Give the Ego a Chance: How to Heal and Work with it
Many people are striving now a day to be happy. All over the world many of us feel compelled to grow and find a personal and collective state of joy and peace. When we face this enormous so-called challenge of “becoming happier”, we realize that there is no other form of growth than self-development, and that this journey is all about self-discovery.
It is common to seek the questions of “why” this or that is happening to me, but certainly, this leads to a great frustration as we realize there is no real or satisfying answer. We then move to a much more effective question: “how” to accomplish that person that I want to be. And without hesitation this dilemma encounters the real great question: “who am I?”.
Getting to Know the Ego:
One of the major blocks we find in the journey of self-discovery is the Ego. What is the Ego? Although there is a popular knowledge about it through affirmations like “this feeds my ego” or “you need a stronger ego”, when we come closer to eastern perspectives it is frequent to find the notion of letting go of the ego.
How does this really work? Who am I beyond my ego?
First of all we need a definition of ego to give a common ground of what we are talking about. Although Psychology has made long-term attempts of defining it, now a days there is a growing necessity of managing this and more concepts, and moreover, applying them in our real life. In this article I will give grounded notions of the Ego and its adherent concepts so that we can learn to work with ourselves in our daily life.
Just as we need a vehicle to move through long distances, we need an ego to function in this third dimension and navigate through this material reality. Just as a car (or our body), commonly we don´t know all of its pieces and mechanisms, but we are aware that it moves, functions and serves a purpose.
Imagine yourself floating around with no purpose and bumping into the objects in the world with no direction. It would be chaotic. So we need a certain guideline, a sense of motion and an inner sense of piloting this navigation.
The ego is a vehicle. Of what? The real You. Picture yourself sitting in a computer (which for this example could be another type of vehicle). Imagine that the computer suddenly starts using you and begins to open programs and applications with no control of you over it. It would be ridiculous right? It is as ridiculous the way that the ego –and its ally, the mind- controls our lives. So if the computer is the ego and the mind (as a software), then who or what is controlling it…? You. Who is you? Think for a moment… There is an inner sense of you that moves beyond the vehicles, that has consciousness of them and gives purpose to that use. That inner attitude could be defined as the Soul, in C.G. Jung´s terms.
As the computer registers a history of how it was used and when, so does our Ego. We register all of our impressions in the world as we grew up. Our first society is our family, directed by our parents, and this is the first mirror and given source of concepts that we get for ourselves and the sense of who we are. And of course there is a whole realm of ourselves that we don´t yet know (the personal unconscious). But as our parents were also influenced and impregnated by something else (the collective unconscious) our ego is a product of multiple and inherited patterns of conditioning (behaviors, morals, etc),as Osho refers to it, that “models” our external presentation.
So the Ego becomes a character built up by multiple characters, concepts and the roles we play in society, everything we have externally learned as good or bad. So the Ego, the subject of consciousness, as Jung defines it, is the complex of things that we have identified upon and by which we function. In other words, what we know about ourselves, or what we have chosen to know about ourselves are those characters we play in all of our relationships.
But the Ego, this vehicle, is part of a whole, something bigger in which it is sustained. The Psyche, that bigger realm, contains 2 dimensions: the conscious and the unconscious. In the field of the conscious the ego resides. In the field of the unconscious the Self resides, that animus part of us that embodies and manifests the soul.
The consciousness would be like the property of our whole psychic realm of knowing itself.
The Traps of the Ego:
So the Ego is made of characters and concepts learned (most of them imposed!) and like in any movie, the Ego likes to play games between these roles. Emotion and commotion are the motors of this theatre, and although it can be fascinating it can also be very exhausting and destructive. The Ego was taught to manipulate and be manipulated, to attack and defend itself. So the vehicle that we are taught to use has these main functions.
As part of the show, the Ego is so, a creator and victim of this ornamented illusion. It relates primarily to the external world, thus, likes to control the uncontrollable. The Ego knows that the realm of the unconscious is by nature, uncertain, and so, as a vehicle, needs a structure to feel secure. It will do anything to keep holding the great illusion of a perfectly controlled and manipulated world outside, where everyone else is revolving around it and fulfilling its demands. This is what we call the traps of the ego: it will lie, push, demand, defend, attack, compete, protect, constrain, yell, and dramatize, as far as it can go, so to keep up this ongoing game of sustaining the main illusion of control. The greatest joke of the Ego is that it makes a fool of itself. As it is oriented towards the outside world, the Ego won´t take responsibility for itself, tending to judge and blame the outside world for its results. It is good to remember that “we don´t see thing as they are, we see them as we are”. The great illusion that happiness or God is something you search on the outside is a notion that comes from the Ego.
On a collective level, the sum of Egos build up a conditioned and rigid society whose individuals are confined to determined ways of behaving and in which the world is a result of black and white, good and bad, a consensus of “normality” and what is expected of each one. There is no room for spontaneity, authenticity and creativity, because this defies the old rigid ways of the Ego and so, we learn to compromise our inner truth since the very beginning. And every time the illusion is cracked open, it is hurtful for the Ego (not the true Self).
