The ego isn’t our friend, though it behaves like a friend, whispering sweet and not-so-sweet nothings when we feel alone, trivialized, angry, depressed or fat.
Why doesn’t anyone like me? Who do they think they are? I’ll make them pay for hurting me! Nothing will ever get better. Go ahead, eat a fifth cookie, it was a tough day.
Annihilating the ego isn’t easy. (Though it sounds easy—just stop being an ass and it will suffocate itself without the oxygen it needs.)
But an ego isn’t simply a person’s bloated thinking about themselves. Ego is the great impersonator. We think it is actually us talking to ourselves, but it isn’t.
Ego is a manifestation of who we think we are.
Exterminating an ego is a process of sorting what is real and what is glorified hoo-ha. In 2008 I learned about this by reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth . He wrote about the instantaneous death of his bad seed and the sensations that occurred. It sounded like an awesome way to go through the process. All at once—rip the damn Band-Aid off.
For the subsequent eight long years, I’ve been intent on manifesting the demise of my own annoying, Machiavellian ego.
Here is a practice I have developed, since Mr. Tolle’s obtuse book took me almost twenty-four months to go through and by the time I finished I forgot what he said in the first chapter. Knocking off an ego shouldn’t be that complicated.
Step 1: Stop believing everything you think.
In fact, question every idea or spontaneous eruption that litters your mind. Ask first, “Is this true? Am I a blathering idiot who should hide in the closet instead of walking out the front door?” Most times the fool between our ears is ego, since the follow up statement is usually, “No one understands me anyway.”
Step 2: Meditate or at least stop talking for ten minutes.
This is harder than it sounds, but not impossible. I had to get a drum and bang on it until I shut myself up. After the drumbeats ended I found that ego must not like repetitive noise any more than the neighbors, leaving me alone to have a discussion with me.
Step 3: Ask the relatively benign question, “Am I happy?”
Wait for an answer. Then toss the follow up question: “Why?” Don’t let this conversation go on longer than a minute or two, because ego has a tendency to return throwing darts.
Step 4: Repeat this procedure until it is possible to tell the difference between “you” and the “other.”
Shining a spotlight on ego causes her/him to show off. This is helpful, since the whole point is distinguishing who the interloper is. Try not to grow discouraged; knowing which is what is most of the battle.
Step 5: Ego has an ego.
Not paying attention to the blob causes it to shrink. The less space it takes up, the more you appear in the mirror. When this happens, spend time with you and just you, doing things that make you happy.
With these steps, my own she-devil began kicking and screaming her way to the curb. Fatigued and bored by the amount of time this was taking, I begged Eckhart’s guardian angel to zap my frenemy into oblivion. When nothing came to the rescue I added to my outline:
Step 6: Have a sense of humor.
Living with an ego isn’t the end of the world, though when she/he is evicted it may feel like it.
In typically dramatic fashion, my ego spontaneously electrocuted herself in a panic attack in the desert.
I’ve lived with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for several decades. This was something I’d grown oddly used to until an episode happened while I was sleeping. (Which is a pretty screwed up state of affairs I might add—no one warned me about that one.)
It was 2:37 in the morning in a hotel room in the middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. My eyes shot open and I was instantly confused by two sensations. I felt intensely claustrophobic and wildly unmoored.
In the movie Gravity, Sandra Bullock’s character has a lengthy period of floating unrestrained in space. This is what that might feel like—not tethered to anything but with a necessary helmet strapped on.
I thought I was going crazy, or dying, or both. It took an hour for me to calm down and required a long-distance conversation with a therapist-friend while I sat in the desert, breathing in concert with the rhythm of the moon.
It was another couple of weeks before I noticed that my annoying ego partner and I had divorced. Like Eckhart, I didn’t get a shout out from the media. Instead I had an oddly mystical encounter with a shaman I met a few years ago, suddenly materializing in front of him in a dream.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
The shaman eye rolled me instead of answering.
“Alright. What am I doing here?”
As if cued, an idea having to do with my panic attacks enveloped my mind. With snarky intonation, I filled the shaman in on what he seemed to already know.
“Yeah, I’ve got PTSD.”
A heavy-sighed eye roll later, the shaman reached up three fingers and pushed the center of my forehead, causing me to fall flat on my back and instantly into deep nothing. I have no idea how much time passed; it felt like seconds, but it ended with a jolt of anxiety. I flew up to my feet in front of the shaman again.
“See! That’s what I’m talking about. That’s awful. I never want that to happen again.”
The shaman’s expression was placid, as though my words were unimportant.
“It won’t happen again.”
“What? How is that possible?”
“It won’t happen again because you will trust yourself and that will never leave you.”
Not one to give up an argument, I babbled, “What do you mean trust myself? How can I do that? I’m nuts and damaged and…”
“You are none of those things any longer. From now on you will know what you know and doubt nothing in yourself. You will never again question what is true.”
Then the shaman disappeared and I woke up.
Over the next month I noticed that I couldn’t make a panic attack activate. Alongside this awesome outcome, ego didn’t arise to annoy me with her interpretations and denunciations of my life.
I waited for her bleak words about the future, diatribes of how I’ve been treated by others, and daily eviscerations of my performance as a human. The silence was remarkable. Moments not littered by judgment, derisiveness and vitriol are quite elegant. I imagine that’s the actual objective of our existence.
I’ve discovered it is possible to eradicate the ego (questioning the veracity of Mr. Tolle and his verbose sidekick Oprah is something I do in my spare time).
Thankfully this is an experience that I will never have to repeat.
Ego, if pulled by the root, evaporates into nothing.
On my evil twin’s obituary it reads:
“Ego was a pain in the ass. She created mayhem, unhappiness and heartbreak and made a day feel eternal. No tears will be shed at her passing, only a wild, joyous celebration that the witch is dead!”
May all ego be zapped into oblivion, and may we blissfully twirl in the space that comes with knowing that nothing is watching.
Author: Deb Lecos
Image: Brad Hammonds/Flickr
Editors: Toby Israel; Nicole Cameron