“I Think, Therefore I Am”… Not

One of my mottos during my early twenties was “I am who I am, and nobody can change that.” I embraced my individuality and cared very little about those who didn’t like or accepted who I was. This attitude eventually caught up with me at work and I unfortunately lost my job. The introspection that followed this experience was very difficult to process. Eventually, I realized the real problem: I was so tied up with my ego that I was taking a lot of life lessons for granted. I acknowledged that, if I didn’t commit to changing some things about myself, I would repeat my mistakes. 

After struggling with my emotions for about a year, I found a psychologist who recommended I try mindfulness. I began researching and eventually bought a book that helped me put it into practice. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle helped me put things into perspective, both internally and externally. But most of all, it helped me understand one important aspect I was having trouble with: letting go of my ego. 

What is the emotional pain-body?

sad and alone girl breakup Photo by _Mxsh_ from Unsplash Eckhart Tolle describes the emotional pain-body as a negative energy field made of the residue of emotional pain that accumulates within us throughout our lifetimes. Since this pain-body feeds on pain and unhappiness, any situation or thought that resonates with it will inevitably awaken it. Some of us, however, keep this negative energy alert through most of our lifetimes. Instead of being aware of the present moment, we get lost in our thoughts and unconsciously identify with them. So, while we replay our pasts or question our futures, we’re actually feeding our emotional pain-bodies and, in turn, our ego.

Our thoughts don’t define us

Because the ego identifies with our thoughts, we think we are our thoughts. But these thoughts tend to be in alignment with the pain-body. Tolle explains that, if you are angry and you decide to dwell on this anger, you are no longer in control of your mind. The moment of anger has passed, so why dwell on an inexistent problem that distracts you from the present moment? 

That little voice in your head that won’t let go of the anger is your ego identifying with your pain-body. And when you come to this realization, you can decide to either ignore it or observe it. 

Observe your thoughts

woman in black swimsuit meditating Photo by cottonbro from Pexels You may believe you are conscious of your thoughts, but when you observe them, you’ll realize that most of the time you’re not. Just like with anger, any negative emotion can trigger the pain-body. If we let that emotion take over, we separate ourselves from the present. And because the ego loves to identify with these emotional patterns, it becomes difficult to be conscious of what is happening around us. Let’s say someone cuts you off in traffic. You’ll probably get angry and cuss; but if you dwell on the anger and chase the car, you’re feeding your ego instead of observing. When our emotions seem to get the better of us, it’s important to observe them  and not allow the thoughts to take over your mind. And if they try to take over, don’t analyze, judge, or identify with them. Instead, observe, accept the things you can change and let go of the things you can’t. 

Fulfillment is inside you

Another dangerous aspect of ego identification is an overindulgence with the external. When we feel incomplete or unworthy, we look for something to fill the gap. According to Tolle, the most common ego identifications can be possessions, social status, physical appearance, relationships, belief systems, professions, knowledge, and the list goes on. But, just like our thoughts, none of these things make us who we are. Nor will they fulfill us. Fulfillment comes from the inside when we start making decisions that benefit our well-being. And, sometimes, our well-being depends on letting go of the things or people we don’t want to let go of.

Yes, we are who we are. And individuality isn’t a bad thingーwe all like different things. But you are not what your thoughts say you are. It’s up to you to observe your thought patterns and how they affect your emotions. Nobody else can do that for you. Yes, professional help is always a great idea if you need it (and it really does help). But it’s up to you to take the first step.