The mind is a wonderful tool for thinking, but it has a dark side. There is an aspect of the mind that is not useful but pretends to be useful, which is called the egoic mind. It is the aspect of our mind that chats with us as we move about our day. It is the “voice in our head,” as Eckhart Tolle calls it. Much of the time, this voice seems like our own thoughts and our own voice, and we often express these thoughts (e.g., “I love doing that!” “I can’t wait until tomorrow.” “I wonder what will happen”). At other times, this voice is like the voice of a parent or other authority figure or a friend (e.g., “You should try harder.” “Don’t forget to take your vitamins.” “Wouldn’t it be fun to try that!”). It may even seem evil or mean (e.g., “You never do anything right. You’re worthless. You might as well give up”). We tend to take this voice seriously—we believe it, agree with it, and don’t question it. We believe it because we are programmed, or wired, to believe o! ur own thoughts, regardless of whether they are true and helpful or not.
Not only do we believe these thoughts, but we believe they are “ours.” We identify with them—we feel they reflect who we are. We don’t tend to question our own thoughts, although we readily question other people’s thoughts, especially if those thoughts are different from ours. But when we stop and examine what this mental voice is saying, we discover a lot of contradictory advice, misinformation, prejudices, judgments, and other negativity. This mental voice is often unkind, belittling, fearful, self-doubting, judgmental, complaining, confused, and unhelpful.
It turns out that the voice in our head is not a very good guide to life, and yet we tend to accept what it says and do what it suggests. This voice, in fact, is the cause of human suffering. It fights life, rails against it, and is discontent and afraid. It is the voice of the false self—the ego—not the true self. The thoughts that arise in our mind cause every negative emotion we experience: fear, guilt, anger, jealousy, shame, sadness, resentment, envy, hopelessness, worthlessness, and depression. Without these thoughts, we would live in peace within ourselves and in harmony with others. But you already know this, don’t you?
The funny thing is that we can see the truth about the egoic mind and still be entranced by it, still be mesmerized by it. The programming to pay attention to and believe this aspect of the mind is very strong, and it takes not only seeing the truth about it, but also a practice, as in meditation, of not giving our attention to this mental voice before we gain enough distance from it to experience freedom and the joy and peace of our true self, or Essence, as I like to call it.
The reason for moving out of the egoic mind and into the Now is to experience who we really are. Our thoughts represent the false self, the ego. In fact, all the false self is, is thoughts. There is no substance, no thing, that is the false self—only thoughts. The false self is made up of ideas about yourself: “I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I don’t like traveling, I’m middle-aged, I like blue, I’m married, my father deserted me when I was young, I want to be a novelist, I’m not pretty enough,” and so on. Such ideas create an image and sense of yourself, but you are not an image or even this sense of yourself. Images aren’t real or true. Feelings about yourself aren’t even real or true, since they are based only on thoughts, which aren’t real or true. Who you really are has nothing to do with any of these ideas, feelings about yourself, or stories you tell about yourself.
Your true self is the experience of yourself existing in this moment, free of such constructs, stories, and self-images. To experience your true self, or Essence, you have to move out of your self-images and thoughts about yourself into the experience you are having right here and now, absent of thoughts and self-images, which obscure who you really are. We become entranced by our thoughts and overlook reality—the real experience we are having here and now. The egoic mind, however, doesn’t want you to stop paying attention to it, so it continually tries to engage your attention. It persists in this because this is how the false self is maintained. If you stop paying attention to your thoughts, the false self disappears, and all that’s left is Essence—the real you who is experiencing this moment.
There is something else here besides this character you suppose yourself to be, and that’s what is actually living your life. This that you truly are is looking out of your eyes, hearing sounds, reading and understanding these words, and having every other experience that is part of this very unique and potentially delightful moment. What else are you experiencing besides reading? What colors are you experiencing? What sounds? What sensations? What intuitions? What drives? What insights? What is the Being that you are experiencing right now?
The more we bring our focus into the present moment and onto our actual experience (as opposed to focusing on our thoughts), the more we experience the joy and contentment of the spiritual being that we are. This that we are is having a wonderful time having this adventure we call life. It embraces all of it—every experience. When we come into the Now, we experience the peace, joy, contentment, wisdom, patience, kindness, and strength of our true nature. At our core, we are all loving and joyous beings! It is only identification with the egoic mind that makes us feel and act otherwise. The only thing that interferes with the experience of Essence is absorption in thought. Imagine that! The egoic mind is the only thing that interferes with living more lovingly and more at peace with ourselves and the world. We are all beautiful and amazing creations!
