I have a problem I need to share with you: I have a huge ego.
I love compliments, I love external validation, and I absolutely hate being criticized, judged, or ignored.
Recently one of the things I am trying to do in life is to kill my ego.
How am I trying to do this? I want to share some practical things I have been doing in my life, which has helped me (a bit).
First of all, I don’t try to self-identify myself. I just see myself as a bag of bones, flesh, and a mind that is just an inter-connected bunch of electrical activity in my brain. I don’t see myself as having a “soul” necessarily (although I do believe that others have souls).
How do I learn to better not self-identify with myself? I try the best of my extent to not use the words “mine”, “I”, “Eric”, etc. Sure I often have to use the word “I” when writing (it just flows better), but I try to eliminate it from all other forms of my life.
For example, I am extremely defensive and self-critical of the photos that I take. Whenever people criticize the photos I take, I take it personally. However what has helped me is that no longer call them “my” photos, but “the” photos.
What is the difference?
By referring to the photos I take as “the” photos, I am emotionally disconnecting myself from it. I don’t see the photos as my own children, nor do I even try to remember that I shot the images. Rather, the photos exist by themselves, as an external thing outside of me.
Therefore this helps me to be more critical to the photos I take. After all, it is easier to always criticize the photos of others. So I try to think to myself and imagine that the photos I took were actually shot by someone else. Then I can be brutally critical and honest, and take out the chainsaw and “kill my babies.”
Secondly, I try to practice self-deprecating humor. That means, taking the piss out of yourself, or making fun of yourself.
For example, I got into an argument with Cindy the other day, and she criticized me for some of my behavior. Rather than becoming defensive and justifying my behavior, I simply agreed, and then brought up other faults that I had that I told her that I wanted to work on.
Similarly with photos, whenever they get criticized, I try to point out the other faults in the photos, and also share the fact that I am not a good photographer; simply trying to improve.
Another example: whenever people leave negative comments on the blog by telling me that I am a shitty writer or photographer, I try to retort by saying: “I am a terrible cook as well, and don’t fold my sheets in the morning.”
I also need to remind myself that at the end of the day, I don’t really matter. I am nothing but a tiny ant in a huge ant colony. If you zoomed out on Google maps, identified my house, you would see how fucking tiny it was. Even smaller; my tiny human body, my tiny human mind, and all of my petty possessions.
One thing I mentioned in earlier letters to you, my friend, is how I am trying to be less materialistic, and not be attached to my physical stuff. I am now experimenting with another rule: everyday try to donate 1 physical object, or give it away to a friend. Eventually I want to reach the point where I am absolutely free of all baggage of physical materials.
Even at the moment, I am starting to realize all the superfluous baggage and physical shit that I have.
I recently have become attached to my Kindle, which is a bad thing. I realize that the Kindle is just another superfluous item; I would prefer to just travel with 2 wonderful paper-back books (“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, “Letters From a Stoic” by Seneca) than having to overwhelm myself with having too many books.
Even when I plan to move to Vietnam, I think if I could only bring 1 photobook it would be “Exiles” by Josef Koudelka. The book is an experience; everytime I look through it, I experience a different story, a different set of emotions, and am never short of inspiration.
Even with my smartphone, I have been uninstalling one app a day from my phone. I recently got rid of my email from my phone, Evernote, Spotify, and other applications I thought were “essentials.” Currently the only apps I use on it are Google Maps, texting, What’s app, and not much else. And to be honest, I don’t even need those things, a “dumb-phone” will probably be sufficient. My dream is to (eventually) not own a smartphone, and to go “phone-less.”
But the problem is that my ego is attached to my physical stuff. I am currently going through old photo albums, old knick-knacks, and other physical remnants from my past (high school) – and I realize; I am no longer that person in the photograph. I am a totally different person, so why become attached to that past? And if you think about it, throwing away an old photo album shouldn’t cause physical or mental pain (but yet it does). Why does it? Because we are attached to our sense of ego; that we think that we are the photos, but we’re not.
Lately, I’ve also been trying to take fewer photos. I try to savor the moment, rather than frantically documenting every moment of my life. I am trying to approach a new “wu-wei” style of “unforced” photography, where I don’t need to photograph everything out of a sense of obligation, but to only take photos when I truly want to.
Today I am going to Napa Valley with Cindy and both of her parents. In the past I might have brought all of my cameras, film, gear, and stuff like that. For this trip, I’m just bringing my smartphone, and don’t feel obliged to take photos if I don’t want to. In-fact, I have learned from a psychological study that whenever we take photos of events in our lives, we are actually less likely to remember it. Why? Because whenever we document an event in our lives, we are subconsciously telling our brain: “Oh don’t worry about trying to commit this to memory, because we can always look at photos in the future.” But the problem is that honestly, we will probably never look at those photos again. Another reason I stopped taking photos of my food: I used to try to take photos of all these fancy meals that I had, but realized a funny truth: I never looked back at these photos. So why shoot them, and who gives a shit what kind of food that I put into my stomach? I’m just going to shit it out anyways.
Another problem I have been having recently: I’m starting to seriously re-think the idea of shooting film. I love the process, I love the zen-ness of it all, but the idea of having all these rolls of film and negative encumbering me is a nightmare. I currently went through the closet, looked at all of my (very unorganized) negatives, and thought to myself: “Holy shit, will I ever have the opportunity to re-scan all these negatives? And to be frank, will I be sad if I lost these negatives?”
The only reason I would probably keep my negatives is the hope that some archivist or historian keeps a record of my negatives, for “posterity” or whatever. Almost like how Gary Winogrand died with several thousand negatives of undeveloped film, and he just let others take care of it.
But anyways, I gotta head out, pick up a rental car, and pick up Cindy’s parents from the airports. I hope these random musings are of some help to you friend, and I will share some other thoughts in the future about how I am trying to actively kill my (very big) ego.
8:45am, Sunday, September 6, 2015 (after 4 shots of espresso)