By Shamash Alidina
I began by asking Mike; ‘What is the cause of stress?
“Stress is based on fear, and all fear comes from the ego”, began Mike. He explained that the ego and therefore all stress is rooted in an image that we create in our minds and then we attach to and lose our sense of self in that image. This is how the ego is born. By becoming attached to this image/idea, you become locked into a mis-identification. Through this mis-identification, all suffering arises.
Mike went on to give an excellent analogy. “If someone scratches your car and you react angrily it means you think you are your car! You will notice that you have created an image of the car on the screen of your mind and then lost your sense of self in the image. In those moments you are ‘identifying’ with the car. That’s why you take it very personally when someone scratches your car and you then react emotionally! In the words of New Scotland Yard this is now a care of ‘mistaken identity’!
It’s fairly obvious that you are not your car and if you are fully aware of this then whatever happens to the car wouldn’t bother you. That’s not easy after a lifetime of conditioning in a world where a certain industry called marketing is dedicated to getting you to identify with ‘the product’. In the same way, we get attached to many things tangible and intangible every day. The first ‘thing’ we get attached to and identify with is our body. We look in the mirror in the morning and we believe that what we see is what we are. But it’s not me. The body is not the self. Neither are we the roles that we play through our form nor the relationships we create through our form. We are the energy that animates the form often referred to as spirit or soul or simply pure awareness”.
I went on to ask the obvious question – ‘How do we learn to let go of the false identities that constitute the ego?’
“In all honesty, with great difficulty!” said Mike. “Meditation helps. Through meditation we learn to see the image/idea/memory that we are attaching to and identifying with. And then to ‘pull back’ from the mental image and become aware that we are not the image. It’s when we create the image and lose our sense of self in the image that we create what the ancient philosophers and sages in the east called ‘maya’ or illusion. As soon as you see that the ego is an illusion, you are able to free your self from attachment and misidentification. This is what is sometimes referred to as liberation”.
I talked about my work in the field of mindfulness and CBT and Mike saw many similarities between CBT and his understanding.
He said, “CBT is about understanding how belief shapes perception, and perception generates thoughts, which then trigger emotions. At the deepest level of our consciousness the ego is based on our attachment to a ‘belief’ and often several beliefs. It’s the least tangible form of attachment. We create and identify with many beliefs about who we are, where we come from, what we do, how we appear, what our religion is etc. But none of these beliefs are true! Belief is not the truth. Belief is what we create when we lose our awareness of truth.
For example when I say I am Mike it’s not true, it’s just a label for my body. When I say I am a writer it’s not true, it’s what I do. When I say I am a Christian/Muslim/Budhist etc. it’s not true. It’s just a label for a set of beliefs created by someone else that I am mistakenly identifying with! One of the greatest and most rewarding challenges in life is sifting and sorting belief from truth. Only then can I understand how the ego is the root of ALL suffering/sorrow/stress and only then can I consciously free myself of ego and therefore stress, and be my authentic self again. That is the spiritual journey in nutshell.
I told Mike about the transformative effect of ‘acceptance’ in the field of mindfulness that helps people to manage depression and anxiety. He agreed, but didn’t think the concept of self-acceptance or self-love was ‘ultimately’ a valid one.
He continued, “Between here and that ‘ultimate realisation’ acceptance is an essential tool that helps us dissolve our emotional tensions. So it’s a good practice. But one day you may realise that there’s no such thing as self-acceptance or self-love. If you are trying to accept yourself it means you are trying to be ‘two’ and not ‘one’ which, in truth, is impossible i.e. you are trying to be ‘I’ and ‘self’! (‘I’ accept my ‘self’) Which is non-sense! There aren’t two of you. There isn’t an ‘I’ and a ‘self’.
Your true nature is Love – Love is…what you are!
When you realise this; the idea, need and belief that ‘you’ need to love your ‘self’ simply falls away. Self-acceptance just helps you overcome the resistance that arises out of regret, or guilt or shame. But the faster way is to not create, attach to and identify with an image and idea that you are bad or naughty (usually other people’s judgments). That’s why guilt and shame arise. It’s just the ego again. Your actions may have been naughty by someone’s standards but the essential ‘you’ is not. It’s impossible as there is no good or bad, naughty or nice, in the universe of spirit. But that’s another seminar!”
Mike continued, “Meditation helps you realise the ultimate and unchanging truth about your self as spirit or simply pure awareness. And that your true underlying and abiding nature is peace, love and joy. That doesn’t require self-acceptance. That just is”.
“So is love or joy a feeling”, I asked.
“Yes, but it’s not an emotion. That’s an important distinction. Anxiety, depression, lust, sadness, frustration – these are all emotions. Emotions are neither positive nor negative but they are disturbances or agitations within consciousness. All emotions arise from attachment. They are caused by the ego. Emotion is the disturbance of the energy of your consciousness when the object of attachment is damaged, threatened, moved or lost. Let go of the attachment (within your consciousness) and you’re left with your true nature which is peaceful and loving. That’s not an emotion. It can be felt and so it is a feeling, but it isn’t an emotion, there is no inner disturbance or agitation. Emotions are ‘disturbances’ and ‘agitations’ that originate in your consciousness, and so they are unhelpful”.
I probed Mike further into this concept of acceptance and he explained. “Acceptance is better than its opposite, which is resistance. Acceptance is very helpful for dissolving and reintegrating emotions. Think about the sun. The sun has flares that are ejected out of its surface. Think of your emotions like those flares. Instead of fight or resisting your emotions, which just feeds them and keeps them going, through acceptance, you allow the energy of the emotion to reintegrate back into your consciousness just as the energy of the flares reintegrates back into the sun”.
I really enjoyed interviewing Mike. He had a warm, welcoming way of speaking, and obviously spoke from his heart. Find out more on his website, which has links to his books too, including the latest called ‘The 7 Myths about Love….Actually’ which also has a complete insight into ego and the difference between our emotions and our feelings.
Based in the Cotswolds in England, Mike ‘plays’ a variety of roles including author, spiritual teacher, coach, management tutor, mentor and facilitator. Mike brings together the three key strands of 21st century – emotional/spiritual intelligence, management/leadership development and continuous unlearning. His website is relax7.com. He also writes a weekly e-article entitled Clear Thinking. For a FREE subscription send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shamash has been featured on TV, in numerous newspapers, magazines, and radio shows all over the world. Based in London but often teaching on the phone or via Skype, he coaches people to live in the present moment in a calm and focused way, leading to greater health and wellbeing.
Shamash is the author of the bestselling book and CD Mindfulness for Dummies and the forthcoming Relaxation for Dummies. To find out more about how to learn the art of mindfulness, please click HERE to visit Shamash’s website.