I want to talk about ego, and whether or not it is real. This will be a series of articles. First, we’ll discuss ‘What Is Ego?’
In the next article we’ll talk about the implications – namely, that much of the spiritual ‘work’ that many people do and have done (including myself) for many years, is almost a waste of time.
It’s a complex subject, so I will try to keep it as simple as I possibly can. I also want to keep it interesting, so that you stay with me to the end!
The reason I want to write about this now is that I see so many people struggling with what they think is ego – so many people get caught up in the idea that we have an ego, and that we have to ‘conquer’ it, and that it’s difficult. This is simply giving power to the thing which they think are fighting with!
My belief is that the ego is nothing. It doesn’t exist. It’s not real. It’s just a mistaken belief that we get caught up in, and because we get caught up in it, we fight it, and the more we fight it, the more real it seems… like being caught in a net – the more you struggle, the more you get caught up…
I was prompted to write this by a discussion on Simon Rose’s blog. ( Simon is the creator of Reference Point Therapy – the alternative healing method )
First I want to define ego. What exactly IS ego?
Ego is that which we identify with – what we think of as ‘I’.
So when I say:
“I am Ben”, or “I am an Englishman”, or “I am a man”, it’s my ego speaking.
Let me explain…
Of course my name is Ben. It’s what people call me, it’s what I call myself. But AM I BEN? Is that really what I am? Or am I much more than the label?
Of course my body was born in England – my Mother gave birth to me there. But am I right in labelling myself as English? Of course legally, my passport, my background etc… all makes me English to an extent. But surely my true nationality, if I look at the ‘BIG PICTURE’, is not so easy to define.
For example, I have lived in many countries. At the moment, I live in Slovenia. Why should I not say I am Slovene.
Or why should I not simply say, “I am an Earthling”…
Because by stating that I am English, I cut myself off, I make myself different from all people who are not English. And this has been a big problem in the past – this issue of nationality has caused wars!
And if I say “I am a man” – even this statement is not wholly accurate. Biologically, I am of course a man. But biology is only one aspect of me. Body is nothing without emotions, thoughts, instincts, deeper feelings, intuition, reasoning, senses… and so on. Every man has feminine aspects – and every woman has a masculine side to her. So it would be more accurate to state:
“I have a male body”, or better still – “in this lifetime, I have a male body”.
So the ego is what we think we are when we stop simply being. When we allow our attention to be distracted from our full being, we start thinking, and then the ego arises.
In reality, there is no ego. The ego is just what we THINK we are. What we THINK we are is not real – not really what we ARE. Because when we think, we stop being fully present – and reality; being; is only in the present.
Let me clarify this:
Thinking happens in the neocortex – the part of our brain that analyses. The part of the brain that compares. So when I think of myself as male, I am by implication also thinking of myself as ‘not woman’. That is what the neocortex does: it compares and analyses. It views the world in terms of opposites. It cannot do anything else. That is it’s nature, what it does.
Animals and small children (look at the picture!) don’t have much ego – why? Because their neocortex isn’t fully formed yet.
The present moment has no opposite. What is the opposite of NOW?…
Got it? THERE IS NO OPPOSITE OF NOW! Therefore the neocortex, the part of us that compares opposites, cannot grasp the present moment. The best it can come up with is past and future. So the neocortex is constantly analyzing our experience in terms of time.
What we truly are is timeless awareness. Consciousness. PURE BEING.
We experience this BEINGNESS ( a wonderful word I learnt from Simon Rose, who learnt it from Soleira Green ) fully only when we are living in balance. Only when we are completely ‘real’: centered in our body; emotionally present; and not caught up in the analytical processes of the ‘head’, but simply allowing it to do what it does… process information, like a computer.
This is what all the great masters describe: living in the present moment, feeling in balance with the environment, being spontaneously joyful. It’s what is known as an enlightened state.
I believe that enlightenment is the natural state of no-ego. When we are completely at one with ourselves, we lose that sense of ‘I’-ness. We become fully present, and we stop thinking of ourselves as this or that… we just experience, and that experience is what we are. That experience is what we really, truly are. Not what we think we are, but what we truly are. So we are all already enlightened – we just lose sight of it sometimes, because we think about what we are, and identify with that – ego!!
The great spiritual teacher Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (whose incredible talks in the book ‘I Am That’), said:
“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing.
Love is knowing I am everything.
In between the two my life moves.”
Wisdom is knowing I am nothing.
Love is knowing I am everything.
Ego is thinking I am something.
When we let go of the idea of what we are (which is really based on our past experiences – ie – what we were), we are free to really BE. We are also free to become more than that past idea.
That ‘beingness’; that state of awareness at the heart of our existence, is REAL.
The ego is not: the ego is just an illusion.
Part 2: http://benralston.blogspot.com/2010/06/ego-2-dont-fight-it.html