Mindfulness, Meditation And Ego

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What is the connection between mindfulness, meditation and ego? What is mindfulness? What is meditation? What is ego? This section of out-of-the-mind self improvement and motivation is about having a close look within. Here we will explore the inter-relationship between meditation, mindfulness and the ego, to discover powerful ways to work with ourselves and the mind.

What Is Mindfulness?

When it comes to defining mindfulness it may be easier to start with identifying what mindfulness is not. This helps point us in the right direction. You aren't being mindful when...

  • …you are preoccupied with thinking.

  • …you are 'spaced-out’.

  • …you are being overly self-conscious.

  • …you are worried.

  • …you are anxious and lacking in trust.

So what is mindfulness?

Put simply, mindfulness is presence. To be mindful is to be present. There is nothing more simple or natural than to be mindful. Yet, we rarely experience mindfulness when our thinking mind is running the show. When thinking stops, mindfulness is there. This is the essential point of mind training in Zen and the Martial Arts.

When our thoughts ‘take us over’ presence is lost. We become temporary hostages of the mind. Presence can be lost, or gained, at the drop of a hat - or at the drop of a thought. Presence is there when we step out-of-the-mind.

Mindfulness, presence, and awareness are inseparable. This is where meditation comes into the picture. Mindfulness meditation helps develop a powerful self-awareness. The definition of self awareness describes how this self awareness looks and feels like.

It is mindfulness meditation that helps us step out of everyday thinking. It is a practice of renewal and of learning how to let things go. As such, this practice doesn't necessarily entail sitting in a full lotus posture, meditating alone.

Practicing in a formal meditation posture helps, but it isn't the whole story. It is when mindfulness training is brought into daily life that we start reaping the benefits. These mindfulness exercises are a few places to start. Or if you want to use your exercise routine as an opportunity to practice being mindful this mindfulness training technique can help.

What Is Meditation?

There are many different ways to practice meditation. Some meditation methods are stationary, while others are based on movement. Whatever the meditation method may be, if it helps you develop an increasingly healthy relationship with your thinking, then it can be regarded as a form of mindfulness meditation.

In it's purest form meditation has no method at all! People are naturally very good at finding activities that give them reprieve from their thinking. A jog in the park, a hike in the mountains, walking your dog, a stroll on the beach at sunset, lying in the grass and staring into the empty skies, gazing at the moon or the stars at night. These are all natural forms of mindfulness meditation. It is a wonderful gift that nature gives freely and we do well to take her up on her generous offer.

Without reprieve from the over-zealous thinking machine that is the mind, our vitality gets sucked right out of us. Too much thinking, without giving ourselves any space, may actually leave us with just enough energy to survive our day. Having anything left over for personal development, self improvement and motivation is out of the question. We need to reclaim our energy if we are to move beyond circumstances. Tapping into meditation power can help.

In nature, we can sense something that is so much bigger than our personal thoughts and concerns. This inspires awe in us, an awe that takes us right out-of-the-mind. This is where we can, finally, just be. Nature helps us put things in perspective. Nature and meditation are second-to-none when it comes to calming the incessant chatter of the mind. Developing self awareness is a natural consequence as we make our way. 

Engaging in a formal meditation practice (such as Zazen) is a way of connecting with nature on a regular basis without actually leaving our home. Instead of looking to nature on the outside we delve into nature within. 

Dogen, a famous Japanese Zen Master, describes the feeling or essence of Zen Meditation as a “Tiger taking to the jungle or a dragon taking to water.” Powerful imagery indeed… designed to convey the raw, primal nature, of gaining freedom from the mind. How long to meditate before we can connect with this primal freedom is a common question as we first set out on the path.

How to meditate for beginners outlines some preliminary practices that can be used by those who want to practice meditation but may not know where to start. In the absence of a flesh-and-blood meditation master to learn from, this would be a good place to start. 

The Ego

Ego can be defined in various ways depending on the context in which the term is being used. Whatever definition of ego we subscribe to there is something behind or beyond the ego that defies clear-cut definition. This is the realm of meditation or mindfulness. These provide a back-drop to the ego, if you will.

This backdrop makes it possible to have a clear view of our ego. It helps us put the ego in perspective. It could be said that mindfulness meditation is the foundation of inner peace that allows us to maintain composure despite the antics of ego. It is a context or an awareness in which the actions of the ego unfold.

The existence of the ego depends on thinking. The ego is contained within thought. If your thinking apparatus were to suddenly come to an end, if all thinking temporarily ceased, in those very moments your ego would be gone. You would experience an egoless state where only you are left.

What is this you that is left standing when all thought is gone? This is for you to find out. In mindfulness meditation the egoless state can be experienced directly. What is ego has more about the ego and where it comes from.

True Self - False Self

In terms of a true self and false self, ego may be considered a 'false self'. The falseness of the ego consists mainly of it's conditioned nature. The ego is shaped (conditioned) by many forces throughout our lives. We come to believe many things that may, or may not, be true. Our idea of who we are is constantly on the move, changing with new circumstances, experiences and beliefs. This ‘false self’, or the ego, is fundamentally dependent on outer circumstance. This can't be who we really are.

In contrast to the ego, our true inner self is stable. It doesn't change at the whim of thought or circumstance. There is a reality in us that is not affected in the slightest by what others have taught us to believe or not to believe. There is a reality to us that is true regardless.

This reality just is. It is the reality of just the way things are. It is also a living intelligence. This is who we really are. Finding your true self is what happens when we scratch the surface of the ego, and 'have a look inside'.

The ‘true self’ exists despite all of the thinking that is going on. The ‘false self’, or ego, exists thanks to all of the thinking that is going on. Mindfulness meditation helps us see both the true and false selves within us. It helps us get to know ourselves better. To thine own self be true speaks more about the distinction between the false and true within.

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