The process by which the Ego derives to a False Self instead of a Real Self is a matter of a whole new article; however, it is central to understand how this vehicle can be oriented to fulfill one way or another. The Ego, which is an essential quality of the human being, is prone to support either the negative sides of yourself or the positive ones.
On a “metaphysical” level, the Ego vibrates mainly on FEAR (of the natural uncertainty of reality) and so, it serves a very specific purpose of protecting the human body, its functions, and the embodied soul. Although it may surprise you, this is a very essential need for the human being; if it weren´t for the Ego, we would have no notion of the material world and our soul -and its floating nature- would make us just wonder around and not assimilate that a passing car or a raging lion could kill us. This is where the feeling of separation originally arises from, since we are born in a finite body, we adjust to the consciousness of differentiation from infinity.
Nevertheless, the Ego is supposed to be what it essentially is: a vehicle for the soul in this third dimension. And, as my Kundalini Yoga Master used to say to me often, “the rest is Maya (illusion) and games”.
Shedding the Ego: moving towards the Soul
As we now know that the Ego is a necessary mechanism of the human reality, as it translates the experiences of the outside world to our inner sense of being, we cannot get rid of it. Trying to eliminate it in the sense of a battle can even create more duality and suffering. However, if we remember the principle of the Universe, “nothing is created, nothing is destroyed, everything is transformed”, then we can have a closer sense of the Ego work that is to be done: Transformation.
As C.G. Jung and many others have described, transformation can only happen when we accept first. Acceptance has the quality of inclusion and integration and resonates on the level of LOVE, which is the Soul´s nature. Accept what? Everything that is beyond the boundaries of the ego (including it): uncertainty and the unknown. The Ego can only be transcended, this means, accept it and go beyond. Beyond where? Not to the outside world but within. As we move towards the inner self (the manifested aspect of the Soul) we delve into the unconscious and the unknown. This is the place that in Transpersonal Psychology is called “The Shadow”: hidden on unconscious aspects of oneself which the ego has either repressed or never recognized. It is the one that holds the potential of becoming our True Self, it is where our authenticity, spontaneity and all the pasts wounds related to them are resting, constituting at the same time, our greatest fears.
The wise Miguel Ruiz said that what we mostly fear is to become our True Self, and to do that we need to transcend the Ego, go beyond its mechanisms and tune into acceptance. This is why we mostly experience the opposite of the Ego in this process: vulnerability, openness, innocence, flexibility, softness, neutrality. Recalling on C.G. Jung, “the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the unconscious”.
That which you reject gives you the opportunity of going deeper within you. Working with the Shadow is like going inside a dark room. You move around it, explore the experience with your whole senses and intuition and reach for the power switch (that holds your potential), finally turning the light on. This light, which is our Consciousness, suddenly brings a sense of completeness again. The more lights your turn on in the inside, the more consciousness you have of yourself and the saying “we are light” makes even more sense. It is in this light that it is possible to embrace our own divinity because there is full acceptance and consciousness of who we truly are.
This is how self-discovery leads to wisdom; you have the experience of your Inner Self. Transcending the Ego implies, then, to go within and not outside, because in the inside our Soul is connected to the Cosmic Consciousness, the Original Experience… “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes” (C.G. Jung).
To contribute to the evolution of humanity, we must start within ourselves. As we unfold our own personal subconscious, defying our ego with divine courage, we dive into our own personal consciousness, and thus, contributing to the collective consciousness too and its enlightment.
As we move closer to the Soul, let us give the vehicle (ego) a chance to be what it is meant to be: an expression of the Soul, serving and manifesting our Inner Self in the outside world.
Opportunities to heal and work with the Ego:
- - Get to know your Shadow and work with it.
- - Unidentify from your regular beliefs. Remember beliefs are temporary and they will change just as your circumstances do.
- - Get to know your Inner Self through the realm of the body; ask yourself frequently “What am I feeling right now?” and let the answer unfold itself by sensations instead of words at first. Take your time! This is not a fast exercise.
- - Gain consciousness of your “roles” and “characters”; which are the most common and when do they come outside to play.
- - Practice consciousness: be a witness of yourself, use slow and deep breathing, gain mindfulness upon everything you do.
- - Get to know yourself in these four dimensions, differentiating between them: thoughts, feelings, sensations, intuitions.
- - Practice interesting games such as dieting of judgments for a whole hour or expressing yourself without swearing to see what other language and form of expression comes out of you.
- - Adopt an innocent attitude as if you were a child, and play the learning game for a whole day: Rediscover everything, give yourself the chance of not knowing (and be ok with it), give yourself the chance of not having the last word nor trying to prove someone wrong. At the end of the day ask yourself gently: What did I learn from myself today?
- - If you made a mistake, laugh at yourself, laugh with yourself, then forgive yourself, just as an act of love.
- - Explore what happens to you internally if something doesn´t go your way. Explore your reactions. Write them down. Then read them outloud pretending you are a charcter from a movie. What do you feel?
- - At the end of the day, be thankful for all the “bad things” that happened. Explore what feelings and fears come to you. Let them exist. Allow yourself to truly thank bad things that happened. Practice this for a week and register what changes in you after this.
- - At the beginning of the day, open your arms and declare: I TRUST everything that comes to me during this day. Everything. Make the Ego uncomfortable. Take a leap of faith.