Ego! Can’t live with it, can’t live without it!!
According to Freud, the ego “allows us to express our desires, drives and morals in realistic and socially appropriate ways.” The ego is the filter that colors our view of life and ultimately fuels the personal judgments that distort both thoughts and feelings, affecting every decision we make. Egoic perception is what prevents us from being in alignment with our higher self and ultimately the Universe.
Because of this awareness, many who journey a spiritual path eventually resent the ego, cursing its existence, wishing they could evolve beyond the limitations of this false sense of self. I did, for many years. Damn ego!! Out damn spot! So many spiritual self-help books focus on the death of the ego in order to save the Self. Egoic death is what many think about when we contemplate “the work” of spirituality.
Except, we need the ego. The ego is what ensures our physical survival. The ego is the source of the flight, fight or freeze survival mechanism that convinces us to jump out of tall burning buildings or inspires us to run when facing a wild, charging animal. For these reasons, we depend upon our ego. But since the ego also filters our perceptions, we are left with a spiritual conundrum. How does one overcome their own survival mechanism?
“The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality.” – Chogyam Trungpa
Oh great. Now I am really afraid of my ego. Is this a battle I can even win? My natural instinct is to push, fight, win, but that rarely ends well. Besides, when has hate, war, or fighting ever beneficially resolved a problem, especially a spiritual one? As much as I use to dread my Machiavellian ego, I realized I was going down the wrong path to freedom.
A New Earth
It wasn’t until I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, that I found a better answer to my ego conundrum.
“The ego isn’t wrong; it’s just unconscious. When you observe the ego in yourself, you are beginning to go beyond it. Don’t take the ego too seriously. When you detect egoic behavior in yourself, smile. At times you may even laugh. How could humanity have been taken in by this for so long? Above all, know that the ego isn’t personal. It isn’t who you are. If you consider the ego to be your personal problem, that’s just more ego.”
My ego isn’t wrong. It’s just unconscious. I can’t resent something that has no conscious awareness of itself. It cannot know or do better. That’s like being mad at a blind man for not being able to see. How foolish and cruel.
My ego isn’t personal. It isn’t who I am. The ego is not the Terminator, assigned with the task of keeping me from nirvana. It just wants to keep me alive. My spirit has no need for survival. It knows it will survive physical death. My ego, however, has not been informed of this reality. It only cares for physical survival, come hell or high water, and the resulting mental and emotional distress.
If I consider my ego to be my personal problem, that’s just more ego. Doh! Damn that tricky ego. It really is a master of survival.
So, what should a spiritually evolving yogi do about their ego? The answer is quite simple. Do nothing but love your ego. That’s it. Love the ego for what it provides the body; appreciate the ego for it’s relentless self-serving perseverance. Make the ego your friend. Know that the ego has but one goal, and that is to keep you alive. Live with gratitude for the sacred grace that is human life, ego and all.
I Am What I Think You Think I Am
Still, while you are busy loving and appreciating the ego for its outstanding survival skills, remember two very important points:
1) “The Ego lives through comparison. How you are seen by others turns into how you see yourself.” – Eckart Tolle.
2) “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. A person is a person through other persons.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
While my ego is busy saving me from certain earthly peril, I must also circumvent the ego’s risky penchant for comparison. How do I avoid comparison when my humanity is bound to yours? Consider the principles of Ubuntu. Ubunto means, “I am because of who we are.” My existence is dependent upon yours. Without you there is no me and without me there is no you. Therefore, it is crucial that I cultivate my personal humanity the best way I know how. As Gandhi advised, “I must be the change I wish to see in the world.” If I can BE love, first to myself, it is only through such a loving filter that it is possible for me to truly experience the love hidden with the humanity of others.
It’s not a race or a competition. There is no gold star for achieving enlightenment. Knowing this theory doesn’t mean I automatically love myself enough to embrace the rest of humanity. It’s a constant unfoldment of a conscious, loving awareness that I initiate within myself that eventually grows and spreads, at first within, and then eventually throughout my world. My ability to lovingly enrich my own being enables my surroundings to improve.
Whenever the ego is doing its best to save you from yourself, and you find yourself dealing with doubt, confusion, or fear, simply choose to return to love. If nothing else, be loving to the humanity within yourself. “As you live with love, your ego fades. You are not thinking about loving; you are just being love, radiating like the sun.” – Ram Dass