What is ego ?

Who do you want to be today ?

A few days ago someone asked me ” What exactly is this ego, everyone is talking about” ? Indeed , it seems like we are all on a hunt to track down the elusive trickster, that villain responsible for our moods, suffering and bad hair days ( just to mention the obvious). So while everyone is talking about it and pointing their finger to denote the unconscious action of the one thing that seems to be standing between us and an enlightened life, it still seems to be futile to catch it. So what is ego – and where does it hide, so we can see it when it is rearing it’s ugly face ?

The reason why “ego” is beyond grasping and putting a finger on it is that it is not a thing or a structure – it is a process. What we call “ego” is the diminutive for “egoic conditioning” and this is a lifelong process that is based on a single humane habit : wanting.

When we are born a sense of “self” is developing. This is natural for all sentient beings and it is basically  the sense of “this entity” versus “that entity over there”. We can observe how small children are learning to make the distinction and how the sense of a differentiation between the “self” and the world is developing.  There has to be an awareness of “self” – a sensory knowledge of the entity that I perceive to be “me”, and over time I will experience the boundaries and limitations that go along with forming the idea of “self” and “other”.

This realisation that there is an other and I am dependent on them, is at the basis of ego formation. There are certain needs the little “self” in the form of a human being has – like food, warmth, social interaction. And soon we learn that being cared for our needs is pleasurable, as opposed to being neglected is associated with feelings that are uncomfortable. Obviously,  the first stage is much more enjoyable, so this is what we want to have – now and forever.

This is how wanting is born. Wanting is a striving, a grasping for something other than the current moment is presenting. While Life is ingenious providing for our needs, it could not care less for what we want. It is part of the Life experience to live through a whole range of sensations, but soon we learn to distinguish those that make us feel comfortable from those that are unpleasant. And in consequence, we want all our experiences to be enjoyable and resist those that we perceive hurtful. This building up of a resistance and trying to avoid the natural flip side of the spectrum, is a desire and if it is not fulfilled, it is becoming the basis the basis for suffering.

To want something means to fixate and then use attention, energy and focus to get it. So let us assume a child is experiencing the uncomfortable sensation of getting hungry, so it will cry and eventually someone will take care of this need. So the child learns that the act of “voicing ” one’s discomfort gets the unpleasant sensation satisfied and it will go on to use the same behaviour in different situations, by that learning that “effort” and “resistance” does eventually lead to satisfaction and fulfillment of the need. And herein lies the mistake, because a feeding would have taken place, whether or not a child cried. Of course this is all oversimplified to state the example – but we can easily see, that at the same time we learn that we have a separate identity, we also learn what we need to do to receive what we want.

Later in life this process gets more complex. The more “identity” we are forming, which is the concept of ourselves, based on the beliefs that are taking form in us, the more “wants” will be generated to support this image we have about our own “self”, our own, personal, individual identity. This is not only provisions for our daily survival, it is also plan, wishes and desires that reach into the future, to create an ideal  persona of ourselves, with certain attributes, skills and possessions that are supposed to make us happy and free.

And this is the point we start to confuse an awareness of our self, that is equipped with certain characteristics and even a particular personality, that is based on previous experiences, environmental, cultural and social influences, as well as personal gifts, talents and preferences, with that imaginary picture of ourselves, that is based on illusion. This is the point we start to manipulate reality in terms of controlling the experience and we just see what we like to see and ignore what does not suit us. This is how our egoic conditioning starts to develop. Based on things we have learned, experienced or observed, we think we know what we have to do to keep ourselves safe and happy. We just need to do what we have always done – because this is a tried and trusted methodolgy. It works ! But that is the msitake.

What the egoic conditioning does not understand is that each and every situation is different and is a function of a billion of different elements and factors involved. There is no way to control it, the only possibility is to navigate it with prudence and wisdom, based on intuitive knowledge.

So what we call “ego” is partly our imaginary self based on teh way we like to see oursleves, because of a believe that this is what would make us happy. But partly it is also an array of more or less unconscious conditioned reactions based on what we have learned and what we think we know. As we have not learned to trust life and simpla let go – we hold, grasp and attach. By that we prevent life from flowing and condition suffering for ourselves and others.

