What is the Ego?

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What is the ego?

There are people who have renounced all possessions but have a bigger ego than some millionaires. If you take away one kind of identification, the ego will quickly find another. It ultimately doesn’t mind what it identifies with as long as it has an identity. – Eckhart Tolle

The ego is a truly fascinating, yet extremely complex topic. If you really want to  know more about yourself, it is fundamental that you understand what the egoic mind – as Eckhart Tolle called it – is and how it works. Becoming more aware of your ego will have tremendous implications for your life and for the life of others around you. However, you will need to be very open-minded to accept what I’m going to say in that article. You might not like it. Or should I say, your ego might not like it!

Are you aware of your ego

Notice that your current understanding of the ego depends on how self-aware you currently are. People at the lowest level of consciousness are not even aware that the ego exists and is running their entire life. They are completely enslaved by their ego, dominated by their thoughts, trapped in their mind.

On the contrary, people with the highest level of consciousness are able to see through their ego, and to reach a point where they can transcend it after a long and intense battle with their mind. Their thoughts then mean absolutely nothing, their mind is a tool, a way of expression of their higher self. They are the master of their mind not its slave.

What is the ego?

Let’s clarify what I mean by ego. We often say of someone that he has a “big “ego referring to ego as something close to pride. However, pride is only one of the many ways the ego manifests itself within a person. Because you don’t show any apparent pride, and appear shy or modest doesn’t mean your ego is not controlling you. It may very well control your life beyond what you can imagine.

So what is the ego? The ego refers to the entire identity that you – or to be more precise your mind – has been constructed throughout your life. How was your identity created? It’s very simple. Your identity was created through your thoughts and is still changing right now as you are thinking. Actually, your entire identity is a mind-made identity created solely by your thoughts; it has no concrete reality. Events that happen to you throughout your life have absolutely no meaning in themselves. It is only your interpretation, based on your thoughts, that gives meaning to those events and create your story and identity.

Where does the ego come from?

It is a great question that I wish I could answer. Actually I don’t think anyone, even the greatest spiritual teachers, has the answer. As we don’t know why the universe exists, how it was created and what created it, we don’t know either why the ego exists and why it works so hard to ensure its survival at our depends.

Your ego needs an identity

Your ego is a mind-made selfish entity that is only concerned about its own survival. It will do whatever it can to survive. It doesn’t care about your happiness. Your ego doesn’t want you to be at peace. It doesn’t want you to rest. It wants you to be a go-getter, to do something, to have something, to pursue something, to achieve something and to become “somebody”. It is never satisfied.

Your ego, in order to exist needs an identity. It is through identification with things, people or beliefs that it creates its own identity.

Here is some examples of what your ego identify with:

Things

The ego likes to identify with materialistic things. Needless to say that it strives in today’s world. Nothing could make it happier. In a sense, we can say that capitalism and the consumer society is a creation of collective egos. That’s why it has been working quite well for a while. On the contrary, communism failed because it was based on a false assumption that people are egoless. My guess is that in a community of egoless enlightened people communism could actually work pretty well.

In itself buying things is not a problem. Just watch out for your ego. If you feel a sense of attachment to those things, if you need them, it means that your ego is standing in the way. Marketers know that very well. That’s how marketing works actually. Marketing is used as a way to create so-called “value” to customers. In reality, in most cases it is just a way to activate people’s ego. By buying a certain product, people buy into the “value” delivered by the product and their ego creates a false identity out of it. It is not the product that they are buying it’s the “value”.  They don’t need any of these things, but their ego – which is what they think they are – needs it.

Trying to find oneself in things is a lost battle that nobody has ever won!

Persons

The ego also derives it sense of identity from relationships.

The ego is only interested in the following things: “What can I get from that person?” Does that person allow me to strengthen my identity?” It doesn’t care about anything else.

Understand that we don’t consciously choose to act out of our ego. Actually, the ego is neither good nor bad, it is just a result of unconsciousness. The ego automatically starts to fade away once we become aware of it. Ego and awareness cannot coexist.

Let’s see how the ego works in the following cases

Parents/child relationships

Some parents’ egos lead to the creation of strong sense of attachment and identification with their children. It is based on the false belief that their children are their “own”. As a result, they try to control their children’s life once they reach adulthood or they try to “use” them as a way to live the life they wanted to live to name a few tricks of the ego. Of course, everything happens largely unconsciously. (See also 4 Disturbing Truths You’d Prefer to Ignore)

Couples

The feeling of needing someone is very much a play of the ego too. Anthony de Mello has a beautiful way to put it when he says: “Loneliness is not cured by human company. Loneliness is cured by contact with reality, by understanding that we don’t need people”. Once we realize that we don’t need anyone, then we can start enjoy people’s company and see them as they really are rather than thinking consciously or unconsciously about what you can get from them. Do you need people? Why?

