the name we give for that crucial but often overlooked moment in Focusing and life. It also connects to my series on decision making so I thought I would share it here.

Why do I go blank – just when something matters?

Pausing is what our systems do because they're alive to a complicated set of circumstances that we call 'now'. It's what happens when we find our normally intelligible words and sentences turn into unexpected umm's and er's; or even grind to a halt completely as we go blank. But this is neither daft nor decorative ....
Read More... (opens Elizabeths blog page)


Voting with my body


Using Focusing with Meditation

Whilst on retreat last week, i took some time to gather a few thoughts about how you might use Focusing with a meditation practice. I came up with seven ways they can interact. Each one of these could be expanded upon and I am sure there are more but if you are wondering about how they might work together then read on...
1. Use Focusing as a way to prepare for meditation. Take some time at the beginning of your practice to meet and acknowledge everything that is there. You could let it know you can come back if needed. This can be particularly helpful in everyday meditation practice when there might be a lot going on in our lives. It is like clearing a space.
2. Focusing creates space for deeper meditation. By giving time to practice Focusing and processing the experiences of our life, it becomes easier to let go and just be in meditation. If we only have one space in our life when we actually stop, then everything that wants attention jumps in. No wonder our meditation can feel crowded.
3. Working with "visitors" in meditation. Things come in meditation that need attention. They cannot simply be let go of, they need it there and then. Both meditation and Focusing are open spaces and therefore invite what wants attention. If something big or important arises in meditation, spend some Focusing time with it inwardly. It may need some more time after the meditation.
4. What practice would feel right? Sometimes are not sure which practice to do, why not sense inside and see what would feel right, sense for what qualities are missing; perhaps you sense you need calm, or more kindness or to just sit and absorb. Something in you knows what would feel right.
5. Saying hello to our agendas. Even now, after many years of Focusing and meditation, I notice something in me wanting to have a "good" meditation, whatever that means! Maybe we really want a calm mind or to feel some peace inside. A few moments acknowledging these in a Focusing way can really help to settle things and allow space for what is really there to emerge.
6. Using the felt sense in Mettabhavana (loving Kindness) practice. Instead of just recalling a person in one of the stages in the Mettabhavana, why not sit with a felt sense of that person. How does it feel inside, in the body to be with that person. What stirs inside the body? Take time to just be with this before trying to develop any kindness. As we sit with an awareness of another living being, in this bodily felt way, is likely that some Metta is already there. Remember they are a shaky human being just like you. Mettabhavana is not about liking or not liking but about resonating with living beings, and this resonance flowers into kindness, compassion, joy etc. Our body knows how to do this.
7. Saying hello to distractions, resistance and hindrances. Like everything in Focusing, each of these visitors in meditation will appreciate acknowledgement and empathy. They may just need a moment or perhaps they are a communication from something deeper and more important. Try not to judge and label before saying hello... I wonder if they would call themselves resistance or a hindrance?

Don't pick up the mobile phone... and open to your experience.

It is hard not to reach for my mobile when I feel that inner urge.... “must check my emails, must look at such and such”. In our pockets we have whole worlds awaiting our interest. Even before smart phones, I used to do this and the phones had made it all the more compelling. In all honesty I love my gadgets and to some part of me it is like I am living in the future of my childhood....

And yet something is amiss.

I notice something else, that whenever I feel uncomfortable I so often reach for the phone. Like many of us do. So when I saw this clip from an interview with us comedian Louis CK, I was struck by his honesty and insight into this...

Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones

He really points to an important point. Can we actually bear to have our experience in a more direct way? Can we allow in the feelings we have been keeping at bay all day or week... Or longer?

It is interesting that he says after he cried that happiness came, it's like allowing the suffering to be met and felt, allowed the happiness or joy. Isn't it like that? But so often I just reach for the phone.

It might not be a phone for you. It might be a book, or the computer or food. It does not matter. And just because we have a phone or read books or eat food, it does not mean we are running away. It's all about what is driving us. Who is it in us making the hand reach for the phone? And what is our relationship to it?

Well, I imagine there is
something in us doing that, and in all likelihood it does not want us to experience something... For a reason to be respected. Or it wants something for me, and again it needs respect.

So, the next time I feel that discomfort and reach for the phone, I'll be curious and see who is there beneath the surface. Maybe I'll cry, who knows? but for sure it will take me closer to what is going  on.