“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve done a lot of stripping lately. It’s been liberating. I’ve been peeling away layers of the ego—all the accumulated stuff—to find who I am at the core.
It wasn’t too long ago when I noticed how quickly my life would go from an extreme high to an extreme low—how one moment could seem so perfect and wonderful, and then suddenly something would happen and it would turn into a less appealing scene.
The story went something like this: “Life is good. No it’s not. Life is good. No it’s not…” This narrative repetitiously replayed like a bad remix.
I was never fulfilled because I was always dependent on something outside of me—the praise I received that day, what the scale said, how great my workout was, or the next scheduled vacation.
I remember the first time I published a piece of my writing and I asked my husband: “Is it perfect?” Then I agonized over what kind of feedback it would get.
He smiled and quickly said, “Perfect is too many people to please, babe.”
His words resonated with me and peeled away one layer of my ego. Slowly, more layers began to peel as I became aware that I’d given my worth to other people. I’d become reliant on external feedback because I did not value what I was worth.
I was so blinded by the bling of the external that I forgot to see the unexamined interior—the attention-deprived inner world.
Now I realize how quickly we can go from an extreme low back to an extreme high.
When we commit to finding contentment within—being honest with ourselves and finding courage to explore— there is a certain peace and joy that will follow.
When we know who we are, stripped down to our true essence, we can then connect with our higher purpose and find fulfillment on our unique journey.
We will not be immune to life challenges. Our parents will still need our help, our significant other will still irritate us, our boss will still be cranky, and change will still happen suddenly and unexpectedly.
But when we ground ourselves inside, the whole external world becomes less shaky.
When we operate with our heart (our essence), instead of our head (the ego), we can more easily navigate situations with grace and clarity.
Here are 3 ways to strip away the ego and start living authentically:
1. Do less, be more.
“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” ~Lao Tzu
In Conscious Living, the author, Gay Hendricks, asks the deathbed question: “What are four or five top goals for your life?” Or, in other words, fast forward to the completion of your life, when you might ask yourself, “What did you accomplish or experience that made your life a success?”
Answer this question for yourself right now. Take a few minutes to jot down the five accomplishments that you’d feel fulfilled and happy knowing you accomplished at the end of your life.
As you move through your busy days, you can tuck away these five statements in the back of your mind and consciously decide if your movements, tasks, and job reflect the life you really want to live.
What are you doing by default instead of honoring who you are authentically?
Do less of what does not serve you and be more of who you are by aligning your decisions to these intentions.
2. Plan less, live more.
Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
There’s a scene in a romantic comedy where the man asks the control-loving woman, “Did you just plan to plan?
When I watched this scene, I recall answering the question to myself: “Yes. So? What’s wrong with that?
I’d been caught. I was guilty of this too. I have many times planned plans.
I thought that if I could road map my life—married by 25, kids by 27 (this has come and gone), millionaire by 30—life would be receptive. Instead, I found myself arm-wrestling with situations to fit them in my little box.
This was a symptom of fear.
I imagine all of us have shifted our fear to something outside of us. We grasp at plans for happiness tomorrow to relieve the fear we choose not to address.
The more we shift our fears by clinging onto something outside of us, instead of looking inside to acknowledge and dissolve it, the more we will stand in our own way.
Life is transient, there’s only so much we can plan for; but there is much more happiness to be experienced when we learn to live in the flow.
Fearing less means letting go, flowing more, and truly experiencing life in all of its wholeness.
3. Dwell less, create more.
“Begin at once to live and count each day as a separate life.” ~Seneca
The past and future are overrated. This moment is what really rocks.
Learn to continually let go of what you cannot control: stop telling the stories of the past or peering so much into the future.
Redirect all that energy to this moment and what you can create that is beautiful today.
Strip away the past and the future and find yourself in the present.
Inside presence, and at your essence, there is a gift that is waiting for each of us: an abundance of creativity.
At the core, we are all deeply creative beings. Self-expression is how we expand—so be you, express you, and create each moment authentically you.
Dwell less on the stories you keep telling yourself, and create a new beginning today.
As you choose how to expand today, remember to: do less, be more; fear less, live more; dwell less, create more.
Photo by divemasterking2000
About Cat Li Stevenson
Cat is an explorer of the human journey and a lover of well-being. She is living and practicing at an urban Zen Center in San Francisco, and working for Wisdom 2.0, an organization that strives to bring wisdom and awareness into the digital age. You can add her as a friend on FB or find her writing on Medium.