Photo: Kelli PrieurExcerpt from my book: You Were Not Born To Suffer
Our ego is not our enemy.
Contrary to what most of us believe, we all create the cocoon of our ego as an act of unconditional self-love to protect us until we’re ready to fully embody our soul’s true nature. The primary function of our ego is to protect our soul in the same way the cocoon protects the caterpillar throughout its metamorphosis into a butterfly. Our ego acts as our guardian until we’re ready to break through our fears and live as a free and full expression of who and what we truly are each and every day.
The development of our ego is a natural part of our soul’s growth and evolution.
In the same way the caterpillar must create a cocoon to protect itself throughout its transformation into a butterfly, we too must develop the cocoon of our ego to protect us throughout our own process of transformation, healing, and awakening. The caterpillar is the creator of its cocoon, but it is not the cocoon itself. Similarly, we are the creator of our ego, but we are not the ego itself. Without the cocoon the caterpillar could never become a butterfly, and without the ego we could never embody a free and full expression of our inherent brilliance.
With this in mind, through loving ourselves unconditionally in the present moment we can (one) heal the psychological, emotional, and physical pain that our ego exists to protect us from feeling and (two) create our most liberated and joyful life.
If we truly want to experience the inner freedom and happiness that we all desire, each of us is called to open both our heart and our mind to the larger reality beyond the cold comfort our soul’s protective cocoon.
To break free from the limitations of our ego as soon as possible, it’s important to remember how and why we created this defensive aspect of our personality in the first place.
As we’ve touched on before, the world didn’t always feel very safe growing up, so we all intuitively created a protective shell through which we could relate to both ourselves and to life. The overwhelming emotional and psychic energies that bombarded us as children were often too much for us to feel, process, and understand on our own, and this drove all of us to develop the cocoon of our ego to protect us from the painful and confusing energies that we encountered on a daily basis.
In our desire to individuate from the world around us each of us organically closed ourselves off and separated ourselves from the outside world because instinctually we felt that doing so would give us some control over what was occurring in our lives.
Out of an inherent love for ourselves, each of us built an all-encompassing psycho-energetic cocoon of perceived safety and security to protect our hearts, knowing that one day we would finally cultivate the necessary awareness and skills to honor our emotions on our own and thus liberate ourselves.
Since a very large number of us did not have people in our lives who had cultivated the awareness to lovingly mirror back to us what we were feeling as children, we never learned how to consciously identify or express the thoughts and emotions that we were experiencing.
Instead, many of us learned to reject, repress, deny, avoid, and hide what we felt and thought in order to one, survive and two, have our needs met to some degree.
And this developing internal relationship between ourselves and our world gave birth to the defensive aspects of our personality.
The degree to which our ego initially developed depended upon the amount of protection we intuitively felt we needed as children.
Thus the strength and thickness of this protective layer of our personality varies for each of us depending on how painful and confusing our lives have been. If the family and larger environments that we grew up in did not support us to lovingly honor, process, and be present to what we felt on a daily basis (and most did not), we would’ve built up a much stronger ego and disconnected from our emotions to a larger degree because we didn’t know how to lovingly process, understand, and attend to our feelings for ourselves.
If, on the other hand, we grew up with emotionally aware and present parents, then we would have been supported in understanding, processing, and expressing our emotions and would not have needed to build up such a strong or large protective shell.
As we “mature,” most of us just remain trapped in our protective cocoon—especially those of us with big egos—because we never learn how to lovingly attend to or heal our unresolved emotional pain.
The safe and familiar confines of our ego often become comfortable, simply because we fear facing the painful emotions that live beneath the surface of our conscious awareness.
If we don’t wake up and reconnect with our deep inner truths by the time we reach all the responsibilities of “adulthood,” most of us just continue living our lives disconnected from our soul and completely identify with our ego. In fact, an alarmingly large number of us end up settling for a limited existence, because liberating ourselves would entail feeling all of the love as well as all of the fear that we’ve denied for so long. To the majority of us, it simply appears easier to continue living in cold comfort, hiding out in the familiarity of our protected world. Having lived with our hearts closed to our own inner magnificence for so long, we’ve mistakenly come to identify with the limiting voice of our ego rather than the expansive soul that’s just waiting to break free.
