Blog#102 – Attention, Seekers!

George the pure and joyful

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Dear Readers & Listeners,

What a difference a scraggly little piece of punctuation can make to the meaning of a couple of words, eh!

Thanks for joining me today as I continue my quest to live a simpler, more peaceful life without the need to alter the state of my mind with alcohol or any other unhealthy behaviours. Follow this link to listen instead. There are times when I question whether I should continue with this blog after close to five years of effort that has left a hole in my pocket, and then it’s as though the universe itself answers my question with emails from readers who tell me that my writing was a factor in them deciding to quit drinking. I get a wonderful sense of wellbeing from the knowledge that my efforts are not in vain. Since a young age, I’ve wanted to help people who are in pain. As a teenager, I dreamed of one day becoming a nurse, but I went off the rails and jumped on the Cork to Cherbourg ferry instead. Once I’d arrived in Paris and got a taste of freedom, there was no going back!

Living in autopilot

The focus of my blog today is the ego. I’ve mentioned it before and it will keep coming up because it is a part of us that needs attention, in more ways than one! In my last blog I shared with you the peaceful act of meditation that has given me a whole new perspective on my life. It is during the meditation process that the ego is most noticeable. This is because when we are running around like blue-arsed flies, chasing the next goal, seeking approval from others, escaping from what we perceive to be the drudgery of our lives, we are not present and not tuned into what is happening inside. It’s as though we are living in autopilot. How often does it happen to you that you drive to a place you regularly go to and later realise that you have no recollection of the journey? This is because you are so used to doing the trip that you don’t need to be fully engaged as the unconscious mind will take you there. The scary thing is that many people live their entire lives in autopilot without fully engaging in each moment, without stopping to savour the full aroma of the coffee as they drink it.

When I win the lotto…

Meditation has taught me that the present moment is all that we have and all that matters in terms of time. The past is only useful when we need to fix something in the now, when we need to figure out what not to do so that we stop making the same mistakes. The future is only useful when we are in planning mode. Once a plan is in place, we still need to make sure we live every moment as though it’s our last. As the American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson so rightly said, ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts.’  How often do you hear people say stuff like, ‘when I win the lotto, or, when I get my dream job, or, when I marry Dr. Right, then I’ll be happy’? I’m sad to say that I hear this all too often. And it’s hard for me not to blurt out what I believe to be the secret to happiness, but I have to stop myself because everyone is on their own journey. It’s one thing to blurt it out to someone who isn’t willing to reflect on their limiting mindset, it’s another to share my own experience with you because you are here as seekers of a better way. The fact that you subscribed to my blog or simply chose to visit my website is a sign that you also believe that our mindsets can limit us in our ability to find joy and meaning in our day-to-day existence.

Attention-seeking behaviour

So, let me not waste your time here and take you to the crux of the matter. And how better to do it than by illustrating the point with my own lived experience. The further I go on this sober journey, the more I am learning about myself and how I let things get so badly out of hand in the time that led up to my Day One. Looking back, as I need to do to figure this stuff out, I can see a pattern of attention-seeking behaviour. As the second born of six kids, I was always trying to make myself seen. I guess it’s only fair to the young Gill to acknowledge that she didn’t feel seen or heard. Everyone responds differently to their childhood experiences. For whatever crazy reason, it seems that kids get more noticed for bad behaviour than good. So, I became conditioned to act up in order to get attention. Of course, it wasn’t the kind of attention I sought, but it was better than nothing. It must have been at this point in my life (probably at around the age of six or seven), that my ego started to take shape.

The ego is part of the mind

I should take a moment here to explain the ego to you just in case you too get confused by what it is and why we need it at all. The ego is a part of the mind that develops to help us create an identity for ourselves. We all need one. Without the ego, we would be very lost. It is what allows us to define who we are. The problem with the ego is that it is only a part of us, yet it often takes over and runs the whole show. I have a theory that the ego, which exists at an unconscious level, steps in to defend us as we grow up and gives us a sense that we have rights too. But there comes a time when it no longer needs to be front and centre, but we need awareness in order to get it to move out of the way. It had a very important role to play in our development but once we become adults the ego is no longer as important. It was the famous psychotherapist, Carl Jung, who said, ‘The first half of life is devoted to forming an ego, the second half is about going inward and letting go of it.’ My theory is that many people never actually make it to proper adulthood because the ego keeps holding them back in a place of ‘me, me, me’. I know. I’ve been there. It was what kept me reaching for substances to comfort myself. And for a while, as I’ve said many times before, those substances got me through the tough times. But they backfired on me, didn’t they!  With the clarity of a sober mind, I discovered that my ego had been getting in the way of me being able to live in the here and now. The ego will do that. It is always comparing, judging, blaming, and looking for reasons to justify more comfort. The ego can lead us into a perpetual cycle of reaching for the next thing to make us happy instead of us being happy with what we have.

Good news

The good news is that the simple act of being still and noticing what’s happening in the mind can provide the key to being happy in the moment if it’s practiced with open-hearted intention. It’s not about fighting the ego. It’s about noticing it, then gently putting it to one side, and allowing the conscious mind to run the show for a change. It’s not enough to live life in autopilot if what we want is to be happy. We must become fully aware of our feelings and thoughts and the driving forces behind the decisions that we make. I’ll try to put this into context with an example of my own day to day life. But bear with me. This is not easy for me to explain. Firstly, I should clarify that I am many different things. I am a loving mother who is committed to caring for and supporting my kids. I am a wife on a mission to be the most loving I can be. I am a compassionate carer for my dog who is a pure and joyful presence in my life. While I do define myself in part by these roles, my ego isn’t hugely involved because the driving force comes from the connection that I feel at a deep level with those involved. Then I’m a counsellor who is committed to helping others to ease their pain. Yes, the ego does play a part here because I get paid to do that job and it gives me a sense of purpose which I guess feeds my ego to some degree. It’s based on a contract between two people and we both benefit from it. Where my ego tries to weave its way into my life is with my writing and my presence on social media. My ego sees people getting thousands of likes and loud applauses for what they are contributing to the world. If I’m not careful, I end up comparing myself to them and I start to wonder why I’m not a star like them. Thanks to meditation, I am able to catch myself having those thoughts and feelings and it allows me to be curious. I interrogate them. Each time I come to the same conclusion. I do what I do out of love and a genuine desire to help others. If I did it for reasons of validation, applause, accolades or likes, it would be disingenuous and would most certainly be driven by my ego. And it would mean I’d be trapped in a never-ending cycle of looking for external sources to make me happy. Instead, I embrace the realisation that happiness is an inside job. The power to be happy and at peace is accessible to each of us. We just need to give ourselves the time and space to be still and to be the driving force rather than being in autopilot. I hope this makes sense; it’s not an easy subject to explain because it seems too simple to be true. Yet it has been tried and tested by people for millennia and does work. At the end of the day, it’s about knowing who we really are beyond the ego. ‘Know Thyself’ was inscribed in stone over two thousand years ago at the entrance to the temple of Apollo in Ancient Greece. That’s how long we’ve known this simple truth.

Thanks for being here. Love, Gill xx

Gill Kenny - the Writer & Blogger

About the author – Gill Kenny

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Through my blog, I aim to provide you with a place where you can feel valued by inviting you to share your journey too.  I will regularly have guest writers who wish to share their views or experiences on each topic. I am open to ideas and happy to cover any topics that interest you, so please feel free to share yours with me.

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Love, Gill x