Ego and Self

Only those convinced by their own dreams can see the hidden designs behind the troubles of the world. To the common eye, Noah looked particularly foolish. Yet he would have been foolish in a worse way had he refused the inner project. Who can explain this to those whose eyes have not yet opened to their own inward seas?
-Michael Meade “The World Behind the World”

I asked a friend of mine recently what she meant when she said she was working hard to keep the ego out of the art she makes. “What do you mean by ego?” I asked. “I find that ego shows up in various ways in my life and some of them are useful and some of them are certainly not”.


When we make the move from the smaller to the bigger self, the ego is less of a problem, because part of the benefit of living out of a bigger state is that we can see the operatings of ego. We are not so identified with it, so when we see it pulling us into some unhealthy pattern of self-centeredness, the choice is more available to step back into the bigger state.

It would probably be useful at this point to clarify my terms more. When I say “ego” or “operating out of the ego” I am referring to the conventional state that most of us find ourselves in when we are almost entirely concerned about the survival and wellbeing of this body and mind that we inhabit. Eckhart Tolle calls this the “little me”. Acting out concerns for children, family, church group or even nation, are also often expressions of ego, though they can be a bit more expansive, especially if there is true altruism as part of those concerns.

When I say “Self” or living out of the Self” or “bigger self” I am talking about an orientation that recognizes, or has started to see, the interconnectedness of all beings, and bases more of their actions on that understanding. When we start to see this interconnectedness, Jesus’ exhortation to “Love each other as your Self” makes a lot of sense because we know that our neighbor and our self are made out of the same spiritual substance, on a fundamental level. When we take care of each other, we are taking care of our Self, in a real and significant way.

When we start to live our life out of this more wholistic vision, or engage with the Boddhisatva vow to care for all beings, we can forget at first that “all sentient beings” includes us, which means that we have to attend to ourselves. We need to take care of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. But rather than taking care of ourselves to the exclusion of others, or taking care of others and neglecting ourselves, we do both. There seems to be something of an art to this and you get better at it as you go along. At intermediate stages, it’s important to have healthy boundaries around the self and not get taken advantage of. There needs to be some discretion in how much you give your time, money and energy to others, because, if you don’t have clear limits, many people will take advantage of you. That’s simply the expression of most people’s self-centeredness, or Ignorance, in the way the Buddha used the term. So you don’t want to be naïve or simple in this work.

The point I’m really wanting to make here is that I don’t thinks it’s wise or necessary to try to “get rid of ego”. We need the ego’s operating system to navigate so many things in the world, in addition to just knowing how to make ourselves breakfast and add 2+2. But I’m also saying is that it’s possible to expand our consciousness to operate out of a bigger center of perception and action, which I am calling the Self.
As we get more and more stabilized in this deeper center of Being, we learn better how to work with ego, so that it can be more of a servant and less of a tyrant. As far as the methods for how to do that, I will leave that for another post. In the meantime, see if you can catalogue the ways you already have for doing that!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 at 8:31 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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