This is my final article in a short a series on my Taoist spiritual and professional interpretation of the ‘Ego’. In my previous post I explained how the Ego, though well meaning, can block and restrict your potential as it tries to protect you from emotionally challenging situations. The good news is that this Ego energy, which is very much part of the wholeness of you, can be mindfully managed and rebalanced to a point of harmonious Wu Wei, when you’re at your most authentic, rational and creative. I’d now like to discuss how you can spot when your Ego energy has swung out of balance so that you can begin to take practical steps to regain your fabulous Wu Wei.
Find it… own it… change it!
FIND IT: Knowing when your Ego is at play
Before you can begin to rebalance your Ego’s extreme way of thinking you first need to be able to identify when your Ego has been engaged. This is not always straightforward, as one of the main weapons in the Ego’s survival armoury is the creation of false-complexity and confusion in your thinking. This is why even the most intelligent and self-aware individuals can struggle to think rationally and creatively when their Ego emotions are at play.
The easiest way to know when you may be operating from your Ego rather than Wu Wei is if you’re experiencing what I call ‘red-light’ emotions or feelings. These are the uncomfortable physical sensations you may experience which commonly include: churning or a feeling of sickness in your stomach; tightness in your chest; tension in your head, neck or shoulders; dryness in your throat; excessive sweating; shortage of breath etc.
These are the feelings that are wrongly labelled in the West as anxiety, stress, depression, guilt, anger, frustration, lack of confidence, poor self-esteem, hopelessness etc. By contrast, in Taoism and traditional Chinese medicine these emotions are understood to be indicators of disturbed ‘Shen’, where the uncomfortable physical sensations are thought to represent a manifestation of an imbalance of your authentic mind and ‘inner spirit’ (I have further teachings the subject of ‘Shen’ here).
Your emotional feelings are therefore a very helpful indicator that something more fundamental is going on and that the energy of your thinking and you Ego may have swung out of balance. Once you become aware that there may be a problem in this regard you can use this information to start digging a little deeper.
Here are some questions that my clients often find helpful to work through at this stage:
- Are you distracted, confused or worrying about what may, could or should happen, rather than trusting and living your life in your ‘flow’ with emotional freedom?
- Are you concentrating only on negative or fearful outcomes, rather than taking time to identify all possible outcomes: good, bad and neutral?
- Do you feel like you’re locked in an emotional maze, going round in circles as you strive for emotional control, protection and security?
- Are you working hard to please others but still getting nowhere?
- Are you trying to be ‘perfect’ or thinking that you’re better or worse than others?
- Do you perceive that life is difficult, complex, unfair, and unjust or that you’re a victim?
- Do you hate confronting and dealing with disagreements, choosing instead to avoid unfamiliar or challenging situations and people?
If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions then this signals that your authenticity and Tao nature has been compromised and that you’re operating from you Ego rather than your balanced and harmonious Wu Wei. Your answers will point to any Ego misunderstandings in your thinking that are at the root of any uncomfortable or painful physical feelings and emotions you may be suffering from.
OWN IT: Taking responsibility for your Ego mind
Once you’ve identified that your Ego may be out of balance the next step requires your commitment to address the situation. The only way you will ever make any positive and lasting changes to your personal, emotional and spiritual development is by taking full responsibility for this process.
Learning to manage the energetic balance of your thoughts and emotions can be extremely challenging at first, particularly if you’ve never been taught how to do this when growing up. When someone or something upsets, angers or provokes any unfamiliar or uncomfortable feelings within you it can seem counter-intuitive and almost unnatural to not hold that person or external situation responsible for your feelings and unsettled state of mind.
The problem with doing this is that it reinforces the belief that other people or external events have the power to dictate or control your feelings. By holding onto and nurturing this way of thinking you effectively release yourself from the responsibility of authentically managing your own thoughts and emotions. So when you hear yourself saying something like ‘they made me feel…‘ or ‘it made me feel…’ you absolutely know that you’ve given control of your emotions to somebody or something else.
I like to use the following analogy… imagine someone dumps a load of rubbish in your front yard – you then have two choices of action: you can either protest as a victim waiting for that same person to come and remove the rubbish, which may never happen, so you end up spending your whole life with the garbage festering right in front of you and blocking your path; alternatively, you can choose to clear the rubbish up yourself so that it doesn’t affect you for years to come – this doesn’t mean it was okay for the person to dump the garbage but it does mean you’ve made a choice to manage the situation and limit how it affects you and your life.
