Oh, the joys of EGO !

when you have a hold on us, we just can’t let go…

The other day, I had a discussion with a friend of mine, trying to clear what is ego, and why ego is not really our best friend in life. Not so easy to explain that ego is not our true self, but something totally different…

surrender

How to make somebody listen, when he is firmly convinced quite the contrary, that ego is an illusionary fiction with which we wrongly identify ourselves? He thinks, strongly believes, that his identity is his ego, and vice versa. « The truth is out there« … The truth of our being is not understandable from a fixed identity referred to a self (ego, sense of I)… Hummm, but how can you unfold that mystery?

Good question. I thus launched into a reflection and researches, which brought me to this…

And all begin with one of the big existential question: Who (or what) am I?

Becoming Self-Aware requires that we master recognizing our ego and that we understand ego is a functional part of our mind, instead of the essence of who we are. The challenge of being aware of our ego is that our mind has been programmed to believe it (ego) is who we are. Actually, our cherished ego is just the animal nature in us that has learned to survive external hostility through aggression, competition and being territorial. Ego’s aggression arises in order to protect itself and, “get” what is needed to survive.

If we dive in the Vedic teachings, our enquiry begins when we seek the nature of reality, and more specifically the nature of ourselves – as a spiritual being. As I have been told, I will simply divide the whole world into two parts: myself (I, me, the subject, the seer) and everything else (other, the objects, the seen). This is the fundamental experience of all human beings as we gaze out into the world from our observing self. Everything we experience fits into one of these two categories, called in Vedic/Sanskrit atma and anatma.

At this stage, we are completely separated from everything else. This arising self-sense inherently excludes aspects of reality. The ego is the “I” or self of any person, thinking, feeling, willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought. It is the creator of our perceptions, our illusions, of self-esteem or self-image, good or bad.

Our beloved ego takes great care that our superficial trappings & appearance, our clothes, our hair, the decoration of our homes, represent the picture we want to convey to the outside world. We thus create personas out of our insecurities. We crave attention and notoriety and go to great lengths to display our expertise and our convictions in order to receive affirmation of what is a false sense of self. And when others, with this same affliction, jump on our bandwagon, they actually do us great damage by affirming our illusions, and theirs.

Our precious ego is the part of our personality, the part of our brain that says “I am a (politic believe)” or “I am (race)” or “I am (nationality)” or “I am (religious believes)” or « I am better then you » or « I am not good enough to do that »! It is all that separates us from the rest of the whole world, a strict, rigid belief system that will always create limitation, keep us disconnected, and STUCK!

I am sure we all, at some point, experienced some strong emotions when someone shows us something new that we have not heard before, or when we discover something new, which usually violates one of our current belief systems, this rigid structure of the way things have to be in our conception of the world.

It’s not us as we really are, it’s just our naughty ego… that makes us resist this new information.

The “ego-force” is at the root-cause of this resistance, and thus is responsible for all the emotional and mental suffering created by this resistance. When our sense of “I” becomes such a strong force that it causes us to disconnect from “wholeness” we become imbalanced/deluded, and thus enter into a cycle of negativity.

Besides resistance, there are 2 others major structural manifestations of the « egoic self »: attachment, and judgment.

Resistance is refusing to accept what is actually arising in the here and now, the new, and to recognise the impermanence of everything.

In attachment, the ego sustains itself by owning. There are many categories of objects that the ego can attach to, including physical objects (my toy, car, my property), ideas, opinions (my thoughts, my beliefs), and roles (I am a father, son, student, spouse, victim). One obvious manifestation of attachment is ownership, making something ‘ »mine ». The problem is that ego is greedy, and always wants more. The Buddhists refer to it as the hungry ghost with an enormous belly and a mouth the size of the eye of a needle.

The last but not the least: judgment. Our delightful ego always needs to be right, to have the last word, to find fault. « My (blablabla) is better/worse than yours ». Complaining, comparing and resentment are common egoic activity.

And activity it is! We are called human beings, but a better term would be « human doings ». Because our thoughtful ego needs activity in order to exist. Like and dislike, attachment, aversion, greed and hatred are the main overt activities of the ego. The more desire and aversion we have the more alive « we » feel, the more real and concrete the ego is. The more we go on generating desire, judgmental thoughts, the more the ego seems real, standing in for our true self. We cannot simply enjoy just being.

According to contemporary spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, the egoic self, as an embodied form of « separateness », is the fundamental obstacle to an emerging new mode of consciousness. He defines the « egoic self » as « a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment. » Never in the present, always wondering between past and future, our « butterflying » ego requires the past for its identity and the future for its fulfilment, and thus can never settle down in the present moment.

Do you prefer to let the bicycle rides for you, or do you prefer to be the ride?

« Don’t do, just be », could be our mantra against ego…

The present moment, the « Now & Here » is the gateway into self-realization. As always, it is simple, but far from easy!

Cunning as a fox, our ego never lets go the past neither the future. Arising as a resistance to the flow of impermanence coming through the senses, ego creates stimuli, including our thoughts, memories, and emotions. Like the « Madeleine de Proust », when we see, hear, smell taste, touch, and think, the mind unconsciously brings in our past memories of attraction and aversion and reactions to the present sense stimulation, and then it projects these into the future with the subsequent thoughts, emotions, and reactions.

So the ego-conditioned mind is always moving between past and future, which creates the inability to simply be in the present. Separated from the present, we are separated from our true nature. We live in an illusion, created by the ego.

Separation, desire, greed, attachment, etc, are at the same time the manifestation of our ego, and everything it needs to exist and become more and more powerful. How clever! All those illusive mental phenomenons are one thing in common: the strength of ignorance. Which is, according to the Buddhists, the source of suffering.

 

When we can rest the mind and be more and more in the Present, in the « BE » and not in the « DO », then the past and future, desire, thus the ego, will start dissolving. One key word: surrender…

What is it that we are surrendering? Pujya Swami Chidanandaji makes very clear in his book « Ponder These Truths »: what is to be surrendered is the ego, the sense of separation. We don’t surrender our responsibilities; we surrender our sense of separation. And the purpose of the path of knowledge is to recognise that the sense of separation is a false creation of the mind, that we have to get rid of.

Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda said that « spiritual life is not meant to be static, it is meant to be progressive ». It’s a challenge, a long path, which is meant to be progressive. As pujya Swami Chidanandaji has pointed out, it takes patience, perseverance and attention. And I would love to add: devotion…

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