Recognising what the ego is

by Paul Goodchild on April 10, 2009

For as long as I remember, I’ve understood the concept of ego.  We nearly all know what it is… basically just another word for pride, right?  Or at least, that’s how it is most often used.  When we see someone acting up, they’re being a bit hoity-toity, we are likely to throw the term ego in their direction… because obviously we are best situated to state they’ve got an ego.

I think that this equation of ego with pride only scratches the surface of the titanic ice-berg we are dealing with here.  Our lives are dictated by this entity in almost everything that we do and think.  In fact, it is what we think.  It is deeply invested in everything that we think, we do, and we say.  It is what we present to our friends, our family, strangers, and to ourselves.  It is what we believe the world to be; what we believe the world should be; how we believe people should be to each other and to us.  And through these beliefs we state our considered correct opinions and how wrong the other person is, if not to anybody else then to ourselves, and by doing so we separate ourselves from “others”.

Your ego is your identification with your conditioned mind.

Who am I?

So if I’m saying you are all of the above, what is my point exactly?  Am I saying that you can be reduced to a series of thoughts, beliefs and actions?  No.  I’m saying that those are what you are identifying with and making (part of) who you believe you are.  Who you truly are is what lies behind this identity – Eckhart Tolle calls this the Silent Watcher, in the The Power of Now book.  It is, I have found, fairly easy to find this watcher, but much more challenging to keep it present for prolonged periods.  Very often we will connect with it and be our true selves and for just a moment become truly awake, conscious.  But almost immediately we lose it, returning again to our mind, where we act out our lives based on the scripts written by us through our experiences.

Can you remember a point in your life where you had a moment of pristine clarity, where nothing mattered except right now?  Nothing that came before, nothing to come after.  All that existed at the point, was now.  Your presence at that time is who you really are, without the mental conditioning.  Your mind was silenced, there were no thoughts or judgements.  It is just You.

This practice of finding the silent watcher and realising what it represents is a powerful one, but not one I intended to write about here.  I am using this solely as a contrast so that you may perhaps be able to form a new image of what your ego is.

What if I didn’t have …

A great question I have come to use, if only to remind myself of how connected the ego is to everything, is this:

If I were to lose this thing that I have, am I now less than what I was when I had it?

You’ll discover that when you really think about it, while it’s sometimes difficult to get there, that anything for which you ask this question the answer would always be no.  Is there a single thing in your life for which you can answer “yes” to this question?  You can consider all manner of things and they don’t have to be physical.  You could question your job, your home, your relationships, your beliefs, your reputation, your looks, your dignity, your blog, your car, your autonomy, your partner, your space, and possibly one that is missed most often, your time.

We integrate all these things into our self-image, our sense of who we are… when they move out of our lives, we are left with a sense of loss and frustration.

While it’s easy to very casually look at this idea and think “hhmmpff, I know that of course!”, try to observe yourself reacting to something that threatens any one of your possessions.  Watch as your frustration rises when the shop assistant doesn’t process your order quickly enough for you… he/she is wasting your time.  You wake up one morning to find a noticeably wrinklier wrinkle and you realise you’re getting older and your looks are fading.  Realise that your looks are not who you are and your sense of being shouldn’t be ever factored on it.

When someone refers disrespectfully to you based on your ethnicity, you can take offence, or you can even go as far to take offence on-behalf of someone else who has been so-labelled.  It’s all the same thing, it comes down to your identification with what is right and wrong.  Obviously, you naturally and implicitly say to yourself that what you believe is right, especially if you can find a majority to believe it with you.  The idea that you’re right, and the others are wrong is the ego’s way of strengthening its own position.  Rather than share a common humanity, your ego is stronger in a position of uniqueness and separation.  To have that separation, you must have “others”.  Others that do stuff wrong.

Separation and sustainability

At the time of writing, we’re in a global economic recession and people are losing their jobs, their apartments, their wealth and their status.  We are being directly impacted materially by this.  By being attached to the things in our lives, drawing sustenance and identity from them, when they are lost to us it leaves us with a sense of dejection and loss.  We don’t see at the time that this isn’t about it being good or bad for us, but rather an opportunity for growth and change in our lives.  Our material standard of living has been challenged, but who we are remains steadfast. Our true identity underlies all of the upheavals (and joys!) in our life and knowing this, we can move with confidence to the next stage.

If the lives we are living were sustainable, we wouldn’t have a recession.  I believe it to be a macro symptom of a micro problem.  Our socio-economic system is based on the individual, and collective, ego’s need for more.  More and more. It is never satiated.  No matter how much we attain for ourselves, the hunger will never rest.  We prop up our lives on fashion, luxury, electronics, and fine-dining, all the time ignoring the reality that for everything there is a cost that goes far beyond money.

I don’t have the answers, but I have found an enormous shift of perspective that comes from recognising the ego in what I do and say, as often as I can.  Being present, and watching my actions/emotions and further realising that what I see in others is my ego’s projection of their identity. It is their identifications.  Their ego.

We remain separated from one another by our egos and only by realising this can we truly connect with the real people in our lives.

Let me know what you think?  Do you believe all this ego and identity stuff to be just crap?  Or is there something to this?  Can you raise your awareness of who you really are, or do you know who you are already and this ego is nowhere to be found?  I’d be interested to hear what you think and invite you to comment below.  Thank you for visiting and reading.

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