Thoughts on Ego

The word ego is thrown around quite a bit and has more than one meaning. It may be most commonly thought of as having self-confidence or self-importance. In psychoanalytic theory, Freud describes the ego as being part of the make-up of our psyche, along with our id and superego. Here the ego mediates between the id and superego and having some ego strength is important. In meditation and mindfulness circles, ego is seen as a false-construct and is what causes much of our suffering and feelings of separateness. It is through this lens that my thoughts are written today.

In my meditation and mindfulness practice I have read many books by teachers in the spiritual or mindfulness community, including Eckhart Tolle, Pema Chodron, Marianne Williamson, and Wayne Dyer. They are all saying similar things…that we are love and light and of God…and that we are “enough” just the way we are in this very moment. It’s our ego that may disagree and that is judging, comparing, noticing if we’re being slighted, and defending how we want the world to see us. The ego is always running a story-line about ourselves in our mind and often what we’re telling ourselves isn’t necessarily true; it’s just our opinions that have been formed through conditioning from our past experiences.

Like many, my thoughts are often speeding through my mind telling me things about myself that aren’t very kind. Meditation and mindfulness became a way for me to quiet and slow-down these thoughts and gives me a chance to practice being in the present moment. I am not my thoughts. And counter to what I was taught growing up in a religious home, at my core I am pure love, not flawed or a “sinner.”

In my practice I am learning that we truly are all in this together. We are all connected. We all come from one source, no matter what you call that source. We are not separate. Many people in society today are suffering from feeling isolated or disconnected, even with, or maybe partly due to, advances in technology and social media. There’s a tendency to only show parts of ourselves on social media, the good parts that will bring lots of “likes” and that will feed our egos. Conversely, it may cause us to deny parts of ourselves that we don’t feel great about and, consequently, we don’t feel wholly seen or known. Others viewing these fabulous photos tend to compare (which the ego loves to do) these images to their own lives, and often feel like their lives are not measuring up. I am not suggesting we never post great pictures or that we play small, I’m just explaining a down side as I’ve seen many clients come to sessions evaluating their lives, and their selves, by the barometer of what they’re seeing on social media.

Dr. Dyer says that ego is our “false-self” and is always trying to win and prove itself but when we get in touch with our “authentic-self” we are connected to our Source and then are no longer in our ego. He believes our ego has taught us that our worth is about what we do and what we accomplish and what others think of us.

In A Return to Love, Williamson says, “…separation is the ego’s goal. I used to always be on an emotional roller-coaster ride, feeling I was better than other people, and then feeling I was worse…They’re the same mistake. The truth is, we’re just like everybody else.”

From Tolle’s book, A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose, “… our sense of self-worth is bound up with what we possess and if we think we are lacking in things, we feel inferior. We have a lot of internal dialogue about having and not having things. We are a consumer-driven society and advertisers play to our wanting more things to build up our ego. And when we don’t have as much as others, we feel diminished. The ego is telling our story about why we don’t have things but it really doesn’t have anything to do with ‘being.’…’Being’ must be felt. It can’t be thought.”

In When Things Fall Apart, Chodron says, “All ego really is, is our opinions, which we take to be solid, real, and the absolute truth about how things are…We don’t have to make these opinions go away, and we don’t have to criticize ourselves for having them. We could just notice what we say to ourselves and see how so much of it is just our particular take on reality which may or may not be shared by other people.”

Another passage by Tolle, “All that is required to become free of ego is to be aware of it, since awareness and ego are incompatible. Awareness is the power that is concealed in the present moment.”

Every time we are aware that our thoughts are only that, thoughts, and we choose to come back to focus on the present moment, we are “practicing” mindfulness. I think it’s called a “practice” because it’s not a skill we ever really perfect, we never really arrive someplace, but maybe we get better or quicker at catching our egoistic ways, our internal dialogue that’s not helping us in any way, and then we live more fully from a place of love.

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