Awhile ago, I wouldn't give this kind of stuff the time of day. Anything about energies, the ego, or our identities all seemed a little bit heebie jeebie to me. Whenever someone would get talking about this sort of thing, I would dismiss it all, entirely.
Now, after actually taking some time to fully understand it all, not just dismissing it because I was too afraid to understand it, I realize there are actually some amazingly valuable ideas within the supposedly "heebie jeebie" world of meditation. In fact, I feel my biggest mistake in understanding it now is that I wasn't open to it earlier. Now, I realize these ideas that will take far more than a lifetime to fully internalize.
I invite you to dive into what I've prepared for you today with an open mind, expecting to find ideas that may actually help you. The only thing we can be sure about is that we don't know much. So, we're always trying to learn more. Be careful when you're reading today, you may find yourself learning something brand new!
Before we get into the dirty details of meditation, being nonreactive, and lots more fun, I must share with you one important idea before proceeding. While I have taken time to carefully prepare everything I know about meditation for you into as clear and as easy-to-digest a format as I possibly can, your experience remains a far better teacher than I can ever hope to be. Especially when it comes to mindfulness and meditation, just trying it is the best way to learn about it. The faster you start a daily practice, the faster you can create a learning feedback loop for yourself, and the faster your new, personalized-to-yourself learning journey will bring you to new learning heights.
So dive right in, keep an open mind, and enjoy the learning, my friends.
The Power of Being Nonreactive
The level to which we can be nonreactive throughout life determines our individuality.
Basically, we all have a filter through which we view and act on the world. And we all see the world differently than one another because we all have different filters. This barrier (filter) is extremely important, because it is what forms our personality. Most of us, most of the time, just reflect our environments. We're like big mirrors. We copy our parents and then we grow up, copying what everyone else does (good job, house, car, family, death). However, using the barrier of belief, we get to put our own spin on everything.
While everyone wears shoes, we get to pick our own, special ones. While everyone goes to school and does their homework, we get to pick how much we do, and when. While everyone buys a house, we get to pick the city and the neighbourhood. Using the barrier of belief to filter our environments allows us to become more and more "special."
As it turns out, most of us gravitate very strongly towards what is normal. We don't want to be different, or left out. If we come back to the picture above, most of us don't hold that many strong beliefs about the world - or at least not ones we haven't been given - so our outer worlds just stay our outer worlds, no different than anyone else's. In the picture, this would mean there would be no movement left. This is the easiest way to live: simply mirroring the world, copying everyone around us.
It's much harder to form and maintain strong beliefs about the world - especially if they are different from everyone else's. This procedure is much different than the regular normalizing procedure. To normalize, we receive input from our environment, and spit it back out, copying everyone else. We don't even get to touch our fountain of awesome. So, our lives are usually not awesome.
For belief-formation to occur, we need to slow down the process. First, we need to take time to process the inputs we receive from the world, holding them in long enough on the left side of the picture for us to form a belief. Once we've formed a belief, we use this belief to guide what action we take in the real world.
By taking time to form beliefs, we create a personality for ourselves. Instead of mirroring our environments, normalizing ourselves to become a generic part of society, we create value for the world by changing how things are. We call this behaviour being nonreactive to the world. Instead of reacting to our environments, we are nonreactive, reacting in ways that our fountain of awesome decides. Being nonreactive about life is awesome, because it allows us to control the life we live. Instead of having our lives determined by our environments, we take control and responsibility for our decisions, and how we spend our time.
As a detail, about the fountain of awesome, think of it as our access to human greatness. We all have access to much of the same energy to create change in the world, but we use our barrier of belief to decide what energy to chose. Since we have an unlimited amount of choice of what we can do in the world, and a finite life, we must use our barrier of belief carefully to pick only our favourite streams of water from the fountain of awesome.
Being nonreactive can take different forms. First, we can be non-reactive by not directly reacting to the inputs we receive from the world. This would be the classic get-cut-off-in-traffic-turn-really-angry example. Being nonreactive would just mean we don't get angry when we get cut off. But the next layer further to being non-reactive is not basing our actions on the inputs we receive from our environment at all. An example of this would be when a painter is painting abstract art. They're not painting a subject, processing the information in their own special way, but instead, they're bringing something entirely brand new to the world. They're not coming from the right, going to the left, then back to the right, but instead starting at the left, at the fountain of awesome. (For further reading see being reactive: causation, and being non-reactive: effectuation)
I really enjoy living the non-reactive life. Especially the second form mentioned in the paragraph above, since it allows me to live out true dreams. I can imagine my life to become anything I want, irrespective of my reality, and then I can work to get there. The lack of limits makes my ambitions grow, and achieving more challenging things is always more rewarding. Both in the process, and at the end.
