The Ego And The Reality Garden
By Callum Holden, Legends Report Writer
Based on the title, you might be fooled into thinking that ‘The ego and the reality garden’ is a new experimental WWE Smackdown event that I had written. And as much as that would be cool; it doesn’t have anything to do with wrestling, unfortunately.
The ego and the reality garden is a concept that I use to help me better understand my own world. To help me better understand why I do, say and think certain things. And, perhaps most importantly, it helps me visualize which of those things are worth keeping; and which of those things are worth plucking up.
Every single person on the face of this earth has a host of different realities inside their own heads, whether they know it or not - they are there. Some realities you could say are more ‘grounded’ or ‘real’; whilst others, you could equally say, are more away with the fairies. There are so many realities we hold in our heads; and we believe every single one of them to be true - whether through conscience or unconscious effort. They are always present, and always active - we live them day in and day out. Some of these realities you can trust, whilst others are rotten at the root.
I believe that it is our duty, if we truly wish to become more self-aware, to stare down each of these realities and to challenge them. Interrogate each one of them to decide which ones are worth trusting, and which ones need a little bit of adjustment; or just to be thrown out entirely. The more knowledge we can gain about ourselves, and the way we think - the more helpful our realities will become.
“More the knowledge, Lesser the ego, Lesser the knowledge, More the ego…" - Albert Einstein
To do this, I like to use the analogy of a ‘reality garden’. Each of us has our own reality garden in our head, and it is full to the brim with all kinds of plant-life. From small shrubs and flowers, to towering oak trees - whose roots span the entire undergrowth. Each bush, flower and tree in our garden represents a different reality that we hold - a different reality in which we live. The larger and greater the span equates to the realities in which we live the most, which we choose to allow ourselves to live in the most. If we allow it, the garden will become unkempt and disheveled; like uncle Jim who swears that he ‘doesn't have an addiction to twinkies’, and whose face is covered in sauce stains which he swears are just ‘birthmarks’.
The issue is that not many of us actually open the gates of our reality gardens to have a look around, to do some bush trimming (cheeky) or to uproot rotten flowers. Perhaps it is because we are simply not consciously aware that it exists, well - up until the moment you do realise it exists. Awareness is a very strange thing, as you only become aware of something once you become aware of it. Just like that spider gliding down from the ceiling on its thread; you are only aware that it is heading for your head once it starts scurrying around your hair (apologies for the shudder).
Likewise, we are only aware of our reality gardens once we see the gates for the first time.
However, just because we are consciously not aware of something - does not mean it doesn’t exist. The reality garden exists in all of us.
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
- Nathaniel Branden
If you would allow me a brief aside - I believe that this is why it is so beneficial to seek out the help and guidance of mentors, such as therapists and life coaches, as they can often be the ones who make us realise that we have these realities, that we have these reality gardens, and that we choose to allow our gardens to become overgrown. They can be the ones who can actually begin to make us realise that we individually have the power, and we individually have the choice. The choice to do what I hear you say? The choice to continue allowing our gardens to become overgrown.
“We individually have the choice to act or be acted upon.” (‘Be Proactive’ - Habit 1 in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)
Mentors can act almost like the first hammer blow to a wall that you didn’t even know existed; they can show you that the wall is there, and they can also show you that it can be knocked down so that you can build anew. And, if you can’t afford a mentor, a powerful alternative is having a simple conversation with loved ones or friends, allowing yourself to be open to differing perspectives. Seeking other perspectives, and seeking to understand them, is what allows us to become more self-aware.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling at the moment then please do not hesitate to reach out to me. Give me an email or a message on my social media. Even if you just want to rant or chat about something, ping me a message!
“Nice ‘brief aside’ there…you must be fun at parties….”
- Me, after writing the above.
I digress. The question is, if the reality garden exists without us being aware of it up until this moment in time - then who has been taking care of it? Who has been watering the flowers and planting new trees?
Enter the ego.
Each one of us, up until the point of awareness - and based on the continuation of habitually pruning our gardens; allow ourselves to unconsciously delegate the caretaking and gatekeeping of the garden to our ego.
The ego, to me, is a writhing sack of emotions, assumptions, angst, interpretation and blind observation. The ego takes in the world as it sees it at face value and makes impulsive decisions and interpretations. If you choose to allow it, the ego will bar entry into the garden from you - and will not allow you to water any of your realities, or up-root any of the trees. If you continue to give it power, it will kick and scream and bite every single time you attempt to open those gates. It will happily continue to plant the flowers and trees that it wants to plant…that you allow it to plant.
I do think, however, that it is important to understand that the ego is not an inherently evil or good thing. It just exists. One day it may help us, and the next hinder us. The ego isn’t like a sentient patch of wet on the floor, just waiting for you to walk past so that it can grab your foot and soggy yo’ sock up. Likewise, it isn’t some mystical guide whose mission is to guide you down the ‘right’ paths in the universe. The ego is just our unconscious way of allowing ourselves to live on cruise control. The issue with cruise control, however, is that it is very dangerous if left on when heading for a cliff.
