Greatness cannot be obtained; it is already within us. We simply must strip away the Ego and stand naked in our power. – James McCrae
You can tell from the manner James crafted this book that he had always dreamt of becoming a writer. He is a storyteller! It was sort of a collection of short stories wherein there are two main characters: his Ego and his Higher-Self.
And from these stories, he reflects the conversations running in the background: the Sh#t his ego says, which was enumerated as the title for each chapter in the book (basically revolving around the idea of setting aside his dreams). And the Truth his Higher-Self says, inspiring him to become the hero of his story.
The Huffington Post describes James as the modern Eckhart Tolle. But I rather found him more like Lao Tzu with his brevity. His explanations are short and simple, which made the lessons easier to understand, but also engaging because he writes in the conversational narrative.
Since he had his self-realization while spending time alone in the Puerto Rican Island of Culebra, on the Flamenco beach, he widely used the ocean environment in his metaphors to relay what he learned.
Let’s dive in!
Find the Ocean
We are not our thoughts. We are the consciousness below the surface of mental activity. The mind is like rippling water on the ocean surface. It changes unpredictably and swirls with tide. The real me – and the real you – is the ocean from which these ripples arise.
On the ocean surface, we can only see the rippling water. It is constantly changing and swirling with the tide. James compares these ripples to the thoughts in our head, the ego. And we are not these rippling thoughts.
Who are we? We are the ocean from which these ripples arise. We are the consciousness, subconscious so to speak, from which the thoughts arise. Regardless of the behavior of the rippling thoughts on the surface, the water beneath it remains still.
Therefore, we also need to find that stillness within us so we may be able to distinguish the ocean from the ripples, so we won’t be easily carried away by the wave of thoughts.
James realized we are all destined to find the ocean because the ocean is our only destination. Some find it quickly. Some will take a long time because of the fear of losing sight of the shore. Others, like James, find it by accident.
The Sh#t our ego says is that if we sail toward the ocean, we will become lost at sea. But the truth is we will be sailing home.
It was self-depreciating, manipulative, and the source of pride, judgment, and limitation in my life. What is my Ego? There are various opinions on what the word ego means. Science, psychology, and spirituality have all suggested various definitions… I will add another. The Ego is your reactive attached mind.
James describes the ego as your reactive attached mind, which stands for:
- Your. Your ego is yours alone. It does not exist to anyone other than yourself. We can say it is our personality, which is unique for each and every one.
- Reactive. The ego does not create. It only reacts. Like a ‘reptilian brain’, its nature is reactive, territorial, defensive, and always in survival mode.
- Attached. Attachment is the ego’s substitute for love. Because it has no sense of self, it identifies itself to what is known and attaches to it.
- Mind. The ego is a mental abstraction, a construct that believes nothing exists beyond its perception and intelligence. It conceives reality based on the physical senses and logic only.
Nonetheless, the ego serves a useful purpose. It helps us manage our irrational behavior. But in doing so, it also suppresses our Higher-Self.
As James figuratively puts it, the ego tends to hijack the ship of our consciousness and steer it blindly into the waters of worry, doubt, and limitation. It makes a good shipmate but is a terrible captain.
Smile at the Mirror
Reality is a field of endless subjectivity. No human mind, however intelligent, can perceive it all. Everything that happens within the field of subjective reality is filtered through our individual perspective, resulting in our personal experiences. Your world is what you perceive, and my world is what I perceive. What separates your reality from mine? Our focus. The first step toward changing our lives, therefore, is changing our focus.
Two people who live in the same world can have completely different realities. What makes the difference? Their focus.
I’m reminded of Wayne Dyer’s advice, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”
Let’s say the thing you look at is a mirror. The image you will see is simply the reflection of how you look at it.
James says that we can only run to a different mirror, but the reflection will remain the same unless we learn to stop and look at it in a different way. It won’t reflect a happy face unless we smile.
We may not like the images in the world we see. But instead of reacting to fear by running away, we can use the challenges to practice being fully present. When we are fully present, we can focus. What we focus on shapes our reality.
Change the way you look in the mirror. Smile!
The Opposite of Meditation
We don’t always choose our circumstances. But we always choose how we react to our circumstances. When we resist the present moment, we struggle. When we trust the present moment, we flow. Difficult moments, when we embrace them, make us stronger.