Figuring out a way to design the barrier between our inner selves, which are mostly the same, and our outer worlds, which are also mostly the same, is going to allow us to create maximum customization in our lives. The greater degree to which we control our lives, the greater the precision of accuracy between our actual lives and the lives we live will be, and hopefully, the greater our happiness.
How to Become Nonreactive
There are three things we can do to become more nonreactive in our lives:
- Move slowly
- Start meditating
- Practice mindfulness
Here they are.
Moving slowly is the easiest thing we can do to start becoming nonreactive. We almost always have the option to slow down how fast we're moving through life, and every time that we allow ourselves to do this, we create more space for ourselves to process the world. With more space for processing time, our lives will be much closer to the lives we want them to be, and the happier we will become. The more often we can allow ourselves to move slowly, the less likely our minds are to rush, and the more likely our actions are in line with our goals. The slower we move, the lesser the chance for us making errors.
Here are some places in our life that we can move more slowly:
- Walk slowly
- Brush our teeth slowly
- Talk slowly
- Respond to messages slowly
- Schedule slowly
- Laugh slowly
- Drive slowly
- Read slowly
- Cook slowly
- Wake-up slowly
All of the above are convenient times throughout the day for us to slow down to allow ourselves more time to process the world around us. If we're constantly rushing from one thing to the next, we will find our minds moving much too fast for us to make well-informed decisions. Eventually, we'll make a mistake, and be forced to slow down anyways.
If we can be proactive, incorporating slowness into our daily lives intentionally, we will have a much easier time thinking clearly through our lives. Moving slowly is the first stage, the beginning step we can take towards creating nonreactive lives for ourselves. Try it out, slow down, and see what awesome thoughts your mind creates.
Meditation is the best thing we can do to create a nonreactive existence for ourselves. It acts as insurance against all the teases we experience throughout the day to be reactive. Every morning, if we can come back to meditation, it cleans our slate in a way, allowing us to view our experiences throughout the day for what they are. Without meditation, each day rolls into the next, and it's easy to become overwhelmed with reactivity.
I feel meditation will be an important thing for me and you for years to come, so I have dedicated a whole page on this website to it (see link below). The compounding effect of the space that is eventually created in our lives from the little we make each morning is enormous. If you were to picture our brains as a balloon, we blow a little bit of air in it each morning, and it slowly gets bigger and bigger. It's constantly deflating a little bit too, so if we miss a day, it will shrink. But eventually the balloon will grow massive.
This balloon is the space in which we can think. It is the size of our barrier of belief rectangle from earlier. The more space we have between the inputs we receive from the world and the action we take, the more well-thought-out our actions will be and the more in-line our lives will be with how we want them to be.
As a side-note, you can think of the balloon eventually popping as enlightenment. Enlightenment can be described in many ways, my favourite being by Eckhart Tolle: "Enlightenment is the space between our thoughts." Buddhism explains enlightenment as the ability to be aware of our desires, and to not fall victim to their control. Here is a quick summary of this (what they call the Four Noble Truths).
Now that we're sure becoming nonreactive is important, and that meditation will help us get there, all that's left is to start the habit of morning meditation. I have had the fortunate pleasure of being a beginner myself over the past couple of years, as I have stopped and started meditation a few times. From these various attempts, I have put together what I've learned into a short list of my absolute best ideas on how beginners can start meditating. See below (it's a short url, so it's easy for you to remember!).
Daily meditation is our insurance to ensure we have lots of space in our lives to think. A hard reset every morning is sure to keep stuff from piling up in our minds. But ultimately, the goal of meditation is to create space in our minds throughout the day. Us being nonreactive for the 20-30 minutes we meditate in the morning doesn't matter. It's about the sustained effect this has on our attention throughout the day.
Mindfulness is just being really present throughout the day. Here are some convenient places to be mindful.
- When we're eating - noticing how food tastes
- When we walk through doorways - actually noticing everything in the new room we enter
- When we're talking with people - actually noticing how their face looks
- When we use the washroom - noticing how it makes our body feel
- When we're lying in bed - noticing our thoughts that spontaneously arise
These are easy, because they are things that happen to us every day. If we can use these events as reminders to be mindful, we will consistently fall back into a nonreactive state each day. When we stop and be fully present of what's going on around us, all the distracting thoughts in our mind fade away. Just right now, I am sure you can try it. If you're reading this, notice how your brain is turning the words on the screen into audio, and it feels like this is happening inside your head. If you're in a busy place, be still, and notice how you easily hear the sounds of your environment without any effort at all.
If we work to practice mindfulness throughout the day, we can sustain the calm, nonreactive state we work to build for ourselves each morning. We're constantly coming back to our present environment, noticing everything around us, including our thoughts. Instead of trying to force our days, we simply experience them with grace.
