Self Degrading

I’m writing this in the afternoon which is rare for me, but I have an extra twenty minutes and thought I would draft up another post. I’m still writing about Ryan Holiday’s book The Ego is the Enemy, and the quote that I am at is quite fitting for my day. This afternoon, as I was leaving work, I turned right onto a street as a car was approaching. In my recollection, the car was a ways back and I had plenty of space, but the driver was going a little faster than the speed limit. I didn’t pay any attention to them until I reached a red light a block away. The person had a scowl on their face and was clearly yelling at me from their vehicle. I made an apologetic face and gesture, but I’m not sure it really helped. At the time I thought about how much power she was giving me over herself to allow her emotions to be so wrought by an action that I undertook without her in mind. It made no difference to me and my life that she had chosen to be so upset, and it was a great act of self-divulgence for her to allow some random person to have such control over her emotional state.
The quote I have from Holiday’s book that fits my afternoon well is, “Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.” I don’t want to write about my afternoon and only critique this woman, after all I don’t know what else happened in her day that may have put her on edge and I don’t know if she was in a hurry to get to a seriously ill or injured loved one and didn’t want any slow drivers pulling out in front of her.
But this quote pulls me back to the reaction I had thanks to the fact that lessons from Holiday, Colin Wright, and Marcus Aurelius have resonated with me so strongly. I did not feel insulted when the lady in the other car was visibly upset and yelling at me. I felt that I could say, “I apologize, I did not intend to cut you off or drive slow in front of you and I recognize that I am not a Nascar champion and sometimes my driving is not the best of all time.” What ultimately happened in the situation this afternoon was that I was able to remain calm and collected to see a situation objectively while another person acted in a way that we would not want to see in our children.
Holiday’s message is that attacking another person, belittling them, and attempting to make them smaller or in some way inferior only reveals our own shortcomings. We never know what another person sees, experiences, and perceives, and as a result we can never truly understand them or the forces acting on them. We must give people the benefit of the doubt while standing by our principles. When we allow our ego to take control of the situation, to yell, scream, and fight for our honor, what we really do is show how insecure we are, how little we think about the world and our relation to other people in the world, and how self-centered we truly are. Recognizing our ego and our desire to lash out at the world helps us to have more civil relationships with those who would seek to do us harm or injure us, and in many situations, a more controlled and meter reaction can help the world move forward with less stress, less vitriol, and more positivity.

Our Breath During Meditation

Any time I have worked on meditation, I have felt incredibly connected with the world. I have only ever done focus meditation, zeroing in on my breath and trying to keep my mind solely on the experience of air moving into and out of my body. Something about this focus on the air we breath has a natural feel that takes me away from the city in which I live (Reno, Nevada – its not too big and urbanized so imagining that I am in nature is not too hard to do) and helps me feel more natural.

 

This connection to nature seems apparent in how other people talk about meditation as well. Thich Nhat Hanh describes the way we should breath during meditation in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness┬áby writing “Your breath should be light, even, and flowing, like a thin stream of water running through the sand.” The connection to nature always feels calming for me. When I think about relaxation I often picture a vast water front, perhaps a beach along an ocean or a beautiful lake. When I think about calmness and pacificity, I often imagine solitary expanses of nature, open fields where I have gone running either in the mountains or in open valleys where I am not surrounded by other people and the hustle of every day life. Hanh equates our breath to a vision of calm nature, reinforcing the idea that meditation is something that should take away the complex, the urban, and the stressful in our lives and bring us to a simpler state of being that is more defined by the forces of nature that are non-human and beyond our control.

 

My descriptions above are my own experiences of meditation and how I have experienced the benefits of meditation. I don’t suspect that my experiences are universal or would be the best fit for everyone, but the connection to nature is something I have often seen in the way people speak about meditation. Focusing on our breath and remembering to keep our breath smooth and stable has physiological impacts on our body, relieving tension possibly reducing our blood pressure, and if we are taking full deep breaths hopefully helping improve the oxygen levels in our body. In a sense, this mastery of our breath is just an observation of a natural process that humans go through, and I think that is why metaphors and connections with idillic nature scenes are so strong.