6:20 am — I'm shaken awake. JJ moved my pillow by mistake. Instantly annoyed, the mean talk starts in my head. Until I reach over for my phone to check the time and realize I slept almost nine hours. "Nine!" JJ is mentally forgiven.
6:40 am — While still in bed, I feel the urge to do my morning prayer, which usually takes 20 minutes. The problem? The kiddo is already awake and starting to call out for me. Feelings of frustration wash over me. "Why do I always have to be at his beck and call?" (Uh, duh, because I'm his mom and he's still tiny.) I go back and forth about whether I should respond to my kid now or make time for prayer. But, a stroke of luck! I remember that my ego is probably just fighting my urge to sit in silence and experience that little piece of defeat. With that in mind, I decide on a happy medium: a few minutes of centering prayer, or as long as my kiddo will stay in his bed peacefully.
6:48 am — Eight minutes of centering prayer. *sigh* I feel better already. Off to hug my little man.
7:03 am — When I get out of the shower, I hear toddler screams. Suddenly, I'm angry, too. "What is going on out there? Mom to the rescue. Again."
7:30 am — I stop answering a friend's texts so I can finish getting dressed for a business meeting. As the minutes pass, I stare at the phone and a small surge of regret rises up inside me. "Will she be mad?"
8:05 am — I walk into the work meeting five minutes late, only to see my client already sitting at a table. "I made him wait. Crap crap crap crap."
9:13 am — Just got paid! I deposit a check at the bank and drive home, blasting music and feeling all sorts of badass. The achievement-high lasts quite a while. This is a big soft spot for me, and my ego is loving it. Rejoicing, even.
* * *
A few years ago, the first time I ever drove on a U.S. highway, my skin itched from the beads of sweat forming all over my body. Between gripping the steering wheel with slippery hands and trying to hear Google Maps directions over my screaming newborn's cries, I had no idea where to go next.
I relive that experience everyday—but instead of navigating the Florida highway system, I'm navigating my ego.
One minute, I'm zen. The next, I'm boiling with anger at something someone said.
When I'm not careful, my ego attacks me at the most random times. And it doesn't just attack me—it attacks the people around me.
Like watching for highway signs way off in the distance, catching my ego on time avoids all kinds of accidents.
But I'm not that lucky all the time. The more I practice, the better I get at reading the signs as I approach—and taking the right turns. It takes relentless practice (and grace).
To practice, I keep a mental log of when I feel my ego flare up throughout the day. To change it up, I decided to write it all down one day and share it here for everyone to see. And the day I chose happened to be Thanksgiving.
Not that holidays are more stressful or anything, right? 🙈
* * *
11:40 am — While my kiddo naps, I try sneaking into his room to snap a photo to post on Instagram. And I accidentally wake him up. "Such an idiot. Why do I care about Instagram and its likes?"
11:45 am — Oh, thank God! He's back asleep. I don't have to feel like a bad mother anymore. Except I still do.
12:33 pm — I serve myself a huge piece of the banana bread I made yesterday. Since it was my first time baking (yes, ever) I followed the recipe to the letter. Including the part about the two cups of chocolate chips. Feeling guilty about all the sugar I'm consuming, especially with Thanksgiving dinner coming up in a few hours. "Yikes. Tomorrow, I work out. Hardcore."
1:03 pm — I'm sitting on my bed, reading and writing when the floor starts shaking. (I'll later learn it was an earthquake a few hundred kilometers off the shore of Nicaragua.) Instantly, my heart is beating a mile a minute, thudding in my ears. I think of my kid sleeping in the next room. "What do I do if this soft tremor suddenly turns catastrophic?" I picture myself running outside with a toddler in tow. As the floor shakes, I walk carefully to his doorway, debating whether or not to get him out of bed. Luckily, the tremor is over before I turn the knob.
1:31 pm — JJ arrives home for lunch. After eating, he comes upstairs for a power nap. I'm on my laptop next to him, tapping the keyboard as I read. When JJ complains about the noise, I snap: "This is MY time. I can read, tap the keyboard, or do whatever else I want. The baby's naptime is my ONLY time alone. Leave me be." Not my proudest moment.
* * *
For a year, I've been flirting with the ego. It's put me in a trance. The perfect lens through which to perceive and interpret the world. The answer to so many questions. The motivation behind nearly all thoughts and behaviors.
The ego is a one-stop shop for personal and spiritual development.
Want a clear path to growth? Identify where your ego is working in your life. It's like a to-do list for your spirit. A cleansing, a lifting of all that weighs on you.
"Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." Romans 8:5
You know this is true, whether you're religious or not. You know what you want governing your self.
Spirit over society.
Presence over prestige.
Fulfillment over FOMO.
Joy over junk.
Simplicity over status.
We're called to an uncomplicated way of life. Our neuroses and stress and weight gain and lack of sleep are proof that we're hungry for a change. Hungry for peace.
But, if we want peace of mind so badly, why is it so hard to come by?
* * *
4:30 pm — I run into an old friend at the hardware store. She comments on my growing baby bump and says I look great—I don't believe her. A while back, she blocked me on Instagram. I still have no idea why? I look down at my outfit and wonder how my hair looks. "Was she being two-faced or sarcastic? Which would be worse?"
6:04 pm — JJ is home from work. I'm super excited for the extra pair of hands to help with the little guy because I have to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner. But then a single snarky question becomes a thirty minute battle of silence and passive aggressiveness.
7:20 pm — I'm sitting at Thanksgiving dinner when I see my kiddo running toward the front door. I get up from my chair to run and catch him before he makes it. "Why would anyone leave the front door open with kids around?" Anger starts to boil. I close the door.
7:43 pm — Again, he runs by, and I check to see if anyone is coming after him. There isn't. I get up and catch him with a large ceramic ornament in his hands. "No bueno."
10:02 pm — Home at last. As I drift off to sleep, I wonder if my little guy will wake up late tomorrow because of his late bedtime. I pray the answer is yes, but I know it will be a no. I dread the morning already.
* * *
There is a man way smarter than I could ever hope to be who has some interesting theories about the ego. His name is Fr. Thomas Keating. And he sometimes refers to the ego as the "false self."
Which is amazing.
Because the parts of us that get mad at our families, that get scared over the future, that get our panties in a twist over someone cutting us off in traffic? That's not the real you.
The real you is calm. The real you is loving. The real you sees the best in every single person you meet. Even the ones who are hurting. Especially the ones that are hurting.
Fr. Thomas Keating describes the false self as having three incredibly insatiable needs—needs that drive the nasty behavior we'd like to get rid of. Those three needs are:
- security and survival
- power and control
- affection and esteem
If I read over the daily log I kept on Thanksgiving, I know that I can assign one or two of these needs to each ego flare up.
All three of them can be triggers for me, but I know that I'm lucky enough (read: privileged enough) that security, safety or survival are not high on my list of worries. Aside from watching scary movies, I've always felt so safe—physically, emotionally, financially.
(Now that I think about it, no wonder I hate scary movies?)
I'm still working on the other two.
For all my years reading different kinds of fiction and popular psychology books, I'd never come across a description so clean, so simple, so straightforward, so true. And it's helping me steer the ship to avoid living as my false self, instead of the joyful Marcella I know I really am.
If you've never tried to keep a mental or written daily log of what's going on with you over the course of your day, I recommend giving it a try. I definitely didn't catch every single ego flare up that happened, but I caught enough where it was a useful exercise in getting to know my triggers and how to heal them.
If you do give it a try, let me know how it goes. :-)
PS. I'm participating in a Christmas-themed project with two of my best friends. Here are the details →