I’m always on the lookout for ways to illuminate the spiritual path that resonate with regular people like me. Here’s a good one: Liberation.
We typically view liberation as a freeing from something, most often in terms of oppressed peoples. Women’s lib is short for women’s liberation. Liberation from what? A society that has discriminated against women in myriad ways over the centuries.
Liberation in history
Other examples are African Americans, who were liberated from enslavement in 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Paris was liberated from its Nazi oppressors in August of 1944. And the Afghan people were liberated from the Taliban in 2002.
Liberation is a prominent concept in Buddhism, Christianity, Ram Dass’s teachings and countless others.
Liberation and the pathSo what does liberation mean in terms of the spiritual path that many of us are traveling? It means liberating the oppressed –our true, conscious selves — from its oppressor, our egoic minds.
I’ve explored this conscious self/egoic self dynamic in many other articles. What I’m doing today is looking at the same dynamic from a different angle in order to better equip you to work on it.
Egoic mind vs. conscious self
What is our true conscious self? It’s the being that is present when we are just…being. In the present. Not lost in mindless thoughts. And the egoic mind? That’s the voice in our heads that never shuts up. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. All day long. Every day.
“I can’t believe she said that. What a bitch!”
“I’ll never meet anybody.”
“I wish I were smarter.”
It’s the ceaseless critic, of ourselves and others.
So how are our conscious selves oppressed by the ego? Think of it this way. In the vast majority of people, the egoic mind dominates the conscious self. It’s not even close. We’re lucky if we spend ten percent of our waking day in presence and ninety percent stuck in our heads.
The ego monster
Think of the egoic self as a ravenous monster that smothers/imprisons our conscious selves. So the work of our lives centers on liberating our egoic selves from the clutches of this egoic monster.
How do we do that? In other words, how do we get that voice in our heads to shut the hell up?
Let’s start with how we DON’T do that. The natural tendency is to try and directly stop our minds from producing all those unwanted thoughts. That doesn’t work. We don’t win the battle against our minds by trying to attack it. Or change it. Or wrestle with it. Or argue with it.
Winning the war by watching
So how do we win this “war” and thereby liberate our precious, conscious selves? We watch our minds. We lean away and watch. Observe. And resist the urge to dive in and become involved with it.
And we observe without judgment. What does that mean? If you’re observing the thought “I can’t stand that guy. The little snake is trying to steal my girlfriend,” you don’t say to yourself, “Wow. I’m having a batshit crazy thought about a guy I don’t like.”
Instead, you simply say to yourself, “Having a jealous thought about my girlfriend.” No judgment. Good or bad. Just describing it as it is.
Look at leaning away and observing your mind as your conscious self breaking free from the egoic talons holding it down and creating space between the ego and it.
Meditation is the best “weapon”
Of course, what I just described is meditation itself. Which is simply sitting quietly and observing whatever’s happening in our present moment awareness. Much of the time that present moment awareness consists of those egoic talons snatching us back into thought.
So we just observe that we’re back in thought and slowly create space again by leaning away and going back to awareness of the moment.
Mindfulness is simply becoming aware that we’ve drifted off into ego during our everyday life. What do we do in those cases? The same thing.
If you’re stopped at a red light obsessing about exactly how you’re going to tell off your mother-in-law when you get home, you just notice that this is what you’re doing, then slowly and gently, without judgment, bring your attention back to the present — on your breathing or looking out at the sky through your windshield.
It’s all accomplishing the same thing. Liberating your true, conscious self from your egoic mind.
The more we do these practices, the greater the space we create between the ego and the conscious self. With that increased space we feel calmer, more centered and just plain better.
And if we practice diligently for a long time we get to a place where that yakkity yak yakking mind noise becomes a distant whisper. That’s when we know liberation is at hand.
Free at last.