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
In trying to protect us our ego keeps us reacting to life, constantly running from ourselves here in the present moment. In fact, the thoughts that just don’t stop coming are merely symptoms of undigested emotions and experiences that are currently being guarded by our ego. This protective aspect of our personality very skillfully avoids whatever is true internally and externally by constantly manufacturing thoughts about the past and the future to prevent us from feeling the hurt and confusion that remain alive within us here and now.
As a result of this dynamic, many of us remain trapped in our head, stuck reacting to life in ways that stop us from finding the inner peace, health, happiness, and fulfillment we desire.
We’re not aware of it but in constantly denying our psychological, emotional, and physical pain, we not only create more sickness and misery, we also cover up the abundant source of love within us that is intended to heal, fulfill, and sustain each of us.
Ultimately, when we fail to transform the pain and confusion that we’ve disconnected from and shoved away over the years, we start compounding the suffering that we were initially trying to avoid. In this way, our ego’s purposeful protection, which is necessary to a point, eventually begins to create additional pain on top of the suffering it was originally created to shelter us from.
Thus, in constantly disconnecting from or numbing ourselves to our inner struggles, we not only avoid healing them, but we also avoid understanding their root cause.
An analogy that demonstrates the purpose and function of our ego quite well is that of using painkillers to relieve physical pain. In the same way we might take a painkiller to relieve ourselves from feeling the pain of, say, a headache, our egos relieve us from feeling pain that is hard for us to handle at particular points in time. In taking a painkiller to remedy a headache, the underlying conditions that caused the headache are still present; we’ve just numbed ourselves to them.
We experience temporary relief and believe that our pain has gone away, but in reality the pain and its source actually remain unhealed.
Our ego’s protective function is similar to that of a painkiller’s function in relieving the pain of a headache. Our ego temporarily disconnects us from our pain so we can function and carry on in our lives. Just like a painkiller, the relief our ego brings is only temporary in nature, because the pain and its source still remain unhealed. Furthermore, the same pain that was temporarily masked will surface again and again until we understand its underlying cause, heal it, and therefore liberate ourselves from it for good.
From this perspective, if we have chronic headaches and we continue taking painkillers on a regular basis without looking deeper into the source of the pain, besides developing an immunity to the painkilling function and thus needing higher doses, we’ll also begin building up toxicity in our bodies from all the chemicals contained within the painkillers. In situations like this, we live unaware of our affliction’s root cause and the affliction itself remains unhealed. Our approach to managing our pain, which once seemed supportive and loving, unfortunately just becomes a further source of suffering.
Once again, the same can also be said for our ego. We all unconsciously create our ego in order to protect us from feeling pain.
But eventually we create additional suffering for ourselves because in continuously disconnecting from our pain, we not only avoid healing it; we also avoid addressing its source. Thus, our initial way of managing our psychological and emotional pain, which once provided temporary and effective relief, just creates more misery and sickness in our lives when we do not transform the underlying issues.
For most of us it’s not until our suffering becomes so intense and compounded that our protective shell cracks and we open to approaching ourselves and our lives from new perspectives.
Most of us tend to be so stubborn and closed-minded that life has to get so difficult before we’ll finally surrender and change the ways that we relate to ourselves and our world.
Quite often it’s not until we’re somehow forced to face our fears that we finally open our heart fully to feeling our way through life and thus break free from the protective aspects of our personality that we’re all destined to outgrow.
Whether the catalyst is an intimate relationship, the death of a loved one, a suicidal depression, a newborn child, or an important goal or dream, the point always comes in our healing and spiritual growth where our ego becomes limiting and unhealthy. When this time inevitably arrives, we’re all blessed with an opportunity to love ourselves and release our unconscious need for protection, control, and separation.
The creation of our ego is indeed a necessary and purposeful part of our soul’s evolutionary unfolding, because we must create what we perceive to be a separate self in order to fulfill our life’s purpose and master loving ourselves unconditionally.
All of us must unconsciously love and protect ourselves until we’re ready to consciously and lovingly liberate ourselves from all of our self-imposed limitations.
However, just as the creation of our ego is a necessary step in mastering an unconditional love for ourselves, so too is our eventual liberation from it. As we grow in both awareness and love for ourselves we’re naturally guided from within to break through our fear-based defense mechanisms so we can heal all of the uncomfortable emotions that we’ve repressed throughout our lives.
Thankfully, once we’re prepared to face our suffering directly, life itself does everything in its power to support us in breaking free from our inner limitations, ultimately so the inner peace, health, happiness, and fulfillment that we’re looking for may finally surface from deep within our being.
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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg / Ed: Catherine Monkman