It is time to start practicing another process – not of grasping, but of “letting go”.

About Michaela

I am a wanderer and a wonderer, like you are. I love our journey and to walk in the company of friends – to learn, experience, share, laugh, cry and above all I simply love this marvelous, magical, mysterious life. I have no plan (cannot believe I am saying this) and my only intention is to be truthful to myself and others.
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5 Responses to What is ego ?

  1. Katja says:

    Thank you ! This is exactly what i neede today.

  2. Benno says:

    Thank You Michala….did you write that?
    Great summation!

  3. fatima says:

    Well pinning down the ego it is futile; wouldn’t you agree M? I wonder if your thinking has changed on this subject over the last months? Not that there is anything wrong with what you have said here….as far as it goes.
    Especially since you bring us to the point…conscious awareness, witnessing the present moment. Observing, sometimes upon reflection, that letting go happens. Ego will always focus on when letting go doesn’t seem to happen…. of course.

    A point of view

    The only possibility for freedom appears to lie in rising above ego and personality in the sense of not identifying/confusing them as “who I am”. Apparently the mind can learn that everything is not what it seems, particularly not what it seems in thought when it is ego driven. Through attending to awareness of the fullness of the present moment, one can observe the mind transform. It becomes educated from contact that other stream of consciousness, the mind/heart connection and stillness. It starts a temporary folder called “Sounds true to me.”

    How do our musings about that question, “What is ego?, stand alongside the axiom, “Nothing is what it seems to be?”

    “Nothing is what it seems” is a true statement based on experience, about our situation/position in the universe from the point of view of the individual human (not an animal or a blade of grass as they do not appear to have points of view about such things). It points to our specific place in the energy field of the totality…physical forms on Earth. It has to do with the capacities and the limitations of human understanding. This is where ego plays its pernicious role.

    Maybe the conditions our physical (including mental and emotional) reality lie in the mystery of “The Fall”, the metaphor of the human being created to Fall from the garden of Eden. At the point of creation there was…. “and He taught him (Adam) the names….”. All that stuff might not mean what we think it does but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it means nothing….that it is not a true picture of reality.

    There is an inevitability of the formation of egoic conditioning that cannot be denied and must be accepted, even embraced. At birth we are pre verbal and pre thought. The ego formation is as much a part of us as our genetics and the astrological imprint of the universe on our physical and psychological forms.

    ET has talked about aspects of what he calls egoic development and anyone who has had an opportunity to observe newborn babies and to watch them develop to, say, 6 years old….can see pointers to the truth in his description.

    Remember that the consciousness of all newborns is heavily weighted toward natural Being/soul. Its physical needs/wants are warmth, food and freedom from pain. If those needs are met the baby is either sleeping or quietly observing and experiencing the new world. As a result of its environment and its inherent capacities, tendencies, which seem to be completely out of its control, it will learn how to think about the outer world and herself in relation to it…. So the human person develops. The first part of the process is, normally, separation and individuation.

    A fortunate child reaches adulthood as a balanced humanBeing. …aware of both worlds …the inner and the outer. It appears that the majority of us are completely captivated by the human side, forgetting, i.e. not valuing, being and stillness although we were “that” in infancy. The memory of that experience, which was non-verbal and without thought, may play a large part in the unfolding of consciousness. Who knows? In any case, its value, the diamond in our pocket, is largely overridden by the other side…. the glitters of maya and identification with it, seeking satisfaction there.

    Just some musings.

    I can’t help hearing Eckhart’s voice….

    “What would happen if you just observed your inner commentary and didn’t post/voice it?”

    • Michaela says:

      Oh, the ego is just a movement. There are many ways to explain it, but in our context, I like to put a fixation point – a desire – at it’s centre. The ego is made up of what we call conditioning and this is what becomes unravelled – fast. This is necessary to realise that indeed – nothing is what it seems to be. Secondly – we quickly build new ego around another axiom. LoL

      My enquiry has been much like yours – following a logical trail to a point I could see the illusion. Then, from a certain point onwards, it was no longer necessary to muddle through the layers, but simply observe the movement.

      Different strokes, for different folks. Right now I am using world events to point at the unravelling of fundamental beliefs in terms of keeping things separate, so we may feel safe.

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