Tame Your Ego for Lasting Happiness

A common spiritual trope is that we should get rid of ego. The word can even make us cringe or feel guilty. We try to suppress parts of ourselves, but to operate in the world we need a personal sense of self. When kept in its place, a healthy ego is extremely useful. It helps us get things done and express the unique gifts of who we are.

Ego can feel separate, unloved, and threatened, afraid of intimacy and afraid to let love in. On the useful side, its basic job is to defend us. We can allow it to relax its guard, feel less separate, and support our higher selves. But to insist on “no ego” is just an egoistic mentality struggling with itself. We can approach all ego actions with openness instead of judgment and channel them to serve the heart through authentic engagement and love. Whether you are coming from ego or from your heart is the central question regarding lasting fulfillment in life.

Khan defines ego as “the imaginary identity of an overstimulated nervous system.” He characterizes an overstimulated nervous system as having a closed heart, a noisy mind, low self-esteem, with an ego that runs things like an overcontrolling commander-in-chief.

We can learn to engage and integrate the ego as a competent lieutenant, who helps us get our needs met, while taking direction from the higher self. Gradually, we can unravel and heal our battered nervous systems. The keys are radical acceptance, compassion (including self-compassion), honesty and emotional receptivity. Just like its fears, the ego cannot be defeated, cured, or overcome. It evolves through our commitment to love ourselves and each other. When we let ourselves feel grief, rage, terror and other emotions, we can free the ego to better serve our soulful hearts.

The ego is only capable of conditional love and tends to be transactional, and that’s OK under many circumstances. When the immature ego, weak and conflicted, is in control, however, it blocks fulfillment. According to spiritual mystic Matt Kahn, the ego can be thought of as the “soul in incubation.” We process ego stages of development in trying to attain security, pleasure and power. It’s only when we get stuck on one of these three lower levels of consciousness that the ego’s control bites us. (Eckhart Tolle refers to this as the “pain body.”) The soul, or higher self, is a wave on the cosmic sea, connected to all. Unconditional love comes via the soul, via a heart-centered higher consciousness.

Whether we know why or how, everything is here to help us in making the transition from ego-centered to heart-centered. “While the ego judges each feeling solely on how painful or pleasant it is, the soul views each emotion while it lasts as an opportunity to love itself,” writes Kahn. Instead of fighting our ego, let’s learn to embrace it, listen to it and from that, grow and learn. In truth, through all the changes we can’t control, through all the pain and suffering of its dissatisfactions, the ego is evolving to serve the heart. Although it hurts sometimes, love is our only fulfillment and more than worth the price.

Matt Kahn is a spiritual teacher, healer and author. I had the good fortune to interview Matt Kahn on my Pathways Podcast and to attend his three-day retreat in Portland Oregon.

Ancient Taoist Approach to Modern Stress

Feel rushed? Even when you’re on vacation? Worried about the future? Overwhelmed? Fast-paced living creates “hurry-sickness”– a sense of desperation and time-pressures that are draining. We’re conditioned to chase money, power, success – ever embracing a wilder, faster pace of life. Despite a rise in stress-induced illnesses, we continue onward in a furious race to an imaginary finish line. The anxiety we feel breeds muddled thinking which leads to poor choices. Poor choices lead to more problems, pain and suffering. It’s a race to the finish that we’re destined to lose.

Yun Rou, a modern Taoist monk I interviewed on my Pathways show, offers wisdom pointing to a better way. Tao, in fact, means “the Way.” It refers to living life in harmony with nature. Many of us spend our time and energy doing battle with life when the key is to live in harmony – through a Taoist alchemy that finds the balance between action and non-action, between assertion and letting go of resistance, as circumstances dictate. Yun Rou uses the term ‘rectify’ to refer to the effort it takes to bring things out of whack back into balance. We will never finally achieve perfect balance – we will always be rectifying – but it’s fun trying and getting better at it. Otherwise, we squander considerable effort and time trying to force the universe to bend to our will. So very exhausting!

Below are four Taoist secrets to doing less and getting more done.

1. Be like water – in the flow.

In his book, Mad Monk Manifesto, Yun Rou notes that we are each called upon to become a sage, defining sage as “a person who deeply senses the flow of the world and moves with it, not against it.” But how do we learn to yield and not resist? Taoists embrace the image of flowing water: when a stream of water is confronted by a rock in its path, it flows effortlessly around it or over it, rather than banging its head against the rock. Flow like water.

2. Cultivate inner peace.

Meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga – all of these ancient methods can be used to help us calm our anxious minds and reduce stress. If we imagine the principles of yielding, softness, centeredness, slowness, balance, suppleness and rootedness that these methods draw upon in a balance of stillness and movement, then we will sense our connection with nature, harmonize ourselves to her ways, and cultivate the inner peace that we all need and subconsciously crave.

