Continuing the extracts from Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers. Last time we looked at why mastering your mind is so important. In this post we’ll have a closer look at the real cause of the problem with another extract from chapter one:
Meet Your Mind
Although everybody writes for different reasons, the fears that can stop you writing all spring from the same source: ego.
First, some definitions. The words ego and self tend to be used interchangeably, but they actually refer to different ideas. In psychology the ego and the self are seen as having different functions within the psyche. The self is the first to develop and gives you the sense of being located in a body with sensations and feelings. The self is an embodied experience, rooted in the awareness of your physical being.
The ego develops later, starting around age seven, and is fully formed by the time you’re a young adult. The ego is a mental structure, created in relation to your physical sense of self. So the ego is what you think about your self.
It’s the ego that comes up with the stories you tell yourself about who you think you are, or think you should be. Ego statements always begin with “I am,” so are often called I-statements: I am a woman, I am a writer, I am your friend, I am happy, and so on.
A healthy ego is grounded through being connected to a strong sense of self. Who you think you are (ego) matches who you feel yourself to be (self) and others will perceive you this way too. This is the ideal. However, if you become too identified with your ego at the expense of your self, problems can arise.
Sometimes the ego denies too much of the reality of the body and its feelings and you lose touch with your deeper self. In extreme cases, this causes a condition called narcissism where there is a strong ego but a weak sense of self. Who you think you are doesn’t match how you really feel, so much so that you may avoid feeling anything too deeply at all.
But even a healthy ego isn’t perfect because as the ego is formed it creates a shadow. You can’t have an ego without a shadow; they arrive together, like conjoined twins. The ego polices the conscious mind and banishes anything that it decides is unacceptable into the subconscious. This can include positive traits and potentials, as well as the more obvious negative ones that give rise to phobias, compulsions, and obsessions.
As C.G. Jung describes it:
“The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly – for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies.”
You push things you don’t like about yourself into the basement where they become part of the shadow. But these characteristics or qualities don’t disappear once they have been banished.
The psyche is a dynamic system in a state of constant change and the shadow will always compensate for imbalances in the conscious mind by trying to redress the balance. So if you go too far to one extreme, the shadow will try to bring the psyche back into balance by forcing you to face what you have denied. These shadow eruptions can either occur within your own mind and body in the form of physical illness or emotional and mental distress, or they will appear in the outside world in the form of projections.
Whatever happens, your ego finds this whole process to be incredibly challenging. It has already decided that these things are unacceptable, so when they start to resurface, the ego thinks it’s under attack and resists. It might even push back and fight to protect itself. This is because the ego doesn’t care about wholeness or balance, it wants to be safe and in control. But the psyche doesn’t care about safety or control; it seeks wholeness.
You experience this tug of war within your mind as doubts, fears, and emotional blockages. As long as you continue to resist the process of returning your psyche to balance and wholeness, you will encounter difficulties in your life. Your ego will continue to tell distorted stories about who you think you are, and it’s these stories that get in the way when you’re trying to write and express your true voice.
Perhaps the solution is to tell better stories. Maybe if you change the way you think about yourself, the doubt and fear will vanish. For example, replace the belief, “I have nothing interesting to say,” with, “I am fascinating and erudite!” And the problem will be solved.
Unfortunately, transforming your fears isn’t that easy. To change the way you think about yourself you need to confront the underlying cause, and this can be found in the nature of the ego itself.
Because the ego has no real substance – it’s just a thought, after all – it tries to make itself more solid by identifying with other things. The trouble is, everything the ego attaches itself to is prone to change. Thoughts and emotions come and go. The body ages, suffers illness and eventually dies. The roles you play in life change over time, the people you love can leave or die. Everything you rely on to make you feel safe will come to an end.
Where there is ego there is fear. To compensate for this insecurity you try to control things as much as you can, but this desire for security is doomed to fail. You cannot make permanent what is always changing.
Buddhism describes the root of all suffering as ego-grasping, a constant craving for security. The ego keeps a tight hold on itself and this has the effect of separating you from the flow of life. It’s a contraction against reality that feels like a kind of mental cramp, as if your mind is a closed fist – always tense, always turning away, always saying no.
When you believe you are separate from life, you feel scared of life, and a lot of your energy and thought will go into building defences against what you fear. This is what I call the Ego Fort, behind whose walls you tremble in fear. And it’s this fear that fuels the stories you tell yourself.
In light of all this, it’s no surprise that you occasionally find it hard to write.
Continued in the book…
Extracted from: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers (59 Slogans to Cure Writer’s Block & Free Your Voice). Available now!
In the next post we’ll explore the solution to this problem and how to find the courage to write…
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