Toning Down The Ego
Much of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, relates to the power of the ego in creating much of our fear and struggle in life. In fact, he states, “The underlying emotion that governs all the activity of the ego is fear.”
While most people who have performance anxiety would never consider themselves egotistical in terms of being conceited or “full of themselves”, the ego can still play a very powerful role in one’s life in terms of one’s core identity.
What does the ego do?
• It is reinforced through a strong identification with our external roles and circumstances
• It greatly fears any threat of loss of our reputation, status, and image in the eyes of others
• It takes things very personally and feels diminished by any feeling of loss of respect or esteem in the eyes of self or others
• Has a strong need to look good and to not look bad, which feeds perfectionist tendencies and the search for approval, as well as the fear of disapproval
• Fights against and resists feelings of weakness and vulnerability and seeks to feel strong and in control
• It is threatened by any feeling of loss of control and goes to great lengths to avoid this feeling
• It seeks out feelings of being in control of oneself and one’s circumstances.
Does any of this sound familiar as it relates to the fear of public speaking or performing, as well as any other areas of your life? Most people with this fear are high achievers and have a strong investment in their public image and reputation. They are generally fearful of losing respect and esteem in the eyes of others (as well as in their own eyes) and have a need to feel, and be seen as, strong and in control.
All of this relates to the concerns of the ego and fuels feelings of guardedness and self-consciousness and seriously gets in the way of connecting more naturally, genuinely, and comfortably with others.
Tolle states that “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” So, how do we tone down the concerns of the ego when they seem to dominate our minds and drive our fear? We need to:
• Consciously step back from our conditioned way of thinking and perceiving
• Observe our fearful thoughts and recognize they do not represent the basic truth about ourselves or our situation
• Learn to detach from our strong identification with our public image and reputation and connect more with the deeper, truer essence of who we are at our core
• Stop looking for public approval and avoiding possible public disapproval.
The conditioned, fearful thoughts and perceptions of the mind, and the associated ego concerns that drive this fear, begin to lose their power when you are grounded more in present moment awareness and have more clarity of mind to recognize the deeper truth about yourself and the situation.
Fear as Our Teacher
Most of us pride ourselves on our strength and the feeling of being in control of ourselves and our lives. Our fear challenges this self-perception and hurts our pride. Our egos do not like to be seen as fearful as it may lead others (and ourselves) to think less of us. So, we end up disliking, and even hating, our fear. We make fear our enemy and, when we do so, the fear gains power and intimidates us. When we are willing to face our fear, and learn to work with fear rather than fight against it, our fear can teach us many valuable lessons:
• Allow and accept all parts of ourselves, including the parts that don’t make us feel very good
• Learn to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion when we experience our human vulnerability rather than shun that part of ourselves and feel shame and embarrassment
• Learn not to react so strongly to our uncomfortable feelings and sensations, which helps us to not feel overcome or overpowered by our fear
• Learn to not be so focused on our ego concerns related to our reputation and public image
• Shift our focus on being more concerned about others and how we can best serve them when we are speaking or performing.
What we discover is that when we shift our focus like this, we feel more connected to others, more grounded in our purpose for speaking or performing, and less self-preoccupied and self-conscious. Our fear naturally begins to ease when our focus is where it needs to be. We can also learn many life skills and useful practices that can help us in all areas of our lives as we meet up to the challenge of working with our fear in a more conscious and adaptive way.
Instead of cursing your fear and trying to run from it or conquer it, consider embracing your fear as your teacher and being open to learning the many important life lessons it has to offer.
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” Eckhart Tolle