3. Find the balance.

An important first step toward attaining this solution to modern stress is by learning to recognize and align ourselves with the movement of life itself. This is achieved through an understanding of yin and yang and finding the balance points of life’s ever-changing dance of polarities – light or dark, up or down, feminine and masculine, giving and receiving, consuming and sacrificing. Balance is the Way.

4.Practice gentleness and compassion.

Mistakenly interpreted as weakness, true gentleness is a courageous sensitivity, respect, and reverence for all life. Its companion virtue, compassion, brings acceptance, generosity, forgiveness, and love. How wonderfully ironic that caring about others’ happiness as if it were your own will reduce your stress level and improve overall well-being for everyone. Yun Rou sums it up: “Compassion is the key element of the awakened, rectified life.”

It’s Time to Come Home

Stewart Blackburn is the author of the new book, It’s Time to Come Home: With Kindness and Compassion, We Come Back to Ourselves. Stewart is a writer and teacher whose focus is on helping and encouraging people’s journey home to themselves. He is also the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want, and dozens of articles on shamanism, pleasure, and consciousness. He maintains a healing and teaching practice at his home in the jungle on the island of Hawaii. Stewart is a trained professional chef with a Master’s Degree in Food Science who has transitioned into a teacher, counselor, and mentor to those seeking more peace in their inner world. He draws upon his extensive studies of shamanism, tantra, Buddhism, the mystical paths of the world, and wisdom from anywhere that resonates with him.

Resisting Narcissistic Abuse

Have you ever wondered why you’ve been feeling more anxious or depressed in the past couple years? Having more trouble sleeping? Feeling confused or overwhelmed by behavior that you can’t make sense of? If so, you may be a victim of “narcissistic abuse.” Author and counselor Meredith Miller, an expert on the subject (and recent guest on my Pathways Radio podcast), believes Narcissistic Abuse (NA) is a leading cause of loneliness, anxiety and depression in the world today, silently happening across interpersonal, familial and societal levels.

A silent pandemic of narcissistic abuse appears to be growing at exponential rates, as it’s being normalized by media and entertainment industries rewarded by corporations and institutions, and so shamelessly modeled by our bullying leader. One of the key markers is lack of empathy.

Miller writes, “We are living in a world run by the narcissistic and sociopathic values of many corporations, governments, schools, religious and spiritual organizations.” On the island of Maui, Monsanto is a perfect exemplar of unbridled narcissism in the corporate sector … putting profits above the health—and the democratically expressed will—of the people.

NA is one of the most insidious injustices because it leaves its victims less able to trust others, or their own judgment. Narcissists emotionally manipulate others through language designed to assert greater control. They make people feel helpless and isolated in order to foster a sense of dependency. Hallmark behaviors include verbal abuse, manipulation, emotional blackmail, lying, gaslighting, bullying and withholding. Statistics indicate 15% of population has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but it is under-reported as these are not people who seek therapy.

We all have experienced narcissism, which is a natural stage of life…. for a two-year-old. Clearly, it’s a stage we are meant to outgrow with the help of decent parenting. But what if one or both of our parents is narcissistic or otherwise dysfunctional? Such families operate according to an unspoken set of rules. Children conform to these rules, but never cease being tormented by them because the rules block emotional access to their parents … and themselves. They become invisible—neither heard, seen, nor nurtured. Boundaries dissolve and they are used (or abused) to suit their parents’ whims.

Even if we’ve been free of NA in our families of origin or intimate partnerships, we are all experiencing narcissistic abuse these days, because our president has NPD. Gaslighting describes how narcissists try to make people think they are the crazy ones if they believe their eyes and ears. An narcissistic abuser like Trump is a master at gaslighting, constantly lying to deceive and scam or just to throw us off balance. It’s not hard to feel the depressing impact his deranged leadership is having on mental health in the USA and worldwide.

How can we heal from narcissistic abuse? What are antidotes to such self-centered madness? First, we need to have compassion for all of us having to deal with NA. Develop self-acceptance and commit to letting go of our own self-destructive habits and complicity. Deliberately practice empathy and compassion. Avoid giving special attention to the abuser or taking him seriously (perhaps this means taking a “news fast” for a while) in order to rebuild an internal sense of safety. It’s never too late to redefine your sense of self and commit to creating new and better boundaries. And vote for responsible government in 2018.

Overcoming Anxiety

Dennis Tirch is the author of The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Overcoming Anxiety: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Calm Worry, Panic, and FearDr. Tirch is one of the foremost experts on Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) in the United States. Dr. Tirch’s work with compassion is firmly grounded in an extensive history of work in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Buddhist Psychology.