What is Non-Mindfulness?
To better understand being nonreactive, and practicing mindfulness, let's get into what isn't mindfulness. Non-mindfulness is checking our phone immediately after waking up, seeing a text that makes us angry, and having our whole day be ruined because of it. Non-mindfulness is choosing to feel sad all day because it's raining outside. Non-mindfulness is worrying about a test we have at 7pm all day long.
In all of these cases, we are letting things distract us from being fully aware of the present throughout the day. We can get distracted by the past, or the future. Either way, our attention is pulled away from focusing on what's presently happening around us. The way we get out of non-mindfulness and back into mindfulness is by letting our thoughts go. If we're worried about the test we have tonight, we stop worrying, and keep studying, if we need to. If we're worried about a text from the morning, we ask ourselves if there is any action we need to take, and we take it (or not), and then let it go, bringing our attention back to what's presently happening around us. And for the weather, we recognize that it is something we can never control, so we let go our anger and remind ourselves to avoid feeling emotional about the weather in the future.
Working to keep focused on mindfulness throughout the day is a lot easier with a morning meditation routine. Focusing on anything all day long is extremely hard, which why we have our morning reset, and resets throughout the day with the things we always do (sleep, eat, poop).
And just like adopting any new habit, everything is hardest at the start, but after enough weeks of persisting to try to become mindful, we may start to be present for periods of time thousands of times greater than before. If it's true that most of us unaware of mindfulness/meditation spend maybe seconds a day fully being present of the current moment, working to eventually get up to minutes will make us feel like super stars.
I strongly encourage you to try it. You've got nothing to lose, and becoming more nonreactive to gain full control over your life to gain.
I've intentionally put a line to separate this section from the others. We're getting into bonus territory now. You know what that means... party time!
It actually means that most of what's to come won't make sense to you unless you deeply understand what it means to be nonreactive, have practiced meditation for awhile, and can spend a good portion of the day being mindful. Even if you haven't put in the time to practice mindfulness all the time, reading about what state you can eventually get to can be inspiring. And inspiration is extremely valuable.
Open up your mind, and get ready to be inspired.
With enough meditation and mindfulness in our lives, we will eventually know how to reach (on-demand) an egoless, enlightened state where we realize that our identity/sense of self is just an illusion. Using logic, we can come into that state right now. First, we notice that everything is just our experience. The sounds we hear, the things we see, and the thoughts we have are all just elements of consciousness. We experience them without effort.
The nature of experiencing something means these things can change. And if things change, we can't be identical to them, since we can't change. If we are some sort of consistent part in our experience of consciousness, where are we? We might feel like we're behind our face, or in our head, but if we take a second to feel these two parts of body, we see this can't be true. When we're feeling our face and our head, in this moment, they're in consciousness, we are experiencing them, so they can't be us. Basically, everything is just an element of our experience. There is no "subject" at the heart of it all. The self is an illusion.
Surely, though, we must be identical to our thoughts. It's seems like they just have to play some sort of role in defining the subject that it feels like we are, experiencing all the objects of consciousness. But we experience our thoughts too. Just like all the other objects of consciousness (e.g. sounds), we notice thoughts in one instant, and they're gone in the next. We can't possibly be identical to any of our thoughts, considering their temporary nature.
Egolessness refers to this state where are able to witness our own lives. Removing the illusion of "ourselves" being some sort of subject that we identify with opens us up to the reality that we are merely consciousness, experiencing each moment. Before I lose you, try this for yourself.
Stop what you're doing and focus on your breath. Isolate yourself, if you can, and just notice how your body breathes without you doing anything. Just like you would notice a dogs belly moving up and down, without it exerting any effort, watch your tummy, like you're someone's dog, move up and down.
Now, bring your attention to your thoughts. Your mind is probably going crazy right now, panicking from all the free time it has to look at itself. Notice this panic. Notice the rushing that we have been conditioned to falling into in times of rest. And let it go. In fact, just watch it go. Any individual thought you can isolate, just observe it, and come back to your breath. Notice how it happens effortlessly. Now move onto another thought, notice how your brain creates it, without you doing anything, and let it go as you come back to your breath again.
Now remember that first thought you let go. Where did it go? Just now, while you were letting the other thought go. It disappeared. We can see that the sense of self, the feeling that our identity lies somewhere in our head, or in the thoughts contained by our head, is an illusion. If it wasn't an illusion, then all of our thoughts would stay inside our heads forever. Or at least some of them. But they don't. In fact, most of them barely last a few seconds before they automatically disappear and our focus drifts to the next thought.
