The true meaning of life is living in the present, where happiness, freedom and inner peace live. These flow effortlessly once we learn to bask in the unlimited joy, kindness, compassion and inner peace we are all born with, in our wise hearts.
But first, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s stop all our busy doing, planning and strategizing to pause and genuinely ask ourselves, “How do I postpone my joy?” or “How do I let ego run my life at the cost of my own inner peace?” This may be the most important question you ever ask yourself in this lifetime.
As a therapist for thirty years, I’ve witnessed firsthand what we humans do to ourselves again and again, unconsciously. We resist what is. No matter what is true in any given moment, we want life to somehow be different, easier, more in our favor. Unknowingly, out of habit, our thoughts drift into anxiety, fear, doubt, and judgment. Whether born in America or Europe, Asia or Africa, Canada or South America, we are all born into a thick, blinding molasses-type ego substance called unconscious conditioning. Since we turned one or two years old and learned how to talk, we all took a detour down ego lane. We bought into a widely accepted cultural lie: “I have to obey my thoughts, fears, doubts and judgments to survive.”
Until we stop racing forward lickety-split and spend some moments each day seeing ego’s habits clearly, they rule our life. In fact, after experiencing a few losses, we give up and buy into another false belief: “If I follow ego’s thoughts and beliefs, I’ll stay safe. And maybe someday, when someone loves me, then I’ll find happiness.”
SEEING THROUGH EGO’S LIES AND FALSE BELIEFS
In truth, ego is just one small part of the creative, loving being that we are. Ego is nothing more than a defensive, immature five-year-old with a loud voice inside demanding our attention. Ego destroys communication with loved ones, even destroys love relationships, by reacting personally to every little thing. Ego sabotages our creative ideas by snidely asking, “…but how are you going to do that and where will you find the money for that?” Ego cuts down our self-worth by filling our minds with fear and doubt, feeding our “never good enough” habit.
Ego does this because it can’t help itself. Ego’s singular job is keeping us safe at all costs, and it takes this job as serious as life-and-death. But it is near-sighted; it cannot decipher fear from reality. If it convinces itself that our lover might possibly hurt us, ego does everything in its power to destroy our relationship, even if in truth our partner is devoted to us and would make a fabulous mate.
Remember, safety (not happiness, joy or love) is ego’s single goal. It pulls out all the stops when helping us avoid possible hurt, discomfort, illness, or pain—especially a broken heart. All day long, ego crams our head with incessant thoughts, memories, fantasies, regrets, plans, worries, hopelessness—anything to distract us. Ego is so focused on the past and future, it has no time to waste on the present.
Besides Grandma’s wedding ring and Dad’s gold watch, we also inherited an unquestioned loyalty to ego’s shenanigans. When it labels our current experience as “good” or “bad,” we buy its judgment. When it devotes hours to analyzing past hurts in a futile attempt to avoid future hurts, we swallow its conclusions whole. When ego captivates us with juicy stories about my thoughts, my feelings, my wants—knowing how susceptible we are to stories about ourselves—we ride the big wave.
And ego does all this below our awareness, counting on snowing us again.
Now is the perfect time to question our undying loyalty to this tiny part of who we are. One scratch below the surface reveals how ego acts and thinks like an immature child. It hides under the bed at the whiff of any unfamiliar, unpredictable, unexpected things that might cause discomfort, creating more suffering for us in its wake. If our new goal is freedom and joy, we need to see through ego’s clever antics.
IDENTIFYING OUR REAL DAILY PRACTICE
Let’s face it. Even if we practice meditation, prayer and yoga diligently, we still spend the lion’s share of our time—the other 23 hours a day—letting ego’s thoughts, fears, reactions and judgments captivate every waking minute.
Of course we don’t wake up declaring, “Today I’ll waste every moment lost in thoughts or fear.” No, such habits occur unconsciously, below our awareness. Like subliminal advertising, they grab our attention while we are driving, working, eating, playing, and living our lives. Soon, without realizing it, we’ve slid down the slippery slope of ego’s agenda, lost again in thoughts about “Me and My Story.”
The grand prize for waking up out of ego’s unconscious conditioning is better than a brand new Lexus. Once we label thoughts “thinking” and fears “fearing,” the silent, open space that appears inside allows us to bask in the unlimited joy, loving-kindness, compassion, and inner peace we are all born with. This is our pot of gold. Inner peace, joy and freedom live right here, right now, inside our wise heart.
