What is Ego? is a question that often comes up in yoga and in self inquiry. I’m coming back to it today, after experiencing my own ego wanting to dismiss and diminish a person dear to me. It’s a tough lesson to bring awareness back to our selves and our very human flaws. Here’s some background on my understanding of what ego is.
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.
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. I look forward to having conversations here.