Friday, 8 June 2012

The Myths of Ego


I inadvertently caused a bit of a hoo-haa on Twitter, a few nights ago, after I posted a Tweet saying that depression was a ‘myth’ of the egoic mind.

The context of the statement was that I was comparing my life ‘before’ I found my way out of more than twenty years of nightmarish depression, to the peace and happiness that’s threaded through my enlightened existence, now.

I want to clear a few things up… and hopefully people can read to the end of this blog and fully understand my viewpoint, rather than reading the next few lines, getting riled up and blocking me.

This is the ‘offending’ Tweet:

“Depression is a terrible, clinging myth, created by the ego, in the minds of those who choose to suffer it.”

First of all, I fully understand – from long experience - that depression is a very real and very dangerous issue for many people, and it should never be dismissed as a nonsense.

At best, it’s debilitating, frightening and makes life a misery, and at its worst… it’s a killer – one of the most serious on the planet, taking the lives of around a million people each year.

It is an awful realisation to understand that, statistically, in the time it’s taken for you to read these words, so far, two people will have ended their life.

I’ve attempted suicide, quite a few times. I’ve been that low and lost. You can read about that in these two blogs:



I feel very fortunate that I made it through that darkness. I am a happy man and my life is brilliant. I could have been old bones or ash, by now, and would have missed out on this adventure… but, thankfully, that wasn’t my fate.

I don’t want it to be the fate of others, either, so I write about my experiences in the hope that my words may be just enough to guide someone back from the brink, or, better still, stop them approaching it in the first place.

My experience of those polar opposites – of being moments away from death, at my own hands, and, now, of living this life of happiness – affords me a perspective that I believe is useful to others who are still struggling, because it shows that, if you can just get through that moment of danger, then there’s the chance of a much brighter future, ahead.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt over the past two years is to recognise the ‘ego’ – the negative, destructive, ‘unconscious’ thought process that causes all our emotional pain.

I mean, what is the most dangerous aspect of depression? What is it that compels people to even contemplate suicide, let alone go through with it?

It’s not the lack of energy, ebbed motivation, or the host of other ‘physical’ symptoms.

It’s that the ego begins to attack us. Our own minds effectively turn against us.

Often, when I write about depression, I get comments along the lines of: “Everyone experiences depression in a different way.”

That is likely very true, but the common factor in every flavour of depression is this mental attack – this self-abusive part of the mind… the ego.

I’ve described this before as ‘compulsive, critical over-thinking’. It what keeps you awake at night, for hours on end; it’s why, when you look in the mirror, you think you’re ugly; it’s why you think people are talking about you, pointing fingers behind their curtains, and you don’t go out of your house for weeks or months on end; it’s what takes a person into the woods with a ligature, intending never to come out alive.

The ego causes you pain by concocting myths and repeating them, over and over again, in your mind.

Here’s an example:

You’re walking along the street and you see an old friend. You’re just about to open your mouth to say hello, but they walk right by you. You stop and turn, but they just keep walking, so you don’t say a word.

Your ego kicks in: “That’s so rude! How dare they ignore me! What a stuck-up moron!”

Then you’re searching your head, trying to recall something that could have inspired this ignorance – you look to arm yourself with some information that can be used to defend your sense of outrage, and you’ll probably find some almost insignificant detail… a mole-hill that you turn into a mountain… which shapes your opinion of them from thereon in.

This story plays out in your head and is repeated, possibly for the rest of your life.

But what if that person simply didn’t see you? Or they could have been daydreaming. They could have forgotten to put their contacts in that morning. Maybe a relative was ill, or, worse, they were grieving?

So, the ego doesn’t need facts to form an opinion, but once it does form an opinion, it can be very difficult to dissolve it.

We do this to ourselves, too.

If you’re thinking about suicide or are on the verge of committing it, it’s because your ego has been attacking you, ranting at you, repeatedly highlighting all of your perceived weaknesses and failures, to the point that you don’t see any worth in yourself at all and you feel certain the future is not worth living for.

