When we let the ego drive the bus without having other ways of looking at the world, it can drive us a bit mad. One of the most effective tools I know to become a happier person and make sure we’re not only listening to the ego is to cultivate three distinct voices in your head:
- The Ego
- The Observer
- The Caretaker
The Ego — this is the you that is experiencing all of things that are happening in your life. Ego is the part of you that feels emotional reactions to events and people and creates narratives about why this is happening — people’s motives, the reason for your reactions, the fact that the events happening around you are fair or unfair, etc. Basically, if your life was a movie, your ego is both the main character and the narrator that explains it all. Usually our ego makes its interpretations and creates that narrative on a subconscious level, before we’re even aware.
The Observer – also known as metacognition, this is the concept that there is an aspect in us that can simply observe what the ego is doing, without judgement. The best way I’ve found to practice cultivating this voice is mindfulness meditation. When you meditate and a thought comes up, name what it is. Like “thinking” or “remembering” or “worrying.” In this way, you can practice becoming the observer of your thoughts and emotions. This can then start expanding out of your meditation practice and into your daily life. Once this happens, you become able to watch your ego, thoughts and reactions in real time!
Getting to know the observer can be an especially powerful tool in working with anxiety and depression. As Ram Dass said, “Learn to watch your drama unfold while at the same time knowing you are more than your drama.” When we can connect to that part of ourselves that is observing the drama, we realize that there must be some aspect of ourselves that isn’t depressed or anxious, because the observer is neutral and calm and is looking at the drama from another perspective that isn’t filled with helplessness or worry.
Note: once you start developing a relationship with the observer, you may start to get some interesting intuition “downloads” from this POV. I believe that our observers are somehow related to our spiritual selves, or our oversouls, and that in cultivating your observer you’re actually strengthening your connection to universal consciousness.
The Caretaker — this voice can counter the negative interpretations of the ego. For so many people, our egos can have aspects that are rooted in insecurity or feelings of shame or worthlessness. The caretaker is the antidote to that. When the ego interprets a situation as shameful or worries about other people’s judgements, the caretaker can come in and say the exact right thing we need to hear. I recommend spending some time really imagining and developing this character. They may change over time, but start with someone that feels loving and kind to you. My current version is Carol Kane, she is both caring and sweet and can also kick some ass and tell my inner critic off when she starts saying mean things to me.
In case you need some examples of what your caretaker could say to you, here are a few ones to start with. Pick the ones that resonate with you and make you feel cared for:
“I love you.”
“You are special to me.”
“I see you and I hear you.”
“It’s okay to make mistakes. It doesn’t make me love you any less.”
“You are a good person”
“It’s not what you do but who you are that I love.”
“You don’t have to be alone anymore.”
“Of course you were afraid, that reminded you of something scary in the past.”
“If you fall down or fail, I will pick you up.”
“I am proud of you.”
“You are such an amazing person. I love who you are.”
It can feel funny at first to cultivate these different characters or voices in your head, but the ability to switch from one to the other when I need to has made a huge difference for me. Now, instead of having no choice but to follow the drama of the ego, I have two other options that I can lean into and see what they have to say or how they feel about the situation.
Let me know if you try this and how it works for you! I’d also love to know what your caretaker says or does for you. As someone who didn’t have good roles models of caring early on, I’m always looking to collect new ways to speak to myself and treat myself in caring ways.