Ego - what it is and what it is not....
The conversation around the EGO is a fascinating one. I find it to be one of the most divisive and misunderstood topics out there. One reason for this is simply because of my lack of awareness and understanding of my own ego. Our understanding of reality is a mirror of our own inner experience.
The best way I know how to view a relationship that I have on the unconscious level is to put pen to paper. What began as a series of questions, mind-maps, ideas, and moments of awareness, has now become this blog post you are reading.
What is the ego? Is it inherently "bad" or is it an error in our relationship with the ego that causes problems? What problems does the ego cause?
The ego is the Mind's identification of itself, or our innate sense of identity. This is not a bad thing, on the contrary, it is an important part of the human existence. As is the case with most concepts, it is our relationship or understanding of the ego that can end up being toxic.
When I think of the negative aspect of my ego, I see it in the moments where I become Judge and Jury, in regards to myself or to my surroundings. In the moments where I judge someone else, where I beat myself up for being imperfect, or when I create a barrier between myself and another based on a feeling of entitlement. When I create separation or isolate myself, my ego has gotten in the way of mindful living and connection to all things.
My ego says things like, "I can do that better," "Look how awesome I am at this," or "Don't do it, I will look stupid." In an attempt to protect myself, my ego can keep me small and contained. And when I do something worth being proud of, my ego can take it a bit too far, pump my own tires and showboat unnecessarily.
Yogi Bhajan, in the book, The Mind, refers to the ego as a cocoon. It is as though your ego, your fears, and your mind-chatter are a cocoon, from which you will never hatch, blossom, and fly. Your cocoon is woven from your mental habits, i.e. the way you habitually react, think, and perceive the world. For example, it is natural to struggle or to come across situations that disturb you, but it is our struggle with our struggle or being disturbed by disturbances that waste energy and cause bigger problems. Our ego is a bit of a drama queen. It reacts quickly, and harshly. The ego, deep down, is trying to further your survival. It likes to feel good, it wants instant gratification, and it is looking out for number 1 (you) at all times. It is our attachments, expectations, and obedience to our ego's will that creates issues. The ego craves the good feelings that come with happy chemicals and will remind you to act in certain ways with the expectation that the boost of happy chemicals will follow. For example, when I was younger I would often go through my clothes and separate out the pieces that I no longer loved or no longer wanted. I would pack these up into baskets or garbage bags and invite my sisters to come shop through. Sometimes there would be a piece of clothing that I still did like, but I knew one of my sisters absolutely loved. I would sneak that piece in at the bottom of the bag, or hide it behind my back, and create an opportunity of surprise and delight for my sister.
Looking back on this, I recall getting excited and filled with good feelings when the idea would strike me. Had I not expected my sister to respond with delight or had I not been given a boost of happy chemicals when I thought of the idea in the first place, maybe I wouldn't have bothered. But it felt good to do this good deed. My ego would jump in and pat me on the back, "what a good person you are." The good feelings would last for hours. In the end, I got just as much good out of the situation as my sister's did. Because I was giving with expectation of what I also would get from it, my ego was deeply involved in the exchange.
Yogi Bhajan says, "giving is worthless if it has expectation with it. The only thing you can truly give someone is forgiveness." I remember a Friends episode where Phoebe is trying to find a selfless act that could prove she would do a good deed without getting anything in return. After several attempts, she realizes that even complete selfless giving is rewarded with a good feeling. We are programmed and hardwired to respond positively to doing good in our hood. It promotes everyone's survival when we can look outside of ourselves and contribute to the greater good. That doesn't mean you are driven by your ego, necessarily. It just means you're human.
Again, it is in the relationship. We are not to strive for completely disassociating with the ego or removing it outright. But how do you respond when you notice your ego chiming in?
As Robert E Quinn states,
“It is our hypocrisy and self-focus that drains us. When we become purpose centered, internally directed, other focused, and externally open, we discover energy we didn’t know we had.”
The ego will always be a part of the equation. We cannot have a WE, without an I or ME. It is not a negative thing to relate and identify with yourself. On the contrary, I would say that it is extremely important and valuable to be a strong and driven individual, building a life of passion for yourself. But that does not exclude you from being an advocate and proponent of community, support, sharing, and spreading wisdom to others. And when you are solely focused on your own gain, your own awards, your own impact, and your own voice, you dilute the power that can be found when you allow others to step up onto that pedestal with you. Lifting others up does not mean sacrificing yourself. Abundance!! There is more than enough for everyone.
When I think of my ego, I see my journey as one that is learning the ins and outs of this potentially tumultuous relationship and slowly moving my ego from the driver's seat, to the passenger seat, to the backseat, and eventually, perhaps to the rooftop carrier or the trunk. It will always be there, something to consider, something to add perspective, but it is not the driving force in my life.
The ego can be quite sneaky. In Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, he says,
"Get free of desire. It's a little like a roller coaster. This is just the way it works....You know how it is. You've really been working on yourself and you're very pure and something very high happens to you: You feel liberated. And then, your ego walks around and pats you on the shoulder: 'Pretty good! Look how holy you're becoming.' And you fall...again."
We must be wary of our ego slipping in no matter how much work we have invested into this area of our mind. This is why having some basic guidelines, wise characteristics, ethical standards, a sense of integrity, self-discipline, and a habit of nourishment with soul-fuel, will serve you well in your journey.
I want to honor Non-Excess, and stay mindful to the idea that the extreme attempt of removing the ego entirely is just as ridiculous as being completely controlled by the ego. Either extreme is equally undesirable for various reasons. It is the middle way that I strive for. The balance and dance in the relationship that keeps me open, aware, conscious, and growth-minded. We are not stagnant or simple creatures, therefore, our guidelines for actions should not be stagnant or impose strict boundaries with a threat of external repercussion should we fail to abide perfectly.
It is through our commitment and self-discipline that we burn away these old patterns and build new positive habits in their place.
"If a man gives way to all his desires, or panders to them, there will be no inner struggle, in him, no 'friction', no fire. But if, for the sake of attaining a definite aim, he struggles with the desires that hinder him - he will then create a fire which will gradually transform his inner world into a single whole." Ram Dass.
Through the Yamas and Niyamas (the first two limbs of Yoga Philosophy) we are afforded tools of thought, action, reaction, and growth. These simple, yet depth-inducing concepts, speak to the relationship within the individual, as well as the relationship between the self and others.
“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” Lao Tzu.
The self and the other are not separate. We are more connected than we often realize. I am co-hosting a workshop on September 18, 630-930pm, where we will be diving into this topic even more. Together, we will discuss the Yamas and Niyamas, the ego, the dance that is balance, and the movement that supports our mind and bodies to build the self-discipline needed for inner-evolution. Come learn, share, explore, and grow - individually and collectively. We are stronger together xoxox