We typically take the word ego and apply it to someone who has an inflated idea of self-worth, however, the ego is something of our own creation that is not necessarily to do with having high opinions of oneself but an identity we develop and reinforce as our lives progress. This idea of self and other can really limit us, we can be blissfully unaware of it and even when we are aware of it, we can find it exceedingly difficult to keep it in check.
This isn’t really our fault.
From a young age we are taught that we are separate from others and also from everything around us. You can’t blame a child for learning these ideas and fears that go in to build what can be such an overbearing and controlling mental construct. If you have ever spent time with a young baby you will notice that it seems that they have no recognition of the fact that they exist, at a young age we have neither the knowledge nor the cognitive power to notice that we exist. Once we get the capability to think and associate certain things with ourselves is when the problem starts.
We build the ego up over our life, we associate it with ourselves and through our own self-scripts but it is completely of our own creation. Thinking of yourself in certain ways reinforces your sense of separateness from what is. The ego doesn’t necessarily have to be negative self-talk but can also be positive representations we create about ourselves. We create the ego to differentiate ourselves from the outside world and this division we create can cause no end of issues for all of us.
“To serve your ego is to worship a false identity created by yourself. It is like someone suffering from amnesia reinventing herself because she has forgotten who she is.” Tao Te Ching
When we see that we are completely separate from everything, we create an illusion of self versus the world. This allows us to be fine with blaming anything else for any unhappiness that we encounter and excuses our looking in the wrong places to find validation and happiness. We can start to look outside of ourselves for happiness rather than grow an understanding of ourselves that will allow us self compassion.The ego has tricked us in to thinking that we need outside appreciation to find contentment. We don’t. The ego needs these things but we can be perfectly happy without, unfortunately the thoughts we have in our heads are telling us differently and we believe them because we have for our whole lives.
In The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are – Alan Watts says:
“This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,”the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.”
The ego goes further and deeper than the personal level, it allows us to create competition in all areas of life. Competition can be healthy in many instances, but when we compete for everything in life; money, land, food, clean water etc it shows that we are not at home with our true selves. We compete to such a degree that we as a society have this sickness where despite all of the resources and technology we have, so many of the people on our planet don’t have access to clean water or food. The rich-poor gap is an example of how collective egos have created such wealthy corporations that could make a difference to the world but don’t due to focusing on self interest and greed at any expense. This is not the essence of man, it is a single minded, selfish, enterprise that is completely lacking in compassion; summed up by Terrence McKenna as follows, “What civilization is, is 6 billion people trying to make themselves happy by standing on each other’s shoulders and kicking each other’s teeth in.”
As much as it may seem like a strong and indefatigable little bastard, the ego is not actually as tough as it makes out. The way to start to control it is to create little chinks it its armour and chip away at them. It may not be possible for most of us to completely dissolve our egos but I am confident that with some practice we can start to make a difference. The main thing we need to notice is that the ego creates our idea of us and everything around us, it takes us away from the fact of what actually is and applies judgement to everything. Our minds are such powerful things but if we can even only briefly touch our essence, which is ourselves beyond thought, then we can start to weaken the grip our ego has.
Our egos often takes hold when we are stressed ; the first step is to notice thought patterns in these types of situations, emotions such as anger and frustration come from fear but often if we can recognise these feelings building we can control them and stop them in their tracks. Mindfulness is the key here, being aware of our thoughts and not getting attached to them stops us from being controlled by them.
In his fantastic book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle talks about how our identity with our thoughts is one of the greatest causes of suffering and that if we can become the observer of our thoughts rather than be attached to the idea that we are the thinker we can start to make progress.
Ego is not a present phenomenon, it is not of the now, the ego is obsessed with the past and the future. If we can remain in the present then we can minimise the effect the ego has on us. Practicing mindfulness through meditation, yoga or mindful action can help us to be more anchored in the now which in turn helps us to minimise the grip ego has on us.
As much as we can use a technique like meditation to reduce our attachment to and identification with our thoughts, it is equally important to keep our thoughts in check in everyday situations. If we can be more relaxed and more observant of how we think we can start to notice patterns in our thought processes and if we can become aware of our ego rearing its ugly head, we can start to soften the effect is has on us.
The human mind is a wonderful thing but with the power it provides also comes a responsibility – the responsibility that we all share to not become so addicted to and identified with our thoughts. Doing so will only serve to take us further from what we are. As a society we are unfortunately increasing our distance from our essence and it is time we all started to claim back who we are before it is too late.
A few questions for you…
How does your ego affect you?
Do you notice any patterns?
What helps you to reduce the control ego has on you?