The Ego & the Mind
Who you are in your essence is not the voice inside your mind. You are not your emotional reactions, nor are you your body. You are more than any one of these temporary expressions. You are the field of eternal awareness that is experiencing it all.
Do you remember the time in your life before the voice in your mind began to dominate your experience? Can you search within yourself to uncover the memory of a more direct experience of reality, with less filter from the mind? Do you remember what it was like to be a child, feeling that sense of wonder, magic, and natural peace and contentment just for the experience of being alive? And can you remember when the voice in your mind began to cover over the awareness of that magic within you?
Everyone holds within the deepest parts of themselves the memory of their true nature, a way of being that is not dominated by thinking and analyzing, but rather by being in the flow of life, living intuitively, spontaneously, and feeling a deep sense of connection, joy, and freedom. Many people also feel stuck and lost about how to access this deeper aspect of themselves. How do you “get out of your head and into your heart?” How do you learn to trust life and go with the flow, rather than needing to control and obsess over so many details of life?
Understanding what the ego is, and how the mind operates, creates a foundation for directly experiencing more of who you really are, beyond the mind and emotional reactions. Dissolving the ego uncovers a deeper dimension within you, bringing a richness and depth into your life that is far greater than what can be experienced through the thinking mind. This section is entitled “the ego and the mind” because the two can be so intertwined that most people are unconsciously using their mind in service of their ego. I use the terms, “ego” and “mind” interchangeably in this chapter as a reminder of this entangled connection. The mind is a powerful tool, but in order to be used in service of your Heart, its capacities must first be untangled from the mechanisms of the ego. So what is the ego?
The ego is a deeply rooted psychological adaptation that has developed over thousands of years to ensure the survival of the individual. The foundation of the ego is a belief in separation, a belief that you are alone and must struggle for your protection and survival. The ego can be observed as the compulsive voice in the mind that is constantly interpreting and filtering the experiences of life through the intellect. This voice is constantly planning for the future, obsessing over the past, commenting on everything that is happening around you, and making judgments of yourself, situations, and other people.
The ego is the voice inside your mind that comments on, judges, and filters the direct experience of life.
Many people are still predominately identified with the self talk in the mind, so much so, that this concept may seem foreign at first, and may spark the question, “well, if I’m not the voice in my mind, then who am I?” Beyond the voice in the mind, you exist as a field of awareness, of pure consciousness. Who you are transcends all of the surface layer aspects of yourself; your name, your personality, your family history, your stories about life, your opinions, and all the accumulated mental constructs of who you think you are. Beyond these temporary and transient expressions of yourself, you are the awareness that is experiencing it all, recreating your reality in each and every moment. You can feel this state of awareness right here and now by bringing your attention to this moment, feeling the stillness and aliveness that simultaneously exists within you and all around you……
In this state of presence we have the opportunity to experience a direct connection to the Universe and all of life. In this state of awareness there is a knowingness within that we are not separate, but rather a part of all creation. We are one with all that is, connected to everything in creation. There is an intense joy and liberation in this feeling of connectedness. You may be able to feel this experience momentarily throughout your day…and as you do, watch what covers it up—it is the thoughts within your mind, your emotional reactions, or distractions from the world around you. It takes practice and focus to come back to the present moment and remain in this state of pure awareness. At this stage of our collective evolution, however, the ego is still dominating many people’s experience. And so the process of reconnecting to our natural state of awareness by letting go of the voice in the mind, first involves learning how the ego operates. Through this process of understanding, you will naturally begin to move beyond the limitations of the ego.
The ego behaves in a very systematic way, and primarily takes the form of strengthening itself through identification with form. Form, in this context, refers to physical forms such as material objects, other people, and even your own body, as well as mental and emotional forms (thoughts, concepts, beliefs, stories, and emotional reactivity). The mind is looking for a self-identity through the world of form, thereby reinforcing the experience of separation, effectively creating a conceptual “you” that constantly needs defending in order to survive.
The ego is always looking for permanence in form, even though it is clear that nothing in this world is permanent, but rather constantly changing, growing, and evolving. Because the ego seeks safety in the world of form, the mind is constantly moving between the past and the future, trying to plan for the future, or obsessing over what went wrong in the past that threatened your sense of safety. Even when the mind can control the circumstances of life, however, it never feels content for very long. The mind is always aware that something or someone may come along to threaten your sense of identity and safety.
