Understanding the ego is an important part of any spiritual and healing practice, since dissolving this toxic part of our psyche is the ideal of all major spiritual pursuits. Reaching an ego-free state, whether brief or sustained, has been called many things: Illumination, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Transcendence.
The spiritual understanding of the ego is basically that it is the antithesis of our loving, core self or spirit. Instead of self-aware, it is selfish. Instead of wise, it believes it knows all. Instead of loving, it exploits and manipulates. Although these are obvious negative manifestations, the ego often works in subtleties, knowing that if it is the most powerful behind the scenes, where we have less of a chance of catching it in action. When we catch it, we can cast it away.
The ego is what causes us to see ourselves as separate from the Universe, others, and the things that sustain us—like the food we eat. Our egos make us reject love and it tells us that love is not what we really need to get through life and find joy. The ego favors productivity, accomplishment, prowess, sex, status, money, and other things above pure and unconditional love. This is because the ego can exist when these are our focuses. If we chose to focus on love, towards ourselves and all things, as the foundation of our lives, the ego could not survive.
The ego is also what causes us to deny emotions, ignore accountability, distrust ourselves, do cruel things, isolate others, not work towards recovery, complain instead of act, and a whole bunch of other related traits. Through all of these, it keeps us from aligning to the love of the Universe/Source. Any action or thought that denies us the love we deserve to feel and share with others is a product of the ego.
The ego exists out of the fear of letting go of past survival methods that no longer serve us. In our younger years (and/or past lives, if you believe in reincarnation), we learned ways of coping with and surviving in the world around us. Our planet is filled with perils and hardships (often caused from the egos of others), so our young selves realized that survival was easiest at the time while mimicking the egos of those around us. With it being such a common trait of living through the ego in the people of this world—we weren’t conditioned to be mindful and our egos saved us from an otherwise cruel and senseless world.
Now, these patterns and beliefs the ego holds onto don’t serve us and are instead maladaptive and detrimental. The ego developed from a simple need to process the experiences life handled us, making it far from “bad” at the time, but now its role as changed. It simply doesn’t serve us, so holding onto our egos and the things it tells us prevents us from finding true love and joy within ourselves. To overcome our formative egos, we must review our past and work through the patterns and beliefs that no longer benefit us.
The ego is afraid of “dying,” yet ridding ourselves of egoic patterns is the intention of mindfulness. Recall all those times you struggled to follow through with a mindful act? That resistance was your ego, fearing its death if you enacted an act of mindfulness. Do you remember shying away from someone’s deep empathy when you were emotionally vulnerable? This is your ego running from true unconditional love, fearing its dissolution.
The ego will always try to do everything it can to stay alive, which means ultimately rejecting unconditional love in any form. This might manifest as self-destruction, apathy, worrying instead of solving the problems, or simply not being aware of the inherent peace in the present moment. Love comes from inside ourself, at the core of our being, but the ego wants us to only seek love outside ourselves in superficial forms, since this type of love is “safer” for the ego, because it isn’t unconditional and infinite. Therefore it doesn’t threaten our maladaptive egoic coping.
Compassion, love and surrender are ways to work through and dissolve the ego. When unconditional love and compassion directed at us (by ourselves or another) hurts, this is usually because the ego is shriveling under this care. This growing pain is a good thing—it’s the growth of your spirit! Love tears down our ego by showing us the painful and hidden parts of our consciousness that our ego buries.
The ego is a pretty complex thing to explain, since each of our egos manifests in different ways, but the ego will ultimately act in a way that won’t serve your highest interest. Sometimes this causes us harm, sometimes it causes others harm, sometimes it’s more in a neutral grey zone where it just simply doesn’t bring us joy or deep, sustained, fulfillment.
The ego will also try to make you struggle to understand it, because if you can’t understand it, it can’t be healed. Due to this, the ego is inherently irrational, but sometimes it will masquerade as “rational,” in the logical sense. A life without ego is a delicate balance of emotional and logical awareness, not letting either take the reigns in your life.
The ego is not bad or shameful to have. Although frequently cast in a negative light, the ego is part of each of us and something that takes a lifetime to work through. The ego is not something to fear or hate, as it is a natural part of our development as conscious beings. We just need to expose the ego to compassion and love, as it will then gently dissolve and we will shine brighter and brighter.
I plan to talk more about the ego, how to treat it, how it hides, and the distinction between self-centeredness, self-love, and selfishness next week. Subscribe here to get the upcoming articles in your inbox!