On the journey to consciousness, one of the first steps is identifying and finding peace with the ego.
The dictionary defines ego as “a persons sense of self-esteem or self-importance” and is often used to describe someone who is showing off or “up themselves”. But really, the ego is much more than that and can be described as the antagonist to consciousness.
The ego lives within all of us and plays a crucial role in helping us to find our conscious selves. From birth, most of us are conditioned to behave and act using our egos.
Here are the main ways in which the ego manifests itself:
1.) Identifying with Forms/Labels:
Eckhart Tolle states that when you label something you take away all the beauty of what is. What he means by this is that by identifying things using names or labels takes away from its true essence.
“A flower or bird could show you the way back to God, to the Source of yourself. When you look at it or hold it and let it be without imposing a word or mental label on it a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. It’s essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own essence back to you.”- Tolle
In society, we very quickly learn to identify and judge ourselves and others with labels and objects. We learn to define ourselves using our careers or family title, for example “I am a doctor” or “I am a Mom”. While these roles have a specific and important function, are they really who we are?
When we begin to identify with these titles as who we are, we separate ourselves from the essence of our being. The same applies to material possessions and objects. Continually striving for more and more in order to improve your self identity or self-worth is also the job of the ego.
When identification to things, objects and labels are stripped away you are left with the question – Who am I? Who am I without all the labels and ‘stuff’?
2.) Creating an Imagined Hierarchy:
Typically, you would imagine the ego to manifest itself as loud bravado but you can be in a state of ego simply sitting alone in a corner if you are in the same mindset.
Treating others differently based on the fabricated hierarchy’s of society is also the ego.
The reality is that we are all the same. No matter what our race, occupation, religion or ethnicity is. We are all the same and reacting to or treating others differently puts a barrier of separation between the essence of who we are and the rest of the Universe.
The same applies to plants and animals, by not treating them with respect, essentially you are not treating yourself with respect.
“Underneath the surface appearance, everything is not only connected with everything else, but also with the Source of all life out of which it came.”- Tolle
3.) Telling Your Story:
We all have a story- “she did this”, “he did that”, “I suffered through this”….retelling this story again and again is a pattern that the ego likes to hold on to. Re-telling a story and complaining about it puts you in victim mode and stirs up emotions like it was still happening, especially if you are still attached to the emotions of that story.
This unwillingness to let go and relinquish the past comes from our ego which enjoys keeping us in this ‘story space’. The ego is anything but the present moment and therefore anything that keeps you out of the present moment is the ego at play.
This is not to say that you can never re-tell a story from the past, but it’s when there is a sense of identity attached to the story or a constant internal monologue about how unfair this situation is- even long after it has happened, is the ego.
To be conscious, all we can do is look at the present moment. Accepting how we feel, whether the emotions are negative or not, and allowing ourselves to sit in that feeling creates stillness, space, understanding and eventually resolution. None of this can be achieved if you are playing ‘victim’ by retelling your story again and again- all this does is create more drama for the ego to feed on.
4.) Wishing the present was different:
Living in the present moment is the only conscious way to live. When you start feeling that you will only be happy once X,Y or Z happens all you are really doing is distracting yourself from the present moment and stepping into ego.
Our ego makes us believe that we need “things” to be happy or successful or at peace, when really all these things that we are seeking truly live within ourselves. You are already what you are seeking.
When a goal is made with a sense of ego rather than a conscious purpose, often when the goal is realized there is still a sense of dissatisfaction underneath it all. This is because the ego is always searching for more and more, rather than just allowing what is.
When we accept the present moment, and allow ourselves the space to understand that what we really seek has to occur internally before it can be expressed externally, we find a sense of deep peace and satisfaction.
Goals give us purpose, ambition and motivation but when we tie these goals to an end result or feeling, rather than focussing on the present moment we move away from consciousness. Nothing outside of ourselves is going to give us happiness or peace, for these things come from within.
“The ego says, once everything falls into place I will find peace. The soul says, once I find peace everything will fall into place”- Unknown.
5.) Feeding in to others:
One of the first steps to “taming the ego” is to become aware of it and sometimes it is easier to be aware of it in others than in ourselves.
When you recognize ego in others the most important thing to do is not feed in to it. While this can be difficult, it is a learned process that allows us to truly practice consciousness.
Often when we are met with a confronting situation or we find ourselves in a situation where we are being met with some resentment, our defences immediately fire into action. By feeling personally attacked or more so, finding the need to be “right” as the other person is “wrong” we start feeding the ego.
“Being right is identification with a mental position – a perspective, an opinion, a judgement, a story….The ego loves to make wrong in order to be right. In other words: you need to make others wrong in order to get a stronger sense of who you are. Being right places you in a position of imagined moral superiority.”- Tolle
When we have true understanding of ourselves it’s impossible to feel threatened or attacked by another person because innately you understand that person is simply reacting from their ego and the only thing we can practice when we recognize this is forgiveness.
Often all it takes is recognition and stillness for the ego to dissipate for the ego and awareness of the present moment cannot co-exist.
Many of the ideas explored in this article have been understood from Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.