Friday, March 5, 2010

Ego and "the watcher"......

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of 'ego' as it relates to myself, and how my ego can hold me back....

Now if you're thinking to yourselves that you never thought of Reed as a person with an enormous ego, I can say that until recently I would have agreed.

Many of us think of persons with a big ego as generally being rude, or angry, or overly demonstrative, or having difficult personalities, but I've recently come to the realization - both through my own experiences and the wisdom of friends - that ego also has a flip side. Ego can cause one to be passive as well. Ego can be the enemy of self expression. If that expression manifests in making a contribution, then it can actually prevent you from giving of yourself. It holds you back from writing your music, reaching out to your friend...expressing yourself.

This ties into the buddhist concept of 'the watcher'.

In all of us, there is an ability for self awareness outside ourselves. We can stand outside of ourselves - almost as if we were watching a play or TV show - and judge our performance. Often harshly. On the positive side, this is what keeps us safe in certain circumstances when we choose to not act on an impulse. On the negative side though, the watcher is also prone to be judgmental. Unfortunately, this can severely limit our ability to acheive peak performance. A simple example: imagine if you were to think about every little motion with analytical focus and judgement as you were driving your car...some things are best done in automatic mode.

Ever tried to sing or play a musical instrument while simultaneously thinking to yourself "that note as flat", "that phrase dragged", "I wish I was better" or even "I suck"? It's not helpful! I know that situation all too well.

I experience my lovely little dog Tito as a case study in minimizing the role of the watcher. When he sees someone he likes, he whines embarrassingly, he approaches with no compunction, and he demonstrates affection fiercely. I am often moderately embarrassed, and in revealing that, I'm often made aware that the person who's the object of Tito's affection doesn't understand or connect with what I'm saying. "Why would you be embarrassed?"

In my own personal life, I am far more likely to be aloof - to pretend to be nonplussed. This is the action of my ego. I have to pretend that I don't care to avoid embarrassment.

The ego is not to be confused with 'the self'. Ever caught yourself not laughing because you feared someone's (or your own internal) judgement? Ever wanted to call someone and didn't do it because you thought they'd be bothered? Ever wanted to dance but not allowed yourself -- to sing? What you were doing was letting your ego take charge of the self. Sometimes the ego doesn't like it when the creature it inhabits is self-expressed. The self threatens the survival of the ego. The ego lives in fear.

For me, my fear of embarrassment is sadly almost pathological. I'm sure a lot of people have a similar experience. That's my ego doing the fearing.

Here's a trick, realize that often 'the watcher' is the voice of other people - bullies, critics, unhappy people (or people manifesting their unhappiness in your direction) - that is present in your memory. For example an abusive parent could be the voice you're hearing, the unhappy ex-spouse, people from childhood, old teachers...whoever.

The self unconditionally loves you. The ego judges you.

I was recently reminded of Oblique Strategies, which were first released as a set of 'playing' cards by musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schimdt as an aid for productivity in their art. Each card has a single sentence or phrase on it that is there to jog your mind somehow. Example: "Is there something missing?".

There is a card in there that says "what wouldn't you do?". That's my favorite one.

That's my task, think of what that is and then do it, regardless of the discomfort.

-- what wouldn't I do?

on the net:
forum for hindu awakening
Spiritual Research Foundation
oblique strategies Wiki


Simon Walsh said...

Although I have always been aware of the powerful impact of the ego on you, I do want to remind you that you performed at CBGC's in a tuxedo jacket and Speedos!

Reed Robins said...

Oh...uh you remember that do you? Also as I recall I was wearing no shoes and a red lifeguard t-shirt.

No need to bring THAT up again :)