Scientists tell us that our DNA is 99.9% identical. “If the genome were a book, every person’s book would contain the same paragraphs and chapters, arranged in the same order. Each book would tell more or less the same story. But my book might contain a typo on page 303 that yours lacks….” [Genome News Network]. Rather than celebrate our alikeness, we all focus on that one typo, that 0.1%. That’s the personality, our ego self. Mostly it’s who we think we are and all we think we are.
We are very attached to this and fail to see that it is only a small part of ourselves; indeed, we experience ourselves and identify ourselves as that personality. This 0.1% was formulated as we grew up and was locked in at a very young age – so young that we don’t remember ourselves any other way.
The Forming of the Ego
Sadly, a lot of this personality/ego stuff came out of having been wounded by our parents and caretakers. Mostly through no fault of their own, our parents break the fully-alive, open spirit with which we all are born. As small children, we feel these wounds deeply because we are so fresh and pure in spirit. We take this pain on and it becomes who we think we are.
We all (and no one is spared) spend the rest of our lives trying to fix, protect or soften the blow or projecting our pain out onto the world around us. We defend, deny, defy, cry out, numb out and/or inflict pain on others all in an attempt to spare ourselves this original pain. Some of us parade our wounds proudly or angrily as if to say, “Yeah, bring it on. I can take it.” Other say, “Pain? What pain? I’m a grown person, whatever do you mean?” Either way, our walls of defense stay strong, and who we really are stays hidden.
So, who are we really? And what is this 99.9%? The answer is Life. Universal, natural, vibrating, expanding and contracting, inhaling and exhaling, being born and dying, flashing in and out brightness and darkness. Life. That is who we all are. And that, because of our human condition, is what we have forgotten.
The Way In Is the Way Out
We only need to remember. We only need to be willing to take a peek behind our own walls of defense and there you are. There, without anger and pettiness. There, without vanity, greed and self-centeredness. There you are, brilliant, blissful, expectant, alive, engaged with all that life brings you – because now you see that what life brings you is not personal. It is no more personal than snow falling, a bird flying or tree uprooted by a tornado.
We are life. What separates us from the natural world is our ability to think, and this is a mixed blessing. Almost all of our thinking is automatic, much of which is fear-based. This so called “thinking” that goes on in our heads is not done consciously. We no more think these thoughts consciously than we circulate our blood consciously. It’s just happening. Most of the time thoughts actually think us. That is, we become the result of this automatic thinking.
We Are Not Our Thoughts
The problem is that we believe our thoughts. We don’t even think of it as believing our thoughts, it’s just “who we are” – who we identify ourselves to be. We don’t even consider that we have control over them. Moreover, we go to great lengths to protect our identity. If we feel as though our thoughts are challenged, it’s as if we personally are challenged. People get into violent, life-threatening fights over protecting some thought or belief which, if examined, would appear ludicrous. More “peaceful” people war within themselves.
Our identity is the story we made up about ourselves, and we seem to be willing to defend it to the death. We believe with all our hearts and souls that we’ll be annihilated if we stop knowing ourselves as this story. This is the existential angst of life. It’s what keeps angry people angry, overweight people overweight, depressed people depressed, addicted people addicted, and so on. “It’s just who I am.”
If you see yourself as beautiful and you lose your looks, then what? If you identify with your wealth and you lose your money, then what? It’s enough to cause some people to commit suicide.
From our thoughts come our feelings, our will, our actions and decisions. Our ability to think is what separates us, and, if we do the work that it takes to change our thoughts, our ability to think can be the gift of life.
By bringing consciousness to your thoughts, you can change how you feel, develop a strong will, make life-affirming choices and teach yourself to act in a way that is in alignment with your natural self. This is from where wisdom, art and brilliance come. This is where you access love beyond initial attraction or reason.
The Magic Formula – One Conscious Breath
So what’s the magic formula for bringing consciousness to your thoughts? It lives in a breath. By focusing on a deep breath, you can reduce stress and become more present.
Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, says we can achieve higher awareness simply by taking two or three deep breaths a few times throughout the day. Even a single deep breath will help. Conscious breathing slows down the mind, allowing you to get into a space of inner peace and awareness. It allows you to reduce your focus on the ego and feel the life presence within your body and all around you.
For many reasons, it’s preferable to inhale via the nose. Breathing from the nose filters, moisturizes, dehumidifies and warms the air, produces helpful nitric oxide, increases oxygen absorption, slows down breathing and reduces hypertension and stress.
As mentioned earlier, unconscious thinking often leads to negative feelings/emotions. This leads to further unconscious thinking, often creating a viscous cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. We spend most of our days unconsciously victimized by this cycle. The way to interrupt the cycle is with a conscious breath. This also works when you find yourself in a heated argument, for example over something as innocuous as a minor frustrated expectation with your partner. If you find yourself locking horns, try taking a conscious breath. Often this will be enough for you to have the strength to identify your ego in the argument, and its counterproductive intentions, and stop it.
Once you’ve taken a conscious breath, you can take an objective look at your thoughts. For example, suppose you want to lose weight and your mind keeps telling you, It’s really difficult. I’ll have to deprive myself of foods I love. It will never work anyway, There’s so much mixed information – what am I supposed to believe? I’ve lost weight before and it came back, so what’s the point? If I lose a lot of weight, my friends will be jealous.” And so on. It doesn’t matter where these thoughts come from, they are not facts. They are just your mind telling, and retelling, and retelling the same self-defeating story.
It starts with recognizing that these are just thoughts. They are not real. They are not helpful; in fact, they are counterproductive. So what other thoughts might you have? For example, “Lots of people have lost weight successfully and kept it off, so can I. If I lose weight, my friends will be thrilled for me. There’s a tremendous amount of great information out there, and really following just about any of it, is likely have a positive outcome. I might discover the perfect lifestyle for me, one in which I look and feel great.”
Here’s a great exercise to train your mind to think the kind of thoughts that support you in having a life you love.
- Write down your thoughts and feelings regarding a particular issue, e.g., as above.
- Write down other, more positive, thoughts you could have.
- Imagine a positive result, and write that down.
- Write down how you would feel if you achieved that positive result.
- At least once a day, return yourself to this feeling. Set a reminder in your calendar, or better yet, have a regular call with a friend who is supporting you.
Notice when the voices take over and take a conscious breath. Stay conscious of your thoughts and your feelings.
Feeling Our Feelings
Sometimes our feelings are so powerful that we try to sweep them under the carpet. But this encourages their persistence. Again, the way in is the way out. Only by feeling our feelings can we drain them of their power and ultimately give us greater opportunities to breathe and be present.
It’s no wonder that in all Oriental and mystic philosophies, the breath holds the secret to the highest bliss. Each of us can get closer and closer to our natural, loving, open, awe-filled, enthusiastic, connected, spiritual selves simply with attention to feeling our feelings and breathing.