For instance, when my friend Jan’s husband suddenly divorced her at sixty-two, she felt enraged, sad and hopeless, as if she’d lost her reason to live. But savvy to ego’s tricks, she noticed ego’s incessant blaming thoughts—“If only you’d said yes to sex more and bolstered his ego and worked harder, this would have never happened”—smiled at ego’s great imagination, then shifted her focus to the present.
“I’m flooded with fears about never finding love again,” she said, “but I trust my heart to know what to do, even now. I relax into the waves of grief when they arise. And the inner peace that follows inspires me to keep living in the present.”
Shifting from unconscious ego habits into freedom takes conscious choice.
Shifting Out of Ego into Conscious Choice
Every minute we indulge anger or judgment (however justified in ego’s small mind), we postpone freedom. Every hour we take a ride with fear’s story about losing our lover, job, home, savings, or health, we cultivate fear. Every week we resist what is true and tell ourselves that life should be more in our favor, we perpetuate a false lie that ego has fed us for years: “Next time, if you’re clever enough and smart enough, you’ll never suffer pain or failure again.”
Lucky for us, our wise heart knows that pain and joy, success and failure, loss and gain are all woven into the fabric of life. Rather than wasting precious time trying to avoid the unavoidable hurt, pain, disappointment, loss and grief that come with being human, we can Consciously Choose to allow what is. That is, we can tell ourselves, “In this moment, no matter what ego is telling me, I choose to accept myself, and this moment, exactly as it is.” As we allow suffering to share the same space with our wise heart, “negative” feelings soon dissolve into unlimited joy.
My favorite question for calling myself into the present is “Am I here now?” When I take ten seconds to come back into the present, I often laugh out loud. I’m amazed at how my wild mind bounces all over the place: from last night’s gluten-free linguine, to Grandma’s homemade spaghetti, to the night she died on the dance floor at 72, to how she loved chiropractors, to how I need one for my back pain now.
Coming back into the present frees us from identifying with ego’s prison of constant fear, doubt, anxiety, and judgment. It bumps ego out of the driver’s seat and puts our heart back in the driver’s seat, its rightful place. It stops the runaway train of thoughts. By returning to the present, we stop reliving those same old fear, disappointment or resentment stories. We wake up out of the stupor of ego’s unconscious thoughts and stories into who we are—spacious, loving, compassionate awareness. From this new vantage point, ego’s shenanigans are just entertaining, like any good movie, but not something real we waste any time one.
Every second of every day, whenever we notice thoughts as thoughts, fears as fears, judgments as just judgments, we gift ourselves with Conscious Choice: We can let despair drag us around by the nose like it has for years—or choose joy. We can stay lost for hours in a fear trance about losing our income—or choose presence. We can stress all night about our teenager breaking curfew—or choose freedom. Being present in joy and freedom is always our moment-to-moment choice.
Presence brings conscious choice. Conscious choice brings freedom.
It is precisely at this juncture where our trusting heart becomes our new hero. Equipped beyond imagination for handling thoughts and feelings, our heart lays down a new brilliant blueprint for feeling happy, peaceful, and free again—one that works. It whispers an illogical but very effective strategy in our ear: “Try holding all your fears—about money, illness, aging, loss, grief or loneliness in loving compassion. Just as an experiment, try it and see what happens.”
Our heart may even welcome fear like an old friend, saying, “Hello, fear. I was expecting you. Sorry to rush off but I’m having too much fun creating joy in my life to visit.” When our trusting heart discovers us lost in fear, it chooses freedom. It reminds us that all we need to do to dissolve fear is love the fear just as it is.
Our wise heart trusts life. It trusts the present moment, where life happens, and where joy, love, compassion and inner peace always lives. It trusts the infinite wisdom and truth that unfold in the everyday details of ordinary life. It delights in all the sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, and experiences sharing this present moment—without judging any of them.
When we identify with our wise heart in the present, we too trust life.
~Carolyn Hobbs, Licensed Therapist, Lecturer, Workshop Leader and former College Professor. She is author of FREE YOURSELF: 10 Life-Changing Powers of your Wise Heart and JOY, No Matter What.
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