The future is unwritten, for us all, so the decision to slaughter ourselves is not reached through evaluating the facts. It is reached through being so lost in the ego that you believe the myths and stories it tells you.

Yet, the ego is nothing but thoughts in your head – a dance of neurons in your brain. It’s a phantom.

Becoming aware of this dysfunctional facet of mind allows you to interrupt and silence the destructive inner-dialogue.

Consider how many victims of suicide (and they are victims - of intense psychological abuse) would still be alive if they had known how to silence that angry, internal voice?

The truth is, nearly all of them.

Through the practice of present awareness/mindfulness, you can learn to dismiss the ego and dissipate its power over you. When you stop listening to its stories, it becomes benign and won’t hurt you anymore.

If you defend the ego… if you defend and personalise ‘your’ depression… it gets more powerful and becomes more dangerous. It’s like keeping and feeding a dog that you know will bite you. The more energy you give it, the stronger it gets.

Although it may not seem clear to some, we do have a choice on where to invest our energy. I know (and have experienced) it may be difficult to see that, especially if you’re in the depths of another depressive bout, but that choice really does exist. Even in your darkest days, you can switch on that light of true consciousness and chase your shadow existence away.

If you learn present awareness and reject defending the ego, you can change your life, as I’ve done.

I really don’t possess extreme willpower.

Being happy and at peace is not a hard thing to achieve. That’s the secret.

What is much, much harder is being depressed.

Life is good and always worth living. Don't let anyone - especially yourself - convince you otherwise.

If you want to read more about my journey, check out this blog:

42 comments:

  1. Wow Thanks For sharing such an experience too. I have been to the brink where I have felt like the only way to solve anything was to not be around. I was a rag doll, a hand me around child. and even though my loving supportive family might disagree that was my absolute perception. But ever single time there was a divine interference. then I would stick to the notion that Golly I suck so much that I can't even successfully Kill myself. But then I had allot of good things happen. Why? Because ask and you shall receive, and I wanted to know Everything about every aspect of everything. And shortly one of the lessons that I learned is abouth thought and choice. I was the only one that had the choice to make myself happy angry sad depressed and anything in between. I was The only one to have the power to do that. Then I started to relise. Why the hell would any one want to wake up and just be negative and depressed. I want to be happy. I choose to be happy and pay attention to the positive in my mind and the beauty of the world. It didn't happen over night and I surely work on it every single day but I would rather program into my soul love compassion serenity and bliss. Turning that little voice in the back of my head(the ego) and moving forward with my heart in a space of love. Since then I have seen some pretty miraculous things Happen including but not limited to Me! Thank you for sharing your story. Choose to be Happy :0)

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  2. This is an excellent description of depression which I agree with fully. I can imagine how it upset your Twitter followers though as you need to read the whole piece to understand the statement.

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  3. In 2009 I had a moment when I was totally aware of the incessant mind chatter, tearing away at me. I got angry, I don't mean a little angry, I mean really angry. I saw the thoughts for what they truly are, abusive. From that moment on I was aware of the negative thinking, thanks to the anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach, every time it started up again. I began to generally tell myself it's not so bad. As time went on I became more and more specific about what was actually good in my life, and there are lots of things. There is a way past the pain, for anyone contemplating suicide hold on and listen to wonderful words like the ones in this blog. Keep letting them into your mind, and see the power of trans-formative thinking.

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  4. To make up your mind to simply be happy now is the work of a moment. Costs nothing.

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  5. I understood your tweet. It is how you caught and kept my attention. And it's a very true statement, especially once one knows the true meaning of ego.

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  6. very true and it is important to acknowledge that often depression is a biological condition and every brain is different.

    'Rewiring' the brain through cognitive therapy can bring fantastic results - and in my opinion is preferential to drugs, which may be necessary - but it often takes time, work and discipline.

