It is important to always be questioning our point of view.
Remaining open to change has been a big theme in my life lately, and this had led to a series of key realizations.
Much of my thought energy over the past few years has gone toward the renunciation of my ego—the dissolution of all forms of conceptualized identity. Eckhart Tolle speaks a great deal about this, as well as many other spiritual teachers.
The ego is the inner sense of self that arises when we identify with our own thoughts. It is the sense of “me-ness,” the feeling of being a separate and distinct person with definite features and an immovable nature.
When we identify with our thoughts and behaviors, we create a hardened and densely rigid feeling of “I,” a sense of “myself” as an isolated observer detached from everything that is “other” than ourselves.
This is problematic for several reasons:
For one, it is incredibly divisive, which lends the feeling that other people are truly “other” and are inherently separate from us. This makes us wary of others off the jump, and thereby less capable of connecting with or understanding our fellow human beings.
It also brings about a deep neurosis within our psyche. If there is only “I,” then the only thing that truly matters is fulfilling the desires of our “I.” This means always trying to get ahead in some way. If this is our main concern in life, we will be constantly comparing ourselves to others. Always anxious about what other people think of us.
Lastly, the ego may very well be the origin of all psychological suffering (no big deal), in that it’s very nature is that of deep-seated resistance to what is. In my experience, the more we resist life, the more we suffer inwardly. The ego is a mechanism of resistance, for in identifying with our thoughts, we remove ourselves from the present moment.
Through my bouts with a severe chronic illness over the past few years, this understanding has been essential. Having the knowledge that there is something within me that is much deeper and more powerful than my particular identity (how I think about myself), and going about tapping into this deeper energy field has made me much more capable of enduring the emotional and physical suffering that has come with my condition.
The problem with all of this is that if we attempt to get rid of the ego, we have to contend with what, exactly, is attempting to get rid of said ego.
This is an inherent contradiction, for if we are attempting to rid ourselves of the ego as a way of avoiding pain or attaining pleasure, we are merely acting out of even more ego.
It doesn’t seem reasonable to say that the answer to human suffering is to get rid of the ego or even to reject all forms of identity. This is not healthy or sustainable; it would deny our very nature as thinking, independent beings.
The concept of identity has been becoming more and more valuable to me. It’s necessary to have a codified sense of “I,” and an awareness of our identity (what we are like and how we relate to people) so we can use that as a vehicle to move through the world in ways that resonate with our most heartfelt desires.
It is important to note the wording here. I am saying that we are using an identity as a kind of existential tool, rather than completely embodying that identity, which implies that we are not made up of just our ego. We have an ego, but we are not purely ego. There is an awareness that underlies all forms of conceptualized identity, and the more aligned we are with this awareness, the more malleable and adaptable our identity can be to the movement of life.
It is empowering to have a worldly identity, but if this identity does not have its foundation in our awareness—if it’s not grounded in the present moment—it becomes disorderly.
As with many things, it ultimately comes down to balance.
We must balance this sense of “I” with the capacity to step back from it all and simply be present. We are at once a calcified individual with a particular history and unique personality, while at the same moment completely immersed in the totality of the universe. We are both subject and object. Self and other. “I” and “that.”
It is through walking this fine line, meeting this quintessential balance of seeming opposites, that we uncover what it really means to be human and feel the fullness of life.
For a long time, I have tried to be “nobody,” but I have come to learn that there is no such thing. There is somebody, and there is everybody. That is all.
Don’t try to escape the ego. Simply observe it and keep it out of trouble.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Sydney Jackson /Unsplash
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