The mind is a wonderful tool, but it also has a largely unnoticed dark side. You must be willing to educate yourself about the ego by seeing it for what it is; it is one of the most empowering things you can ever do. This process will help you to learn more about who you are, your unconscious behaviors and gain a more compassionate understanding for others. Becoming free from the ego brings you more in touch with your authentic self. Your relationship with your ego is essential for having a long lasting, loving relationship with yourself and others. Try not to define or over-simplify the ego as just having a deeply compulsive fascination with one’s own inflated self-image or overbearing characteristics of being cocky, vain or selfish. Everyone has an egoic mind; it is our separate, personalized sense of individuality that has a tremendous influence over our personal thoughts, belief systems and actions. The ego’s primary role is to clarify, give feedback, defend our personal boundaries, keep you safe and prevent you from taking risks. It functions primarily as a survival machine (pre-programmed automatic responses) to protect us from real threats and danger that show up in our lives. The ego is a tool to help our physical body stay alive and spread our genes by mating with others; it is what gives us the feeling of individuality and being distinct from everything else.
The ego is not a bad or negative thing (it is just misguided); it is our mind-made sense of identity that mainly operates from an unobserved state. The paradox is that the ego is both an essential and detrimental force in our lives. It is an important resource for thriving in society (through self-preservation), but on its own is unable to successfully sustain an unbroken peace of mind, happiness, health, spiritual growth and wellness.
The ego draws a great amount of energy from the oldest part of our brain (the reptilian brain or R-complex), which is our limbic system. This by-product of natural selection (darwinian evolution) is mainly responsible for our emotions and instinctive reactions when threatened such as fight, flight, freeze and fear. This inherited flawed perception of the limbic brain complex has helped us to survive in the early stages of human evolution (as we developed human language) becoming more complex and self-aware; it not only assisted in our physical survival but socially as well. This is why our biological fight or flight mechanism is triggered by human interactions (situations, status and social hierarchy). This had made room for our egos to replace our hunter/gatherer pack mentality with other perceived threats to protect us from creating mostly unnecessary, psychological fears (self-esteem, competition, status seeking, past trauma, not good enough, money, infidelity, failing, offending others, etc).
When we live largely in this primitive way of handling conflict/fear life eventually becomes increasingly stressful and affects our mental stability, health, success, fulfillment, inner peace, relationships and well being, we begin to suffer. The ego is likened to a undisciplined child that is immature (ruled by automatic irrational behavioral attitudes and responses) and does not desire to experience real inner change. The problem arises when we stay stuck in the ‘survival mode’ of our being, in which everything seems to pose as a threat to our survival. We become paranoid, stressed, over-reactive, delusional and suspicious. It is our responsibility neutralize it’s mind games and create an intervention by reprogramming its unconscious patterns and negative tendencies from our clear mind.
We begin our inner journey from and beyond our egoic programming. Most of us are suffering from a case of ‘mistaken identity’, taking ourselves to be what we are not (a mind-made story outside of this present moment). The egoic mind is evolving by constantly searching for an identity through the temporary formation of thoughts, narratives, complaining, opposition and grievances. This is how it survives and thrives by adding more to itself, recreating a pseudo-identity to feel more special, better than others and complete.
One must cultivate unmoved present-moment-awareness to be free from the dominance of our compulsive thinking. Whenever you find yourself entertaining narratives of fear, unworthiness and insecurity, allow those limiting thoughts to slip into your witnessing presence. Recognize that you have momentarily limited your awareness from the natural, all-encompassing state of wholeness into a perceived state of boundaries and disconnectedness. Your initial step to transcend these mind trappings is to observe, detect and deter egoic thought-patterns with mindful detachment (when they are intruding your mind). Our survival brain is a secondary backup, not the primary leader of our lives. Who you are is not the compulsive voice in your head, but the silent observer who is aware of it. Being a detached observer requires you to watch your thoughts, emotional reactions/triggers and sensory perceptions as they are unfolding in each moment.
Conscious presence (our underlying, creative intelligence behind the mental noise) gives us a seat from which to objectively observe the movements of thought (fears, anger, approval seeking, need to control, negative self-talk, fault-finding, complaints and so on). The moment you rest in perceiving awareness, you become effortlessly aware of your thoughts and emotions when they arise and subside. This will help you to break your identification and investment with them. The more you are in the neutral space of quietude to observe your ego (without judgment, resistance or bias) when it is triggered or resurfaces, it will lose power over your thoughts and begin to naturally recede.
It is possible to awaken from the hypnotic trance of egoic identification. When you become more conscious of your own ego (by giving no power to it), you take it less seriously and it loses it’s stranglehold of power and influence over your mind and emotional state. You stop limiting yourself to traits associated with the reptilian brain that include: fear, negative thinking, dominance, aggression, obsessiveness, submission, rigidity and a narrow point of view. Do not react and engage in conflict, see it is an opportunity for personal growth. Rise above life’s perceived problems with a calm sense of non-attachment and begin to recognize that you are the unaffected space of awareness in which judgment and suffering are perceived. You are not the one who personally suffers, because you are no longer energizing the internal dialogue of the egoic mind through unconscious identification with it.
In life we have pain and suffering: pain is your physical body’s way of sending you a message that something needs attention. Suffering is the ego’s narration about the pain that makes the experience much worse. The root cause of suffering lies in the way that we have been conditioned to perceive which is dysfunctional and unnecessary. The intensity of our psychological pain depends on the degree of mental resistance to accepting the deeper truth of who we are and how strongly we personalize with our unobserved mind patterns. When you take the time to go deeper within yourself (through mindfulness, meditation, and/or self-inquiry) you will come to the realization that you are the unperturbed living presence behind all of your thoughts, feelings and choices. This is your calm, natural state of inner well-being, simply waiting to be discovered.