    It's important to empower sufferers with the knowledge of what's possible, but simplifying it can encourage destructive stigma.

    It is a complex issue - context is always important.

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  7. I think the old adage "depression is anger turned inward" sums it up ... good post.

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  8. I can see how there would be the shock and disorientation to realize that the ego is not who we are & that the ego lies, judges, criticizes, abuses.

    Psychological self-abuse, yes. The ego & its creations have to be healed in order for the mind to begin to climb out of depression, yes.

    --Adrienne

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  9. Ego is that part of you with is highly judgemental and you are right, depression happens when that judgement is turned on yourself. Great post. Conscious awareness is always the first step.

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  10. I absolutely agree.... I have listen to my own at certain times that I was down, beating me down more & all I needed to do was change the talk & ego. Easier said then done but worth it. My mother & brother have clinical depression & I lost my mom I knew when she was 28. She is alive but has never been the mom I knew nor can be. My brother has attempted suicide & really tried & should by the Drs standards not be here. He has tried 7 times. I try to teach them what your saying but they don't hear me. I have been blessed thus far but have had durring the loss of a child to passing, divorce & health issues.... Have gone through depression. I have been blessed to get out of that state thus far within a couple days & again not often. This issue is so close to my heart having lost my only brother who I had at one time a great relationship with ( he is alive) like mom, he is not the same. The medications for years & years seem to only make it worse yet no one changes this. Drs is what I mean. Glad you feel better

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  11. My comment may seem as harsh as your tweet to some but I too have been there and have to say that the one thing that always seemed missing from depression treatments for me was the need to take personal ownership of the problem. I heard that it was "chemical", "hormonal", "an imbalance". These descriptions make depression sound more like an intruder in the psyche than a part of the person and no amount of medication can erase the damage we do to ourselves internally. You are right on the money with your examples and your tweet. We make a conscious choice to offer the gifts of respect and dignity to complete strangers yet very often forget that we can chose to impart these gifts on ourselves as well.

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  12. Very interesting post. I do however understand how your tweet could have offended. Standing alone like this is sais: "Depression is just an ilusion someone wants to believe in". Your own mind attacks you as a consequence of many many things - chemical, childhood experiences, genetic disposition, life choices etc. I agree with your post here, you can teach your mind to stop attacking you! Even if I like reading your posts and agree with most of them, I feel there is one thing that keeps bothering me a bit: you often make it sound like it's the easiest thing! Just stop listening to the negative thoughts and they'll go away! Yes, that is the way but it won't happen in one try. It takes time, patience, you'll have setbacks. Maybe I'm reading it wrong but I miss this aspect in your posts. NLP (Neuro linguistic programming) for example works, but it takes TIME! Negative thought patterns in your brain need to be overwritten with positive ones. It's like forming a new path by walking it over and over again. The path won't be done by walking it ONCE.
    Just my opinion, but as I said, overall I appreciate your experiences!

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  13. The Power of Now rings true. Great article and very thought provoking. I have never suffered from depression but have seen others suffer and I too am of the opinion that the Ego is a fundamental catalyst for the pain.

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  14. Not to confuse the Ego with the Super ego, that is the route of all our problems.

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  15. Thank you for your courage, this can be a challenging subject, for some,evenso, perhaps being open to the possibilities of looking at this experience called "depression", from a different perspective, we can become aware of alternative ways of healing. The possibilities are as endless as the infinite energy that we are.

    As someone who has dealt with depression personally, as well as a shared experience of it with a Mother who worked with manic depression most of her life, I am aware of the attachments that can be developed around being a "victim" to this. I became aware of that at some point in my deep depressive state, that I was addicted to the story of it more than the truth that everything surrounding this state was created by me. However, it did not happen until all other options were no longer optional, and there was no-thing else to do; then in that no-thing-ness, the depression was there, it was not me, remarkably, no-thing. It was not magical, it was not good or bad, no-thing, in the midst of my attachment to calling it or making it something, no-thing.

