It’s a funny world we live in. There’s come to be this kind of anti-ego sentiment in spiritual circles. The ego has become the dirty word of our times when it comes to the spiritual path. But what are people talking about when they say the word, “ego.” And how in the world could you ever really be without an ego?
Defining Your Terms, As Always
As always, I encourage you to define your terms. Look at your assumptions, and do your best to understand what you’re saying when you’re using important words like “spirituality”, “god,” or the “ego.” Because if you don’t know what you mean, how can you really compare your understanding to someone else’s?
For me, the ego is this: It’s a grouping of personality traits and a selected stories from your life. You mix well, and voila, you have an ego. However, for most people, their ego is unconscious. It’s like a mask that you’ve always worn. You never explored what’s on your face nor what you are presenting to the world. You simply took it for granted, and you kept adding things to this mask without knowing what you were adding to it. If you’ve ever felt like people have been responding to you in unexpected ways, that may be a clue that now is an exceptionally good time to look at the mask you’ve been wearing because it’s obviously evoking some interesting reactions.
The Unconscious Ego Vs. The Conscious Ego
The situation for most people right now is that they are unconscious about their egos. They simply assume that they are the way they are, and they want the world to relate to them in different ways that work within their egoic understanding of the world. Of course, the world rarely goes the way we want it to, does it? That leads to the ego suffering as it sees again and again that it’s frame of understanding is too limited to really understand the world. Some people go into victim identities. Others become greater control freaks, trying to find safety through the vain effort of controlling situations, relationships, and themselves. It only causes more pain, and that is ultimately what an unconscious ego does. It doesn’t mean that waking up will bring any less pain in your life, but it does bring less suffering. Because the unconscious ego will step on a nail, and it’ll curse the world for putting the nail there. Then it will go ahead and step on the nail again. And the cycle will continue.
This is like dating the same types of people or taking on the same types of jobs again and again. “Oh woe is me. I’m dating a jerk again. Why do I always date jerks?” If you want that answer, look at the mask you are wearing. Look at how you are presenting yourself to the world and who you think you are. Essentially, that’s what an awakened ego does. It steps on the nail and says, “That hurts. I don’t like that. What can I do next time to not do that?” It also may take this as a karmic learning lesson. It’ll say, “I co-created this situation. So what is my role in the creation of this?” By learning the lesson, the next time a similar situation appears, the awakened ego doesn’t step on the nail.
The Destruction of the Initial Ego
One of my really popular posts is called, “Facing Your Ego’s Death.” In awakening, that initial ego that you had is dissolving. It is part of the sacred destruction that goes on, but to the initial, unconscious ego it just looks like its the end of the world. In truth, this is the ego’s apocalypse. Because so many people are talking about “destroying the ego,” however, it seems that some people get lost in this transitional point. It’s the transition from the unconscious ego to the awakened ego. The one is dissolving to make space for another. In many ways, one building is being torn down inside, and another is being built–sometimes it feels like this is happening simultaneously.
The awakened ego knows what it is. It knows that it is a mask. And now, you have the awareness to take the mask off and try on another one if it so suits you. This isn’t done in an inauthentic way or as a way to fool yourself or anyone else. It is done simply because you’re curious about presenting yourself in another way. So, you can be a very serious person at work, or you can choose to be a very silly person at work. Before you would think that you always have to be serious at work. Your unconscious ego would have you believe that you couldn’t be any other way. The awakened ego knows that’s not true.
In another post, I described the awakened ego as a tool that knows it is a tool. Before, it was a hammer going around every place smashing things. With an awakened awareness, you know how to use the hammer and aren’t being run by the hammer’s awareness, which is…well, not much if any kind of awareness.
Allowing the Emergence of the Awakened Ego
Sometimes I also call this the spiritual ego, which is the ego that knows what is real. As I’ve inferred, we will always have personalities and points of view, in essence that’s what the ego is. That’s okay. That’s part of being human. You can’t live without some kind of point of view, and a somewhat ordered way of understanding the world is extremely helpful. For instance, my ego helps me remember my preferences. I don’t like cucumbers. However, I don’t need to hold onto that idea. It’s just a reminder, and I can decide to try cucumbers again if I want to. The old unconscious ego would have died before tasting a cucumber because somewhere in its programming it decided that it didn’t like cucumbers to begin with.
So that gives you a little idea about the role of the ego, but during an awakening, so much is shifting and changing, you will feel like you don’t know who you are….repeatedly. That’s okay. Don’t hold onto ideas about who and what you are. What you will need to do to embrace your awakened self is to do what you love. That is how you rebirth yourself and a new ego in love. And keep in mind, you will keep the personality traits that are most true to you. While you have to give up attachment to everything, the things that are truly aligned with yourself and with your heart will grow and flourish. The removal of attachments is like removing the vines that have been choking your garden. It will become very ironic. You’re realize how all these things and people and jobs and roles that you were attached to were killing the very things that mattered most to you.
The End of the War on the Ego
So I hope these words help you let go of any ideas about “destroying” the ego entirely. You will have an ego so long as you are in a human body. It’s just par for the course. But it will be an entirely new game when you’ve let go of all the old ways of being and thinking. It is not necessarily comfortable. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, you will have to learn how to get comfortable with internal discomfort, and at the same time, you will have to distinguish between needless pain–you aren’t meant to suffer through the spiritual path. This isn’t an ascetic or self-punitive path. But it will ask everything of you, including your initial ego. That may feel like the end of the world. And it will be the end of one world. But then you get to rebuild a new world and a new ego in service of spirit and that which you truly love.