I was born with an inquisitive nature. As I’ve grown and faced the pressures of society, my parents, friends and family, I’ve constantly tried to be a “better person” even without fully understanding what being a better person meant to me, by questioning what I was learning from those around me.
A desire to be happier – not just when things were going well in my life, but when I faced challenges as well – nagged at me. I’ve met people who had faced challenges beyond my comprehension who were positive, optimistic – a joy to be around. People who had every right to be angry and who were not (or at least, were not that way all or most of the time). What was their secret for not being bogged down in the details and little irritations of life?
A little under a year ago I decided to embark on an active journey to determine who my better person was, and find a way to let that person lead me, all of the time or as much of the time as possible.
I read many, many self help books. My absolute favourite is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. Other top picks include Martin E.P. Seligman’s Authentic Happiness, the foul-mouthed, no holds barred Augusten Burrough’s This is How and Tony Robbin’s Awaken the Giant Within. I read through many websites and watched videos and listened to podcasts. I read every page and did nearly every exercise on the hundreds of pages of Oprah’s Life Class. I watched this Ted Talk from Calgary improv actor Rebecca Northern and this one from Erika Napoletano among many others.
Each day I read, and thought, and read more and thought more. I analysed myself. I tried to stop myself in my moments of sadness or anger or frustration and analyse why I was reacting the way I was, using the tools and processes I was reading about in these self help books.
I discovered that I didn’t have to become a “better person.”
I am a wonderful, beautiful, unique, joyful and generous person. I simply had to stop letting certain conditioned responses and thought patterns mask this person, or “take over” me.
Eckhart Tolle calls this thought pattern or conditioned responses and thinking the Ego.
“One way to think about ego is as a protective heavy shell, such as the kind some animals have, like a big beetle. This protective shell works like armor to cut you off from other people and the outside world. What I mean by shell is a sense of separation: Here’s me and there’s the rest of the universe and other people. The ego likes to emphasize the “otherness” of others.
“This sense of separation is an intrinsic part of the ego. The ego loves to strengthen itself by complaining—either in thoughts or words—about other people, the situation you find yourself in, something that is happening right now but “shouldn’t be,” and even about yourself. For example, when you’re in a long line at the supermarket, your mind might start complaining how slow the checkout person is, how he should be doing this or doing that, or he failed to do anything at all—including packing the bag of the person ahead of you correctly.
“When this happens, the ego has you in its grip. You don’t have thoughts; the thoughts have you—and if you want to be free, you have to understand that the voice in your head has created them and irritation and upset you feel is the emotional response to that voice Only in this way can you be present to the truer world around you and see the golden shade in a pound of pears on the scanner, or the delight of a child in line who begs to eat them.The trick, of course, is to work to free ourselves from this armor and from this voice that is dictating reality.”
Tolle’s explanation of ego really resonated with me, as did his explanation of what he called our pain body. It’s basically the emotional form of our ego – that part of our ego that feeds off drama, that needs to be right, that is hurt, that wants to hurt. Tolle teaches us how to transcend this pain body, or emotional thinking, by becoming aware of it and observing it and not feeding it.
Today I feel very close to being fully the better person I always was, in that I live as this person more of the time than ever before. To people who have been part of my life during this time, I may seem like I’ve changed. I haven’t changed – what’s changed is the percentage of the time my ego or my pain body takes control of my thoughts and my mouth.
I’m not perfect – this process is a work in progress and sometimes it can take me a few hours to wrestle back the reigns of awareness. Sometimes I still find myself indulging in gossip, being uncharitable, or feeling wronged, over minor or major things. I’m working very hard to actively eliminate my ego and pain body from taking over the real me, but when it does I can forgive myself for it too. I still feel frustrations, I still get impatient and frustrated and cranky. But I understand what is happening when it happens and I can recover and uncover me quickly.
I have a card I keep in my wallet as a tangible reminder of who I am. It reminds me that in all things, I respond with love. I migrate peaceward. I can find acceptance, enjoyment or enthusiasm. I bear joy. I nourish myself. That is who I am.
Understanding myself this way, and actively working on letting who I am lead me, has led to so much joy in my life over the past year. Existing friendships are deeper and more connected, and I’ve developed many new friends that feel like old friends. I’m experiencing life so differently every day, especially with my loved ones.
Have you undertaken any self-discovery? Which messages or theories have resonated with you – and which have you successfully incorporated into your life?