Awaken Your Brain

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Lessons from a Christmas Carol

Going from Your Scrooge “Self” to Ebenezer No-Self

Ebenezer Scrooge you’re not. Yet, there is a bit of Scrooge in all of us.  

“Not me,” you say? “People like me.” Yet, there’s a quality to everyone’s life that is self-centered and disconnected from others. You might see Mr. Scrooge as he rears himself up in competitiveness—like when you race to speed up to prevent another driver from getting ahead of you or you resent other people’s success or needing to win in an argument.

He even shows himself when you feel victimized by life and blame others and life circumstances for your unhappiness. What does that get you? It makes you irritable, disappointed and sad. Yup, good ole Ebenezer comes up constantly. He’s there any time we look (and more like grasp) outside ourselves to for happiness—like “retail therapy” shopping, wishing for that perfect relationship, needing a chemical to relax or even living for the idea of an ideal life.

Now, Scrooge was a miser, drowning in anger. So you may say, “I’m no miser. I don’t say ‘bah, humbug’ around sentimental times.” Yet, if you become obsessed with shopping for Christmas presents or even taking care of others to the detriment of your mental health, you will drown in negativity. That’s more “humbug” than the Christmas spirit you are so capable of.

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Christmas can bring out the best nature in people. Even non-Christians. People can feel in better cheer and good will—like when people bond after being stuck in an elevator or black out.

So, what happened to good ole Ebenezer to shake up his world? To make him a more compassionate and heartfelt philanthropist? And can you make that happen to you? Well, Scrooge had an Awakening. Even though it may have been thrust upon him, he Awakened to a new way of seeing the world and a new way of being.

Even a mini Awakening or so-called spiritual Enlightenment is a psychological shake up. It happens in two ways. Abruptly, in the case of Scrooge, or gradually. In either case, you let go of old habits that are controlling you—whether you realize it or not—in favor of new perspectives and ways of doing things. That new perspective happens when your brain figures out how to release itself from deep ruts created by overused circuitry. So, in short: it’s a skill.

A skill of what? Letting go into the moment. Witnessing in silence your own attitudes, beliefs, stress, compulsive habits…basically, your mind. You go from unknowingly “self-centered” to a state of what has been called “no-self.” No-self—that inner, silent part of you that gets little attention—when tapped, brings forth the Christmas spirit. With no competitiveness to catch you up, with habits actively released, you are free to float in the miracle of the moment. To see the miracle in your very existence. In others’ existence—especially the Tiny Tim’s of the world. Compassion is released like a logjam splitting apart.

Yup, “no-self” is a timeless concept. Buddha talked about it thousands of years ago. It’s hard to understanding intellectually. It is similar to someone describing their ability to balance on a two-wheel bicycle. If you had never seen one before, doing that would seem foreign and impossible. Yet, like balance, “no-self” is a gift that lies within our brain waiting to be developed.

Where do you start to find the new and improved Ebenezer “no-self”? Any mindfulness technique will get you there - google MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) programs or Vipassana meditation centers for some ideas. I have created a program to help people learn a more advanced and direct skill-set called Inshifting, and you can learn more at SatoriWest.net if you are interested. Or try on your own to let go into the moment without measuring or assessing how you are doing. Witness in silence your own attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and habits. And turn “humbug” into Joyous Noel.

Jeff Skolnick, M.D., Ph.D., is a psychiatrist. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Washington.

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