Spiritual texts refer to the ego as a sense of self that separates us from the whole of reality and from each other.
In psychological terms, it is what shapes our personality and gives us a sense of self importance. Those of us who are seeking ego enlightenment are often hoping to transcend this container to dwell within unified consciousness or the higher self. So when it comes to spirituality, the ego gets a pretty bad rap. But here’s why having one isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Everything expands and contracts, including my ego.
Just like the tides and the waxing and waning of the moon, the ego has both tight-fisted and outstretched states. Sometimes I am closed up around myself like a “Child Pose” in yoga. Sometimes I am as open as a five-pointed star. Being able to embody both states allows me to better understand the opposite way of being. It also helps me embrace constricted states in others. Because of my ego, I can relate to your being stuck in traffic even though I just sailed down the highway and got all the green lights.
Creating ego-based boundaries keep me safe and sane on the material plane.
Learning how to establish and maintain boundaries with loving kindness has offered me an incredible chance for growth on my individual spiritual path. This is because I may have to face the fact that you don’t like me because I drew a line in the sand or gave you a perspective you were resistant to. Just like when you ask a child to pick his or her clothes off the floor or insist that you be spoken to with respect, sometimes you just have to tell people things they don’t want to hear.
If I had no self-interest, would I even really care that the clothes were on the floor? Or that someone spoke to me unkindly? Why would my higher-self give a wit about that? If we all had no ego, there would be a lot of messy houses and smack-talking kids kicking around for sure. Being assertive or expressing displeasure might just be a spiritual thing to do because confronting negativity with a firm stance facilitates change. I may be able to let go of attachment to outcomes to a degree or even stop myself from spiraling into a negative reaction. But some things we still need to hold on to, however lightly, so we can make our desires known.
My ego gets me to share.
I like to write songs and play music, but I still feel a bit shy performing in front of an audience or promoting my next show. If I didn’t have an ego, would I even have a need to venture out into the world at all? Wouldn’t I be just as happy singing in my basement? What if every person with an artistic bent simply kept to themselves?
Even if someone is creating simply for the sake of expression and has no attachment to approval or recognition, isn’t a part of them still kind of jazzed when another human praises their work? There’s a little self-esteem boost for sure. Maybe it doesn’t improve the art itself but it may increase the likelihood that it is shared and enjoyed. When we see someone getting out there and expressing their talents (whatever they are), we should be downright amazed that they’ve ignored the ruminations of their inner judges.
And even if a person is a total off-the-charts attention seeker, look at the bright light that shines because of it.
My ego can take a good bruising.
The more I put myself “out there,” the greater chance I will encounter disapproval. So, if I take the lead I am vulnerable to criticism and scorn. But does hiding out so I can avoid contrary opinions or negative judgment mean I have any less of an ego? It’s actually quite the opposite; maybe my personality container is too big for its britches if it can’t take a little ribbing now and then. If I view myself as important and estimable, even if my perspective is unpopular, it means that I’m keeping my ego in check. And having a healthy one that can withstand a few shots to the gut now and then is a good thing.
Having an ego helps me feel my edges.
Just like bending a little further or holding a pose longer than I thought I could in a yoga class increases my range of motion, I can come up against my own hard edges over and over and soften them in perpetuity. Why? Because my ego presents so many opportunities! Instead of only observing the rejection, anger or sadness, I am still quite receptive to feelings, positive or negative. I can feel, meditate, question and then, over time, release the emotions quietly. If I were relieved of my concept of self, I would never even have these small experiences of freedom at all.
Sometimes the dance of drama and illusion (Hindus call it Maya) is fun.
I recently read a book by a fascinating guy who is so enlightened that he really doesn’t like to be around people at all anymore. This makes sense for him because he can no longer relate to the dance of drama. He also suggests that love and bliss are not what you find at the end of the journey. The state of spiritual enlightenment is quite a benign place to be after all. Maybe he is on to something, but why must every enlightened master scurry up the mountaintop? Isn’t the truest test of enlightenment to see how long you can last in the fray of humanity? I’m not sure, but for now I choose the dance while I am still able. I’m actually quite interested to know why your kid got thrown out of school, how you were overcharged by your cell phone provider and where you bought those adorable shoes.
My ego is my mirror.
Not only does my ego keep me from putting on dirty clothes every day, it also helps me to become more aware of my spiritual imperfections. Just like I slather my hair with products so others are not subjected to my frizzy mane, I also have to fetter the untamed strands of my “sense of self.” Each time my personality moves beyond equilibrium and sinks into constriction, I have an opportunity to reflect, change and expand. Without this outline, I would have no definition. What works for me is to sketch it lightly in pencil (preferably one with a good eraser) instead of engraving it in stone.
As spiritual seekers, we strive to be free of our “ego uniforms” as quickly as possible. But it is our separateness that allows us to experience each other and the planet we live on through contrast and comparison. So even though I have tools like yoga and meditation to help me stay connected to my higher and more authentic self, it’s important to know that hanging out in ego-based consciousness has some perks. Until my spirit is completely set free from planet Earth, it seems my ego’s job is to provide some color to what would otherwise be a rather bland backdrop, and teach me a few things along the way.
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Assistant Editor: Kathryn Rutz / Editor: Bryonie Wise
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