A lot of people talk about the ego being ‘at the root of all evil’ and it is something that has been on my mind for a while now. The ego is a remarkable thing and you cannot really talk about consciousness without taking it into account. So let’s look at what the ego really is and what it means to be able to transcend it.
Society and the Conception of the Ego
In a very basic sense, the ego is a creation of society. It is formed through the identification with others. When we are born, we do not know who we are and what our place is in this world. It is only when we start to perceive others around us that we then move on to seeing ourselves as something distinct from “the other”.
Initially, we see our parents and we receive feedback from them. A smile, a hug, kind words and sometimes also the opposite. That causes us to reflect on our behavior and associate it with positive or negative feedback. It’s a form of conditioning – like in the Pavlovian dog experiment. When we do something, we get attention – approval or disapproval. And according to this, we modify our behavior.
We are also very careful observers. We imitate others and we take their response to us as a reflection of ourselves. That’s how the ego starts to form. It’s a production of us being surrounded by others.
And the people around us often – consciously or unconsciously – try to manipulate us to fit the mold. It can be a very painful realization, when you notice that most people are not really concerned with YOU but with the role you play in society.
Everything’s fine as long as you do not threaten anyone else’s ego and as long as you are an efficient part of the machinery called “society”. As soon as you start to act up or do something that is considered “out of the norm”, you get punished. This can take many forms – from being ignored to getting subtly manipulated to being straight-out threatened through verbal and even physical attacks.
Humans are social beings and society will try virtually anything to impose their beliefs upon you. You will not even notice or be able to do anything about it. And when you finally become aware, these beliefs have already been ingrained in you. You have an ego. You cannot not have one. That doesn’t mean you can never transcend it, though.
If you listen to the ego, the ego will put you again and again on a neurotic path, the path of Being Somebody. And the more you become somebody the more life has disappeared from you. – Osho
It is only through becoming aware that there is an ego, that you can then start to take it apart and eventually transcend it. Transcending the ego means to go beyond it and not to eradicate it. Try and understand this as deeply as possible.
The first step is telling the “fake” apart from the “non-fake”. When you look inside and you can feel “this is not me – not my Self”, you are closer to knowing what your Self is. It’s a path that leads through the ego.
The Uncontrollable Self
The self is given to you by your existence and your existence only. It is consciousness, the soul, the truth, the quintessence, the tao, logos, dharma or however you want to call it. It does not matter what you name it, but this is where it’s at. Let’s use the Jungian distinction of the ego and the self here for the sake of simplicity.
Essentially, the ego is a subtle form of slavery. You bend to society in your desperate desire for attention. You are not an individual but part of the crowd. And an appreciated one, if you play by the rules.
We have the tendency to cling to the ego because we believe that it’s something that defines us. We identify with it and it gives us a sense of belonging. And although it makes us controllable, it is also something we can control to a certain extent. At least, we think we can and we derive some satisfaction from that. The self, however, is not controllable – not by us and not by others. That’s wherein its power lies.
The ego is fake and vulnerable. A complex construction, accumulated over time. And when that façade starts to crumble, it can be painful. But it makes tremendous room for expansion. Once you sense the self, everything changes!
Individuality and Unity
The ego is what causes a lot of conflict in the world. It’s usually due to a clash of egos, when problems arise. The selves cannot clash because they are essentially the same. But that doesn’t mean, we leave behind all individuality.
As a matter of fact, individuality is tremendously important. It’s what prevents humanity from being predictable and easy to be manipulated or controlled (those are characteristics unique to the ego).
Individuality means we have different ways of expressing the self and we cultivate and celebrate those, while at the same time recognizing that the very essence of all of us is the same.
If we really want to move into unity consciousness (if that’s even something you believe in), you have to be clear about how essential it is to preserve individuality. We’re not a mob – a mindless herd of sheep – but a multitude of individuals connected at a deep, underlying level that unites us all. It is our eclectic individuality that is our greatest asset.
A Glimpse of the Truth
The challenge is that you cannot actively and prematurely transcend the ego. It has to happen to you. Awareness sets the process in motion and can resolve a lot of the issues that the ego is causing us, but true transcendence happens. Just like that. One moment, you don’t pay attention and there it is. A glimpse of the truth. That’s when the greatest insights and most astonishing revelations happen. It’s pure bliss, clarity and a feeling of awe combined into one.
That’s why the creative process – any kind of creative process, not just art – is so powerful. If you manage to find an activity that you are so completely immersed in that you don’t even have to think but just go with the flow, that’s when you experience the self.
That’s why a lot of people describe it as channeling or being “kissed by the muse”. It’s an unobstructed flow of the self, pouring out into your world. All while the ego is standing there, watching from the sidelines – completely ignored and forgotten about.
The Part-Whole Relationship
Coming back to the point I made earlier, the ego is not something distinct from the self that needs to be eradicated but rather a part of the self. It’s a part-whole relationship. Only when you integrate the ego as something that’s a part of you (but not your entire existence) can you then move beyond it, expanding the boundaries of your reality.
I work really hard at trying to see the big picture and not getting stuck in ego. I believe we’re all put on this planet for a purpose, and we all have a different purpose… When you connect with that love and that compassion, that’s when everything unfolds. – Ellen DeGeneres
And it’s this constant attempt to go beyond it that leads to the experience of the self. You’re consistently pushing the envelope in order to move outside of the ego-state, while at the same time not denying its existence.
No longer Slaves to the Ego but Masters of it…
For me personally, I have not yet reached a state of being in the self 100% of the time. It’s more like I am fluctuating between those states. Sometimes falling back into the ego and sometimes being in the self. And while I do believe that it is possible to reach a state of self that has integrated and transcended the ego fully, it is certainly very difficult to get there.
All enlightened spiritual masters did. That’s where their immense insight and power stems from – they are no longer slaves to the ego but masters of it. However, not everyone is an enlightened master. And as I mentioned before, it is not something you can force, but you can figure out ways to smoothly transition into it and maximize the time spent in the self. The more the better, in this case.
What makes YOU transcend the ego? Please share your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Be eclectic – be exceptional,
Photo credit: martinak15