This last weekend I had the good fortune to meet with a Frenchman named Sami Cohen. We had both been asking the same question, “How does this reality we live in work and how do I work it?” for most of our adult lives so our conversation was deep and wonderful. The model of the ego Sami shared with me, led me to a deeper understanding of why it has been so hard for me to experience the gratitude from which giving thanks is a natural expression.
The behavior I will share is a great way to once again say, “this isn’t it” and to make yourself feel “unworthy and not good enough”: not the best space from which to give thanks!
According to Sami’s model, each of us constructs a mental “ideal self” made up of all those qualities and abilities to which we aspire. In addition we have another mental construct of our “the way I am self”. The gap between these two “selves” is what both motivates us and demoralizes us.
If it looks like we can close the gap between these two constructed selves, we frantically go about trying to do so. This state produces stress, anxiety, worry, fear and dissatisfaction, not gratitude! For all of us achievers, we never seem to realize that this “ideal self” is an ever-moving target, that can never be fulfilled as that “ ideal self” would then not survive.
Doesn’t your mind bring up justifications as you read this? “We need ideals because it gives us something to aspire to, how else would society evolve?” “My ideals orient my actions.” Etc. Now all of this may be true, but by focusing on the gap are you really creating a grateful, thanksgiving frame of mind or are you driving yourself into a fear based, frenzied state of self flagellation, struggle, and dissatisfaction?
In the recent rowing race I won at the Head of the Charles, I watched my mind take away the joy of the win by saying I didn’t set a new course record as some others in different events had. Diane was such great support when she said, “Let yourself have the win, stop letting your mind take it away!” And that ideal self was only invented after I won, not months or years before!!
If the gap is too large, we are once again reminded of our “not good enough” judgement of the constructed (supposedly real, the way I am) self. And since the gap is too large to ever close, we might as well give up. The pain and disappointment of this resigned state usually gets suppressed by some form of addiction whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex or as in my case the excitement of the next great project or adventure, the next relationship, or the next sport goal.
According to Cohen, these two mental constructs of the Ego are not going to go away. They are a part of what it is to be human. However how we view them, how we interpret the gap between them, makes all the difference in one’s experience.
Viewed for what they are by the Actual Self, the Real you that exists just the way you are in this moment, the GAP and the constructed selves start to lose their power over you – as the awake you ceases to be lost in that mental construction, your Ego. The You that can observe your thoughts and images and see them for what they are and the you that can choose how you wish to interpret what you observe, can withdraw your life energy from these forms and redirect it to some way of being that is more consistent with who you truly are.
In playing with Sami Cohen’s model, I discovered that my ideal self was a composite of different characteristics from all my best friends and I wanted to be like them in those ways. But rather than make myself wrong for falling short in each quality, I realized that in order to recognize those qualities in my friends I have to have some percentage of each of those qualities in my authentic, Real Self. I also realized that I didn’t want to trade lives with any one of them – even though they have each had good lives – I was happy with being me, having my life.
It does not mean I don’t have some goals and qualities I want to manifest more fully. It is just that by seeing once again how my mind continually wants me to suffer by saying that the way it is Right Here, Right Now is not it, I am able to shift to another way of Being.
Now how to make that shift to a state of Love, Presence, Connection and Gratitude is the trick or perhaps the skill to be developed? First it is important to realize that the mind can only think about one thing at a time.
When I find myself ‘this isn’t iting”, I stop and start to notice my breath and follow it in and out, and to feel my feet on the floor. This brings me into present time. Then I look at what I can learn from that experience of feeling upset, disconnected, anxious, unhappy, and depressed, this helps me understand the mind mechanism more so I can catch myself faster next time. Next I start to look around me at Nature and see the beauty and that brings me to thoughts about how happy I am married to Diane and having the life I have. I am once again thankful for being alive and overflowing with Thanksgiving.
May we all find and live more out of that natural Thanksgiving part of our Real Selves.
Happy Thanksgiving and all the very best for the holidays