Though the psychological defense mechanism of the ego may have served humanity’s growth and evolution earlier in our history, it has now become like an outdated software program. The collective ego has become so dysfunctional that it now threatens the survival of the human species and all living creatures on the planet. Because many people are still unaware of the ego existing in their own minds, they continue to be motivated, to a large degree, by the fear for survival and a belief in separation. You can see this in the way that many people are motivated by selfish desires to have more for themselves, and to enhance their self identity through possessions, money, or status. There is a profound shortsightedness that occurs through the ego, which places almost complete importance on individual needs, rather than the collective health and wellbeing of the whole. Ironically, it is this denial of our shared connection, which has now become a detriment to the individual’s ability to survive.
The ego forms early in our lives as we learn to identify ourselves by mental concepts; a name, personality traits, likes and dislikes, opinions, and as the general stream of thoughts that arise in the mind–much of which is influenced by our family and the culture around us. We learn to mistake our sense of Being (our natural state of pure consciousness and energy—the way in which most children naturally experience and express themselves) with mental concepts and thoughts about ourselves. As the developing ego forms during childhood, the belief in separation begins to take root within the psyche. A label has been given to “me,” thereby creating the “other,” as that which is not me.
This experience of separation and differentiation (as created by the mind and ego) is a natural part of human development, and has greatly served our growth and evolution. Feeling deeply separate from another form of life has created the rich experience of being alone in the world and mastering survival. This was a noble pursuit in the past, and must have served the desires of the collective consciousness throughout the history of humanity. But as with any experience, there comes a point where it is no longer interesting. When all that can be learned from the experience of separation has reached its peak, we begin moving back into the fullness of oneness, dissolving the illusion of separation. This is the turning point that humanity is experiencing right now, where much of the veil of illusion and separation is falling away. The experience of remembering our true nature and shared unity is an immensely joyful celebration like no other, and expands the energy of the universe through the inflow of love that occurs in the process—which is my understanding of why we have chosen to create this experience for ourselves, and the primary purpose of the human experience.
For now, however, we are still collectively in the waking-up period. It is up to each one of us, if we so choose, to work towards removing our attention away from the thoughts, feelings, and actions that perpetuate the illusion of separation, and which strengthen the ego. These mental and emotional patterns of separation were formed early in life, and so it can take a little time and commitment to dissolve them. We learn early in life that in order to survive we need to maintain these mental concepts of ourselves and reality, which means filling roles, meeting other people’s expectations, and playing the part of who we think we need to be, in order to be loved by our family and friends, and accepted by society.
The mind learns to try and control and manipulate the outer circumstances of life so that it can feel a sense of safety and belongingness. The ego thrives as long as it feels separate from life around itself, and so it seeks to create an identity for itself that is different than others–that is either greater than, or less than, others. The ego can either create a positive identity or a negative identity. The thought “I am better than others,” is the same ego mechanism that operates in the person who thinks, “I am worse than others.” These mental construct we have about ourselves (what we call the “personality”) is really just a culmination of mental and emotional patterns, which are formed throughout our lives in response to the types of reactions that we receive from the world around us. In that sense, the personality is more a reflection of circumstances and the environment, rather than any inherent truth about the Self.
You may notice that your self-image shifts throughout the day depending on your circumstances. When people respond positively to you, then you feel good about yourself. When people respond negatively to you, then you feel poorly about yourself. This continual shift in your self-identity (based on the outside world and other people’s reactions) highlights that the view of yourself through the lens of the ego is always a distorted and a conditional version of you. The mind creates a sense of self through an ever-changing identity; “I am the victim, the unhealthy one, the worrier, the successful one, the hard worker, the good student, the anxious child, the helpless one, the strong one,” etc. Whenever you see yourself as a certain type of person, it is the voice of the ego seeking to strengthen itself through a conceptual identity. The ego is not concerned so much with what you identify with, but merely that you have some form of identity.
One way in which the ego strengthens this false sense of identity is through blaming, criticizing, or judging another person or life situations. By making another person wrong, you are by default, right, and in a place of superiority. This is how the ego uses negativity to strengthen itself. When you are dissatisfied with what is happening around you, you are effectively saying, “I am better than this,” reinforcing the experience of separation between you and life around you. You may temporarily feel good through a negative reaction, but very likely you will ultimately feel the pain of loneliness and separation that occurs when the ego has been energized. The more negatively charged your thoughts are, the better the ego can captivate your attention, and the more likely you are to identify with these thoughts. The more that the mind can find fault in other people, places, or situations, the more reason your mind has to push against it, perpetuating the experience of separation, and thereby strengthening the false sense of self.
