The Art of Shutting the Bleep Up!
If you've already begun your journey of self improvement you've probably learned a bit about the "ego." In a massive push to calm my rambunctious young mind and who I thought was "me" i've been quite surprised at who I found deep down. The immediate thoughts that come to mind can easily be confused as who you perceive as "me." Ever heard of the saying, "I think so for I am"? Thoughts in your mind don't determine who you are as a person. Everyone has strange thoughts. It's the thoughts that you believe to be true and act on determine who you are perceived to be by yourself and others. Once you can begin to quiet the mind it allows the space to step back from a thought and to analyze it from different angles. Once you're able to do this you start to understand that we have many impulsive thoughts throughout the day which have absolutely nothing to do with who you truly are. These include excuses, angry or jealous thoughts, self pity, and aggression. What I define as the ego is that little voice in your head that says you can't do something, It's too cold to jump in the water, I'm so hungry I have to eat now, I'm too tired, that's impossible, I wish I could do that, he/she's so lucky, so on and so forth. This is the voice that I've learned to say "shut the bleep up" to. This the hardest thing in life to do. However, what I find to be the secret in life is that the more you push through this wall the easier quieting the mind becomes and the more conscious control you gain.
The ego's main objective is to protect itself at all costs. It always wants to ensure that it is taken care of first before anything or anyone else. I started a practice several years ago of resisting what comes naturally to me. It really started with my eating habits. After some interesting research on life longevity I started to reject the notion that I needed to eat three solid meals a day. I then began fighting through the feeling of hunger. Of course this is really hard to do at first. Your body feels so weak and shaky but to me this is where the ego was taking over and the practice of mindful meditation begins. The ego is forcing you to feel things that simply aren't true because it wants to stay alive and in control. You can survive for weeks without eating anything but if you skip a meal your body starts to freak out... I embrace the idea of intermittent fasting and consuming condensed nutrients through smoothies and greens powders. I believe hunger is your body's best way to tell you that it needs nutrients. Through evolution humans didn't have readily available superfood powders or other nutrient dense foods so the only way it could try to fit in as many vitamins and minerals was to fill up it's stomach as often as possible. It's our job to overpower the strong desire to eat simply to eat. After all, eating is for survival not for pleasure. Here's an example of how I typically operate: I usually eat my last meal at 6-7pm and I won't eat until 1 or 2pm the next day, often times even later. Most times that's after a yoga class, lifting some kettle bells and hitting the sauna. I'm 6' tall and weight 190 pounds with low body fat. Many people would find this idea absurd and unhealthy but It's simply an art of mindfulness and fighting the strongest innate drive that humans have. If you can recognize hunger and say to yourself, I understand you are telling me you need food but I'll give you everything you need when I decide to give it to you. I find this very powerful. (John Hopkins Health Review)
Losing 100 pounds required this type of thinking and I've been able to sprinkle it into other aspects of my life, especially when it came to getting my back into good shape again. In yoga you constantly butt heads with the ego's desire to protect itself. Your leg starts to cramp, I can't hold this position any longer, I can't do that, I didn't eat enough before class, blah blah. Well, what if instead of believing these impulsive thoughts you told the same place that they are coming from to simply shut up? And it's not just in the yoga poses. At the end of class you lay flat on your back with your eyes closed in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) and let go of your practice and anything else you've been holding onto. You stop focusing on your breathing (pranayama) and just let go into wherever your mind takes you. The objective isn't to attach to your thoughts. In this space you'll come across things in your mind that may or may not have happened and you start creating different story lines. Though you're never going to stop things from popping up. The more you try to stop them the more they come. I came up with an analogy of when you are in a meditative pose to see images as pictures on your cell phone. When an image appears just keeping scrolling one after the next. Of course some will stay for longer than others but if you keep it up eventually things quiet down and you drift off. it's quite rewarding but it's called a practice for a reason. Years of doing this and eventually you become quite efficient. You're actually building grey matter in your brain every time you do that: "MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker. The “functional connectivity” between these regions – i.e. how often they are activated together – also changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger." Scientific American - What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?