In Part 1 we lay the foundations for understanding what is the ego. In Part 2 of Is Your Ego the Master or Slave, let’s explore how we can identify when the ego is at work and learn to let go of its negative influence. It’s not an easy task – but definitely a rewarding one if you make the effort.
Identifying the ego
It’s easy to get over identified with our ego – so it’s important to realise it’s just one part of us. In fact, most of us defend and nurture the ego without realising that it’s the primary source of our suffering. Our stubbornness to cling onto the ego’s self image causes us suffering because we are unwilling to accept our truths and adapt to change. It is difficult to find true contentment in life if we are over identified with our ego.
Ask yourself the following:
- Do you find it difficult to spend time alone?
- Do you consistently find your thoughts overwhelming?
- Do you constantly seek some form of distraction to keep ‘busy’?
- Do you find yourself trying to control outcomes and can’t let things go?
- Are you constantly judging others and comparing yourself against them?
- Do you place a strong emphasis on constructing a particular self image, and defending it at all costs?
If most or all of these ring true for you, it suggests your ego may be running the show. The best way to take back control is to raise your awareness by appreciating when the ego is working against you.
Five truths about the ego
1 – Ego cannot exist in the present moment – The ego only exists in the past and the future. We find it hard to experience the present moment because we are constantly lost in our heads, judging our environment according to what we know or anticipate will happen. Our constant mental chatter takes us away from experiencing right now fully and completely. Simple mindfulness practices such as focusing on breath and our senses can bring us back to the present more often.
2 – Ego is based in lack – The ego wants to feel whole, happy and complete all the time. However, it’s very foundation is based in lack, therefore it’s never happy for very long. Happiness for the ego is purely associated with acquiring something or someone. It becomes like an addiction – we need to achieve a new goal, acquire new possessions or gain more power and status to get our ‘fix’. However, that feeling doesn’t last for long – and because the ego cannot comprehend abundance, we are constantly on a conquest for more to fill the emptiness.
3 – Ego creates boundaries – The ego has a shallow vision of life. It believes that everything and everyone is separated and it doesn’t appreciate the wholeness of life. A feeling of loneliness comes from the ego, which believes it is all alone in the world in its struggle. According to the ego, everyone else is a problem and a possession to get its needs met; when in fact, it is the controlling nature of the ego itself which is the problem.
4 – Ego believes it already knows – The ego convinces us that we already ‘know’ everything we need to know, which makes us strongly defend our opinions to the bitter end. Always being considered right is strongly tied to the self image ego creates. Being inflexible of our views, unwilling to accept when we are wrong or openly listen to the opinions of others is a tell tale sign of a strong ego at work.
5 – Ego solely believes in self preservation – The ego is constantly worried about being exposed, therefore distracts us with a constant state of fear and scarcity. It is only looking out for itself, therefore always asking the question: what can I get? It will lie, cheat and manipulate to make sure its needs are met if not kept in check.
Taming the ego
To truly understand the ego we need to learn how to quieten its chatter. The only way i’ve discovered to do this is through meditation (article to follow!). Only when we’ve learnt how to disconnect from the voice can we truly listen to it and question its influence in our life.
The ego will always try to justify that meditation is a pointless activity. When you sit there, it will tell you:
”What are you doing? Why are you just sitting there. Do something!’
Initially it will be a struggle to break free from the voices – but stay with it and observe it. Building a meditation practice for just a few minutes a day will start to dissolve its influence and allow you to feel greater peace, happiness and control of your life.
Working with the ego
There’s a big difference between “letting go” and “getting rid” of the ego. When you are letting go of the ego it’s a movement free of struggle. It’s an awareness which naturally dissolves its negative force. But when you try to get rid of the ego, there’s an energy of fear and struggle involved in the movement. Only an ego will try to get rid of the ego.
As much as I have emphasized the negative influences of the ego, we equally need to learn, appreciate and learn to live with it. It’s a tool in our toolbox and has many uses for surviving and navigating the world. The structure of the modern world means that we have to learn how to live with our ego. It’s not practical or realistic to abandon modern life to live as a meditating monk in the mountains.
The key is not to condemn or try to destroy the ego, but understand it and work with it to produce true fulfillment in our lives. Don’t get me wrong – my ego is still a tricky bastard and still gets the better of me. But with a higher awareness you can also identify when it’s at work and train it so you become the master and not the slave to its negative influence.