August 27, 2020
By: Olivia Nelsen
“Practicing loving-kindness toward ourselves seems as good a way as any to start illuminating the darkness of difficult times.”Pema Chodron—When Things Fall Apart.
Pema Chodron, renowned meditation Master, offers a simple and yet profound message here and it’s relevant more than ever now as we navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic and the unfolding ‘new normal’. Everything is changing and everything is being impacted, especially our relationships, in our communities, our society and the world at large. So where to begin? For today I’m with Pema—let’s start right here, with attempting to love ourselves.
Change is unsettling for all of us and it’s unsettling because there is a part of our mind that freaks out every time there is a threat to things not going our way or how we expected.
This part of the mind is often referred to as the ego. A lot of us are aware of this inner voice or inner critic and yet over and over again it catches us into its web of seduction. We think in the moment that that voice is who we are… this is how it gets us in to trouble… they are just thoughts and opinions passing through… they are NOT who you are.
What’s your ego voice like? Is it a slow moan or echo from the back of the mind? A creeping up of sorts that chips away at you until you feel like crumbling? A short sharp attack that can bring you to your knees? Or like an annoying little brother or sister who you want to move out of your brain?
And what’s your ego’s message(s)? You’re not good enough? You’re a failure? You’re unlovable? You don’t matter? You’re not important?
It’s the virus we cannot see. It’s the virus we keep secret. It’s the virus we are ultimately ashamed of. And we are not alone—we all have one and it’s what gets in the way of not only liking ourselves but loving ourselves.
The good news? Is that we can do something about it 🙂
There are numerous methods to help with negative thinking and it’s important to recognise that you will have a unique ego voice and an individual healing path towards a more peaceful existence. Here are a collection of exercises and techniques I suggest for you to explore:
Journaling isn’t for everyone but putting pen to paper can allow for a ‘dump’ of the negative chatter. A helpful way in is to allow the pen to write as a stream of consciousness, unedited verbiage can allow clearing and disempower the ‘take over’ of this part of the mind. You can keep a journal for this particular purpose or get rid of the writing after by burning or throwing it away.
Witnessing (with Breath)
A free and simple yet powerful tool at our disposal 100% of the time—the breath. I can’t cheerlead this beautiful gift enough. In any moment when you catch your ego doing its thing you can bring yourself into the moment, notice the chatter and breathe. This is a crucial step to reducing its power or hold over you. Once you have noticed the banter (which isn’t you) you can learn to witness it like an external force that is doing its best to distract you from the present.
Another helpful tool (once you are witnessing your ego voice) is to replace the negative chatter with what you know to be true about you. E.g. I am good enough. I am doing my best. I am worthy. I am loveable etc.
“Get into the body and out of the head”. This can be a great mantra and reminder that experiencing our bodies, our breath and our heart pumping, can help you be with what is actually happening, rather than what the ego wants to persuade you is happening. Walking, running, doing yoga, cleaning the house, gardening, dancing… whatever you can do to get physical and quiet the thinking mind.
Getting to the Root
The ego often gets a bad rep, but in truth, it is a part of the mind that stepped in many moons ago to help you out in childhood when things were just too hard, overwhelming or even terrifying. It could have been a simple event like noticing a parent suddenly not being there or a harsher example of witnessing or experiencing violence. Whatever the event, we have all experienced childhood trauma and this is where the ego voice starts… back then it came to the rescue, but now it is running the same tape for present events that does not serve a purpose any longer. This is why you may recognise the voice as being very similar to a caregiver from your childhood. For example, if your parent used a punishing tone with you when you were younger (they would have been coming from their ego voice) you may hear a similar quality in the way your ego voice speaks to you.
Sometimes opening to previous trauma can be uncomfortable, painful and often scary and reaching out for support in this area can help to bring compassion and self-care to the very areas where the ego was birthed.
“Ego judges and punishes. Love forgives and heals.”Anonymous
Olivia Nelson is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor (RTC #2145) with the Association of Cooperative Counselling Therapists of Canada (ACCT). Olivia holds a diploma in Transpersonal Counselling Psychology from Clearmind International Institute, as well as a BA(hons) from Manchester University in the UK.