The ego is generally concerned with the future and the past, keeping a person distracted from the present moment. Often the mind looks to the future for satisfaction, always wanting something that will come in the future to bring happiness. The mind is concerned with getting more, achieving more, and being greater, always reinforcing the belief that happiness and contentment exist somewhere in the future. Even the desire to become spiritually enlightened can be a desire of the ego. If you are unconsciously seeking to elevate yourself above others by becoming “enlightened,” then it is the ego at work.
Notice, however, that even when you achieve what it is you think will make you happy, the mind will very quickly find another goal for happiness, one that can only be found in the future. Contentment and peace are perpetually a distant reality, only experienced in small bursts as a person temporarily gets what they want. The present moment is generally unacceptable from the perspective of the ego, and your mind will do whatever it can to preoccupy your attention with attaining some future goal, material possession, symbol of status, or position of power. In truth, however, peace and contentment can only be found here and now in this moment. There is never a moment when peace is not an option. When you let go of the ego, peace returns naturally. There is a systematic way for dissolving the ego, which requires commitment, patience, and deepening self-awareness,
Dissolving the Ego
To begin dissolving the ego, all that is required is to begin noticing it within yourself. As you begin identifying the ego in action, simply drop the thought and bring your attention back to the present moment. This may feel challenging at first, and it can be quite alarming to see how much of your life may have been influenced by the incessant voice in your mind. Just begin by noticing the thoughts in your mind that lead to negative states such as worry, doubt, judgment, comparisons, anger, or frustration. Notice how these thoughts, and the consequent negative emotional reactions they create, energize your experience of separation, and ultimately cause you to suffer in some form.
Whenever you catch yourself lost in thought, simply bring your attention back to the present moment. Notice the sights, smells, and physical sensations around and within you. Feel your breath and your inner energy field. Become present. Through this process you will begin dissolving your addiction to compulsive thinking and the addictive tendencies of the ego. Simply bring your attention back to the present moment, watching the thoughts in your mind, while no longer being hypnotized by them–no longer allowing them to take you on a rollercoaster ride in your mind. You become the conscious observer, as though you are peacefully watching your mind operate from a distance. And as you stay in presence, notice that you are not the thoughts in your mind, but rather, you are the awareness that is experiencing the thoughts. By doing so you create space between yourself as awareness, and the stream of compulsive thinking in your mind–you have become free from the ego. You are aware of the thought, but you are no longer identified with the thought. In that moment a stillness will arise in you, and you will feel a deepening connection to your True Nature. This process of dis-identifying with thought and continually coming back to the present moment takes practice, but over time, will incrementally increase your presence power and the quality of your life.
Become aware, then, what thought forms arise within you that seek to captivate your attention. Here are some common ego mechanisms that you can begin to notice—always keeping in mind that the ego in not personal. The ego is not who you are, but rather a universal experience that every human being, in their own time, is learning to move beyond.
-Any negative thought or emotion, such as annoyance, frustration, anger, jealousy, boredom, irritation, anxiety, or a feeling of dread or doom
-Compulsive thoughts or addictive behaviors
-Dissatisfaction with the present moment
-Comparing yourself to others (feeling either superior or inferior to others)
-Over attachment to material possessions, people, or places
-Stories in your mind about yourself or others that are not based on objective facts.
-Role identification where you slip into playing a role unconsciously, based on what you believe is required of you in the moment (the caretaker, the assertive one, the shy one, the good friend, the rebel, etc.)
-Competitiveness and aggressiveness
-Criticizing, blaming, or judging others or yourself
-Random and aimless thoughts that distract you away from the present moment or leave you feeling drained.
When you notice any one of these expressions of the ego, notice that it is the thought itself that creates the consequent moment of suffering. It can be quite profound to notice that it is the ego based thought that causes you to suffer, and not the situation, person, or place. The experience is always neutral. It is your reaction and thoughts about the situation, which creates the negative emotional response. In that moment, pause…. and then become aware of the stillness and peace that arise when you come back to your breath and the present moment.
If you have a hard time coming back to the present moment, bring your attention down into your body. It may help to notice how you are breathing, how you are holding your body and your posture. Are you relaxed, or are you tense? Is your breathing slow and natural or rapid and shallow? Now take a moment to relax your body, sit or stand up straight, and take a deep slow breath. Coming back to your body, your breath, and the present moment all create space between the compulsive stream of thoughts in your mind, and who you truly are as awareness itself.