Thursday, 1 October 2009

What is the Ego?

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose, it and those who lose their life for my sake will save it." Luke 9-23-24
“Knowing Yourself as the Awareness Behind the Ego – That is Freedom!” -Anon

By now some readers may be asking what do I mean by ‘Ego’ anyway? If you think that the Ego affects only extroverts with arrogant self serving attitudes you are dead wrong. If on the other hand you think introverted people, lacking obvious self confidence, are not suffering due to Ego problems you are wrong again. In fact, I was quite surprised to learn that all fear, stress, anxiety, pain, doubt, and suffering in this world has its direct roots in our individual Ego’s! Isn’t that amazing? What is even more amazing is that you and I can do something about it. And you really won’t need a therapist or psychiatrist to help you find the answers.

For the best explanation of the Ego, and how to deal with it, I happily recommend a little book called ‘The Monster is Real’. Written by Yehuda Berg it is readily available through any of the well known on-line bookstores. How prevalent is the Ego in our ordinary dealings with people? According to the author 99% of our everyday behaviour follows the dictates of Ego! Looking at the state of the world and our collective suffering you will now hopefully begin to understand that THE MONSTER IS REAL! Kabbalist further tell us that there are five extensions of ego: anger, hatred, judgment, control and pride. These are the branches of the tree of ego.

Though the Ego or False-Self may sometimes provide us with an inflated image of ourselves; it especially thrives in an atmosphere of negative behaviour. Through our false- self we often see ourselves as victims, less than deserving and always needy. We have a difficult time forgiving others especially ourselves. In a society pre-occupied with material success we have become increasingly dependent on how others see us. As a result we find ourselves in constant competition with our friends and neighbours. The false self is now convinced that it cannot be considered a ‘success’ if, for example: it doesn’t acquire the latest electronic gadget, the latest model car, a spacious house (instead of a home) or able to afford an annual cruise( instead of an inward spiritual journey) on the ocean. While all of us will quickly agree that these ‘wants’ do not provide lasting fulfillment we have not yet discovered how to scale the impregnable fortress called the Ego and experience the True Self!

So why do we have Ego's? Well according to Yehuda Berg we chose it! “Well that was stupid” some might say in retrospect. Why would we chose something that might cause ourselves and others so much harm? The answer to that question is not as simple as it might seem. But basically it is because we learned not to share – to keep things for ourselves and ourselves alone. A form of self preservation you might say. That in itself is the very evil that exists in everyone’s heart. On the other hand when we resign to our self created fate and play the part of a ‘victim’ instead of sharing the universal joy that is available to all humankind, we are also giving in to the Ego.

When we think that evil is a force outside of ourselves, and that Satan is a separate entity, we are giving in to our Ego. When we ‘scapegoat’ and blame events on others we again have missed an opportunity to bind our Ego. Several years ago I attended a two day seminar featuring Fr. Richard Rohr on the subject of ‘True Self’ versus ‘False Self’. His presentation solidified my understanding of the damaging role the Ego plays in our everyday lives. In a nut shell I learned that the false-self represents the Ego self while the true-self reveals to real or God given self that resides deep inside every person. When Fr. Rohr was questioned whether the false-self was ‘bad’ he stated: “It is just not as good as the true-self! “

Learning to understand how to deal with both is of course a life long journey and does require practise and determination but more so a deeper sense of awareness. Practice makes perfect. According to Mr. Berg ‘when we feed our reactive qualities we give energy to the Ego. If we feed our pro-active nature, we give energy to love, gratitude, and sharing’. As Christians we can now better understand what is meant by the need to ‘die to self’.

Dying to self is of course extremely difficult and can perhaps only be found through trial and error. And the following insight may help us to grasp the pain sometimes involved in coming to one's true self. It will surprise you to discover its original biblical roots.

As a child the biblical narrative about the sacrifice of Isaac held a particular if not a forbidding fascination for me. Later as an adult I began to doubt that God would actually ask anyone to sacrifice their son. Therefore it seemed reasonable when I heard some experts suggest that the early Israelites merely wanted to teach neophytes that their God did not demand human sacrifice. The latter was once a common practise in neighbouring pagan cultures. More recently however I began to understand the much deeper and demanding meaning behind this cryptic tale.

Yehuda Berg as editor of 'Genesis: Technology For the Soul' provides this profound reflection:

In place of Isaac, a ram caught in the thicket was sacrificed to God. This sacrificial ram is a code for the actual eradication for our wicked and prideful traits-the sacrificing of our Evil Inclination. Thus we learn that a man must constantly utilize the power of his soul (Abraham) to bind his own ego (the binding of Isaac upon the altar) and then to eliminate all his selfish and self-destructing traits from his nature (the slaughtering of the ram). This entails sacrificing short-term material pleasures for eternal spiritual joy.

The Bible (Genesis 1:26-27) tells us that God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (NRSV). I doubt many people today believe that God was talking about our physical appearance. Rather, I believe God was referring to our spiritual make-up or our True Self. Our true essence therefore is of God and our spirit eternally belongs to God. Our role in life then is to overcome the EGO and discover the True Self in our self as well as in all others. We are all One as beloved sons and daughters of God. For many years I have struggled with meaning behind Jesus' sermon on the mount when he said "blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inheret the earth". Now I am convinced that he was talking about attaining a poverty of the ego. When we live out of our true self we can accept that we no longer need to change the world but ourselves.

Finally, I find it not just incidental that so many people are beginning to talk about the illusory role of the Ego in our society and how it affects world events so negatively . The time has come for us to face the ‘real monster’ and learn to discover who we truly can be for each other.

additional resources: Dr. Wayne W. Dyer - Your Sacred Self: Making the Decision to Be Free, HarperCollins, 1995

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