We don’t get what we want in life. We get who we are. Success doesn’t happen by projecting expectations outward. It happens by cultivating presence inward.
Meditation (or focus) brings us in the present moment. Do you know what takes us away from it? Expectation.
Then, when we don’t get what we expect, the Sh#t our ego says is “Life isn’t fair.” But how did we know it isn’t fair when we haven’t really seen the bigger picture of how circumstances might turn out?
What we call unfair could be serving a greater purpose we don’t see yet because of the limited perception of the ego.
Here comes the importance of focus. Are we focused on the result, which is in the future that we can’t control? Or are we focused on the process, which is in the present moment that we have control over, and in fact even something we can really enjoy?
James says the next time life seems unfair, we should ask ourselves, “Am I being present?”
Workshop of Manifestation
Imagination by itself is a fantasy. In order to become useful, imagination must leave the world of fantasy and enter the world of reality. This is done by channeling imagination through the workshop of manifestation – from dreaming to thinking to brainstorming to planning to executing… Imagination is a necessary starting point, but making it real is the art.
James shares his creative process and breaks it down into three stages:
Stage one: Imagine
- Clear your mind of preconceived limitations. Quiet your ego. Shift from information to imagination. A cluttered mind blocks creativity. A clear mind allows space for solutions and ideas to flow.
- Dream outside your comfort zone. Dream BIG. There are no bad or wrong ideas. Heed Einstein’s genius, “Imagination will take you everywhere.” If the idea scares you, it’s probably worth a try.
- Don’t rush solutions. Solutions must be discovered, not forced. It’s okay not to know everything. Embrace uncertainty.
Stage two: Strategize
- Break your idea into small steps. Manifestation happens in phases, not all at once. It starts with a blueprint, then foundation, then construction, and then decoration. Start small. Refine along the way.
- Foresee obstacles. Navigate accordingly. You will encounter roadblocks, trolls, and bad weather. Keep going anyway.
- Give yourself a deadline. Deadlines create a sense of urgency to move ideas. Don’t get stuck with ideas for too long. Take necessary action.
Stage three: Get Sh#t Done
- Don’t wait for inspiration. Keep working. When you’re ready to execute, waiting time is over. Action is the best inspiration. (*Personal note: When you practice getting into a place of inspiration, it becomes your second nature to be inspired all the time, you no longer have to wait for it.)
- Focus on effort. Drop expectation. Focus on what you’re doing. It will keep you in the zone. Drop your attachment to results.
- Enjoy the process (it’s all process). There is no beginning or end to creativity. The game is long. Enjoy!
What Could Go Wrong
The Ego fears the unknown and jumps to conclusions in order to feel a false sense of certainty. Worry is based on assumptions, and the Ego, from a place of fear and attachment, tries to convince us that its assumptions are true. This is the origin of worry. Worry is the Ego’s way of satisfying itself with an answer, no matter how irrational and unlikely it may be.
Intelligence is good, but it is always based on what is known. Those that remain unknown, we fear.
Imagination is better. It allows us to see possibilities. But instead of seeing what’s possible, we often see what could go wrong. We use imagination in the wrong way.
James then came up with this combination: Fear + Imagination = Worry
Thoughts will always arise in our consciousness. They are either love-based or fear-based. So following the equation above, we will have a different output if we replace fear with love.
Aha! This brings us back to the power of focus. We only need to focus on love. And keep on practicing that for every situation that comes up.
So, what situation are you facing now, or coming up soon? Remember, you have two options: fear and love. And because of the ego, assuming from a place of fear, you probably have imagined what could go wrong. That’s worrisome.
Now, shift your focus. This time, come from a place of love. Imagine what could go right. What do you see?
It is also our nature to shine upon the world. When we have a goal, we must shine our light (which is our love and attention) upon that goal. And when an obstacle blocks our goal, we must continue to shine our light upon the obstacle. When we are disappointed, we must shine out light upon our disappointment. We must continue to shine in the face of obstacles because the light we shine is the light that guides our path.
James shares a wonderful analogy of a light beam to our nature to shine. When a light beam shines on a surface, it shines without judgment or hesitation. If an object is placed upon its path of light, it does not resist or resent the object. Whatever it encounters, it still shines with equal dedication.