Your body

Your ego loves your body because it is the easiest thing to identify with. We don’t have to look that far to see how strongly we are identified with our body. Most people derive their self-worth from their body, from the way they look, how much they weigh, how tall they are, what the color of their skin is etc.

It is very convenient for the ego to have a body it can attach itself to. It allows it to create a clear identity and separation between you and others. But are you really your body? Can you prove it?

Your beliefs

Beliefs also allow the ego to create a separation and give you a sense of identity. “I am republican. You are democrat.”

Some people are so strongly attached to their beliefs that they are ready to die for it. Or worse, to kill people who disagree with them. Religion is a perfect illustration of the danger of the ego. The ego will use any kind of beliefs to strengthen its identity. People say “I am this, I am that” all the time, but it’s nothing more than a thought. People are ready to commit all kind of atrocities out of illusions coming from their mind. Nothing that comes from your mind is actually true. Is your mind really who you are? Have your thoughts real power over you?

More generally

Here is a list of things your ego generally derives its identity from

  • Your name
  • Your age
  • Your gender
  • Your nationality
  • Your job
  • Your social status
  • Your role (employee, housewife, parents, CEO…)
  • Your beliefs (political beliefs, religious beliefs…)
  • Your culture
  • Your family, your friends
  • Materialistic things (Your house, your car, your clothes, your phone…)
  • Your “personal story” (Your interpretation of the past, your expectations regarding the future)
  • Your desires
  • Your body
  • Your problems (illnesses, financial problems, victim mindset…)

The ego needs a sense of superiority

The ego wants to feel superior. It wants to stand out and it needs to create some kind of artificial separations to do that. Here are some stratagems your ego is using to feel superior:

  • Enhancing its value through people. If you are friend with a celebrity, your ego will associate with that person to try to strengthen its identity.
  • Gossiping. People gossip because it makes them feel different and superior in some ways.
  • Manifesting an inferiority complex. It hides a desire to be better than others
  • Manifesting a superiority complex. It hides the fear of not being good enough
  • Looking for fame. It gives the illusion of superiority
  • Being right. The ego loves to be right. It a great way for it to affirm its existence.
  • Complaining. When you complain by definition you are right and others are wrong. It works with objects too. You hurt a table with your leg. The table is wrong. “What was the table thinking being on my way!! Seriously.”
  • Seeking attention. Everything that can allow the ego to stand out is good for the ego. It includes recognition, praise or admiration to name a few. Some people might also seek attention by committing crime, wearing eccentric clothes or having tattoos all over the body for instance.

The main characteristics of the ego

Here are some main characteristics of the ego you might want to keep in mind.

  • The ego tends to equate having with being
  • The ego live through comparison
  • The ego is never satisfied
  • The ego’s sense of self-worth is often bound up with the worth you have in the eyes of others.

Do you need the ego?

The important question to ask yourself is: do you need the ego to live?

Can you live without deriving your self-worth from the way society and other people perceive us? Can you live without creating an artificial separation between you and other people? Can you live happily and without any problems or needs for external things? Can you live without creating an identity through our thoughts and becoming a slave of this fictive personal story?

Meditate on those questions. Some people have the answer and I have my idea on that too.

Who are you? What is it that never changes in you?

See also:

What is Enlightenment? Are You Seeing Reality as It is?

What is Enlightenment? What is Preventing You from Seeing Reality?

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Comments 6

  • I am a living being in this big world. There is nothing in me that never changes. Everything is constantly changing whether we are aware of it or not.

  • Thank you very much for your comment Karen.
    What is it that allows these changes to happen? Who is perceiving these changes?

  • This is a good article on the ego. I also sense there is something in me that has not changed (the I AM…). However, I read Stillness Speaks a lot so maybe I am getting it from there….

  • Thanks for your comment John. I read The Power of Now and A New Earth but I didn’t know Eckhart Tolle had a book called Stillness Speaks. This article was largely inspired from Eckhart Tolle’s books as you may have noticed.
    Recently, I like to take some time before sleeping to reconnect with that thing that never change in me. No matter how bad was our day, it is past now and the more we realize that our past doesn’t exist the less power it has power on us. It seems to me that past is becoming less and less a problem and that I forget faster and faster things that happen to me.

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