Is your ego in charge?
How to deal with the voice in your head
“The ego is continuously hankering to survive; the mind wants to remain secure in every possible way, and because of its obsession with security it cripples you, paralyzes you. To trade aliveness for survival is the fundamental evil.” Osho
Learning about your ego is THE most important thing you can learn is this lifetime.
Although thousands of books refer to the ego or ego-identity, I have not found one that describes, in simple terms, what the ego actually is and how it works. This is my aim in these next few articles.
At the most basic level, your ego is a mental program in your mind. It distorts your perception and thus causes you endless suffering. Every human being has an ego.
What is the ego?
The ego is best viewed as a protective personality. Michael Singer describes it beautifully is his book, “Untethered Soul:”
“Basically, you’re not alone in there. There are two distinct aspects of your inner being. The first is you, the awareness, the witness, the center of your willful intentions; and the other is that which you watch. The problem is, the part that you watch never shuts up. If you could get rid of that part, even for a moment, the peace and serenity would be the nicest vacation you’ve ever had. Imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have to bring this thing with you everywhere you go. Real spiritual growth is about getting out of this predicament. But first you have to realize that you’ve been locked in there with a maniac.“
In simple terms your mind creates a false identity and calls it “me” or “I.” This false you lives in your mind and thinks it is you. It creates the perception that you are all alone in the universe and you are never safe. It creates “you” and then then defends “you” at all costs. It is in survival mode all the time.
It can play an incredibly useful function in protecting your physical body from real harm (like running from a tiger attack) but more often than not, it overprotects. In doing so, it creates a type of prison of fears and limiting beliefs that prevent you from living freely and fully.
Your ego basically runs your life without you knowing it and worse yet, keeps you in a low-grade state of fear.
Where did the ego come from?
It has been suggested that between the ages of 3 and 7 most humans begin to develop an ego-structure as a biological necessity. As we begin to feel vulnerable to the outside world, we develop a type of internal protector to keep us safe. It grows with us and is reinforced over and over with each experience. It is also reinforced in society through education and socialization.
The ego-identity has been the study of mystics for thousands of years but only recently been of interest to Western psychologists. Many sages speak about the possibility of us transcending the ego-mind and entering a state of complete bliss or one-ness.
Today, most psychologists know about the ego since Sigmund Freud and his colleague Carl Jung dedicated much of their research to surfacing this aspect of the unconscious. Freud was one of the first to label it as the ego and attributed to it various personality traits. Other psychologists such as Bill Plotkin have written extensively on the ego. Indeed, since its discovery, the ego has been blamed for pretty much everything, from relationship problems to international disputes and even war.
Do you have a mature ego?
Although the ego gets a bad rap, it’s not really the ego that is the problem. It is the childish nature of the ego. Although the ego plays an important role in protecting us, if it does not mature properly, it keeps us imprisoned and prevents us from moving into a higher level of awareness.
Today, millions of us possess immature egos and as a result, our egos are often the drivers of our minds, when they should be the passengers. Here are some practical examples:
· We often feel attacked when given critique or feedback.
· We feel the need to be right and defend our ideas, at all cost.
· We generally feel vulnerable, and often build up psychological defenses.
· We often feel inadequate or not good enough, and think we must improve.
The most harmful impact of the immature ego is that it acts out in an automatic way. So, for example, when your daughter spills her milk, you might yell at her before even realizing that it is your ego acting out, not you. It’s your egoic-mind that is harboring hidden fears. Because of that, you are not really free. You don’t really have a choice when run by your ego, as explained here:
“It always looks as if people have a choice, but that is an illusion. As long as your mind with its conditioned patterns runs your life, as long as you are your mind, what choice do you have? None. You are not even alone there. The mind-identified state is severely dysfunctional. It is a form of insanity.“ Eckhart Tolle
For most of us, our minds have been taken over by our egos without our awareness We can’t see the harm it is causing us on a daily basis and, more importantly we identify with the small-self and forget that we are so much more, as described here by Linda Nardelli:
“The role of the ego-mind is to protect you from loss and failure and because it is over-identified with survival it prevents you from knowing the mysteries of your soul. Your resistance to the soul’s powerful presence prevents you from actualizing your dreams.“
Luckily, as we evolve as humans, our ego-structure will slowly become less necessary and become less active. As we realize that we no longer need to live in survival mode, our egos will move from being teenagers to adults. The good news, is that as our egos mature, we also evolve in self-awareness, as described here:
“The formation of the ego is natural, unavoidable developmental stage in the process of human maturation. All growth requires some amount of pain and wounding. It only becomes problematic when you stop growing at the stage of ego-development (as most people do) in which case you begin to suffer. It is healthy and ideal to evolve from being self-conscious to being self-aware.” Michael Rodrigues
In my next entries I talk about:
How to recognize your ego
How to transcend your ego.
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