The Creation Of The Ego
Human beings not only possess unique gifts, but also unique fears. One ability that we have is the use language to conceptualize things. Language is considered the quintessential human activity. Having the ability to communicate and conceptualize the world with words has allowed our species to pass on information and categorize groups of objects for mental simplicity. This skill is widely considered to have allowed humanity to rise to the apex of the animal kingdom. In previous times, our earlier ancestors had to learn everything through firsthand experience, which they then were able to pass that information on to their kin with the aid of language.
People also possess many fears, sometimes they are completely irrational. One of the main fears is the fear of the unknown. We get anxiety when we don’t know what a test will be like or how a speech will go. The scariest types of movies are the ones that never show what the monster looks like. This fear – in combination with our need to understand things – is a double edged sword. On one end, it has motivated us to explore and understand the unknown. Travelers like the Vikings have set out to explore new uncharted areas. Scientists constantly seek out new answers to unknown questions. People, above all else, want to know and understand themselves. This inner exploration has led us to creating our identities.
You Are Not What You Think
When you are asked, “Who are you?” What kind of answer do you give? You might say your name, what you do for a living, or even your nationality. But, if you took those things away – then who would you be? You would still exist, so how would you answer that question?
According to Eckhart Tolle (Author of “A New Earth”), without those things you are “Being”, “Consciousness” and “Present Awareness.” If everyone were to strip away those objective classifications that consist of their identity then we would all be the same. According to Eckhart, this is the illusion the Ego presents us with. It tries to tell us that we are all separate from each other, when in fact, we are all one. We have all been created from the same materials.
“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
We try to understand and name something as complex as Nature, animals, and ourselves. We consistently try to put things into a box, which ultimately limits what they are through our language. In his book, Eckhart argues that there is no way that we can truly know the true complexities of a bird or a flower. One example is that a biological scientist and an artist will each view two completely different things when experiencing a brand new flower for the first time. Our perception and language is limited in the brain’s processing resources and it’s understanding and grasp of reality. We result to finding the simplest way to do things. Another example is our perception of color. Many of us can only see six distinct combinations of the color spectrum (not including those who are colorblind). Scientists have found that certain butterfly species can see up to 8 different combinations of light colors, including two in the ultraviolet spectrum. This is just one of many examples in the animal kingdom of how our own perception of reality is limited. If we cannot perceive everything in reality, how can we possibly understand everything?
When we name something, we are limiting it and thus not fully appreciating it. When you just look at a flower and not try and name it, you start to understand that our language and thought cannot fully describe the beauty and complexity of nature. So what happens when we apply this categorization process to ourselves and others?
The Ego’s Effects
From an early age we start this identification process with the use of “I.” We start to say that, “I am this”, “That is mine” or “I am that.” We start to place ownership with objects. That is why when a child’s toy is lost or broken, they immediately get upset because they have identified with it. This translates later into life with peoples’ cars, nationality, etc. You can see throughout our history how people held so strongly to their identity, that when it was threatened, they would kill to maintain it.
Below is a deeper look at how the Ego can affect your life in Dating, Relationships and overall Happiness:
The Ego’s Ugly Self-Preservation
Our Egos are fed and kept alive by our thoughts and emotions. It is like a parasite that needs constant attention in order to survive, but it will never be fully satisfied. By the time we are adults, we have established a firm grasp of who we think we are. We have done this by receiving and creating thoughts about who we should be (ie: a white/latin/black, straight/gay/bisexual, catholic/muslim/jewish/hindu, 32/21/50 year old, middle/upper/lower class, American/Mexican/Canadian/Scottish/Indian/Japanese male/female, or any other combination that makes up humanity). We have associations about all of those things. The Ego then tries to maintain its formed identity by looking for references to confirm and strengthen itself. Our example person above might do this by constantly going to church on Sunday, not watching girly movies, voting for a certain political candidate, etc. What I am trying to say is that people guide their actions based off of what they think is correct when trying to match their identity.
