Earlier this week, I hosted a bookclub meeting to discuss David Rosenfelt’s hilarious book, Dogtripping. Our evening ended up being a study about the Ego Mind and the distractions it uses to cause stress and anxiety. We all have an Ego Mind — it’s a part of the human condition. To better understand the Ego, all you need is a stressful situation to trigger it — such as severe weather, a tornado warning, and a group of people.

The evening got off to a great start as members settled into their chairs and sipped their wine and spa water.  Within 20 minutes, the wind started to pick up, the sky darkened, and the rain tumbled from the sky.  Sirens in a neighboring city started to whine, alerting our little party to a potential tornado alert.

Despite the local weather services’ tornado advisory for the other side of the county, we agreed to head to my girls’ basement playroom. Imagine 8 women with wine glasses and cell phones in tow, an overenthusiastic lab mix, two tween girls who thought the situation was “cool,” and a reluctant hubby overwhelmed by all the estrogen — all gathered among Barbie Dolls and Pokemon cards.

Ego Mind Rehash

This storm was a great metaphor for the thoughts that can race through our minds in stressful situations.  In yoga, the stress response and its associated thoughts are machinations of the Ego Mind.  When we are thinking with our Egos, we are in a state of  “unconscious,” where we focus on our perceptions and fears. We are simply unable to see the situation as it is. This storm literally unleashed an “inner storm” for some.

In yogic terms, the Ego Mind:

…Rules our Sense of Time:

The Ego is too distracted by thoughts of the past and future to focus on the present. Our minds are “out there” while our bodies are “right here.” How often do you tune out of the present moment?

In this case, a few had strong worries about *potential* outcomes. Eventhough we followed safety guidelines, some people’s minds were too focused on the discomfort of an uncertain future. So despite my best attempts to continue a conversation about the book (more so to divert their thoughts), the conversation kept circling back to their concerns over the tornado warning.

…Feeds on Our Fears:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 
Frank HerbertDune

Our Ego Mind is our “Nervous Nerys” and “Debbie Downer.”  The discipline of yoga and many religions state that life is ruled by two polar concepts – love and fear.  The Conscious Mind, that aspect of ourselves that sees life as it truly is (without the lenses of our perceptions, thoughts, beliefs) will see see life with confidence, ride the wave, and yield to uncertainty. The Conscious Mind’s counterpart, the Ego Mind, will instantly react with fear. The fear is driven by uncertainty or mistrust about the future and emotional ties to past experiences.

We all have faced fearful situations and have fears about one thing or another.  As long as we know we’ve done everything that is within our control (especially our reactions), the most heroic thing we can do is yield to the situation. Yielding isn’t giving up – rather, we are making peace with the current situation. Thy Will be done…

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
Nelson Mandela

 …Judges Everything:

Our past experiences and reactions to life situations shape the way we perceive and react to situations, people and places. This “Monkey Mind” is also adept at seeing any action, place, thing or person as being “right” or “wrong” in *your* eyes. We only need to look at politics to see just how subjective the Ego Mind is.

I will admit, this was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t fearful, but that inner judge interrupted, thinking, “Why are we down here? Why can’t my friends relax? Why can’t they see that we’ve done all we can do?” Oops.

Once you recognize that your “Inner Judge” is in action, acknowledge it, reign in your thoughts, and “go with the flow” of the situation. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling deeply. Laugh. Do anything to silence the distracting thoughts.

thinking

Reality and perception: What do you see in this snapshot of my garden? Some people see the dead branches of my butterfly bush, while others may notice the dead leaves on the ground or the small tree growing against the dead bush. Others may see the Lilies of the Valley in bloom…. while others notice new growth springing from the root ball of my butterfly bush. Others see the entire picture – dead branches with new life, soil, and blooming flowers. What did you notice first – destruction or new life?

…Colors Our Perceptions of Reality:

What we perceive, regardless of our opinions, is an illusion of what may actually be going on — despite our conscientiousness to get the story “right.” Refer to our Inner Judge, above. If you’re not sure how this works, consider story variations when witnesses are interviewed by courts for criminal and domestic cases.

Next time you are fearful or distracted, ask yourself if the situation is as bad as you perceive it to be – or if it merely puts you out of your comfort zone. If you reign in the Inner Judge and learn how to harness your fears, you will notice the discomfort no longer has a hold over you.

…Distracts Us:

The moment of drifting into thought has been so clipped by modern technology. Our lives are filled with distraction with smartphones and all the rest. People are so locked into not being present.
Glen Hansard

Don’t let the Ego Mind distract you from situations that make you feel uncomfortable.  The Ego Mind’s existence relies on discomfort to exist. To gain more control over you, it focuses your attention on distractions, knowing full well that those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings will still simmer beneath the surface, causing you further discomfort.

Distractions may include: smart phones, electronic tablets, food, multi-tasking, over-working, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships, knuckle cracking, television, internet surfing, shopping, hoarding, gambling, and more.   You name it —  there are a number of vices people use to soothe unsettled thoughts and emotions. At best, these vices keep us temporarily distracted. Yet because these habits don’t resolve those troubling thoughts, these distractions can develop into unhealthy habits. And for some, those unhealthy habits can further lead to addiction, depression and anxiety.

It was interesting to see some of my friends glued to their cellphones, trying to find answers about a tornado location on their weather apps. Further discomfort grew when they realized the apps didn’t provide the detail they wanted. I was asked why I didn’t have a television downstairs.  What would more knowledge have have done other than foster more fear?  We were in the safest place possible and could not have done anything else — but the “not knowing” caused great discomfort.

If you find yourself distracted, bring your mind back to the present.  Just being aware that your mind wanders is the first step. Allow yourself to process your thoughts and emotions — and let them go. If you are still unsettled, focus on a favorite poem, prayer, mantra or song — and repeat it several times.

Reigning in the Ego

The Ego, if left unmanaged, causes unnecessary stress and anxiety, which in turn can cause a lot of physical, mental and emotional discomfort or illness. There are many ways to tame this wild beast.

Take a figurative step back once you notice unhealthy thought patterns.

Analyze your thoughts as if you are a detached witness. See the thoughts for what they are – random acts of the Ego Mind. Replace those thoughts with “Oh, that’s just my Ego Mind at it again.” This thought-training technique may help you to turn the thoughts into more positive ones. This related article about destructive perfectionistic thoughts, which covers a common cognitive behavioral therapy technique, can help you get started.

Take mindfulness classes.

Learn to harness the Monkey Mind through Tai Chi, Chi Gong, yoga, mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, or yoga nidra.  These classes provide physical, mental and breathing techniques to quiet the Ego Mind while training you to deal with your thoughts in a safe, constructive way. If you feel that the classes are too slow, give it time. In this time-rushed society, it’s merely your Ego Mind saying it doesn’t want to lose its control over you. Once you learn to slow down and shed destructive thought-patterns, you’ll appreciate the wisdom behind these mindfulness techniques. The inner peace is worth it!

Get professional help.

You will know the problem warrants professional help if you find that your thoughts and emotions interfere with your normal daily functioning.  If you aren’t sure whom you should see, contact your primary care provider or clergy for recommendations.

When the Sirens Ended…

Our basement party lasted for 45 minutes. When we emerged, the women gathered at our dining room table to finish our book discussion.  It was a strange evening, filled with lively discussions about the weather, reminiscences about our favorite pets, odd off-topic conversations, and finally laughs about the book – we finally found our “presence,” our peace from the storm.