    Les, whether we all agree or not agree, this can be a start to another empowering way to overcoming depression. The gift, if we create it, we can
    re-create a space where there is no-thing. There within lies the freedom from anything...


    Nameste Toni B.

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  16. Good post. Your ideas ring true with my own experiences and thinking.

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  17. I totally agree with this article, very profound and to the point.

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  18. You are very right about the dangers of unchecked ego. I read a study which stated that ego was originally a survival mechanism which told early humans to be cautious, to look for signs of danger like panther tracks or for enemy tribes. As we’ve evolved so has ego only not to our benefit. With every leap in our cognitive evolution it becomes more important that we gain control over ego. Eckhart Tolle’s, A New Earth was the first book which started me on the road ego management. I’m able to clear my mind now because of that book. The other benefit of managing ego is that you no longer believe you need the things that ego told you you needed in order to be a viable human. Ego is a consumer while the self can find peace in simplicity.
    As always, thank you Les for your thought provoking blog.
    Blessings,
    eeorme

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  19. Hiya!

    What a lovely post and heart-touching blog.

    In my view, the sub-conscious mind, aka Ego etc., records absolutely everything. It's a collection of mental movies that can be helpful; ie: picturing where I left my car keys, but it has nothing to do with the present moment.

    I have a quick exercise to show it as it is: close your eyes, make a picture of a black cat, ask yourself, "Who is looking at the picture of the cat?"
    When one discovers that he/she is looking at the picture and furthermore, that he/she made the picture, the rest falls into line.

    We are the creators of our own universe-the writer, star and director. We can chose to be in the moment, create a new future or let the past absorb us. It's all up to us.

    The secret to happiness, that you've found, is that being in the moment puts the sub-conscious mind into its proper place-as a tool we can use instead of letting it use us.

    All the Very Best,

    Susannah

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    1. Spot on Susannah - that resonated with me.

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    2. Thank you Les. Written and shared from the heart. Your words have helped me to understand a close friend who is going through her days waiting for 'it' to shift. 'Doing' so much and yet remaining in the same place. I often feel it is like a comforter blanket to her. I have experienced depression and know that place where there is no light inside, the flame has diminished. Today I am blessed with living in a very alive way

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  20. This is helping me soooooo much... So very needed. Thank you. Brilliant post Les. ((hug you))

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  21. Great topic and clearly written, thank you Lee. I think the "ego" of which you write of has been cultivated for quite sometime within our culture. Fortunes have been attained by those who have sold the "self", groomed the "ego",leaving countless debilitated. There are true physiological contributors originating in ones own genetics, much like those that culminate in diabetes. Depression culminates in the nagging, exacerbating, ill "ego", and if left unchecked eventually kills, that is the message and warning. Great topic, thanks!

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  22. Tammy J. Palmer17 July 2012 05:21

    I admire your courage. Depression is personal, and yet universal. I believe that talking about it helps to difuse it's power. Hearing stories of another person's success gives others hope. I was there years ago, and am happy to say I got past it, but it's not something you forget.

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  23. Thx for sharing. For me it is always a hard subject. Have been in a reel deep depression, and get out, and knowledge the ego.
    The other side, i lost a few young people of suicide, i know that their pain was so great they could not face.

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  24. You said: “It’s that the ego begins to attack us. Our own minds effectively turn against us.
    I’ve described this before as ‘compulsive, critical over-thinking’. It what keeps you awake at night, for hours on end; it’s why, when you look in the mirror, you think you’re ugly”

    Much of what you said is accurate and given a lot of thought. However, there are different forms of depression. It often comes in the form of a life-script handed to us by those in power when we were children. We absorb their critical projections and it becomes a life fulfilling prophecy. There are also biochemical depression that seems to be genetic. And yes, you may feel filled with wonder and amazement at the moment. But we truly do not have control over much of our environment and others. A loved one could die. You could lose both legs in an accident. And yes, happiness is not life situations but how you choose to respond to them. Life is always in a state of flux. Hopefully you will be able to see the light and stay there. I do wish you much brightness

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  25. Great post, Les. I'm currently reading The Power of Now and this is pretty much what Eckhart Tolle says, in fact his own enlightenment came about suddenly as a result of the same suicidal egoic thinking. The egoic mind resists anything which might diminish it which probably explains the hostility to your tweet.

