Almost ten years ago I went through ego dissolution. It was an existential crisis, as my perspective shifted in an instant, from being the center of the universe to suddenly feeling like a bug that could be squished and forgotten any moment. It was terrifying and painful. I shook uncontrollably for hours and didn't leave my apartment for three days. Death was all around me and I didn't have the tools or the understanding of how to deal with this reality. A veil was lifted and there was no turning back.
It was years later that I realized that that existential crisis was my ego losing its shit. Not ego death, because I am still here and I still have a sense of identity. Ego Dissolution is a process of losing the perceived boundaries that create separation between you and everything else. It can come from drug-induced experiences, meditation, deep self-inquiry work, and existential crises (to name a few).
My existential crisis was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Over time, as I healed from the trauma of that awakening, I began to feel more alive and more mindful on a daily basis. There was less judgement, less pettiness, less fear-riddled decision making, less holding back overall. I learned to think about death every day as a beautiful reminder of the fragility of life and my passion to live each day like it's my last. It is difficult to be restrained by the immature and short-sighted musings of the ego when I contemplate the unavoidable end of life that is coming for us all.
It is easy to get bombarded with information and to allow ourselves to get quite melancholy and apathetic about the human condition. However, sadness does not heal others' sadness. Anger is not the remedy for dissolving anger. Being absorbed by the struggles around us does not help carry the weight others are carrying. And, avoiding the hurt or leaving the struggles of the world solely in the hands of others' isn't doing much good either. So what is one to do??
This has been a big topic of my own reflection and self-inquiry lately. Is it egotistical to think that I can have a positive impact on the world? Is it irresponsible to set out with the mission to spread health and happiness when there are millions of people who can only focus on finding food and shelter day after day? I have realized that my own healing and self-discovery creates a ripple effect around me. As I learn and grow, my potential for impact expands. While I cannot directly impact everyone, I know I can impact many, who then can impact many, who also can impact many. In order for us each to step into the potential of our best-self state, we need to understand our ego, and how we can use it's immense power and flexibility to cultivate a revolution of love, longevity, and life-affirming pleasure.
What is the ego?
First of all, the ego is difficult to define because it is a unique expression for each one of us; it is not just one specific thing.
- A person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance (i.e. can result in an inflated or deflated ego)
- The "I-maker"; i.e. the separation between what is YOU and what is ME
- "The ego is like a pair of scissors that turns your interactions into judgments where you (overtly or secretly) compare yourself to others...Anything that feeds a sense of self-importance, either because you feel like a victim or better than others, comes from ego." Yol Swan
- "The ego is an identity of our own construction, and identity which is false. If we take all the beliefs of what we are - beliefs about our personality, talents, and abilities - we have the structure of our ego" Gary Van Warmerdam
- The ego feeds on pleasure and creates disturbances to avoid discomfort
How to retrain your ego and devote it to something bigger than you?
While it is obvious that you are a unique individual, there is also truth in the statement that "we are all one." There is a unifying energy that we are all a part of; a collective consciousness and rhythm that all of life flows within. We all share in struggles, in comparisons, in the cycle of life and death, and this earth is home to us all. When we can cultivate that healthy sense of individuality while also attuning to the peace that comes along with ONE-NESS, we tap into a power beyond measure. This is how we devote our ego to something bigger than seeking that next high, or achieving that next selfish goal, or being acknowledged for that thing you did. your ego wants to feel good, and you can train it to pursue the high of supporting others, the positive buzz from learning something new, and the joy of celebrating others' successes. While it may begin with a focus on delayed gratification while you have the urge for instant gratification, over time your mind and body learn that it feels really good to make healthy choices, to connect and encourage others, and to be a part of something bigger than you. Even in my case, I have trained my mind and body to feel good as I contemplate life and death.
It is the busy-ness of our thinking mind that pulls us away from being full and content with the moment as it is. Here are four steps for you to practice your way into dissolving the unhealthy habits of your ego and developing strength in the healthy aspects of your ego....
1. Don't just do something for the sake of doing something. Slow down, do less, sit there and direct your attention inwards. Notice where your mind goes and practice just watching and witnessing rather than engaging or getting busy to distract yourself.
"The less active your mind, the easier it is to discern what's true and what's illusion - that is, what comes from intuitive wisdom and what may be disguised as understanding but is really motivated by ego" - Yol Swan.
2. Meditate. Everything you need is already inside of you, behind your mind-chatter. You can achieve a sense of confidence without it's clingy-cousin Arrogance.
"The paradox is that the more you work toward dissolving your ego, the more empowered your sense of self emerges, as your need to 'belong' or compare to others diminishes" - Yol Swan
3. Pleasure is your birth-right. Anything you can do, you can overdo or underdo. So engage in pleasure in the name of love, connection, and nourishment, and remember that while we need water to survive, even water can kill if we get too much.
Practice Intimacy without attachment, and Satisfaction without "What's next?"
4. Learn, forgive, and practice compassion. We are all doing the best that we can with the information, energy, and capacity that we have.
"The self discipline and self awareness required to achieve a higher perception of life and spiritual growth means the dissolution of ego. The key is to maintain that focus and presence of mind in ordinary life and pierce through the coloring of the mind that wants you to remain stuck in the false self images and illusions you get attached to - especially the 'spiritual' ones" Yol Swan.
Practice humility without insecurity, and contentment without comparison. How about you versus you-yesterday rather than You versus anyone else.
Most importantly, the dissolving of the unhealthy habits of the ego is a process and will not happen over night. Choose to fall in love with practice, and you will fall in love with life ;)
I leave you with this......
“... what is said about the ego becomes food for it self. The ego is self justifying to the bitter end… The ego is a concept and yet it is real… It is like quicksand; no matter what we do or which way we move, we sink deeper. If we do nothing, we’ll also sink deeper… we must do something, and yet there’s nothing we can do… In living with this, try to find the ego, try to see it, face-to-face. Don’t try to know something about it, try to find it… Know that whatever you find, behind that is more you go, feeling proud and taking credit for having found something. Be especially careful of discovering egolessness, because that is ego and drag… Continue to struggle, don’t give up, and no there is nothing you can do. Whatever you find, know that the ego has found it. Whatever is not found, the ego has not found it. Be careful also when you hear that one perfectly exquisite and definitive explanation and remedy. The ego says it, the ego here’s that, ego knows it. The ego smiles and self satisfaction. Don’t give up. If you do, it is the ego that gives up. If you don’t it is the ego that doesn’t. Just try to see it, face-to-face. Be committed to this, even though it is the egos commitment.“ - Robert Rabbin