Where are you right now?
Just like when a kindergartener continues to ask, “Why?”, it doesn’t take us long to come upon something we can’t really explain. Where are you right now? At my desk. Where? In my apartment. Where? In New York. Where? … The U.S., Earth, the Milky Way, the universe, the multiverse, …??
Why am I bringing up metaphysics? Because I want to point out that for the purposes of our day-to-day operations, we accept certain parameters as true and as “enough to define the world by.” This gives us a sense of security and direction, and keeps us from feeling overwhelmed too often. We wouldn’t have gotten where we are today if on most days we stopped in the middle of the street, realized we were lost because we “didn’t know where we really were,” and couldn’t step forward to make it to our destination. So, it’s good that we have “blinders” on most of the time, in order to keep us feeling competent and focused.
However, this useful ability becomes perilous for our psyches when we start refusing to let it go, and start believing that our limited definitions are all that matters. We forget that concepts are just our cognitive attempts to define the mystery we live in; we think we know everything.
I used the example of defining geographical space, but we also define our own selves for convenience. We use many self-definitions in order to situate ourselves in relation to others and the world around us. Again, a lot of this can be useful. “I am ’12 years old,’ it would be good for me not to try to drive the car.” “I am ‘unemployed,’ it would be good for me not to spend too much money right now,” etc.
Many people from all different areas of academia and sprituality refer to our self-conceptions, altogether, as our “ego.” Not in the sense of, “ugh, can you believe his ego??”, which refers to what many would identify as selfishness or arrogance. But rather, ego as the apparatus by which we take on definitions of ourselves in order to give ourselves direction. Ego is necessary and useful – but what is also absolutely necessary is frequent acknowledgement of the fact that we are much, much more than our egos. Just like the earth beneath the pavement is much more than 5th Avenue on the way to 6th Avenue – it’s substance in a mysterious world.
Just as I’m not advocating that you get lost in the street thinking about how you “don’t really know where you are,” I’m not recommending that you drop your all of your roles, as “student,” “athlete,” “employee,” “friend,” etc., in order to permanently lose your ego and “become one with everything,” Buddha or bust. But I AM saying that for those of us who experience serious suffering around body image, a sense of “stuckness” in life, or even self-hate, there’s no doubt that we’ve become a slave to concepts in our mind. Concepts of how things should be, how the body should be, how a person should act at this or that age – all concepts about how things should be as opposed to how they ARE now.
We get paralyzed by this if it’s bad enough. It drives us to use escapist coping mechanisms, such as binge eating, binge shopping, alcohol, TV, etc. A desperately sought “zone-out” time, to get a break from the ego pronouncing its judgments – leaving us crushed, angry, depressed. You may not even notice it’s going on, since it has, over years, become background music in your mind. But indeed, all too often you are listening to: “What are you DOING?” “Ha..ha.. I can’t believe you’re trying that.” “Pathetic.” “Why bother?” “It’s too late for that.” “Just don’t go.” “You’re disgusting!!!” Then, all of a sudden, you wake up from your latest binge. You’re sentenced by the judgment of yourself as a failure compared to concepts of success, beauty, everything you “should” be, the punishment is shame, and the relief is bingeing – which, as we know, tragically causes more shame.
The antidote to this is to settle [get yourself relaxed] and feel into where you actually are right now. That’s how to achieve the best honesty about yourself and your situation. An example: Let’s say you hate your job. A CONCEPTUAL way of dealing with that is to use the concept, “Well, a lot of people hate their jobs -> so this is acceptable.” Whereas an ATTUNED-TO-REALITY way of dealing with it is to feel into the truth of it for you: “I feel a heaviness in my chest every day, I feel over-exhausted when I get home every day, I feel like this job is killing me.” That might lead to a different conclusion -> this is no longer acceptable. The conclusion isn’t the point, it’s the different method of knowing what’s going on.
You cannot go wrong if you come to know yourself through actually feeling out where you are at the moment. You may wind up going down roads you did not envision, but they will still be authentic. It is so much harder to have regrets when you live this way, because it is impossible to realize you have been living by someone else’s standards, as so many people report realizing, especially towards the end of life.
You can touch base with where you are at any time by breathing deeply for a few moments or minutes, enough to relax and sense how you are physically feeling. You can do a deeper check-in on a daily basis with meditation for 20-30 minutes, perhaps in the morning to orient and ground yourself. And you can see where you actually are before any decision you make, taking note of what the ego suggests, and then patting the ego on the head and telling it, “Aw… I’m glad you have your ideas about what this ‘should’ look like. Got it, now go away =) ” And then, feeling for yourself – would this make me truly happier? Is this out of love or fear, right now? Would this bring me more peace? Would this be fun?
Would this enliven me?
The place in the universe that you can most intimately know, and therefore love, will always be yourself – your body, your experience. Be with it, don’t surrender it to other people’s ideas for anything.