People around me are starting to ask questions about ego, what it means and how it has an impact on our spiritual journey. I was inspired to go ahead and publish my own insights , following Trini’s post this morning asking What is Ego?. Lets get the conversation going on this big and edgy topic.
The term “ego” can be confusing as it has come to have different meanings. In every day conversations it is often associated with people who have grandiose ideas. When we see someone “getting too big for his boots” we tend to think that this is what ego is about. Our ego is far more than this and is very complex.
Its no wonder it can be hard to “get” it.
First of all, we all have one. The ego is our thinking mind and beliefs, as well as our image of ourselves. Ego can sometimes be referred to as “self hood” or “persona”. If you find you have a negative reaction to the word “ego” itself, then choose an other one.
These musings are from an non expert perspective, and come from my personal experience and readings from psychology, yoga and spirituality.
I call it Ego 101 and not Ego Ph.D so please take in the spirit it is intended – to enlighten and uphold the journey that we are all on to awaken to and connect to something more than our individual self.
When we are born, we don’t have any knowledge or consciousness of our own self as an individual human being. We are innocent and completely vulnerable in this world.
As babies we become aware of ourselves as a reflection of our interactions with our mother and then others. Our ego identity is born. But this identity is a reflected one. It is not our real being. We do not yet know who we truly are; we know what others think about us.
As we interact more in the world, we form our beliefs and thinking about ourselves, others and the world around us. We must have this to survive. At its core is an intelligence that responds to external circumstances. We learn what hurts and what feels good, and we adapt our behavior to fit in to the world around us.
As we grow up, the more interactions and reflections we experience, the more complex our ego becomes…. and the more we believe it to be the truth about who we are.
Our ego is an accumulated phenomenon, a by-product of living with others. As human beings we have to have an ego to survive in the world. Our ego is not our enemy, its keeps us alive.
“Awakening” or “self realization” is when we wake up to a sense that there is something more than our individual self. That we are all somehow connected and that we are part of an expanding consciousness, spirit or universal presence.
This is when many of us find ourselves drawn to spirituality and become seekers of the truth beyond our ego and separate self. We want to connect to the essence of who we are and embrace a new way of being in the world. This way is one of interconnectivity, compassion and loving kindness.
I believe that we have to have a strong ego in order to get to know the truth. We cannot know the higher Self without embracing this functional part of our mind or smaller self.
First we have to know that which is not true. We have to see the untrue nature of our ego. Some refer to it as our false self vs. our true self. At this stage we are likely to reject this ego part of ourselves and judge it as “bad”. However, it is our own thinking that is creating judgments. Our ego isn’t good or bad, it just IS.
When we are ready we begin to explore this ego part of ourselves. What do I believe is “me”? What is “mine”? What are my needs? What image of myself do I cling to? What aspects of my self do I reject? “Who am I really”?
We can only grow beyond our ego when we accept it and love it for what it is, rather than reject it and try to overcome it and push it away. As Trini says, imagine your soul is the parent and the ego, its child.
The more we judge our ego and reject it, the more it is threatened … the more we persist in not recognizing it, the more it resists. And we create an inner battle of our own making. When we try to deny it, it will raise itself to be seen in a new way…. And it may take us a while to realize that what we thought was the Truth is actually an other image of ourselves and set of beliefs that our brilliant ego has created for our survival.
The journey is from one of “being separate” to one of “interconnectivity”.
From one of “me” to one of “we”.
From one of “small self” to one of ” higher Self”.
From one of “judgment” to one of “acceptance”.
From one of “thinking” to one of “knowing”.
From one of “fear” to one of “love”.
I have more to share about ego and its part in our spiritual journey. Looking forward to having conversations here and over the blogosphere. 🙂
Love it Val! I, too, was inspired by Trini and by something Frédéric said and wrote a poem. 🙂 The ego is to me, perhaps one of the trickiest to understand. Happy I read your post ❤
Thank you Lorrie for you support and kindness.
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Thanks for describing ego so clearly Val! I look forward to your next posts about it. ❤
Thank you Diana for your comment. I’m glad you found it interesting! It is such an integral part of my journey right now I am enjoying the living and breathing of it 🙂
Excellent explanation Val ~ thank you! Great post! ♥
Thank you Yvonne. Your kind word are very much appreciated.