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  26. So many truths so beautifully written Les. Yes, I too believe people are victims of suicide and - like you say - they're victims of an ego and sense of self that has turned against them when they're no longer able, or strong enough, to be the master of them. The depressed ego becomes so negatively introspective and self-critical that it can convince a person that they're not worthy of help, so avenues of support and external dialogue get cut off. Convinced that they're beyond help the decline into suicidal thoughts can become almost self-fulfilling.

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  27. Well said! I have been at that point of depression but I was on a lot of medication that allowed me to dwell on the negative and deep depression I created. I am so thankful that I did not suceed in ending my life the last time I tried. I love my husband and son so much and am able to talk about how I feel now. I used to bottle it up inside. That is never a good thing. Thanks for sharing your experience, it helps those of us who have gone through similar path.

    Lori

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  28. You're a very inspirational person, i'd like to say thank you, you've most likely saved a lot of lives and helped a multitude of people through your blogs. I admire you.

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  29. You're a very inspiration person. You have helped a multitude of people and saved their lives. You put so much heart into your blogs and above all, you've helped me, i'd like to say thank you. I admire you.

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  30. I see biological correlations...For example:I see a huge link between the known depressant alcohol, & depression...Which tells me that the liver is often involved in depression...But not all who are depressed drink alcohol? I still would look to a liver cleanse as a potential biological thing one could try...Not all liver problems are alcohol related, but I'd put money down that a great majority of depression is...Notwithstanding emotional responses...

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  31. Fantastic article! Some people are just not willing to admit that there is a way that they can help themselves out of the pit that their minds have created for them. You are right that it is "easier to continue to be depressed" because that is the behaviour that they know. Learning to think differently, requires work and effort. Identifying it as the ego mind makes a lot of sense for me. thank you for that connection.

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  32. Very good post! Very hard to do.

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  33. I think you're talking about the super-ego. We couldn't function without an ego. Sadly, too many people grow up in an environment that works against the development of a strong yet flexible ego. Ego-bashing is not helpful. A person with a shaky sense of identity becomes easily possessed by super-ego voices - oppressive inner demands of conscience, picked up from parents or society. Besides, we're a crowd inside, without a strong yet flexible ego to facilitate our conflicting needs, and the occasional grace to surrender to a higher self, it's difficult to live an autonomous life.

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  34. Hey Les, I had followed you back in 2011. I remember your posts from back then and what I read now, I understand totally what you mean. We should not have to explain ourselves in such detail as to "not offend" another. What we say should be accepted enough without having to go to the extremes of having to explain ourselves to suit another's opinion. I feel you do just fine the way you are................An "old" twitter friend".

    ~Ranae

    P.S. I miss our talks :)

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  35. Interesting that I should stumble upon you on twitter and then find my way to this blog. This weekend I was driving home thinking about my potential family break up and the stagnant and destructive mind set I have nurtured for years, keeping me in the darkness for most of my adult life. When the following words entered my head "I need to make a conscious discussion to change" at that very moment a white deer stood in the middle of the road and I had to stop the car. It felt profoundly powerful and significant and I feel/hope that this really is the start of the reprogramming of my mind and the road to consciousness.

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  36. Nice thought patterns. One Love :-)

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  37. _/\_ Thank you for sharing your journey in this way. Those of us who survive the depths must continue to talk about it. In doing so, we provide others strength, courage, and an education. You, my dear, do so beautifully.

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