What stands in your way to living a full and free life
Dr Itai Ivtzan
One major obstacle stands in your way to living your life fully: You are not experiencing life as it really is. You may think this weird: “Of course I experience my life, what else would I be experiencing?” My reply is that you are actually experiencing your personal interpretation of life. The difference between the two is the difference between conditioning and freedom. We are rarely in touch with each and every moment of our life, and are therefore unable to connect directly and clearly to whatever comes our way. In fact, most of us bring our opinions, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs into our interpretation of each moment, drowning it. This prevents experiencing each moment as it is. Imagine the sun coming out and bathing you with its light and warmth. If you could simply bask in its warmth without further reaction, you would be experiencing life as it is. But this is almost impossible for most of us; a series of reactions immediately light up in our minds: “I wish it were this warm all the time” or “It’s too hot, I should have applied sun screen”. Every reaction pulls us away from the experience of life as it is, replacing it with our personal interpretation of life. We are constantly reaching out to the experience, but hardly ever manage to penetrate the many layers that wrap it.
What is the source of this personal interpretation? What is it that prevents our first-hand encounter with life? Psychologists call it personality. Spiritual teachers call it ego. What is personality? “Personality structure is described in terms of components that (once they are fully formed) are considered stable and enduring. Personality processes are descriptions of motivational states, which give rise to behaviour whose expression is mediated by that structure”. The first essential element of this definition is that our personality is comprised of components, many mosaic-like pieces that come together to form one structure - the self. These components are quite stable and enduring. As time goes by, the components that develop within us tend to grow steadier and more solid. Individual components apply to different moments in life, becoming an integral part of our personality. Significantly, these components prompt the personality processes that determine our motivational states. The motivation that drives us towards a certain moment depends on the components of which our personality is made up. Whether you tend to be enthusiastic, bored, connected, disconnected, committed, or avoiding, depends on inner components that generate your motivational states. I have heard people say: “I just felt disengaged, the feeling came out of nowhere, I have no idea why I felt this way”. Statements such as this indicate that the persons who utter them are blind to the way in which their personality components work. One's motivation (or lack of it) is never coincidental; it springs from a mental component and naturally gives rise to certain behaviours. The impact of a personality component does not end with motivation, but also affects one's behaviour, choices, and actions. It therefore has a very real impact on life and the way people experience it. The last part of the definition deals with mediation. The structure of our personality is a mediator that determines our behavioural expressions. In other words, the experience of a certain moment and the behaviour it entails rarely interface directly, because a personality component stands in the middle and mediates between them. This meditation results in a subjective interpretation rather than an unbiased experience of life.
From a spiritual point of view, the ego plays a similar role. The ego consists of beliefs, expectations and desires, which together weave the fabric of our experiences. Similar to personality, the ego affects our thoughts, emotions and reactions, much like a puppeteer who controls his puppets by invisible strings. The process is so natural that most of the time people are not aware that their reactions spring from a certain aspect of their ego. We frequently miss the roots of our reaction because we lack the tools required to notice the link between them. We are blind to the strings that manipulate us.
The ego may be described as the eye through which the mind perceives reality. When you approach a certain moment you do not see it as it truly is because your sense of seeing passes through the filter of the ego. Imagine the ego as a pair of sunglasses that change colour in different situations. Much of our growth journey is about realizing that we wear these glasses, and developing the option of taking them off when we choose to.
It is easy to notice that the concepts of personality and ego have very similar foundations. They both deal with the constructs of what we consider as our self. Although different lexical terms are used, their meaning is remarkably similar. While I was studying psychology and spirituality, I noticed that they have many points in common, raise similar questions, and often interweave, in spite of their different titles.
An interesting exercise: Naming your ego concepts
Grab a pen and paper; describe one central ego concept for important domains of your life, such as romantic relations, work, family, friends, and leisure. Look for a different ego concept in each domain. In your search, try to recall your expectations from people, your needs or fears, your insights about yourself, and your beliefs concerning that domain – any of those would be an example for an ego concept. Noticing and realising your ego concepts constitutes and important step towards freedom.
Dr Itai Ivtzan is passionate about the combination of psychology and spirituality. He is a positive psychologist and a senior lecturer at the University of East London. Dr. Ivtzan is confident that mindfulness meditation has the power to change individuals – in fact, whole societies – for the better. You can read more about his work on his website: www.AwarenessisFreedom.com