The Ego Climber

I found this quote almost 21 years ago when I was 23 years old. It was written well before that , but it so accurately described my sense of urgency at the expense of living in the moment that I almost thought Robert Pirsig wrote it for me. I think it is a beautiful description of a tension we all experience at times, and for me it is a reminder that my goal is internal and within reach.

I’ve had different favorite parts at different stages in my life. Currently, I think my favorite part is that I realize what I want is all around me.

Thanks for reading and sharing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, he’s unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be here. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

By Robert M. Pirsig, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


Feeding Your Self(-Talk)

As I more often understood and remembered that my thoughts or feelings are free from external control, it occurred to me that I wanted to change my vocabulary. Or perhaps more to the point, I realized that what I said to myself and others contradicted my messages when I used certain phrases that I have used for the majority of my lifetime.

One of those changes is that I try to remember not to say anything like…

  • that makes me happy,
  • that drives me crazy,
  • this makes me angry.

The word makes implies external control, and that doesn’t exist.

Instead, I try to use phrases like, I am happy about that or I’m upset about that. The word about is the key for my mind (you may have others that seem to work better for you).

This recognizes that the thought/feeling is mine and free from external control. Nothing makes me feel a certain way, but I am free to feel any way about anything.

After that, I try to remember that I don’t truly control my reactions either, so there is no need to cast self-blame and fuel further frustration over a reaction I don’t control. For example, I find many people are not only upset about a situation, they are further upset about being upset. Having too many thoughts and feelings about feelings seems to be quite exhausting, particularly when the thoughts and feelings are negative***.

My reactions are what they are based on a number of factors, some of which I am aware of, some of which I am not. No matter what my reaction, I try to find my influence, which is my can do thought or action that makes the most sense to me.

I like to think of finding my influence as feeding (or fueling) my self-communication, and I try to be as nutritious as possible (with a cheat day thrown in once in a while because, hey, I’m human and imperfect).

If I like my thoughts and feelings, cool. I usually find that I can keep feeding that state with more positive thoughts.

If I don’t like my thoughts or feelings, I try to starve them by replacing them with the understanding that a feeling can’t hurt me or control me (mentally, emotionally, or physically), and I try to keep my composure. Composure and emotional control aren’t the same thing, although I do suspect many people think of them and use them interchangeably (and that’s fine, although I would contend not optimal). True emotional control doesn’t exist as far as I can tell. Composure is keeping a calm, cool demeanor even though you are boiling emotionally. Put yet another way, composure is knowing you have influence and believing you can even when your emotions or the circumstances seem to be pointing to can’t.

The more I trust I am allright and free to change my mind, the quicker the unpleasant thoughts and feelings seem to leave. After remembering that I am free from all types of control, internal and external, I then try to awaken to my own influence. What can I do about this? What thoughts come to mind? If I don’t like this thought or feeling, fine…..can I change my experience in this moment by having a certain thought occur to me?

If a positive thought occurs to me, I try to feed it and see where the feelings go from there. Sometimes the thoughts are familiar to me, and sometimes they are true insights, new and unique ways of seeing the world. In any case, I try to see if I can feed the positive and starve the negative.

Of course, I make mistakes and buy into illusions of control at times, sleep on possibilities, and screw up plays on a daily basis. When I catch myself doing so, I try to starve the negative and feed my self-communication nutritiously again with as much positivity as occurs to me. This cycle repeats as I try to live a life aware, awake, and alive to making plays.

I happen to believe that our self-communication is one way of feeding our thoughts and emotions, so it seems important to feed it nutritiously. Pay attention to your vocabulary and the implications your words point to. I think you will find that your vocabulary points either toward or away from illusions of control, awareness of possibilities, and influence to make plays. Here’s to hoping you frequently find self-talk that feeds a sense of freedom, mental clarity, and personal power.

***Truth be told, I am not a fan of the terms positive and negative. I am using them here because other people are fans of them, and frankly, I can’t come up with anything better at the moment. Please realize that positive and negative are vague terms open to personal interpretation.