Many of my clients have spent decades holding onto a perceived or real injustice or hurt, waiting for the other party, or perhaps the Universe in general, to right a wrong for them before they can begin to truly starting living again. In doing so they have made a personal choice to keep stepping over the ‘emotional garbage’ in their front yard for as long as it takes for someone or something else to come and clear it up. They hand over their precious gift and ability to self-nurture themselves and their potential, what the Taoists call ‘Ch’ang’, to external forces (I have further teachings the subject of ‘Ch’ang’ here).
Of course I’m not disregarding or devaluing any of the unfair, unsettling and often terrible things that may have happened to them or the extreme energetic effect it may have had on them at that point of time. I would, however, always encourage them to understand that only they have the ability to heal and harmonise their mind-set and their life.
The reality is that only you have the ability to rebalance your mind to a more calm and authentic way of thinking and restore the joy and happiness into your life. No other person (your partner, friends, family or work colleagues) or material thing (shopping, food, alcohol, drugs etc.) can or should do this for you.
The only limitations are those you put in place.
CHANGE IT: Getting to grips with your core beliefs
Once you’re willing to take ownership of your Ego misunderstandings and the balance of your emotions, thoughts and actions, it’s now time to explore where these harmful patterns of thinking and behaviour originate from so that you can begin to make deep and lasting changes to your mind-set.
My experience is that that all Ego imbalances manifest from your core beliefs, or what Taoists call ‘Te’, some of which may not be serving you well or are misaligned with your authentic Tao spirit and nature. So much unhappiness and physical, emotional and spiritual dis-ease is caused by operating your life from a set of beliefs that don’t reflect your authentic, higher-self.
When I work with my clients to help them uncover and understand the core beliefs that may be at the root of their imbalances they’re often surprised and shocked to learn that they’ve been subconsciously holding onto beliefs formed in their childhood that they don’t actually agree with as mature adults. Often the core beliefs that are at the root of any Ego imbalances can originate from parents, peers or significant others in your life. It’s not uncommon to adopt inauthentic core beliefs as your own, particularly as an impressionable child, even though as an adult they don’t authentically ‘fit’ with who you are or your ‘Te’.
When you understand the extent to which such inauthentic or inappropriate beliefs are controlling and profoundly impacting your life and wellbeing this can be a very powerful moment of personal realisation and enlightenment (I have further teachings the subject of ‘Te’ and core beliefs here).
Remember to be loving, kind and nurturing towards yourself as you take time to work through this process of rejecting any Ego misunderstandings and core-beliefs that do not serve you well. Enjoy this journey of self-discovery and personal exploration even though it will be challenging at times and may throw up the unexpected. Be patient – accept that you may not be able to undo immediately what may be decades of inauthentic or imbalanced Ego thinking, but be assured that it can be done. As my wise Taoist Master taught me: ‘even the gentlest flow of water will gradually erode the hardest of stone’. If you hold onto the commitment and desire to positively change your thinking and your life for the better, the Universe will always assist you in your endeavours. Small steps with made with authentic intention can manifest profound change.
Make and keep a small promise to yourself every day.
To close this teaching I would like to remind you that in finding, owning and changing your Ego misunderstandings you are NOT rejecting your Ego. Always remember that your Ego is part of you – in its extreme it reflects an energy temporarily out of balance but it’s still you. Rather than perceiving your Ego as the enemy, it requires loving support and emotional education not disdain rejection, or retribution. By doing this work of personal and spiritual development you’re simply allowing a more balanced and harmonious form of thinking to manifest – your Wu Wei. This is the most important and vital Taoist teaching.
‘I choose to take responsibility for my emotions, thoughts and actions – I live in emotional freedom.’
‘What others say or do to me will not compromise my spirit or potential.’
‘I am grateful for my ‘red light’ emotions and feelings – they tell me when I need to rebalance my thinking.’
‘I acknowledge that my Ego promotes confusion and separation – I now choose a path of clarity and Oneness with the Universe.’
‘I am now in a loving process of emotionally maturing my beliefs.’
‘I am patient with myself as I make profound and lasting changes in my life.’