Some people have stronger identities than others because they have more references of who they are. They more easily dismiss opposing ideas that do not fit into their model of perceived reality about who they are and are not. If someone challenges their identity (eg., An atheist telling a Christian that God doesn’t exist) then they are better at warping things to dismiss what they think is not true. Some peoples’ egos are so entrenched with years of thought that even when presented with facts, they somehow find a way to say it is not true – even not opening up certain topics for debate.
Often people in power exert strong social pressure over others by influencing them with their beliefs. If a boy starts to play with barbie dolls or a Brazilian doesn’t like soccer, then it challenges what we think we know. Our collective societal Egos try to keep people in the roles that make most sense to us (Fear of the Unknown). An extreme example of this is when people burnt over 50,000 women at the stake for supposed witchcraft during the Salem witch trials.
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.”
How to Suppress the Ego
How do we get rid of the Ego? Unfortunately, we can’t. Common perspective is that the Ego is basically thought, and you will never be able to stop thinking. What you can do however, is understand your Ego. You now know what it is, what it wants from you. and how it tries to control your life. There are also some ways in which you can suppress it.
“The world cannot tell you who you are or give you true happiness..once you can let that go you will be free of pain and anxiety.”
The Narrative Approach- You can use self-therapy to Deconstruct and understand your Ego’s influence over your life. Then go on to look for Unique Outcomes when your Ego was not as present. You will then try and Amplify those times by looking at what you were feeling at the time. These moments without thought and Ego often come during times of Flow and Awareness.
Non Resistance, Non Judgement, & Nonattachment- Eckhart says if you can practice these 3 aspects of life then you will have true freedom from pain. Nonresistance is another way of saying Acceptance of Reality. Do not fight what is happening. Only pain will come from it. Your Ego will desperately try to argue with reality if it goes against its identity. This cognitive dissonance only causes pain.
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.”
Do not judge others and you will not be judged. The Ego loves to create separateness by saying that you are different from others. This causes you to think that others are judging you as well. Instead, do not categorize others or place a value on them based off of what you think is right.
“Lose yourself in order to find yourself..let go the need to show your egoic form identity. Demanding recognition, talking about your problems, giving your opinion when unnecessary, worrying about what others think, trying to impress with anything, acting angrily, feeling offended, needing to be liked or seen or important.”
Stop attaching yourself to things. Attachment to things and people is extremely selfish. People often try to attach themselves to others and so therefore think that those peoples’ actions always affect them somehow. Whenever someone does something that goes against what we think is right, we experience pain because we think that they should have not done that. You cannot control other peoples’ conduct. Getting mad at someone for doing something is like getting mad at a table for you stubbing your toe on it.
The Joy of Action
Eckhart believes that true joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do. Joy cannot be derived from something else because you look to forms for joy. Joy comes from doing and taking action. With Present action, there is no thought. This is much like having and maintaining a Flow State. When we are not thinking and we are fully enveloped into the present moment, we are truly at peace. Eckhart believes this the same thing as being in the NOW. It is when you are closest to being your true self, which is undefined presence and spirit.
We do not need much evidence to show that this state is addictive. People constantly seek it out with the consumption or alcohol and drugs. What Mr. Tolle argues is that those substances send you into a state below consciousness, whereas true consciousness is a state above that. It is not numbing, but rather a sense of deep clarity. How do we obtain this?
What is Mindfulness? Simply defined it is, “A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
You can use mindfulness in anything and everything you do. It is about being fully aware of all bodily sensations. You feel your feet on the ground, the clothes on your body, your breath filling your lungs with air. You are focusing and redirecting your attention to the present moment. If you do this at least ten minutes a day and make a solid effort to increase this mental muscle then your Ego will have less space to come into your life.
This is a video exercise on meditation and mindfulness that can help you out:
You can also check out Eckhart Tolle’s book “A New Earth” for a more complex and structured view of how your Ego can affect you: