How to harness the personal power of being egoless, Part 1
Athletes call it the Zone. Japanese martial artists call it Mushin. Zanshin. Fudoshin. These states become a Holy Grail for them; it boosts their performance past what they thought was impossible. Let’s discuss how you can harness it in all areas of your life – work, romance, and even playing.
Psychologists group these states under the umbrella of peak performance. They teach many techniques to achieve it; visualization and state control, among others. In this series, I’ll discuss the most important aspect – the removal of the “self” to tap the power that lies underneath, to become one with the action and your environment. Sounds like some ninja movie? Read on, grasshopper!
What the ego is
If you have read my first Ego post, you’ll know that your “self”, the ego, the personality, is made up of many things that you have mistaken for you. Your name, age, sex, occupation, habits, patterns, programming, and mannerisms are not you, they are merely about you. They cover up the true you. Many of the thoughts you have, that you focus on instead of sliding by, also cover your true self.
I’ll try to write this series so you can work with me without having read that post, as it is a huge 6000-word post, but it will help greatly if you have. If there’s anything that you want explanation on in this series, the answer will likely be in there, my favourite post so far. Plus, many people have emailed me and said it began the biggest shift in their lives, so give it a shot if you haven’t read it.
Depending on who you ask, there are two things you can do with the ego. Humanistic psychologists, from the well-established “third force” of psychology, recommend replacing negative aspects of the ego with positive ones. Transpersonal psychology, unofficially known as the “fourth force” of psychology, recommends the total removal of the ego. This series is about the removal – the next will be about replacement, so you can make an informed decision in your own growth.
It’s not some grand goal!
Let’s get into it. Firstly, you have to understand that bypassing the ego is nothing grand. It is not a momentous event, or reserved only for the special. We’ve all been there before. Have you ever done something, and you were so engrossed in it that you forgot the time? You looked up and hours had passed in a flash? You had bypassed the ego during that period. You had become totally in the moment.
I am not talking about being in a blur, though. Eckhart Tolle describes the “blur” as falling below thought, not rising above it. When you stroll along absent-mindedly and walk into lamppost, or when you get drunk, or lost in your television show, you are not being egoless.
Now, removing the ego permanently is another matter. I can recognize and bypass my ego most of the time, but I still have one so I can’t write about being completely egoless without being a hypocrite, bleh.
Note that Ken Wilber claims the egoless state does not mean the lack of a functional self. That’s sign of a psychotic, not a sage, he says.
I have identified seven areas in which the removal of the ego can help you in your practical life. There could be more, especially if you want to delve into the metaphysical, but I have no experience with those so I will stay away.
1) Bypassing fears, anger, and emotions that hold you back or sabotage you
2) Always doing your best, and more
3) Tapping the source of all creation
4) Intuitive action
5) Increased awareness
6) Moving beyond skill into true mastery.
7) True happiness and freedom from material goods
Bypassing fears, anger, and other emotions
Let’s get into the first. In any area of achievement, what are the biggest obstacles to success? Think about your goals for a moment. What stands in the way? If you can, make a list now.
Most of the time there are two types of obstacles. One type is external. This refers to the lack of time, money, knowledge, and so on.
The other type is internal. These include fear, procrastination, and self-limiting beliefs (thinking that you are not good enough). These are almost always the roots of external obstacles. For example, you might not have enough money because your fears or your laziness prevent you from doing what it takes. Maybe you don’t have enough time to chase your dreams because you lack the assertiveness and self-respect to turn others down politely when they demand your time. Take the time now, to be honest with yourself and list what you can do to overcome the external obstacles.
Done? Then the good news is: all internal obstacles are all traits of the ego. Your ego causes you to react this way by filtering the thoughts that you have and turning them into self-limiting beliefs, fear and doubt. All thoughts are initially neutral – take a simple one like “I have an invitation to go to a party.” A shy ego, for instance, might filter it and distort it into “Oh my god, I don’t know anyone there! I’ll be the loser in the corner!” And so the troubles begin.
Entering a situation
When you have controlled the fears and the doubts holding you back, there will be so much more you can do. When I was younger, these negative filters ran my life. When I was going for a job interview, for example, what was running through my head?
“I’m never going to get that job. I’m fresh out of university, I got no experience, and my skills are rubbish!” In fact I had a Master’s degree in my chosen field, but my ego had killed my self-esteem. You can probably imagine what that meant for my chances.
Most of the time, I simply gave up. I turned down interviews, or went half-heartedly, prepared to fail. And fail I did. You get what you prepare for.
