I think, therefore I am. Not.
When French philosopher René Descartes announced “I think therefore I am” he launched the first widely accepted dualist philosophy. There is mind and there is body, he said.
Since that day, a great many people have talked about the power of the mind over the body. I myself once completed a marathon without running one single time in the 5 months prior, just to see if I could. The mind can do a lot. But unfortunately, this dualist view of the human state creates a few problems as well…
Often in Presentation Skills training, I meet people who say things like “I’m a perfectionist” and “I’m just not confident”. In Prezi training last week, a grandmother told me “I am too old for this kind of new technology”. We constantly put labels on ourselves. As you can see in the image above, we believe we are made of 2 things (ego/mind and body) and that one of them is the real me. We associate ourselves with that little voice in our heads and then accept everything it tells us: “I am no good” and “It’s because all my previous presentations went bad that I have no confidence.”
(Un)fortunately for all those big egos out there, I have (bad) news for you: You are not your ego. You are not that little voice. And you are not only mind and body. There is something else.
(Hold on, because this is where it gets tricky…)
In his book “The Power of Now” spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle says that the ego is a collection of all previous experiences, beliefs and perceptions wrapped up into one big kind of personality. That little voice you hear in your head (all the time) is the ego comparing current reality to previous experience and telling you all sorts of stories: “I can’t do this”, “I will never make it” etc etc..
According to Tolle, the ego is born out of the past and has only one mission: To exist in the future. To do this, it is constantly fighting for control in the present. Fighting who? The real you. That’s why it never shuts up. If it shuts up, the real you win and it dies. Suicide.
Tolle adds that in fact, the ego has no place in the present. The power of “now” (as he puts it) is that the “now” is fresh. It has never “been” before and it will never “be” again. In fact, there is only “now”. This puts the ego in danger. If the past doesn’t exist and the future neither, then what is its role now?
In fact, it has no role. All the ego does now is get in the way of “now”. The ego interrupts our true real experience of who we are, where we are and what we are doing. Example:
During a presentation, my computer stops working and I forget the content I wanted to present. In the middle of that situation, my ego jumps in saying things like “You should have thought of that” and “They are all looking at you, thinking you are stupid” and maybe even “You are stupid. You should not have made this mistake.” In reality, none of this is true. The truth (now) is simple: My computer stopped working and I forgot what I wanted to present. If I listen to my ego and let it control me (first image) I start feeling bad and make all sorts of silly mistakes and comments. I go red and wish the ground would swallow me up. But if I recognise the ego for what it is (second image) and put it aside and just look at the “now” (situation), it’s a whole different thing: Like an adult, I stop think and choose. I might tell the audience what has happened (in a factual way) and maybe even add how I feel. The real me is in control.
The trick to being able to recognise the ego for what it is and take back control of our real self lies simply in seeing the true position of the ego. It is not me and it does not control me. It’s just another part of me, like an arm, a leg or an ear. Tolle suggests a mind-blowing exercise to realise this:
- Find a quiet place in a quiet moment and close your eyes. Listen to the little voice I your head. As you listen, ask yourself simply: Who is listening?
If you repeat this exercise enough (through meditation or whatever format you like) you will start to disassociate yourself from the ego. Take back control. You will realise that there is more to you than the little voice that makes up stories about who you are and what you are capable of. You may even realise that, in fact, the real you is a whole fresh new human being every second and everything is possible. The past is gone and you are in the drivers seat. Right now.
I think therefore I am?
Part of me thinks, but I always am.