Learn how to become happier and more successful through meditation
After suffering a panic attack, Dan Harris began a journey to search for a solution. His search eventually led him to meditation. In this book, the author tells how meditation helped him calm down his inner narrator which was the originator of his crisis, and how you can do the same.
Your ego is the voice inside your head, which tells you what to do
Although ego has many definitions, it can best be described as the voice in our heads. By voice we don’t necessarily mean a literal voice, but rather the opinion, mind chatter, (you name it) which comes up in our thoughts, often compulsively.
It is what makes us open the fridge without reason and check our social networks every time we grab our phone. You may suspect by now that our ego can be the source of many problems, that is correct.
Your ego is never satisfied, it doesn’t matter if you obtain that new house, car, etc., your ego won’t be satisfied and will crave for the next big thing. The ego is obsessed with the past and the future. This is particularly detrimental because it neglects the present, which is where things are actually happening.
The ego loves drama and it is the reason why it enjoys obsessing over past events which you can’t change and which often don’t have any influence in the present. Or about events in the future which often aren’t of any concern whatsoever.
In synthesis, the ego does stupid things and is never satisfied and happy, what can we do about it? Next, we’ll explore how we can calm the ego with meditation and improve our lives.
What is mindfulness
Mindfulness is the ability to respond, not to react to stimuli from our surroundings as well as impulses.
Instead of being overwhelmed with life’s stressors, we immerse ourselves fully in the present moment. We acquire mindfulness by practicing meditation. In a sense, we are not letting the ego do whatever it wants to any longer. We are taking control over our mind. Controlling the ego doesn’t mean to not be selfish. We are in a sense taking back control so we are selfish in a good way.
Be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish. – Dalai Lama
Mindfulness improves our life, decision making, and biology
The first and obvious benefit of mindfulness is better decision making. The author tells an anecdote from his own life when a colleague told him that he would never become a big-time anchorman. Instead of responding with anger as his ego would have liked to, he calmly asked his boss how he could improve his work.
But the benefits of mindfulness don’t stop here, it can actually change our brains. A Harvard MRI study observed that people who had taken an eight-week mindfulness course through meditation had developed thicker gray matter in areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and compassion.
Mindfulness also shrinks regions of the brain associated with stress and fear as shown in this study. Self-compassion improves your decision making by allowing you to acknowledge and forgive mistakes and accept your flaws. Thus compassion towards yourself leads to healthier behavior such as quitting smoking, as studies have shown.
Likewise, compassion towards others helps us become more fulfilled people, once again showing how useful being selfish in a clever way can be.
Taming your ego doesn’t convert you into a pushover
A common misconception many people have is that taming the ego means to in a sense capitulate. This couldn’t be further from the truth as controlling your ego doesn’t make you lose your edge or stop being productive, quite to the contrary.
Practicing mindfulness actually makes you more productive because it clears your mind of unhelpful assumptions and routines, making more room for new ideas and clearer, more productive thoughts.
One of the great discoveries the author made was that he was much more productive during a 10 days meditation retreat. His ego wasn’t necessary to fuel his drive. As he adopted a more effective and satisfying intrinsic motivation.
How to meditate
At this point, you should be convinced of the benefits of meditation. But how do we actually do it? In essence, it consists of two things.
- Sit down comfortably
- Focus on your breath
Your mind will inevitably wander off to other things, this is ok and when it happens, simply refocus to your breathing without judgment.
The first encounter with mindfulness will probably happen while you meditate, like an itchy nose or sore legs. Simply observe the pain with impartiality and without reacting. Eventually, you will be able to apply mindfulness to more complex discomforts and situations.
That’s it, mediation is that easy.
Also published on Medium.