I was lucky I stopped before things got any worse – although not all egos do. Some egos continue dropping thoughts into “I am a loser! I am worthless! Nobody will ever want me!” What will they do then? Suicide, perhaps.
On the other hand, if I had recognized these thoughts as my ego, I could have acknowledged them but gone in anyway with a healthy attitude. That doesn’t mean the job is guaranteed, but I will focus on my strengths instead of my weakness. My chances would have been much higher. There is only one step needed: Recognizing the ego as something separate.
In a situation
This also means you can keep your power when you are actually in a situation. You choose how you respond to events, not the ego. No ego means no “buttons to push”, for it is the ego that steps in and says “How dare you…!”
When you bypass the ego, you will find it easier to remain stable and calm in unfriendly conditions. This in turn lets you work out a beneficial solution. If you had instinctively responded through the ego, with anger, defensiveness, or aggression, the result would most likely be less than perfect. This is what distinguishes powerful leaders from the rest.
Japanese martial artists call this state Fudoshin, the “immovable mind”, the Imperturbable calm and peace. The ancient samurai know better than we do the danger of pride, angry brashness, and fearful withdrawal. In modern life, these can cost you friends and opportunities, and make you enemies. In combat with sharp pointy objects, these emotions can lead to death.
What about you? Can you think of anything that you did before, which you regretted later? Are you aware of the ego inside you?
The same samurai say that this state is usually achieved through soul-searching, through confronting and overcoming our fears and weaknesses. In other words, recognizing the ego when it wants to arise, putting yourself in those exact surroundings and then forcing yourself to remain in control.
Achieving more than your best.
What we’ve discussed so far are the larger forms of negativity. People usually make it a priority to overcome those once they are aware of it. Major unhappiness, weakness, and emotional baggage are pretty obvious.
But there are smaller forms: Comparison, doubt, and frustration. These are either not noticed, like a chronic pain that you’ve become used to, or they are not considered important. As a result, even many relatively conscious people live constantly under these filters. Let’s return to the younger me as an example. I had begun to overcome my weaknesses and found myself a job.
But my mental static continued to plague me while I was working. “Oh my god, this design is ******! Won’t the phone stop ringing! Is the boss looking at me! Is he going to move the deadlines forward again?”
It’s the mental equivalent of trying to sleep while the phone is ringing, the neighbour is blasting loud music, and your cat is screeching. The difference is; most people can’t turn off those thoughts. They function through their entire waking lives with such “static” cluttering up their concentration and awareness.
How can we stop this? The same way as we do the bigger filters: simply letting the thoughts float by. Recognizing when the ego wants to grab onto those thoughts. Refusing to let it. It takes practice and patience. You don’t have to remove it entirely. Recognizing it will make it much easier to keep control, and when you do, your whole life will be changed.
Another trick is to think of your current task as your life’s purpose. If your car has broken down and you have to change the wheels, it will be normal to be upset. But think of it as your life’s purpose, and in my experience, you will find it easier to get into pure “doing”. This is the egoless state I described, where hours fly past in a blink of the eye. This is hard to explain in a single paragraph, but I’ve covered it in detail in this post on Dynamic Goals.
The ego struggles to return
If it helps, you can think of the ego as a living thing. Like all living entities, it wants to survive and get strong. So it will find many ways of returning to your life, trying to trick you into identifying with it again.
For me, the ego sneaks back in when I am working on a task I don’t enjoy, before I have fully slipped into the selfless “doing” state. Other times, it happens when I am tired.
My biggest ego blotch is my compulsive reliving of old painful memories; I replay them over and over in my head. It was the cause of my depression many years ago, and I have otherwise already conquered them (you can read the techniques I used in my forgiveness series – check the archives). But this time my ego cleverly tried to slip these memories between my work thoughts.
This seems to be universal. Many of friends say that whenever they let themselves focus on one bad thought, it leads to another, then all the bad thoughts come rushing in, and before they know it they’ve lost hours of sleep.
Such extra sneakiness requires extra awareness. You have to remember not to become identified with the ego again. When I do catch myself getting more and more irritated and unable to concentrate fully, I take a short 30-second break, breathe deeply, and fill myself with a loving feeling. This allows me to concentrate, and soon I slip into a pure “doing”.
When you remove these thoughts, you can focus fully on the task at hand. The only thoughts you will have are those required to do the task you want to do. This is the only way to truly do your best.
This post is pretty basic, but it has to be covered for those who are new to the ego. The next few posts in this series will be far more interesting, I promise! Stay tuned!