When we get a tickly throat, runny nose or a cough we assume we have a cold coming on. So what do we do? We drink fluids, down some Nyquil and take it easy. And we don’t go on that five mile run in thirty degree weather we’d planned on.
We can use this same construct for personal, spiritual growth. How so?
Vesuvius on the road
Let’s take an example. You’re driving along and somebody suddenly cuts into your lane. You react by leaning on your horn and screaming at the top of your lungs, at nobody in particular because nobody can hear you, “Way to go you F&^%ING A*&HOLE!!!” Then you drive on. After a couple minutes you calm down and go about your day.
But here’s the thing: That volcanic reaction to the wayward driver is no different than the tickly throat. It’s a symptom. Not of a physical illness, but of a psychic one.
Disproportionate reaction is telltale
Why? The response is WAY out of proportion to the incident. Somebody cuts into your lane, causing you the grievous injury of having to lightly tap your brakes, and you absolutely lose it. Come on, we’ve all been there. I know I have (though not nearly as much since I’ve been meditating regularly and practicing mindfulness).
The point is that that behavior is a symptom that something inside you is not quite right.
Here are a few more examples of behaviors to look at as symptoms.
-Your boyfriend wants to watch his favorite football team on TV rather than go on a walk with you. You completely shut down in a depressed huff for the rest of the day and night.
-You were a serious tennis player growing up and now in your 50’s you get anxious to the point of nausea before playing in a senior tournament. (BTW, this one applies to me.)
-Even though you’ve been in executive search for decades, you still get nervous any time you get a new search because you fear that you’ll fail your client.
Fine, so we blow up at other drivers, get bummed at our boyfriend for wanting to watch football and have all kinds of reactions we know aren’t good for us. Is my point to make people feel badly about this?
No. The point of this piece is to demonstrate that we can use this to grow. We can use these incidents to actually work on ourselves at the deepest level.
How? What is the psychic equivalent of fluids, Nyquil and resting?
It’s much simpler. We just notice it. We become aware of it. We merely step back and say to ourselves, “Okay, I just completely lost my shit because somebody cut me off.”
We don’t judge it. Or feel badly about it. We just notice it.
Really? That’s it? Just noticing when I act crazy? How the heck is that going to help me? you might be asking.
Eckhart says it best
Trust me, it will. And the reason is captured in my favorite quote from my favorite teacher, Eckhart Tolle:
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”
So how does merely becoming aware of these behaviors become the ‘greatest agent for change’? Before answering that, we need to understand that humans are comprised of two entities: an egoic, conditioned self and a conscious self.
The egoic self is the person your mind tells you you are and is largely the result of the experiences of your life. It’s the you of your past and the you of your perceived future.
The egoic self is what causes you to think those obsessive, useless thoughts that plague most of us. “I never reached my potential. I should have worked harder.” “Why does that bitchy mom never say hi to me? We’ve met five times!” “I hope I don’t get laid off. I could starve.” It’s the harsh, relentless, worrying critic inside you.
Your conscious self is the you that exists only in the present. This is the real you, the you that exists when you’re not lost in your mind.
It’s the you that watches a sublime sunset and feels completely peaceful and blissful inside. Because you’re experiencing it in the present moment. Not thinking about how beautiful the sunset is. Just a thought-free experiencing of how beautiful it is.
The ego rules us
The fundamental problem plaguing humanity is that the egoic self dwarfs the conscious self in virtually all of the seven billion plus people on earth. The egoic self is so strong that it envelops and smothers the conscious self to the extent that most people don’t even know their conscious self exists. They think that all of those crazy thoughts are who they are.
So let’s bring it all back to seeing behaviors as symptoms. How does merely being aware of these behaviors and reactions help us? Here’s how: By repeatedly stepping outside your egoic self, and thereby becoming the real, conscious self that merely observes your egoic self in action, you create separation between the two.
Separation is central
And achieving that separation of egoic and conscious selves truly is the goal of all spiritual work. Because it’s impossible to realize and identify with your true self when that true self is smothered by the all-powerful egoic self.
But even stepping back and observing that you just lost your shit because of a meaningless traffic incident isn’t easy. Why? Because all your life you’ve reacted like this is just you. It’s “normal.” So we need to train ourselves to become aware when those psychic “symptoms” arise.
Meditation as facilitator
How do we do that? The single best way to facilitate the ability to step back and observe our behaviors as symptoms is to develop a meditation practice.
All meditation is is practicing observing, without judgment, what’s happening in the present moment. Getting better at that will make you better at observing yourself in your daily life.
If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice go to davidgerken.net where I have a free program designed to be as easy as possible.