Posted by That One Guy
Let’s talk about Ego.
I’ve been studying the Spiritual and New Age movements for some time now. One term that gets thrown around and misused more than “love” is “ego”. And in almost every one of these fly-by-the-seat self-help religions Ego is bad. Very, very bad. Nobody should have or “give in to” the Ego and having it is seen as an impediment to Ascension, Enlightenment or Awakening or whatever your term for achieving spiritual openness. I see the word used all the time in arguments as admonishments or to rebuke someone who is being challenging. All in all, a lot of negative energy is attached to the Ego. Even in popular culture, the Ego suffers. Egotism. Egotistical. Any way you slice it, Ego is bad. So I began to wonder, what makes the Ego so bad?
First, we have to understand what Ego is. The simple definition is “the opinion that you have about yourself”; and in psychology it is “a part of the mind that senses and adapts to the real world”. That doesn’t seem too terrible…maybe an in-depth definition would shed light on the Ego’s insidiousness.
1. the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world
3: the one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality especially by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality — compare id, superego (cited from mirriam-webster.com)
From the above definitions it is easy to see there is a difference between the Ego and being “egotistical”. Let’s explore these definitions more.
The opinion you have about yourself:
Also known as your self-esteem and self-worth. Now these are things that the new spiritual movements preach a lot about. Better self-esteem through positive thinking. The positive power of manifesting self-worth. They are touted as good things, not bad. Oddly enough, they are directly tied to peoples’ Egos as per the definition. Now an uncomfortable paradox is manifested. Ego=bad. Self esteem=good. Ego=Self Esteem thus Bad=Good. The whole argument falls apart when it is broken down to its most basic components. If Ego is bad, then so is self-esteem and I don’t need to go into the negative downward spirals that come with self-esteem issues. Almost everyone has had experience and struggles with lack of self-esteem at least once in their lives. For some, lack of self-esteem is an ongoing battle. Some Ego hounds may tell you that your Ego is responsible for these thoughts. They will say that the Ego is actually responsible for reducing your self-esteem. It’s the devil on your shoulder, so to speak. But that simply isn’t true. Your Ego mediates thoughts, experiences and struggles, filtering them back up to your higher self. Which brings us to the psychological definition of Ego.
The part of the mind that senses and adapts to the real world:
In psychology, the Ego is a Freudian term related to the Id and the Superego. The Id is your base animalistic instincts and the Superego is your civilized moral self. The Ego is the mediator between the two. It processes what’s going on in the world around you and mediates those findings between the Id and the Superego. Basically, it keeps them under control and impedes them from running rampant. Of course this is in a perfect setting. In reality the Ego often gives in to the Id or the Superego (and according to Freudians, more often the Id) which causes conflict between the self and the real world. Welcome to the Human Experience.
So the Ego isn’t the real culprit. The Id and the Superego are responsible for the negative influence on the self. The Id, or the base survival instinct, is most easily personified in the moments of unchecked and irrational lashing out people are prone to (think of the last time you had a road rage incident). And the Superego, or our rational and logical selves, is responsible for all of a person’s “thinking problems” (i.e. neuroses, narcissism, etc). The Superego is also home to dysfunctions like egotism. All the Ego does is process the experiences. It is the higher self’s filter in the physical world.
Then what IS the Ego? Fundamentally, the Ego is our sense of identity. Ego is what makes a person who they are. It’s what answers you when you look in the mirror and ask “who am I?” It is the mechanism that allows you to exist in and experience the world and universe around you. The Ego is the individual. It is, however, an imperfect mechanism just like everything else in this beautiful creation called The Universe.
So then why would a person think that something as simple and profound as your very identity would be a bad thing? The opponents of Ego would say, “Because the Ego makes you vain and greedy and self-serving, it distracts you and on and on ad infimum. O.K. So let’s look at that as logically as possible. The Ego is your identity, as we discovered above. Your Ego is responsible for everything wrong with your spiritual and personal development. Thus, your identity is ultimately responsible…and you are your identity. See where this is going? “Ah ha!”, exclaim the Ego detractors, “See? Ego IS bad for you. You must therefore let go of your Ego and think positive happy thoughts to correct the bad and replace it with good.” They don’t call it “prosperity therapy” but they should. After the glorious and paramount task of freeing oneself from their debasing Ego, they will have truly overcome and ascended into what amounts to a perfect state of self-realization and achieving perfect love and joy and oneness forever and ever. Again, it’s not called prosperity therapy no matter how much they seem to fit together.
And the ultimate goal of all this? The grand finale? A person separates from their identity and “returns to the Source” or God or the Creator or whichever name is drummed up by whoever is coining terms at the time. Here the whole Ego attacking/ Personal Enlightenment theology gets a little vague and highly dependent on personal speculation. Or you can go with the Buddhist/ atheist option and return to Nothingness.
I say forget all of that. Creation serves a purpose. A very specific purpose. Thus, identity serves a purpose. EGO serves a purpose. And ultimately, each and every object in creation is serving a purpose. What that purpose is, is discussion for a later talk. However, at the core of all of Creation’s purpose is to exist. Existence exists to exist.
We are all part of God and God wants us to be; he wants us to exist as individuals. He gave us freewill and a purpose then programmed us into the universe. Part of that experience is ultimately individual consciousness—identity. And your Ego is your identity. This is not a bad thing. It’s an imperfect thing. You can’t overcome it. You ARE it. It’s not “fake” or bad or meant to hinder your spiritual advancement. It. Is. YOU. And again, THIS IS NOT A BAD THING.
God doesn’t want you NOT to be you. He is part of you. He is right there with you every step of the way, experiencing life alongside you. Waiting for you to accept His love so that true transformation can occur.
Now the general consensus is conscious beings have forgotten this critical piece of information hence the human condition and shackling of us to the material world. Our Egos did not do this to us. This happened before there was an “us”. So now the point of Ego becomes remembering our connection to God. This is the “personal relationship with God”. This is the Ego’s relationship to the infinite. In order to have a relationship with God, you must first recognize he is there. But recognition is only the beginning. Jesus told his disciples that if they even had the faith of a mustard seed, they’d command a mountain to jump into the sea and it would. That’s heavy stuff. This level of relationship happens through dialogue with God. The more dialogue you have with God the more your faith grows. What this dialogue is and how to achieve it are what spiritual teachers have been telling us and religions have been corrupting since the beginning of time.
The beauty of this is that all experience and the experience of life itself is facilitated by the Ego. Our Ego doesn’t impede our dialogue with God. It’s the mechanism we use in order to facilitate that dialogue. What impedes us are our base, animalistic tendencies (i.e. the Id) and our aloof and moralistic civilized natures (or our Superegos) as well as the physical world. Each of them scream for our attention, even battling for it like shoppers on black Friday. These are what keep us asleep and spiritually crippled. These very literally ARE the devil. So ignore them and focus on God. Put your Ego to its intended use. Strive for it. Live for it. And your faith will be as big as a mustard seed in no time.