No matter what, the nature of the light beam is to shine. It is not concerned with what it shines upon. It just shines.
You are also on the path of light. It is also your nature to shine. Shine without judging or resenting whatever comes your way.
We are sure to encounter darkness (within us and others) and it is where the light is most needed. The obstacle is not blocking the path. It is the path of light.
The Most Important Choice
In other words, we can achieve the desires of our Ego, as long as we sacrifice our dreams and purpose. Or we can attain inner fulfillment, and step into a higher version of ourselves, as long as we eradicate the fear and desire of the Ego. This is the most important choice of our career.
Two job offers.
First, society’s offer: follow the rules, fit in, keep your opinions to yourself, and work diligently to support the established system. If you accept the offer, your needs will be met. But there’s a tradeoff: give up your dreams, your purpose, and anything else that doesn’t serve to maintain the status quo.
Thank God there’s another offer. But before we can accept, there has to be some letting go. We have to forsake fear in exchange for complete trust in the universe to fulfill our needs. Also part of the deal is to respond to all circumstances with love and acceptance, which will create space for the necessary events to unfold in your life.
Pressured? James affirms that we need not be if we choose the truth that dwells within us. The choice is easier to make because the day we begin living our truth, the pressure of meeting the standards of success of the society also goes away.
In living our truth, we live up to our dreams and purpose, which brings us inner fulfillment. Who knows, the second offer might come with worldly success too as a bonus package!
Being weird, contrary to popular belief, is not necessarily a bad thing. Weirdness, in fact, is often potential strength waiting to be harnessed. When we hide our weirdness, our strength also remains hidden. When I allow you to be you, and you allow me to be me – without judgment or criticism – we give each other freedom to develop our unique brand of genius.
If you’re reading this, it means you picked the second offer. Congratulations! Welcome to the weird club!
James, the president of the club, wishes to extend his support by saying that it’s okay to be weird. Here’s why:
- There is no such thing as normal. When we chase the normal, we lose sight of the natural. Our normal is whatever comes naturally to each person.
- What you think is weird is really your superpower. Shyness might make you a better listener.
- What makes you weird makes you memorable. When we conform to society’s standards, results will be mediocre. People will remember you for doing the thing only you can do. The more different – the more you – the more memorable.
- The world is starving for authenticity. We are hungry for something real. You feed the world when you are being yourself. You also automatically give others permission to be themselves.
- All great art was made by weird people. Your weirdness gives the world a new perspective and pushes culture forward.
- Resisting your weirdness makes you dark. Weirdness shines. If you hide it, the light in you also remains hidden.
- Standing out is how you find your tribe. Your tribe is waiting for you. Stand out so they can find you.
- When you own your weirdness, the world will conform. How we perceive ourselves is how others will perceive us.
Lisa Nichols’ words still resonate with me: “There’s a lot of things you want to be. But normal should not be one of them.”
Here’s to our weirdness! *fist bump*
I’m the acting vice-president by the way. 😉
The Game of Life
Just like a video game is programmed with rules and parameters, the field of external reality is programmed into the game of life. We cannot change the rules. But we can improve our skills and advance to the next level. The game of life is designed to make us the hero. We must only be brave enough to play.
James shares the most challenging part when making a personal breakthrough. In spite of everything you’ve learned, you must still return to the same life, same people, same house.
He realized that circumstances do not automatically change. What changes is how we respond to those circumstances. Same circumstances, different response.
Why? Because you’ve broken through the limited perception of the ego and your awareness has already expanded. You’ve elevated above your ego. You still hear the sh#t your ego says, but you no longer react to it. You just listen. Then you are able to respond better.
To the world, you appear the same. But to you, the world has changed.
Your sh#t has shifted.
Sh#ft, your new Self says.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JAMES MCCRAE is an award-winning strategist and author at the intersection of creativity and mindfulness, and the founder of Innerspace Foundation. He works with people and organizations around the world to unlock creative potential and turn imagination into results. His books blend literary narrative with spiritual insight to provide practical strategies to achieve meaningful success and inner purpose. An avid supporter of basketball, burritos, and yoga, James lives in New York City.
Learn more at jamesmccrae.com