Mindful Compassion

Dr. Paul Gilbert is co-author of the new book, Mindful Compassion: How the Science of Compassion Can Help You Understand Your Emotions, Live in the Present, and Connect Deeply with Others. Dr. Gilbert is world-renowned for his work on depression, shame, and self-criticism. He is head of the mental health research unit at the University of Derby and author of The Compassionate Mind andOvercoming Depression.

You Have a Tricky Brain and It’s Not Your Fault

Everyone prefers happiness over suffering, but it can be difficult to steer our emotions and moods toward a happier state. According to evolutionary psychologist, Dr. Paul Gilbert, we are burdened with a big challenge he refers to as a “tricky brain!”

Why tricky? In his captivating book, “Mindful Compassion,” Dr. Gilbert explains that our brains have been shaped by evolution, which is not the most intelligent designer. We could have a better brain, if evolution were able to reorganize it (like rebuilding a software program from scratch), but evolution doesn’t work that way—it can only build newer brain functions on top of old, patching and extending things over time.

It makes sense that over millions of years, our brains have become rather unwieldy and unstable. The “old brain” continues reacting to jarring stimuli as if it were life-and-death, as if a saber tooth tiger were about to attack you from behind, instead of the reality: you lost our keys and are about to be late for an important meeting.

It’s like we have two brains – old brain and new brain. The old brain runs emotions, which guide our motives (social and otherwise) to help us get what we need and depend on for survival. Old brain mechanisms, on the other hand, evolved functions that direct the body to deal with threats, take shelter, find food, seek out a sexual partner, etc.

In the last million years, our brains have evolved in profound ways. With a growing neocortex, we became able to think, reason, and plan, enabling us to cooperate and communicate. However, this new brain isn’t foolproof or even 100% advantageous. Because of these abilities for thought and self-awareness, we become burdened with habits of ruminating, comparing, self-criticism and judgment—with emotional by-products like anxiety, vindictiveness or depression. Unlike other animals, humans can anticipate the possibility of starving to death or obsess on a fearful experience. As they say in 12-step meeting, “stinkin thinkin” can get us stuck in a loop until we find a way to intervene.

The two brains are linked and intertwined. The old brain can hijack the new brain, where all of its thinking and planning becomes enlisted by the survival fears of the old brain. Our thinking can become linked or looped into a stream of threat-fueled anxiety, anger, or worry.

As always, 80% of the solution lies in understanding the problem. We can have a better relationship with ourselves when we stop judging ourselves and develop compassion for ourselves, accepting the fact that our brains are replete with conflicting ideas, emotions, and desires. Tricky!

In “Mindful Compassion,” Dr. Gilbert teaches how to break self-destructive thinking cycles, reorganize the mind, and keep it on track for positive and constructive action. (My podcast talk with him is definitely worth a listen.)

For the sake of self-compassion—which, as Dr. Gilbert explains, is a healing balm for our suffering—it’s important to remember that your brain’s conflictedness is not your fault! Likewise, we are not responsible for the family system or society we were born into, so let’s have compassion for ourselves around that too! The great news is that we can learn to rewire our tricky brain by combining the skill of mindfulness and the power of self-compassion.

 

What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully

Frank Ostaseski is the author of the new book, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. Frank is a Buddhist teacher, international lecturer and a leading voice in end-of-life care. In 1987, he co-founded of the Zen Hospice Project, the first Buddhist hospice in America. In 2004, he created the Metta Institute to provide innovative educational programs and professional trainings that foster compassionate, mindfulness-based care. He is the author of the Being a Compassionate Companion audio series. – See more at: http://kboo.fm/media/58413-discovering-what-death-can-teach-us-about-living-fully#sthash.eQ37PrOF.dpuf

Unconditional Self Love

Blake Bauer is the author of the book You Were Not Born to Suffer: Love Yourself Back to Inner Peace, Health, Happiness and Fulfillment. His book and his coaching work center on loving yourself unconditionally as the key to healing yourself, fulfilling your life’s purpose, and realizing your full potential both personally and professionally.

Tibetan Buddhism, reincarnation

The venerated Khangser Rinpoche was born in Katmandu, Nepal in 1975. At the age of 5, he was recognized as the reincarnation of 7th Khangser Rinpoche who had been one of the three high lamas responsible for finding the 14th reincarnation of His Holiness, the current Dalai Lama. Rinpoche is recognized as one of the great living Tibetan masters, manifesting compassion and an eagerness to cultivate the seeds of loving kindness in the minds and hearts of sentient beings.