Ego-cravings are things the ego believes you must have in order to be happy.
One way to think about ego cravings is to call them ‘bananas’. Using the metaphor based on an ancient way to capture monkeys.
The hunter places a banana on the floor of a grove, and over the banana a wicker cage. The monkey can grasp the banana but cannot retrieve it, as there is no space between the wooden bars of the cage. Some monkeys (about a third) cannot let go of the banana and the hunter comes down to put a net over them and carry them off to market. For those monkeys the banana is more important than their freedom, although they have no means of enjoying it.
This is an apt metaphor for the human condition. In which human beings are willing to sacrifice their happiness in pursuit of an all-or-nothing fantasy. For example:
- Undisturbed comfort zones
- Pleasing other people
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with wanting a little success, or making people happy. The problem arises when the ego decides that you can never have enough of it.
How to break ego cravings
- The first step towards getting rid of bananas is to understand how they got installed in you, and why you need not be bound by them.
- The next step is to train your awareness on yourself and notice the habitual thoughts that go with the craving.
- The third step is to defuse from those cravings
- The next step is experiment with a different way of life.
- A potential fifth step is to start doing the opposite of what your banana forces you to do.
- The final step is to practice living flexibly, free from rules, in line with your mindful possibilities in the present moment.
Your ego cravings become habitual thoughts
The moment you identify with an ego craving your hand is in the cage holding the banana. You go through life thinking that you can’t exist without things that you got you approval. Whether that was success, money, power or what the ego mistakenly thinks of as ‘love’. In fact people don’t earn love; it is a gift bestowed on them without conditions by people who really understand what love is. Fake love (adoration) comes from the other guy’s ego demands.
With each ego-position comes a full set of worries, obsessions, and fantasies. Along with a regular dose of anxiety when the cravings prove impossible to fulfil. Worries that you will ‘fail’ to satisfy your cravings; obsessions on how to get at them; fantasies about your wonderful life when the miracle happens.
When you train your attention on your habitual thoughts you learn to see the repetitive patterns in them. For example, if your ego has a banana about control you will notice a variety of worries and frustrations arising.
This is intolerable…
People are so stupid…
This is out of control…
I can’t handle this…
I’m getting angry now…
And so on.
You might also notice the compulsions that underly these thoughts. For bananas always take the form: ‘You must…’, ‘you have to…’, ‘you must never…’, ‘you should…’. This feature, sometimes known as ‘musturbation’, is what gives them their demanding quality.
Defusing from ego cravings
When you see these automatic thought patterns at work, and when you notice the tension they create, you begin to separate from them. You see them not as belonging to you, but the ‘it’. That way they gradually cases to have power over you. Leaving you in a place where fresh ways of thinking and reacting become possible for you.
Be aware, also, that you can’t make these bananas disappear; they have been with you for quite some time and are stored in the brain’s memory banks. Ready to appear each time you come up against situations that challenge the ego’s demands on you. All you can do is bypass the thoughts that come with them, and refocus on other possibilities. To do that your can practice with defusion techniques.
Experimenting with a different way of life
Once you know your bananas you can experiment with a different way of being. For example, if your banana dictates that that you stay in your comfort zone, then you can start experimenting with taking (small) risks. If your banana is about never expressing anger then you can learn assertiveness skills. If your banana is about having to work hard all the time then you can factor in more leisure time into your life.
Doing the opposite to what the ego demands
This won’t work for some bananas so be careful with this slightly drastic strategy. For example, if you have a perfectionistic banana that tells you that you must never make mistakes then doing the opposite of that might mean you make a mistake that could cost you. But this strategy will certainly free you up from some bananas. I used to have a banana that told me that I had to know (or pretend to know) everything. When I started telling people that there were things I didn’t know the relief was amazing.