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Thank you for this superbly lucid article Val; you have tackled a most difficult subject with clarity and precision, if I may say so. In my resulting enthusiasm, and if you will permit it, then without wishing to pre-empt whatever matters you aim to discuss further here yourself, I would respectfully add the following couple of points as a minor contribution to the whole:
I wholeheartedly agree with you when you state that the individual, embarking upon a spiritual journey of discovery, needs to do so at the outset with a healthy sense of self (you use the phrase ‘strong ego’). As you will know well, we cannot approach this matter effectively whilst carrying any debilitating self-esteem issues, nor with any extant psychological disturbances; these will merely cripple our efforts to progressively deepen our understanding of ourselves, and may in fact us cause us unforeseen harm. The appropriate course of any action here, is to address these matters first, perhaps by means of a talking therapy, though in my view, most certainly not through any introspective discipline of mental culture – such as a formal meditation system or practices of in-dwelling contemplative rigour. I feel sure that you advise your clients and students along these lines in any case Val, yet it can do no harm bring the matter into public discussion, and hope you will forgive me for taking the initiative on this.
The other point that would seem relevant to add to the discussion, is the factor that makes egoic awareness subtly distinct from a generalised sense of selfhood. This is that the internal self-construct, in having access to cognitive functions, is able to reflect on its own entity; and for myself, this is the distinction between egoic awareness, as against a lower-level of self-awareness. The latter simply knows of the functioning, readiness state, moods, feelings, thoughts and so forth, all as discrete elements of a presumed single unified self. Egoic awareness strings together the stream of mentation, including all perception, and creates a narrative construct as a potentially detailed image of what and who we are. Due to this narration having access to cognition, it is aware of its own self-entity – it can reflect upon itself as an apparently integrated whole (‘I know who and what I am’), rather than as discrete elements of the presumed self. And this extra faculty, makes of it such an utterly convincing phenomenon, and one that is all but intractable.
I fear I may have produced a little more than is polite by way of a comment here Val, and hope you can forgive me. As you may have discovered at my own place, I tend to use commenting sections more as places for a wide interchange of views, though I should not presume the same approach is taken here or elsewhere.
With much gratitude and respect as always.
Hariod, you have done so much work in this area and I really appreciate your taking the time to comment and add further perspective. It helps to open our minds and take us forward.
I would agree with you that a healthy sense of self vs low self esteem is important in this journey. I hope to cover this later. If our foundations are weak, then it is difficult to build on. Healing and resolution must come before expansion.
Your second point on the subtle distinction between Egoic awareness and the awareness of self hood is so intriguing. This is a place for me to ponder and explore.
Thank you for your wisdom and knowledge. It is appreciated 🙂
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Great post Val, when I understood connectiveness and working with the whole, I began to see life no longer seperate from myself and that everyone effects the other.
Thank you Karen. I appreciate your insight and sharing here!.
That was a great explanation. I forgot it is our thinking mind, and that it’s a good thing to embrace, and keep in balance!
Thank you Kate for openings and readiness to embrace! I love it ❤
We are not our thoughts … even although we think we are 😉
Good thoughts and topic, Val.
The “authentic self” like the “eternal now” may be misunderstood, but that misunderstanding cannot change its essence.
It is what it is.
I am that I am.
When we know WHO we are . . . we know HOW to live.
Thank you Nancy. I love how you capture the essence in so few words 🙂
Yes, me too. I’ll have to learn how to do that. 😉
Thanks, Val (and Hariod). I find the authentic self easier to describe than the ego or false self, so I applaud you for tackling the topic.
Describing ego is a bit like the blind men describing an elephant ~ the description varies depending on whether they are touching the ears, trunk, legs, or tail.
I look forward to seeing where you go with this. And will join in when an insight pops to mind.
Thanks Nancy. I feel drawn to make sense of something that is so complex and elusive … but we recognize it so easily in others.
Like a blind man describing an elephant who is also desperately trying to hide 🙂
Very good, Val. Thank you.
Thank you for your affirming comment Michael 🙂
I love your post!! 🙂 You said it all so beautifully! 🙂
Thank YOU Trini for always being such an open, loving inspiration 🙂
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Amazing read! Thank you for this! 🙂