For as long as I can remember, I believed I could get through any difficult situation as long as I sat back and thought about it hard enough. What could be too difficult to handle as long as I focus my over-thinking? I enabled my mind to have free reign over what I believed to be myself. I don’t have enough friends? No problem, I’ll think of a strategy of how best to become more popular. I don’t have enough money? That’s okay let me think about how best to get money from others. Oh, my parents are getting a divorce? That shouldn’t be a problem! As long as I turn to my handy-dandy mind…
The mind loves finding solutions, even when there isn’t a problem. It always seemed as if there was another thirst for my mind to latch onto, another problem that needed fixing. I found pride in searching for solutions. It was happy to treat people, places, and things as purely a means-to-an-end, but even when my mind had plenty of problems to focus on, I wasn’t happy. Why? Where was my fulfillment?
Eckhart Tolle discusses the power of connecting with the “true self.” Problems arise, as he beautifully explains, when the egoic mind becomes who we think we are. Tolle argues that we are not our minds. “I think, therefore I am,” is the opposite of what Tolle preaches. In Tolle’s books, such as The Power of Now and A New Earth, Tolle believes our consciousness is not defined by our thoughts. Our minds are seen as our sharpest tool and our greatest salvation. Our minds can get us out of any pickle, crack any code, and win any prize. So, why not put more stock in this trade? Isn’t our ability to think what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom? The problem, as I have come to struggle and suffer from, isn’t the use of the mind; it is believing that I am my mind.
My parent officially divorced when I was in high school, although they were separated in all but title long before then. Still, starting early my parent’s separation, I suffered from severe anxiety, self-loathing, and self-harmful thoughts. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I just continued my life with the occasional emotional outrage, and allowed my ego to search for validation through outside forces. What I needed for a long time wasn’t another problem to solve, like validation from my peers or a girl to love me. No, what I needed instead was to put aside my egoic mind and find love, validation, and support within myself.
The egoic mind is tricky though, mine especially so. Even when I found friends that truly cared about my wellbeing, it wasn’t enough to get their validation. Once I became valued and loved in one circle, my egoic mind felt it important to get validation in an area somewhere else. So I jumped into a relationship, believing it to be love. Eventually, once I attained that validation, my egoic mind went searching again. It was time for a new group of friends, one that was more popular or more fun to hang out with. So I left the previous relationship, told myself it was for valid reasons, and started to break my back for the validation of others again. This cycle would continue for years at a time, jumping from relationship to relationship, whether romantic or otherwise, all stemming from my mind trying to solve the “problem” within myself. This problem is a little something called self-worth.
I traveled the world, I made many friends and had great experiences, but my goal of achieving self-worth never seemed to be just around the corner. No, it always seemed to be a few miles away, but my mind had me believe that it was still attainable. All I had to do was just reach a little further. I had to force myself to the brink of injury at the gym to get more muscle, or drink just a little bit more alcohol to be seen as “cool.” Then, I would be worth something.
Therein lies the problem. My mind was always living either in the future or deep in the past. Even if the solution to my problems was right in front of me it was my mind that kept my attention elsewhere. Everything I did was to attain some form of validation or love from other human beings. To admit that here pains my ego; it’s rattling inside my head right now telling me, don’t you dare share this truth. If you share this, if you open up in this way, people will lash out against you. You will never be accepted. You… are a monster. For so many years, I have allowed my mind to run my life because that’s who I thought I was. I believed with all of my being that my mind was the extent of my potential. That belief is what ruined me.
I approached thoughts of self-harm a few times in my life. In all but one of the times, it was to stop the endless line of thinking inside my head. I wanted everything to stop. I wanted to stop thinking, to stop solving. If I ever were to share this with anyone, the consequences would be worse than death. My mind would tell me that if I became vulnerable, if I opened up to others, then everything my mind has worked for would be ruined. So I kept it locked away and I allowed the self-loathing to fester.
My breaking point was met when the relationship I was in came to a sudden halt. My partner at the time was passionate, creative, supportive, and incredibly resilient. Her view of the world was the way I wanted to view the world. My mind loved her. My mind sought out all of its validation through her. Why would I ever need to love myself so long as she loved me?
When we decided to pivot our relationship to something new, I was crushed. Or rather, my ego was. My ego was left wanting and reaching and clinging towards anyone or anything that could give it validation again. It took weeks to come to terms with my new living situation, but in moments of stillness, through meditation and reflection, I found something that my mind always failed at providing. After meditating every day, I could feel my focus being driven towards the Now rather than the future. For just brief moments at a time, my attention was totally present. In these small gaps of stillness, I could see glimpses of myself. I could see Patrick without the image that my mind had projected.
My journey into the Now has just begin, so the jury is still out on how this tale ends. What is clear, in the meantime, is that the solutions to all of our problems are not always found in the mind. The mind is a wonderful tool. We need to plan and organize; it’s the way our world works. By identifying with this tool, however, our hearts become victims of mental and physical diseases. By reaching for things in the past or future, we leave our hands occupied and unable to cup the present. It is in this present moment that our true self-love can be found.
Whether in the form of meditation or a small nature walk in your local park, find these moments of presence and stillness. Ask yourself, where is my attention? Is it in my pocket with my phone? Is it on the deadline I need to reach by the end of the week? If so, take a breath. Feel your heart and your lungs guide your attention to the Now.
It takes practice, but by finding your true self and allowing vulnerability into your heart, the world around you will start to shine just a bit brighter.
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