Thursday, June 27, 2013

Befriending the Beleaguered Ego

Our ego expends a great deal of energy keeping us safe. They take on a great task, and in the long term, a thankless one. Driven by the singular objective of survival, the ego is bound to fail in its mission. But along the way, it feels a great sense of accomplishment. Surviving each trial and tribulation, and coming to see another day represent great milestones in the life of an ego.

But to optimize it taking seriously the charge of sustaining us day in and day out, the ego becomes terribly overreactive. It does not do a particularly good job distinguishing serious and consequential threats from those that are of modest concern, if any at all.

Mindfulness practice offers us the opportunity to notice when the ego is feeling threatened and, through that noticing, create the space with which to better apportion the threat. Much has been written about this--and here is a spontaneous practice you can bring to those moments--borne out of mindful awareness and engaged through compassionate understanding.

A few posts ago, we connected EGO with AMIGO. During times of fear and worry, the ego can feel all alone and can use a friend. Who better than you.

The next time you begin to notice yourself moving into a scared or worried place, bring awareness to your breathing--perhaps even nudge it gently into a slower rhythm--and remind yourself:

"Everything will be okay, Mi Amigo."

Doing so, several wonderful things happen. First, you become aware that you are feeling worried. Second, you recognize you have a choice of what to do next. And third you choose to offer yourself a wise and compassionate embrace.

By befriending a beleaguered ego, you wake up a little bit to a truer sense of the moment.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Time: Learning to "Be Me"

In developing a sitting practice, a common experience is that the sitting is difficult because it is challenging to remain still, or focused, or because it is experienced as "boring," or seems to "take forever."

Of course, these all stem from thoughts ("this is taking forever"), feelings ("I feel antsy") and body sensations ("restlessness") that the insight of mindfulness regards as the very objects to which we pay attention.

Because we may not yet be adept at noticing these experiences and sitting with them, we turn our attention outward in the hopes of finding "a more immediate" relief. Ready solutions include: getting up, jotting down a reminder, getting something to eat, deciding to find a better time to sit later in the day--and so on.

Often, and somewhat interestingly, we imagine we would sit just fine if the experience went faster. And "on good days" we might marvel over "how fast it went." But of course when we sit on a cushion or chair and meditate, we are living life--perhaps more fully than we do much of the day when our minds are caught in distraction--and what does it suggest to us that we wish it went faster, or are pleased when it does?

So, rather than force our way through a sitting--impatiently wanting it to go faster-let's rejoice in the time that it takes, whatever that may be. And it will feel different each time we sit. Just as the breath changes, so to does our perception of the passing of time.

And just as the breath can be the object of our attention, so to can our perception of the passage of time. Sometimes is it slow, sometimes it is fast. Sometimes it is smooth, and sometimes it is choppy.

If we would like our life to proceed at a comfortable pace (let's call this its natural pace, unencumbered by the distracted mind and restless body), so that we are less likely to look back and wonder where did the time go and how did it go so fast, let's bring into our practice an interest and appreciation for the passage of time--and perhaps a joyful embrace of its sometimes slow pace.

We might think of the coming together of our perception of the passage of time with the passage of time (whatever that means) as "right time."

Finally, as a reminder of this insight, notice that the word time ends in "me." Notice also, that the beginning of the word, "ti" is the seventh note of the major scale (remember "Sound of Music") and the seventh note is "B."

Notice time, embrace its passage, and learn to "Be Me."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Am Ego or Amigo: Cultivating Sympathetic Joy

One of the deepest forms of personal liberation is developing the capacity to feel joyful for another's good fortune. The challenge of this practice (and beauty of this state) is realized most immediately when a person, with whom we are competing in some way, is presented with an opportunity, or achieves recognition, in an area we wish were ours to claim.

Often, the challenge and opportunity of sympathetic joy (i.e., finding joy in another's success) arise alongside the mixed feelings we experience. We are happy for our friend or colleague and jealous at the same time. This simultaneous arising offered a rich opportunity for transformation and growth.

At the heart of the matter resides the ego's yearning to be appreciated and valued in the midst of a circumstance that it interprets as threatening to these very needs. Often these interpretations are overreactions--but we believe them to be true, and subscribe to the implications we sense will follow.

Mindfulness and other meditative practices offer us a keener glimpse at the inner processes at play. With awareness, we are able to see more clearly a penultimate choice of picking between I "Am Ego" and my "Amigo" Do I turn my friend into a foe? Or do I share in my friends pleasure?

By paying attention to the thoughts, feelings and body sensations arising when we fall into the grips of discomfort, we can come to know ourselves more deeply, learn lessons, and experience an opening of the heart.

Mindful.Me Insight and Exploration: As you practice sitting and noticing your inner experience during these moments, you may glimpse a penetrating insight--the realization that the discomfort hints at at . . . the fear of annihilation.