Ego is often referred to in spiritual teachings, yet the term can seem confusing, for in spiritual circles the definition of an ego can vary greatly with the one more commonly known from western psychology.
From a spiritual point of view, ego is used to help point out that most of us live through a false sense of self. To be in ego means we know ourselves as an egoic fabrication and thus we mainly operate from this false sense of self. This false sense of self can feel so real and so personal that many of us cannot perceive that there is something more authentic that operates from within. This largely traps us in our egoic generated feelings and perception of the world, and ultimately leads to our own suffering.
The reason ego feels so convincingly real is because it is able to hook into our emotional body and use our feelings within the body to make it feel real, thus supporting the egoic generated beliefs and thoughts about itself as the sovereign being.
“You’re not what you think”
Where many people get caught in the false sense of egoic self is with their feelings/ideas that they are their body and/or that their thoughts are real. That is, when the body dies they also die and/or what thoughts they have is a real reflection to them about who and what they are. That is, they are mostly what they think but more importantly, it is them that is doing the thinking, because to them the thoughts seem like they come from the real me, which is precisely how the ego masquerades as the real self.
Upon self-discovery it can be seen that the egoic me doesn’t actually exist, for the ego is nothing more than a story in the mind. It is a way the mind thinks about itself and creates an image and a sense of self through the stories it tells itself.
“A sense of Self without any Self to find”
Yet it is true to say there is indeed a sense of self and a careful search will reveal that there is indeed something there, but yet nothing there to find, as our true nature is not able to be grasped by the mind. A sense of self without a self to find, an ‘I’ that exists beyond death and is independent of mind.
However from the ego’s perspective, it wants to feel real and has it has no substance, it compensates for this by seeking to identify with anything in order to create an important ‘personal me’, literally creating something out of nothing. That is, in order to feel like it exists it needs to be something. As it doesn’t really exist, it operates from a base sense of insecurity and tries to mask its fear of its non-existence by continuously seeking opportunities to enhance itself, wanting to feel bigger, more important, more me...
“Any definable sense of self
forms part of the egoic me”
Objects, beliefs and feelings are perfect opportunities for the ego to attach meaning to, creating or enhancing an identity based on this attachment, where the object identified with is also somehow now part of me. If there is anything we truly know/think/believe about our self, we are caught by the ego, for any definable sense of self forms part of the ego. A classic example of egoic identification would be with our body and its appearance, which forms a part of our sense of essential self. This identification can lead to tremendous discomfort when the body gets older and deteriorates, as our perceived sense of self-worth is diminished coupled with the egoic imaginary fear that our existence is going to be destroyed when we realise that the body will one day die.
Another example of physical object identification would be when a person identifies with a car, that is, this car is now a part of their sense of self, so if you were to damage their car, if feels to them like you are hurting the very core of them. Scratch their car and see what happens…
Belief or opinion identification can be seen when people are defensive when questioned about their beliefs or opinions, for their belief/opinion is no longer just an idea they hold to be true, but is also now part of their sense of self; I am this belief/opinion, so if you question my belief or opinion you are questioning my very existence, and intuitively I will defend my existence.
Identification with feelings can often be found in our statements, for example, ‘I am sad’, where the common unconscious belief is that the ‘I’ is somehow equal to sadness, rather than realising that the ‘I’ is experiencing an energy in motion (emotion) called sadness.
“What I do is not what I am”
The ego also likes to enhance, that is to say, identify itself with roles or functions, examples could include being a mother or an engineer. When we become identified with a role or function, it gets confused with our sense of essential self. This confusion leads us to believe that what I do is what I am, thereby limiting ourselves in our ability to perceive and interact with the world, as we have boxed ourselves in an identity based on a role or function.
This role or function identification can be sensed when meeting someone new, for when asked what do you do, they may reply ‘I am an engineer’, unconsciously believing their statement that the ‘I is an Engineer’, rather than realising, ‘I do engineering’, that is, the I is expressing itself in a work function that can best be described as an engineer.
“If its personal its ego”
One way to recognise when we are operating from ego is to notice when it feels personal or if it feels like it really matters about whatever is happening in our life. These feelings are generated as a result of perceiving life through the ego, as the ego perceives itself as a separate being that consequently has a relationship to everything in life. That is, whatever is happening in the world, the ego has a position on it relative to itself. Like the sun, which is central to the planets revolving around it in our solar system, the ego places itself central in its world, monitoring and judging everything around it, perceiving the objects closest to it as personal and/or most important or most threatening.
“As long as I am resisting
I feel like I am existing”
Noticing struggle and resistance in life is another sign of egoic consciousness. For the ego tries to maintain its sense of uniqueness, wanting to be separate and central in its world. This makes the ego addicted to pain and struggle, for the ego has to be in some resistance to what is, or else our sense of separation and uniqueness begins to dissolve, dissolving the ego with it. A helpful way to think of the ego is not as a noun but as a verb, as resisting. As long as it is resisting something, it can feel separate and thus alive.
Ego is talked about in Spiritual circles because in order to wake up out of our illusion it can be helpful to know how we are deluding ourselves. That is, how we are living from a false sense of self.
“It has to be experienced…”
Truly, the only way we can authentically know if we live from an egoic me is to take the step and find out for ourselves who or what we really are. For some, this need to know comes strongly from within, for others, their intense and prolonged suffering generated by the egoic me is pushing them into their truth. Either way, to borrow a Buddhist saying, the view from the top of mountain is the same, regardless of the path you took to get there.
Suggested Reading: Eckart Tolle’s New Earth; teachings on Ego
By: Published: April 2016