I think it is crucially important to understand that you do have an ego; no matter how big or small - and understand that your ego is not a separate entity to you. It isn’t some other cosmic being that has taken up residency in your mind, rent-free; and refuses to stop squatting. The ego is a part of you, just like your bones and skin and blood are a part of you. Every single day, whether we know it or not, we essentially delegate control of our realities to our ego. Our ego does not like change, it likes doing things its own way - the way that it is used to doing things.
“Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called 'Ego'.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
I say it is important to understand that the ego is a part of you and not separate to you because it is easy, I think, to fall into the trap of thinking of the ego as a separate being as a way to remove responsibility away from you for the actions of the ego. Basically, if the ego isn’t you - then you cannot be responsible for what it does, says or thinks. When you recognise the ego as a part of you, and that you do have dominion over it - and that you are choosing to allow it to be so powerful; you understand that you are responsible for it - and you start to shift the power away from the ego; into the hands of yourself.
To give an example from my life, up until very recently I have had a tremendous issue when it comes to excess. I ate too much, spent too much, worked too much and indulged in laziness too much when it comes to exercise. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was living to excess - and that it would soon catch up to me. However, I let myself give control of my realities to my ego; and my ego didn’t think there was a problem. I allowed myself to blindly follow a reality of ‘I don’t live to excess, that is only what other people do. Here…have another doughnut, you will feel better!’. Only when I said enough is enough and took control away from the ego to look into myself did I realize that I am not so different from other people. I indeed do live in a reality of excess, my bank balance and poor physical health are testimony to that. Since this realization; I have started living a more moderate life, and have already started to notice major results from practising this new reality for only a few weeks.
Alright, I get it…I get it; I have an ego - can we go back to the reality garden please?
The ego is both the gatekeeper and the caretaker of your reality garden; if you allow it to be. When you walk up to that gate for the first time, the ego is going to step out of its little shed armed to the teeth. It will throw everything it can at you to prevent you from going into that garden. The ego does not want you rummaging around in its business….it doesn’t want you unearthing its collection of ‘tasteful magazines’ basically.
The problem is, if you allow the ego to run you out of town, the ego will only grow stronger. In this scenario, you have shown the ego that it can win. Your best course of action isn’t to meet metal with metal, it isn’t to throw “your mum is fat” jokes at it until it whimpers away back into its shed. Your best course of action is to accept that the ego is there, accept everything it throws at you; but do not fight or react to it; just watch its dance and do not participate. Once it has finished its weird interpretive dance - you then choose to do something different than what the ego wants you to do, think or say. You realize the arrow of choice that each one of us have in our quill.
Both choice and acceptance, when used in tandem, are a powerful combination; and are two major tools used in stoic philosophy.
Your choice, in this scenario, is to accept that the ego is there; but choose to enter the garden anyway to have a look around. You go in and start up-rooting the ego’s favourite trees and bushes to be replaced with new seeds; planted by you - not your ego. Once you start to do this, you will find the voice of the ego growing quieter. And, every subsequent time you do this, the ego will become more passive. It will become more used to you entering the garden. I cannot say with any certainty whether the ego ever goes away entirely, as I am not some ancient vampire who has lived for thousands of years….not yet anyway. But, what I can say is that this realisation and practice has helped me, and continues to help me on my awareness journey. It is comforting to know that, yes I have an ego - but it isn’t something that I don’t have any dominion over. It is something that I have control over. The ego only controls me and my realities if I allow it.
I would like to finish up by saying that the above is just my interpretation of the study I have been doing. It is my summation of everything I have learned so far to help me make sense of my own realities, but it may not work for everyone. I’d say it is important for each one of us to create our own analogies which make the most sense to us; to which we feel the strongest connection to. That way, when the going gets tough, it is easier for you to come back to your analogy to reinforce your learnings.
I would also like to add, a few weeks on from originally writing this, that pruning your reality garden is a continuous process. It is a continuous process in which the ego will sometimes win, and you will sometimes win. I have let the ego win multiple times since writing this, but I have also held multiple victories over the ego. Just because you lose one day, does not mean that you have to let that taint your victories in the present and future.
Controlling the ego, and increasing your victories over it, are feats that a mentor can be instrumental in helping you achieve. A mentor helps you stay accountable - and provides you with someone to discuss problems with when you feel yourself slipping back into old ways. In the absence of a mentor, just reaching out to a friend and talking things out with them can be of massive benefit. We are not islands, a phrase I frequently have to remind myself of; you will be surprised at how similar your issues and circumstances are to those around you, and speaking with them could help you understand and overcome them.
That extends to me too! If you can’t reach out to a mentor or a loved one, then reach out to me using the form below. I would be more than happy to listen to you 🙂
So, pull up yer’ boots and head on over to the gates of that garden. For you are the only key. (Yeah yeah I know it’s a cliche; ‘ooohh I am the only key am I?’ - I couldn’t think of anything else to write!).
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