We have to be careful to avoid this illusion, that we are the author of our thoughts. When we aren't mindful, when we're too rushed to notice our thoughts arising and passing away spontaneously, we feel like we are identical to our thoughts, that they are made by us and that they're a part of us. But this would be just like saying you are the ground beneath your feet, or the screen in front of your eyes. Obviously, this can't be true. These are simply objects of consciousness that we can experience, but since we experience them, they are changing, preventing us from being able to identify with them.
As a potentially shocking example, let's take your right hand. This, too, is not yours. You are experiencing what it looks like, perhaps you're opening and closing it, feeling your knuckles crack and your nervous system activate. But just like the screen in front of your eyes, your hand is just another component of your conscious experience. You can see it, feel it, even use it to do things, like touch something, but it remains a mere experience creator. It cannot be what you are.
After all this digging, I hope you are finding yourself to be without a "self". I hope you have had trouble finding any "center" to your experience. Instead, you've just had your experience, changing in each moment.
The Benefits of Living Egoless-ly
We already know, from the beginning of this article, that becoming nonreactive to our environments allows us to gain more control over how our lives end up turning out. And we know that meditation and mindfulness help us get there.
Egolessness is a similar state to being nonreactive. In fact, we can think of it as state of being extremely nonreactive. Imagine ourselves fitting in with nature just like a tree, simply existing with time as it goes on. We can go about our regular days, enjoying our routines, living our lives, but without this added sense of pressure that we can mess it all up. Simply existing with consciousness, experiencing each present moment, we aren't actually influencing how our lives turn out, we're just watching them.
Egolessness does not mean that we stop doing anything, laying on the couch all day, becoming a part of the earth as the tree that johnsamuelgray talked about. Instead, it means we become extremely well-adapted to the world. Without our ego getting in the way of us focusing on the present, ways that we can contribute value to the environments we find ourselves in becomes extremely obvious. Our ego turns out to be the greatest distraction of all from living the lives we want to live.
Falling victim to the illusion of our ego causes us to do all sorts of silly things. If we stop being present, we may find ourselves wasting time (life) being angry, feeling inadequate, or worst of all, depressed, oblivious to the countless gifts life has to offer. When we think of anything we want in life as some sort of distant goal that requires time to pass until we achieve it, we are exposing ourselves to the illusion of the ego. Anytime us being "good enough" becomes conditional, to anything (e.g. achieving some level of performance like lifting 300 lbs), we enter into an ego-ful state. When we are ego-ful, distracted from the present, feeling like we are creating our thoughts, not experiencing them, we probably aren't going to be having that much fun. In fact, we told ourselves we can't have fun until the condition our ego set out for us becomes a part of our life.
Instead, I think living in a constant state of "being good enough" would make us happier. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean we don't set goals. We still do, we just don't fall victim to having our identity be tied to them. We notice our progress towards goals, we notice the happy feeling we get when we achieve them, but the whole time, we focus on remaining mindful and present, never falling victim to the unenjoyable things tied to being ego-ful, like anger when our goals take longer to achieve than expected.
What living egoless-ly consistently brings us is a much greater sense of enjoyment for a much greater period of time in our life. Instead of only feeling happy for brief moments throughout the journey, and at the end, we disconnect ourselves from our experience, merely notice it, and focus on the positive experiences of each present moment, maximizing our total life enjoyment time.
This is how to avoid falling victim to our ego distracting us with the future. With the past, it's much easier. Instead of worrying about something that has happened, we notice the memory, notice how it makes us feel, recognize we can't take any action on it, and continue experiencing the next present moment. The past is much easier since there is absolutely nothing we can do to affect it. Logically, nothing at all. The future is harder since our perspective can actually affect it.
It Starts With a Step
All of these awesome parts of egolessness cannot make sense without practicing meditation for some time. Even if it's trying to meditate right now, followed by one minute tomorrow. And maybe two minutes in a couple of days. It doesn't matter where you start or how you start, but that you do start. Some of these ideas may increase your chances of building meditation and mindfulness into a consistent part of your life, but nothing is guaranteed. The only guarantee of not having a chance at any of these awesome things is to not try any of it at all. Inaction is the only guarantee of failure.
If you're sure that working to become more nonreactive is important to you, then take a step to start. If you want to enjoy more time throughout each of your days through a more consistent present state, then take a step to start. Any step will do. If you want to enjoy the countless benefits of living an honest, egoless existence, do anything to start making meditation and mindfulness a part of your life today.
By same token, your risk of living an unhappy life may be far greater if you choose to continue in a state of reactivity and non-mindfulness. By giving up responsibility over our minds, we give up control over our happiness. Constantly reacting to our environments, never being fully mindful of our responses to the world, makes our lives become molded by our environments, not by us. And when our lives aren't what we want them to be, it's really hard to be happy.
I'm so excited for you to embark on this journey, and I think your conscience might be too.
It's going to be a blast, my friend. Start with a step.