The ego is maybe not what you thought...
Oh the ego, a word that varies so much in definition. The most common associated definition (in the west) with ego is 'a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance'. Now it's not up to me to say this is the correct definition or not but it's not the definition I will be using to speak of the ego. In Ayurveda and Buddhism, the basic ego is the 5 senses of the body; sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. These are the senses that guide us and our bodies through the world.
We get a sense for what we like the taste of, what we enjoy smelling and hearing, what feels nice to the touch, and what we like looking at. Primitively, it also governs knowing what is safe and what is dangerous. Perhaps the color of that snake or bug is now associated with poison and danger and the smell of those berries are now associated with safety and nutrients. Whatever it may be, I want to say the ego is vital for navigating us through this very complex world.
Is your ego governing you?
But is there a point at which the ego governs too much of our happiness? Is there a point when it takes the wheel of control and steers you in certain directions in life rather than you steering it? I'm gonna go ahead and say 'yes' to both those questions! In our modern day, the ego has evolved beyond our primitive nature and needs, and is learning to function in a radically different way. There's much less perceived predator danger yet there is still anxiety and fear. There's not much food scarcity yet we consume and stock up like tomorrows dooms day.
There's actually so much abundance in some areas of the world, like America, that people's egos are in a full on indulgence of the 5 senses. We are overloaded with visual imagery, sweet, greasy food is just about everywhere, movies and music are non-stop created and listened to, soft, attractive clothes of the season must be had, and porn and sexualization of people is an epidemic. Our senses are completely overloaded with stimulation and messages.
Over time, these messages start to take over and our ego begins to drive our bus. We're in the store buying pears, we only need 2 right now but the ego goes "no we LOVE pears, why don't you buy 4" or we need a new pair of hiking shoes, we only need the one pair now but we see the hottest, newest boots of the season and ego goes "well I absolutely NEED to have those too (if I'm going to fit in socially)". Then the ego starts to judge "we don't like that person, they don't like cats and we love cats, they must be a bad person" or "this person doesn't agree with us so they must be really dumb". The inner dialogue of the ego is usually non-stop.
DISCERNMENT and JUDGMENT - They are DIFFERENT
The ego is designed to discern but much of the time it is judging. Judging people, places, what we eat, we don't eat, what we wear, our social status, what we're doing and not doing, and the over all way we fit into the world. To discern is to perceive or recognize something. To judge is to make considered decisions and conclusions. When we recognize someone is homeless we simply say "Aw, I see that man is homeless" a usual sense of compassion will flow over us. But if we conclude something or judge, we see the man who is homeless and say "I see that man is homeless probably because he made bad life decisions, I'm sure he could find work if he tried".
We completely killed off the opportunity for patience and compassion, which actually go hand-in-hand. When we jump to such conclusions and decide anything, we are limiting ourselves to that scope of perception and belief. The suffix 'cide' which you will find in the word decide, actually means to cut something off or kill it entirely. Other words of this nature are suicide, genocide, insecticide, herbicide, and so on.
Am I my ego?
Now you must be wondering, well aren't I my ego? Technically, no. You are the observer of your ego. The mere fact that you can observe yourself and have an active back and forth conversation with your ego is a sign you are separate from it. The fact that you can say 'yes' or 'no' to your impulses and behaviors is a sign you are separate. This isn't to say it isn't connected to who you are because it is very much how you incarnated into this world, but I won't get into creation here! The main thing to become aware of is how your ego demands circumstances, materials, and people to be a certain way in order for your happiness.
These "demands" is what I call the 'ego's hidden agenda'. It is your senses' agenda driving you from one thing to another unconsciously until you become conscious of your habit patterns, needs, and wants. Often the ego is driving us around trying to fulfill some emotional unmet need in our life. I will talk more about emotional unmet needs in another post, but for now lets work on becoming the observer of our life, honing in our self-awareness skills. To not be jerked around by the ego is how I call:
Becoming the shore, not the waves...
The shore is still. It is outside of the ocean and beneath all of the ocean. We can get lost if we are the waves, crashing down, not knowing what is up or down, unable to see clearly what surrounds us, whats in front of us or what's really going on beneath us. But if we can become still, sit on the shoreline and watch the waves, we can often see where they are coming from and where they are going.
I will end with the ego is our ally and we should not judge it as bad when it takes us to places we don't want to be. Just observe, feel, and discern. At the root of it, we are all the same. Om Shanti~