Ego… Is it the source of all evil or a necessary mechanism in order to live a human life? Does the ego needs to be purified or eradicated? Do we have to learn to live with this bloody bastard for the rest of our life? Or is he actually working in our favour if we treat him well? But hey… what the hell are we actually talking about? What is that thing we call ‘ego’?! Are we really understanding it?
When my wife asked me this morning what I mean with ‘ego’ I found myself puzzled as I wasn’t instantly able to answer the question. After 15 years of in-depth self-investigation I couldn’t answer this core question. I decided to sit with it for a while and write out my observations. I’m not gonna share with you what other people think or wrote about it, neither will I claim to share with you the one and only, ultimate truth. I will simply share with you my best possible ‘objective’ truth from my personal observation.
Who’s the bad guy?
A definition that came to me at first is the following: “The one that separates ‘me’ from ‘the other’ is the ego.” Sounds logical, right? Does that make the ego a problem causing mechanism or ‘bad guy’? No, I don’t think so. My body will be separated from ‘the other’ as long as it’s alive. Perfectly natural and nothing wrong with that, if you ask me. Now, what is the fishy thing about the ego than? Clearly, the ego is involved in egoism, narcissism, greed, jealousy, lies, anger, fear and much more stinky business. But with this definition I cannot conclude the ego to be ‘the bad guy’. So where did it go wrong and how is ego involved? Let’s investigate it more deeply.
The image of your Self
My best possible definition of the ego would be the following: “The ego is the one that you believe yourself to be.” You ‘believe’ yourself to be something. That ‘something’ might be entirely different from what you really are. In fact, that something, this belief, must be different from what you really are. It is a mental image you have created of yourself, and thus it is not yourself. This image can be compared with the image you perceive of yourself when you look into the mirror. You are not the mirror. You are the one looking at the mirror. The one who’s looking is the one you really are – your Self. The image in the mirror is the layer of belief that covers up the true Self. It might look like it at times, but is entirely different by nature.
The dense and transparent ego
This image or layer of belief (yes, it all is the ego) can be dense or transparent. The ego that is entirely blinded by identifications is a dense ego. A person can identify himself with many different aspects of his surroundings; name, fame, failure, job, belongings, etc. If these identifications are strong, the veil of ego is thick and the person is unable to see through it and perceive the source and true nature if his being; the Self. The source is the Self. The source of the ego is the Self too, just like the source of the image in the mirror is your actual body. When the source – the Self – is entirely covered up by a thick layer of identifications, the person is likely to be unhappy and prone to feel in fear, anger and other expressions of suffering.
So with this being said, I must conclude the ego by itself doesn’t create suffering. It’s only when one identifies his ego with certain aspects of the surroundings that suffering is created. The core separation of Self and ‘image of the Self’ (ego) does create unavoidably identifications. It is an unavoidable tendency of the ego that is familiar to every human being on the planet. Identifications cause suffering, but there is a way to enlighten this dark cloud and pull out those identifications by the root.
Than what would be a transparent ego? The ego that came to realise, by conscious observation, reasoning and analysis, the illusionary nature of its self is a transparent ego. This ego is liberated from the bondage of identifications. It is aware of the ‘me’ and simultaneously consciously recognises the ‘we’ (the united field of the Self) behind all ideas of separation. Only then the ego is healthy and able to function for the benefit of the Self and thus the benefit of all, as the Self is all. A transparent ego creates a happy person that influences the surroundings harmoniously.
What is the function of ego?
Now rises another question; Is the ego necessary to survive and be happy? Or can we just lynch it once we find out how to do that? I think the ego mechanism wouldn’t be existing if nature didn’t intent to make it functional and somehow necessary for the full human experience. To me getting rid of the ego sounds as absurd as stating that we have to get rid of our physical body in order to be happy and free. It’s all part of one multi-layered organism, and came into existence for our favour.
Than what could be the favour the ego would bring us? What is its function? When the ego is transparent, free from identifications and rooted in the wisdom that acknowledges who you really are, it starts to function optimally. The main function of the ego is protection. It is protecting us physically and psychologically. Without an ego, and thus without any idea of limitations, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate yourself from a banana, a car or another person. You would have a baby-like perception, would not be able to function and survive on your own, and would likely soon go crazy in this world.
A healthy, transparent ego also protects you from a harsh environment in which many dense egos are active. If a transparent ego comes in touch with a dense ego, it will not react to potentially harmful influences from the same unconscious place the dense ego is reacting from. It will not react from a place of personal identifications. Rather it will act from the place of the Self that makes use of a healthy protection mechanism (transparent ego) or it might not react at all. In this way it strives to protect the person from physical and psychological harm.
Another function of the ego is the unique expression of our talents. Only the ego can give passage to one’s purpose and the gifts that it’s bearing. Paradoxically one’s unique purpose always is interwoven with the egoic identifications. It is only by going through the suffering and hardship caused by identifications that one’s purpose can ripen and bear fruits. The yin/yang symbol makes this visible very clearly.
There is yet another function of the ego that is related to the process of spiritual awakening. Only by becoming aware of the ego one comes to realise the Self. Only by becoming aware of the unconscious identifications that were made, and the core split that happened in the mind - the idea of ‘me’ and ‘the other’ – are we able to see the Self. If we see the Self, and consciousness is looking at consciousness, we realise that all is related, all is One.
So that’s sorted. To conclude I would answer the title of this article with a clear NO. I would say getting rid of your ego would be a foolish thing, as it can function as a healthy protection mechanism as well as a doorway to our purpose and spiritual awakening. Instead of eradicating the ego, simply becoming aware of it might be more helpful. Especially becoming aware of identifications is the key to liberation from any kind of suffering. With this being written, I can return to my wife now, and give her a well-thought-out answer.