Recently, on the advice of a mentor, I revisited Eckhart Tolle’s book “A New Earth”. Often when we have had years of growth between the last time we have read a profound book like this one, it is like reading it for the first time, because there is so much insight we might not have gained from our first reading. We gain what we are ready and willing to gain or absorb.
Tolle really delves into the Ego and how it is the Ego that defines our illusory self. This is the “Self” we have been conditioned to believe we are. We identify with this “Self” and the more we do this, the more power we give it. When we become aware of the Ego it loses power. When we can learn to identify the ego, to observe it in action, we bring awareness to this dysfunctional aspect of Self. When we become aware of something it can no longer function in the dark.
When we are in turmoil and emotional pain, the ego is thriving! According to Tolle, we could not feel emotional pain, rooted in the past, if we were not identified with our ego. Our ego tells us we are our pain. Our thoughts, or the voice in our head, tell us untruths about ourselves that increase our pain. We hear the voice that tells us we are worthless, we are “no good,” we are unlovable and so on. I have always called these “core beliefs” because we often learn these lies about ourselves in early childhood. However, these lies go dormant and surface again when we have an upset, crisis or trauma in our lives. We come to believe, because we are having this crisis, upset, or trauma it must be because of something within us that is inadequate or something we are doing wrong. Shame, blame and guilt!
In my own journey, I began a path of observing my ego and all the lies my mind was telling me on a daily basis. What a path of enlightenment this is. Whenever I find myself getting upset about something I observe my thoughts. What am I telling myself? What is the lie?
One major lie is “I am having this unpleasant experience because there is something wrong with me.” I can have a thought such as “I am not getting what I want” and then I will have an emotional reaction that might be sadness or frustration of never getting what I want. Since I am developing a stronger awareness about my ego and have committed to practice observing it I have had some interesting experiences. One experience is the ability to change my emotional reality almost immediately. Okay not every single time, but quite a lot. Sometimes emotions are like a runaway train and it is hard to catch them before they get out of control.
Although I teach “be real with what you feel” I am also realizing that our ego thrives on negative emotion and so our mind will so often create a story that feeds our negative emotion and therefore our pain.
I don’t normally like to refer to emotion as negative or positive but, to be fair, there are emotions that feel positive and good and there are emotions that feel negative or bad. Most of us, by our very nature wish to avoid negative feeling emotions and chase after the good stuff. The most common question I get in my counseling work is “how long will this pain last?” Nobody wants to be in pain. We want the quick, easy way out. Well when we are already in pain, the quickest, easiest way out, is to move right through it and gain the insights we find in the middle.
Most of us don’t move through it however, and this is the ego at work. We come to the edge of our pain and then the stories begin and the pain is fed more and more food which keeps it alive and increasing in intensity. For example; if you are coming out of a narcissistically abusive relationship and the core beliefs that are activated are telling you “there is something wrong with me, I don’t deserve love, and I’m not good enough,” the more you think these thoughts the worse you feel. If, however you catch yourself thinking these thoughts and you tell yourself “oh this is my ego creating drama” you dis-identify with the thoughts; and when you dis-identify with the thoughts they lose power. You might say to yourself “this is the lie of the ego.”
It is typical the ego will either be inflated (superiority) or deflated (inferiority.) When we spend enough time with a narcissist, who is normally operating from an inflated ego, you are cast in the role of inferior and deflated in the eyes of the narcissist. Out of our codependent need for outer validation, we will often identify with the narcissist and buy into the version of ourselves created by the narcissist, which is “you are inferior.” This idea of yourself will latch onto every other time in your life where you felt inferior and suddenly you are overwhelmed with feelings of inferiority. You are actually engaged in a war of egos. The narcissist will always win this war because his/her ego is usually the strongest, and when engaged in an ego war, the strongest ego will win. If your ego is not as strong as the narcissist you are not going to win the war.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you understand the role of the ego and what it needs to thrive.
The most spiritually enlightened people on the planet have gone to battle with their own ego’s and have become strong observers of this aspect of human nature. The weaker the ego, the stronger the spirituality.
Winning the prize of having the biggest ego is not what most people would aspire to. It is not that one person is more superior or inferior than the other, it is that one person believes he is more superior or inferior. The belief that one is greater, bigger, better, more powerful, richer, more beautiful or more successful is the ego at work. So when we buy into our inferiority, which is “I am not as good as” we are causing ourselves pain. We are allowing the “lie” we are telling ourselves or that others are telling us to influence how we feel about ourselves.
It is important to understand that most people are operating out of a dysfunctional belief system and a dysfunctional ego. Actually a dysfunctional ego is created from a dysfunctional belief system based on how we identify with material, physical reality.
What I am discovering when confronting my own egoic inner voice is when I recognize the voice as coming from ego, I call it. I say out loud “Oh this is my ego in action, wanting to stir up fear or drama.” Ironically once I “call it” the energy dissipates. It is as if the ego has been found out and goes into hiding, or better yet it loses power.
I also notice when I am over tired or stressed I am much more susceptible to being battered by the ego.
The ego may also not be personal. There is something called “the collective ego” which is a shared egoic experience by a culture, society, religious group, social group or even family. The collective ego is formed by shared beliefs such as a belief that one’s religious dogma is superior or “the right one.”
Our ego is very rooted in being right and in order to be right we have to make others wrong. See a bit of narcissism here? Well narcissistic personalities would not be formed without a dysfunctional ego.
The stronger our ego is, the more unhappy we are, really. Because we continually need ego food to stay strong. We need constant supply of reinforcements to our own feelings of superiority based on how we look, where we live, how much money we make, our title and positions in society, who we associate with, what kind of car we drive etc.
Our ego will scan our environment to look for evidence that we are either superior or inferior in any given situation. We are constantly pulled into power struggles and control dramas to boost the ego’s sense of self.
The solution to disempowering the ego is a spiritual solution. As Tolle says, we must observe the ego and recognize it when it is struggling for power. We must recognize it as the part of us that believes “I am this” or “I am that.” The truth of who you are has nothing to do with your ego’s interpretation. You are a spirit having a human experience and the ego is what interprets your human experience by how you fit into the “norm” of your environment. We figure out what is “normal” and compare ourselves to it, either falling short or standing above in some way. It is all a matter of our ego’s interpretation, or our perception.
When we can come to understand that “I am not my house, my car, my job, my physical appearance, or my bank account, we can begin to learn who we really are. “I am a soul who has traveled here from somewhere else to have a human, physical experience.” Your value is not in the physical, material stuff of this world, but in your very essence. And at the core we are all pure in essence. The essence is as innocent as a newborn baby. It is pure and radiant. The stuff we like and don’t like about other people have to do with the ego. Because it is the ego that gives people their sense of identity. All evil and cruelty is the ego’s distorted attempt to gain power and control.
If you don’t like yourself, or who you are, it is your ego interpreting your physical circumstances and judging you as “less than.” You may not like yourself because you perceive yourself as being too fat, too old, not attractive enough, not financially independent, lonely, unwanted, or unloved.
To begin a love relationship with your SELF you need to learn to look deeper than the physical circumstances of your life. “I am soul, and my soul is pure.” When we can remove our identification with the things of this world and align with our very essence we begin to have a spiritual experience. We begin to find peace within because we are listening to the voice of spirit rather than the voice of ego.