I would like you to try something at the end of this paragraph, listen to your surroundings, look around, smell the air and feel your body sinking into your chair/bed/sofa. No need to judge any of it, just accepting it and resting in the moment.
Hopefully that instilled a kind of peace in you, nothing else mattered in that moment. That moment was full of an inner joy. Now what stops us from living our lives like that every second of the day? Our compulsive thinking.
I want to call that thinking mind the ego. It is the type of thinking that appears out of nowhere and is difficult to stop. It’s comparable to a parasite, it lives in us changing our behaviour and ultimately our health and although we may think we are under control it controls us.
Yoga has taught for hundreds of years that understanding and separating ourselves from the ego is our path to enlightenment. In the photo at the top of the post (spot me?) our opening (and closing) ceremony for the yoga instructor course involved us burning our egos through chanting and throwing pieces of wood and spices in the fire. Enlightenment is a state of being where that joy you experienced a minute ago is everlasting and constant, no matter what your external situation is like. No ego > no judgement > acceptance > bliss.
Sounds simple right? However the ego is smart and very defensive. It has convinced you that you and it are one and the same, want to get rid of the ego? Then (it says) lose your sense of self.
Listen, this is important, you are not the clothes you wear, you are not your past, you are not defined by your thought processes – all those things change over time. You are everlasting, pure and constant. To find yourself you need to scrape everything else away, your true joyful self lies under the ego.
You might turn around and say to me, “I like my clothes, I like my past, I like my thought processes, I am happy”. There are two routes people take in life: the quest for happiness or learning the skill of resting in contentment. Happiness* is a wonderful feeling but it is fundamentally different from joy/contentment/peace. Happiness comes and goes and you need certain external conditions to experience it. Contentment is independent of your situation and can be accessed anytime with enough consciousness.
That coat may make you happy now but it may be unfashionable next season. Your flawless skin and beauty may make you happy and confident but over time looks fade. The company of great friends fills you with happiness but they won’t always be by your side.
Meditation and mindfulness is all about being more aware of the separateness of our true self and the ego. Over time and practice we start to notice those thoughts a little sooner and that they appear a little less often. In realising that they are the ego we can let them go.
Try and walk a small distance every day (e.g. from home to the bus stop) mindfully by just observing your senses. Feel the rain, listen to the leaves in the wind, look at the rain drops on the puddles. When a thought pops up notice it for what it is, a thought, the ego, not you, and bring yourself back to peace.
The question I have struggled with is this – ‘If every moment can be joyful why bother with any ambition?’ Maybe I should move to a beach in Indonesia and do yoga every day and earn just enough to feed myself. I think I found the answer – once we have no ego we can truly serve others without expecting anything in return. Strive to help others, improve the lives of other people, animals and the health of our planet. This is called Karma yoga. This is my life challenge, this is what yoga has taught me so far.
So where does downward dog, healthy eating and deep breathing come into the story?
The mind, body and breath are completely linked. The brain and lungs are in the body people! If we change any one of the three the other two are affected. To raise our consciousness enough on our quest for contentment and ego-less life we need to do all we can to keep the mind on point! Asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and healthy eating keep the body and therefore the mind healthy. Keeping your mind healthy can be done in so many ways and it is different for all of us, we need to listen to what sets our soul on fire. Some of us like to spend time in nature, swim, knit, paint … what’s yours?
Everyone’s journey is different and we can learn so much from others along the way. We learn from ancient yogis, we learn from our yoga teachers, we learn from friends and we learn from strangers.
A final conclusion:
To experience true joy we need nothing but enough consciousness to recognize the ego and dismiss is. To be conscious enough we need a healthy body and mind. Once our ego stops driving our actions we can truly serve others without expecting anything in return.
I hope this resonated with you in some way. It certainly helped me to get it all down in words. I’m sure there are gaps in my reasoning somewhere so please challenge me. Let’s talk about it! Let’s learn from each other.
*In this article I have used the word happiness as one thing and joy as another. The words themselves are synonymous but I needed a way of distinguishing the two. It could also be said that true happiness is when there is no ego present. Hope that is clear!