The word ego comes from latin and means I, me.
What we call ego is our temporary identity, our avatar in a sense. Our soul is a wave within the Ocean of Consciousness. When our soul or higher self wishes to incarnate, it projects a physical identity into the 3rd dimensional plane. Our temporary identity is what we call by our name. A good analogy is the one with a video game: When we play a video game we choose an avatar, a character we are going to play. As a player we are completely immersed inside the video game and identify completely with the character, living his adventures as if they were real. We sometimes identify so strongly with the character that we forget about the rest of the world and we forget we are this character but also the consciousness behind the game pad- observing and guiding the avatar. So if the soul is a wave within the Ocean of Consciousness, let’s say the physical identity is the surfer on his surf board. The surfer wants to have control over the wave, so he can go in this or that direction. Until he realizes that if he lets go of the control and lets the wave take the lead, it will guide him much more smoothly to the shore. If we let go of the control over our lives, we allow our soul (the wave) to carry us where we need to go when we need to.
Generally when we choose an incarnation we also choose to erase our memory of what was before, let’s say this is part of the rules of the game called life. Nevertheless, a lot of souls coming in now choose to bring with them the memory of what was before (past lives, spiritual realms, Source, etc.) so they can teach others about it.
In some spiritual communities we have demonized the ego, condemning it to death so we can eliminate the illusion in which it imprisons us. This way of thinking is an indirect consequence of the ever-growing interest in Buddhist philosophy and spirituality across the globe. But there is a misinterpretation of this fundamental wisdom. When the Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi tree, he was tempted by Māra. Māra is often depicted as a demon or evil spirit; it is in fact a metaphor for the Buddha’s ego trying to tempt him into earthly lust and desire. The Buddha challenges Māra and triumphs over him by reaching enlightenment. But the word ego was unknown to the Buddhist culture, the concept of ego as we know it today comes from the early 20th century Western philosophy, psychology and Freudian psychoanalysis.
The spiritual teacher Matt Kahn has a very relevant definition of ego: ego might be in fact the result of an over-stimulated nervous system, a kind of inflammation of the personality, like an allergic reaction. When we were children we became allergic to the collective unconsciousness and this allergy left us with an inflammatory state of our personality. The personality is present on a soul level in its highest aspect, and it experiments its negative aspect through ego. Matt Kahn defines 4 big archetypes of ego: self-righteousness, victimhood, neediness and entitlement.
-The self-righteous ego: wants to be always right, knows better than anyone and always wants to have the last word.
-The victimized ego: thinks the world/the Universe is against it and it is doomed.
-The needy ego: wants always more and more and cannot satisfy itself with what it has.
-The entitled ego: thinks it has more rights and privileges than others and at the expense of others (those are the egos that currently rule the planet).
Most egos fall into one of these category, but some show aspects of several of these categories.
Our ego is formed during our childhood around the age of 6 or 7, the age of reason, when our rational minds are formed. Before that age the concept we have of ourselves is not yet defined. Small children do not know where their identity begins or ends, they are like sponges absorbing everything from their environment especially from their parents, family or care-givers.
We all have gone through some trauma growing up, whether it is visible on the surface or not and this has contributed to format our personality structure. I prefer to see the ego as the Halloween mask our inner child is wearing to protect himself in order to survive within our society. The ego’s job is to guarantee our survival and it has structured itself in a specific manner to fulfill this mission.
When we were kids our survival has been jeopardized because our education was based on conditional love and attention instead of unconditional love. “You will have my approval when you behave”; “You will have my love and attention only if you have good grades in school”…Even if those exact words were not said the intention and the impact on us were very real. Socializing through the school system has reinforced this separate identity construct (competitive spirit, comparison with others, etc.).
But a child in all its innocence and spontaneity needs to feel unconditionally loved and supported to thrive harmoniously. Children wear their hearts on their sleeves and run around with their arms wide open to share and receive love. And sometimes all they get in return is a slap in their face (literally or figuratively). This kind of trauma has triggered the survival mechanism within the child (that we could call the inflammation of the personality) and the ego has hijacked our innocence because it thought it had to save us. It took control over our life so nothing bad would happen to us again. So we have let him take the steering wheel of our life until we ended up totally identifying with it, believing that’s who we are.
The ego sees the world vertically: it can only apprehend itself through the concepts of superiority/inferiority, comparison, Good and Bad. It sees the world through the lens of separation between all things. For example a “superior” ego will be the type that develops pride and narcissism, feeling superior to others and always wanting to be the center of attention. Whereas an “inferior” ego is more the shy type, or humble to the extreme. It thinks of itself always being less than others and avoids attention. On the contrary, our soul or Higher self perceives the world horizontally: equality between all beings, Unity of creation and integrates the other as self.
Going to war with our ego is counter-productive and is like going to war with ourselves. Demonizing the ego is saying there is a part of ourselves that is Divine and the other is not. Yet All that is, is Divine. When we recognize that what has structured our ego personalities are the wounds and traumas we carry; then we can see that these wounds are the core of our suffering. The ego is not responsible for it, it has simply tried to save us from it. It is our identification with ego that is the problem.
Most of us when we are on spiritual path know that we are hiding behind this Halloween mask. We know that what we are hiding is our vulnerability, frailty and our wounds. Over the years this mask becomes the wall we put between ourselves and others, it’s our protection. This wall is often filled with bombs and mines ready to explode at any assault. Sometimes just a simple statement triggers an automatic and violent reaction as if the external world was here to annihilate us. It’s the only way our inner child has found to defend itself and survive in this harsh reality.
The truth is without the ego, without Māra the Buddha would have not reached enlightenment and in that sense we can recognize the ego for what it really is: a servitor of the Divine. The ego allows our soul to explore and experience what separation is, and by showing what we are not (separation), it reveals to us what we truly are (Unity). Everything and nothingness at the same time.
To start disidentifying with the ego is it crucial to start questioning what our thoughts are telling us and take a step back. A confrontation with the ego is never productive and is very self-hating, but we can dive deep into our being to unravel the wounds and flaws that are the cause of our “inflamed” personality construct.
In order to shine the light on these wounds and flaws there is only one remedy: unconditional love and attention for all the parts of our being that are hidden behind the mask for so long, only waiting for love to enter. Like a little child all curled up on himself behind the wall, his head between his knees - only waiting for a gentle hand to be lent. So let’s have the courage to lend that loving hand to ourselves, let’s have the courage to love ourselves and all the parts of our being we don’t want to look at and that we have abandoned so long ago…Telling our ego to shut up and condemning what it is saying is like saying shut up to a small child in pain. Assuming we try to avoid saying that to a child in pain, why do we say that to ourselves?
The death of ego is a trap, death of ego means total death because death is dissolution of ego which is physical death and return to Source, to the Ocean. Even when we become enlightened our ego does not disappear, there is simply no more identification to it. After becoming enlightened the Buddha was regularly tempted by Māra during the course of his life but instead of opposing him he would say: “Oh my dear friend has come to visit, let’s make some tea”. And he would honor his guest and invite him to sit down with him in order to listen to what he had to say.
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