Reconnect to your Core
a practical guide on how to feel good and be happy

What is the ego?

To illustrate what the ego is I want you to try a mental experiment. Put down the book for a minute and close your eyes. Try to stop thinking completely. Try to let there be complete silence in your mind. Can you do it? Don’t give up on the first attempt. If a thought enters your mind, block it out and try to go back to complete silence. Notice how long you’re able to keep it totally quiet in your mind before a new thought enters. Close your eyes and try not to focus on anything and notice that the mind still keeps producing thoughts, images, visualizations, and fantasies.

Are you starting to realize that the mind will start thinking of itself after just a few (milli)seconds even though you have not asked it to think?

Isn’t this fascinating! Even if you want to stop the mind from thinking you can’t do it. Let me repeat this: You can’t stop the mind from thinking!

The mind never stops thinking. The mind makes up thoughts without any effort on your behalf. Just like the heart is beating by itself and the food in your stomach is digested without your conscious effort, so are also your thoughts going on by themselves without you actually trying to produce any of them.

This constant chatter has throughout history been referred to as the stream of consciousness or the ego. It’s a radio channel inside your head that never stops playing. This stream of consciousness is never-ending, continuous, and unbroken. At every waking moment it goes on and on, and even when we’re asleep it continues in the form of dreams.

Stream of consciousness

Let’s try a mental experiment originated by Adrian Wells. Close your eyes and try to see in your mind’s eye an image of a tiger. Visualize the tiger as best you can with its head, body, fur, legs, and tail. Focus your attention on the tiger and try to let go of controlling it. If it moves around then let it, if it stands still then just let it do that also. Don’t try to make it do anything but don’t try to prevent it from doing anything either. Give up trying to control the tiger, and notice that thoughts about the tiger are still coming to you. The tiger is sort of living its life inside your mind even though you do not try to produce any thoughts about the tiger.

You’re not trying to make the tiger do anything or trying to prevent it from doing anything, but still it keeps on existing in your mind doing what it’s doing by itself. Notice while you’re doing this that you’re not the Inventor of the thoughts and images about the tiger, you’re merely the Observer of these thoughts and images.

Next, try to close your eyes and again visualize the tiger, but this time try to block out the tail of the tiger. Notice that when you see the tail and try to block it out of your thoughts that this creates stress and tension in your body. Observing the stream of consciousness and accepting it as it is, rather than forcing it to think certain thoughts or avoiding thinking certain thoughts, calms the body. Rather than trying to fight against the stream of thoughts by taking credit for thoughts or blaming yourself for the existence of thoughts, you’re merely observing and accepting them.

Inventor versus observer

If you were the originator and inventor of all the thoughts in your mind you ought to be able to turn them off so that you whenever you wanted to could have complete silence in your mind. Logically it then follows that since you can’t stop the mind from thinking you can’t be the inventor of all your thoughts. Let me repeat this: You yourself is not the creator of all the thoughts in your head! If you were the creator and inventor of this constant chatter in your head you ought to be able to turn it off! But you can’t.

This fact is difficult to understand for most people. Even people who knows about the ego’s existence forgets this several times each day. However, this understanding is of great importance for your mental health and happiness. Since it’s not you that produces most of the thoughts in your mind, since you’re merely the observer of them, it relieves you of the great burden of taking responsibility for their existence or blaming yourself for every stupid little thought that enters your mind.

You’re the observer of your thoughts not the inventor of them. This is a great relief. It means you can have a more relaxed attitude toward your thoughts as most of the time they’re not reflecting who you are, the individual you, since they’re only a reflection of your ego’s nature.

But if you’re not the inventor of your thoughts, then who invents them? They’re invented by the ego, which is a product of our three brains (the human brain, the mammalian brain, and the reptilian brain). This «creation of thinkingness»-process results in that our thoughts are most of the time impersonal, based on fixed ego-patterns, and animal instincts. You will later in this chapter learn the most common ego-patterns that are universal for our human ego.

That you’re not the inventor of your thoughts but only the observer of them, means that you’re able to develop an observing relationship to your thoughts, and no longer be identified with them and think of them as You. When you’re able to refer to a thought as «a thought», and not as «my thought», it creates less resistance and tension inside you.

In psychological literature this ability is called our «ego-observing capability», which is a standard term used in psychological testing in practically every mental health clinic in the western world. Even the US Military in their psychological testing of personnel measures «Ego Strength», so this is not some woo-woo alternative concept.

Ego Strength or Ego-Observing Capability is the ability to observe the constant chatter of thoughts, called the ego, as just an impersonal construct and not as You. This ability is a prerequisite for a healthy mental state.

The ego is impersonal

That the ego is impersonal can be illustrated by a mental experiment by Hemon. First, focus on an object in close proximity, for example a painting. Focus your full attention on the painting. Notice how many colors there are, what fabric the frame is, the type of paint that has been used, and what the painting illustrates. Spend one minute intensely focusing your thoughts on the painting. Notice that thoughts about other and totally irrelevant things might enter and try to take your focus away from the painting, but that with effort and by willingly directing your attention you’re able to block out those thoughts and refocus on the painting.

This battle between our directed focus vs the mind’s unrelated irrelevant chatter illustrates the battle between the Self vs the ego. This battle for your attention is constant and never-ending. The ego is constantly trying to get you to focus on it. Subjectively these distraction attempts by the ego feels more frustrating if we’re identified with the ego.

Next when the minute is up, try again to empty your mind as you did in the previous exercise when you tried to let your mind become silent. Try not having any thoughts, just pure silence in your mind for one minute. Look at the painting, but don’t focus on anything except trying to have a silent mind. Notice how thoughts about any odd, irrelevant, and weird thing enter your mind almost immediately.

When that «silent» minute is up, choose again to focus your attention on the painting. Focus again intensely on the details of the painting for another minute. Notice this time how the thoughts that try to distract you from your consciously focused thoughts are the same thoughts that are trying to distract you from the silence.

Now this is a key understanding. As you’ve just noticed, it’s almost like the thoughts you’re having while directing your attention or trying to quiet your mind are being invaded by some mundane chatter that happily will take the center stage in your mind at any opportunity. Why is this? What is this constant «thinking» that never seems to stop which takes over our consciousness and spews out all kinds of thoughts for us to «hear»? This is our ego.

Almost comparable to a radio channel that’s constantly on in the background, the ego creates thoughts that we’re able to observe in our mind. Most of this constant «thinking» is mundane, trivial, weird, childish, irrelevant, random, fearful, repetitive, selfish, negative, aggressive, sexually oriented, self-obsessive, narcissistic, and loveless.

The ego is animal in nature, and it’s biologically and genetically hardwired in our mind. It’s a product of our triune brain, animal instincts, and our previous emotional conditioning and programming, and it is impersonal. That the ego is impersonal means that the ego is not you. If these thoughts were you, you could choose to turn them off and focus either on tasks you want to focus on or simply choose to relax in silence. However, since you can’t avoid this chatter of the mind, this must mean it is not you. If it were you, you ought to be able to turn it off. Hopefully this point has been repeated enough now.

The fact is, something inside your head must be able to «hear» and observe all this chatter. You’re not the radio channel, you’re the one «hearing» the radio channel. You’re not the ego, you’re the observing Self.

The ego’s thoughts follow certain patterns and I will throughout this chapter explain the most common ones. When you become aware of the ego-patterns and the games that the ego constantly plays they will lose their control over you. That will be a huge relief because when you’re able to see the ego-patterns clearly and understand why they’re there it will give you the knowledge and awareness to not be led by them anymore.

The article above is an excerpt from Chapter 9 in Reconnect to your Core.

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