What is ego? In some philosophies, the ego is an illusion, a self-created condition that causes us pain. Other philosophies consider the ego as the part of us that is most real. Some advisors tell us to eliminate ego, while others tell us to cherish it.
There are two conflicting and truthful statements about our species: We are all the same and we are all different. The ego is that part of ourselves that makes us unique. We identify ourselves as individuals and act in our own best interests. Ego is self-awareness, the aspect of ourselves that we identify with.
Much of our ego develops through training. Our self-esteem, gender identity, attitude and perceptions are all developed through experience and interaction. We evaluate all external influences by how they affect us. Often, our assumptions are incorrect and we apply meanings that are far from the truth. Sometimes we do things that are good for us; sometimes we harm ourselves. In either case, our ego stimulates us to take action.
In many eastern religions, the goal of meditation is to transcend the consciousness of ego, to separate from individuality and become one with the universe. Escape from the ego brings us into an existence of pure love and values, without judgment or anxiety. Living within ego is seen as the Buddhist equivalent of hell, an illusion dominated by appearances, opinions, and conditional love.
According to Sigmund Freud, the ‘ego’ is the level of consciousness that operates using the reality principle. The desires of the ‘id’ and the values of the ‘superego’ are managed in real time by the ‘ego’. The ‘ego’ is often the cause of repression of urges or realization of guilt and fear, and is the part of us that we represent to the world.
Most of our thoughts are related to ourselves. We analyze our past, our future, our potential and our options. We think of others based on our interaction with them; what we said and what we heard. We survey our environment, determining how we can influence it, or if we need to protect ourselves. We gain or lose confidence, sometimes based on actual experience, sometimes based on illusions that we create.
Our ego gives us the desire to survive. Though many things are important to us, the preservation of existence is crucial. There may be instances where we are willing to risk or sacrifice our existence, such as protecting loved ones or participating in war. Other times, people risk their lives for thrill, or take their lives out of desperation. While ego is the root of our survival, it is also the root of our demise.
The ego obstructs the realization of oneness. We find it difficult to stop thinking about our current issues. All of our worries, anxieties, guilt, fears, and frustrations are driven by ego. Feelings of ‘poor me’ and ‘nothing goes right’ are egocentric, along with the expectations that we create. The more that we see ourselves as individuals, the more we identify what is lacking in our life.
On the other hand, ego also helps us realize joy. Success, accomplishment, inner peace, happiness, and love of life are often related to our current position as an individual. Much of our creative force occurs as a response to our desires. We want, so we act accordingly.
Suppose that we achieved an existence where ego was eliminated and all minds were linked. All people would act as one, with each individual simply a component of the mass. Any advantages gained by this evolution would be for naught, as none could appreciate it. Though most negative aspects of our society would be eliminated, the positive aspects of ego would also be denied.
The ego has a place in our lives. Without it we would think as one but be incapable of enjoying it. To be truly functional as individuals, we must operate within a state of ego, yet still be able to identify and separate those feelings that are dominated by ego. The ego is a wonderful part of our human character, though it often creates more pain than joy. Once we become aware of both the workings and trappings of ego, we are able to use it to our advantage.
1. Go to a mirror and look yourself in the eye.
2. Tell yourself ‘I love you, and everything that you are’.
3. Was the experience easy or difficult?
4. Describe how your ego has been an advantage.
5. Describe how your ego has been a disadvantage.
Excerpted from Soulwork 101: A New Age Guide to Personal Transformation by Glenn Stewart Coles
©Copyright 2009, 2015 Glenn Stewart Coles