My intention is to help you see the truth about your ego and the egoic mind so that you can more easily and more consistently experience who you really are. Fulfillment and true happiness is found by dropping out of our ego and egoic mind (the false self) into the Now—into the experience of Essence. That is what we are about here. The practices, explorations, video, and guided meditation offered in this lesson are a very important part of this discovery. Please give yourself fully to them this week. Sending all love and blessings…
Definition of Terms
The Now: The Now is defined most simply as the present moment. Of course, the present moment is all that exists, since the past and future are simply thoughts about the past and the future. But because we are programmed to pay attention to our thoughts, we often fail to notice what is actually going on now. Most people live in a mental world. When we drop out of this mental world into the Now, we experience a depth, a richness, and a joy and peace that feel sacred. This is the experience of our true self, or Essence. So, when we talk about being in the Now, we are also talking about this experience of Essence.
The ego: The ego is the idea of who we are (not who we really are) that is created by thoughts about ourselves: “I am fat, tall, a father, a hard worker, a musician, not good enough.” These thoughts create the false self, the sense of who we are as an individual. The ego is also a primitive aspect of the mind related to survival and the storehouse of conditioned ideas and beliefs.
The egoic mind: The egoic mind is the aspect of the mind that reflects and is driven by the ego. It is the voice in our head that chats with us and chatters on. It is the ongoing mental commentary that we think of as our thoughts. The egoic mind is different from the functional or practical aspect of the mind that we use to read, learn, calculate, analyze, and so forth. The functional mind doesn’t speak to us but is a tool we use when engaged in tasks that require us to think.
Practices: To be done throughout the week:
1. Practice being aware of your thoughts. Where do thoughts come from? Thoughts arise out of nowhere. Just because a thought is happening in your own head doesn’t mean it is any more true than a thought that arises in someone else’s head. What is arising in your mind right now? Where did it come from? Someone? Something you read? Something you were taught? A TV commercial? Is it true? Is it wise? Is it useful in this moment? Is it helpful or destructive? How necessary are most of your thoughts? Do you need them to function? Do they help you function better or not? How do they make you feel?
2. Notice how uninterested the mind is in the present moment. It’s fascinated with the past and the future, and it likes to evaluate the present, but the mind finds nothing of interest in the actual experience of the moment. Notice this. Notice how persistently your mind makes suggestions for thinking about something or doing something other than just being in the moment and responding to whatever is coming out of the moment. The mind has a job to do, and that job is to keep you out of the Now. How does your mind attempt to keep you out of the moment? Which tactics are the most successful at getting you to turn away from the Now? A memory? A fantasy? A desire? A fear? A should? A judgment? A thought about food, sex, time, imperfection, cleanliness, being successful, or how you look? How long do you actually stay in the Now before you go unconscious and rejoin the egoic mind?
3. Notice how much you like to be involved with the egoic mind and with thoughts about yourself and how your life is going. What wants to think is the ego, the false self; and what is capable of being aware of thoughts and of the desire to think is Essence. Whenever you are having the experience of thinking or wanting to think, it’s also possible to realize that the Noticer (Essence) is perfectly content with just noticing whatever is arising in the moment and responding to that without a lot of thought.
Explorations: Do just one of these explorations, or inquiries, a day.
1. Take some time to examine what you are referring to when you think the thought “I.” Try to find the I you’re referring to when you’re thinking about yourself. Can you locate it anywhere? You may point to your body when you say “I,” but the I isn’t just the body is it? Does the I reside in the body? If it resides in the body, what is it that’s aware of your body and your thoughts and even able to contemplate this question? Could that awareness be who you really are? Is awareness—consciousness—limited to the body or the mind? What if you were that awareness, and you were just pretending to be attached to a particular body-mind for the experience it provides consciousness? Who would you be then?
The real you is not your body, your mind, your personality, or any of the things you call yourself. What are such labels, after all? They are just ideas, concepts. Are you an idea, or are you what is aware of the ideas, labels, thoughts, desires, and feelings of a particular body-mind?
2. What are you aware of right now? If you are aware of a thought, ask: “Who or what is aware of this thought?” If you are aware of a feeling, ask: “Who or what is aware of this feeling?” If you are aware of a sensation, ask: “Who or what is aware of this sensation?” Take sufficient time with each of these questions to allow yourself to experience that which is aware of a thought, feeling, or sensation. The real you is what is aware of every thought, feeling, sound, sensation, intuition, urge, and insight—everything you are aware of. You are that which is experiencing this life, and That has no gender, age, past, future, or any other specific definition, but is pure Awareness, Consciousness. Who is it that is aware of the thoughts that define you? Is it the character you seem to be, or is there something else here that is character-less, that is just purely experiencing life, without ideas about liking or disliking, having or not having, wa! nting or not wanting?
3. Get a pencil and paper, and jot down a description of the character that your mind describes as you. What characteristics and qualities belong to that character? What does that character look like? How does that character behave? How does it feel much of the time? What are its beliefs? How does it see itself in relationship to others and to the world? This is the character you are playing, but it isn’t who you really are. You are what is able to contemplate this character.