Being must be felt. It can’t be thought. The Ego doesn’t know about it because thought is what it consists of.
Upon reading various books, especially ones written by Eckhart Tolle, I learned to understand that Ego is precisely that – our thoughts. It is genius in its manifestation, and it comes in many shapes and forms. If I am ever to reach a state of inner peace and calm and to truly know myself, I need to be able to separate myself from my thoughts.
There is a story of a high government official in Japan who went to see a Zen Master. He asked him:
“Can you explain to me what Ego means?”
The Zen Master said:
“What a stupid question that is – why are you asking me such stupid questions?”
And immediately the government official responded:
“How dare you talk to me like that? Don’t you know who I am?
And the Master said:
“That’s the Ego.”
The first thing I learned is that we all have an Ego. Contrary to what we were taught to believe, Ego is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if we do not understand the difference between Ego and Higher Self, then Ego can be dangerous and have full control over our thoughts and actions.
The Ego isn’t wrong; it’s just unconscious. When you observe the Ego in yourself, you are beginning to go beyond it. Don’t take the Ego too seriously. When you detect egoic behavior in yourself, smile. At times you may even laugh. How could humanity have been taken in by this for so long? Above all, know that the Ego isn’t personal. It isn’t who you are. If you consider the Ego to be your personal problem, that’s just more Ego.
In order to stop identifying with our thoughts, possessions, and acts, we can utilize our consciousness as a tool to avoid egoic tendencies. And with the help of meditation, we can slowly unveil and take off all those layers and illusions of who we are – go deeper within ourselves where we can discover the pure joy of being.
When we find our true selves, we no longer need to depend on other people’s opinions, attention or even love. We are enough.
Who are we?
There are numerous opportunities in life where we are meant to present ourselves in front of others. And many of us usually come up with more or less similar answers: I am a mother, father, doctor, scientist, YouTuber, blogger, wife, husband, colleague, athlete, Ph.D., Serbian, American…
However, can any of those concepts define who we really are? Are we more than just those roles? And if yes, who are we?
You get closer to knowing YOU once you realize that you don’t know who you are because you cannot identify yourself anymore with previous concepts and forms. You understood who you are NOT – you are NOT your nationality, profession or gender. That’s when you enter the unknown. Ego is constantly looking for self-definition: to remember who you are, what your story is, what your past is, where you come from, what your opinions are, etc. But if you can become comfortable with not knowing and needing to define who you are to others or yourself… then Ego will lose its power.
Eckhart shared in one of his interviews with Oprah how he felt when in a matter of months he lost both of his parents. When he attended their wakes, it became clear to him that those are just their bodies. Physical forms. The bodies themselves were never who his parents were. Who they were, their actual essence had moved on.
I think; therefore I am
If we observe our mind closely, we can notice a constant flow of thoughts. We are arguing, complaining, singing, criticizing, remembering things. All in our minds.
People who talk to themselves out loud are usually viewed as insane or “a little off their rocker.” It made me think, that voice in our head that constantly speaks to us, and who we tend to identify with… Is that who we are? And, are we less insane for managing to keep those thoughts for ourselves compared to ones who share them out loud?
I have noticed that if I give complete power to my thoughts, they always convince me that I am right. No matter what the reality is, my thoughts always have my back. But as I share those thoughts out loud with someone close, I see how little they make sense. So many exaggerations.
Life isn’t as serious as my mind makes it out to be.
In the business of Ego
I completed my Master’s degree studying luxury brands. Our focus was on learning how to build a luxury brand and position it on the market so that both the quality and the price would reflect the authenticity of its story.
The key was to make the brand so special and dreamy that even people who couldn’t afford it, would still come to their flagship stores and buy products such as perfume, sunglasses or t-shirts with the brand’s huge logo on the chest so they could feel more special and part of the elite “club”.
As brand managers, we are building the image of a brand and creating a strong, dreamy narrative around it. A while ago, luxury brands didn’t want to have celebrity ambassadors because they didn’t want to have a name dominate the uniqueness of the brand. Now, they’ve updated strategy because consumers want to identify with celebrities and the brand’s story.
In so many cases you are not buying a product but an “identity enhancer.” Designer labels are primarily collective identities that you buy into. They are expensive and therefore “exclusive.”
And now, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Ego?
I have, therefore I am
We are living in an era of consumerism. We tend to look for external products to compensate for something that we are missing within ourselves.
Paradoxically, what keeps the so-called consumer society going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn’t work. The Ego satisfaction is short-lived, and so you keep looking for more, keep buying, keep consuming.
One of many manifestations of Ego is that we have an urge to possess things. To call them “mine.” To separate ourselves from Ego, we need to understand that our possessions are not us. They are separate from us and they don’t determine our value or worth.
We are not better or worse by having a big or a small house. When we identify with our belongings, we develop fears and anxiety – what if this is not enough? What if I lose this?
Most physical things in life lose their value with time. We will always need and want more thanks to our Ego. If we don’t actively dive deep to find the intrinsic value and peace within ourselves, we will endlessly dwell on the shallow surface of who we are. Distracted by our Ego, we’ll hope to find something or someone to fill our void and make us happy, only to ultimately discover that there is no such thing. (Read my interviews with Dr. Loehr on the topic of The Psychology of success and How to find your purpose for more on this)
The unchecked striving for more, for endless growth, is a dysfunction and a disease. It is the same dysfunction the cancerous cell manifests, whose only goal is to multiply itself, unaware that it is bringing about its own destruction by destroying the organism of which it is a part.
I am right, you are wrong!
Even if we let go of a need to possess and identify ourselves with things, the Ego is still going to live in us. As long as we think and have opinions, it will be there.
Most of us who decide to stop consuming animal products (including myself), start living in the illusion that we are right and others are wrong for not seeing the truth. So we try to prove our point by arguing with them and convincing them that this is the only way. In reality, by doing so we are creating the false image of superiority over them, and that is the manifestation of the Ego. It’s just switched its form. From one obsession we moved to another.
Making yourself right and others wrong is one of the principal egoic mind patterns, one of the main forms of unconsciousness. In other words, the content of the Ego may change; the mind structure that keeps it alive does not.
I love to observe my children and their growth. In the beginning, they don’t know that it is not ok to take something from somebody without permission or to have an angry reaction if we don’t like something. They are curiously walking around and taking whatever they can reach to observe and test with their senses. We are the ones teaching them the “right” behavior.
I have noticed something with my daughter. Her natural reaction when her brother would tell her to stay out of his room and not play with his toys was to just walk away and do something else. She didn’t complain or have an angry reaction. She would find another object of interest and continue playing.
Afterward, I didn’t feel ok about my son’s behavior, and so I would talk with him about it and explain that he should try to be gentler with his little sister, how sharing is important, etc. The usual pep talk of a parent.
In the evening, in the conversations with my husband, I would reflect on her behavior and share how impressed I am with her wisdom. She cannot make him do anything, so she has accepted his reaction as it is, didn’t take it personally (since she knows they will play together later), and she moved on. If only we could be as wise as her not to take other people’s reactions personally…
However, in just a few weeks, her behavior in a more or less similar situation has changed. She now cries and shouts at her brother. She has learned to express herself in the same way as her older brother.
That made me better understand my own emotions and reactions. From a young age, I was told what is polite, rude, right, wrong, mean, etc. I’ve seen how people react to good and bad, so I have started doing the same. Most of what my mind does is automatic and learned behavior from childhood, but if I would take time to allow myself to feel and understand the root of my emotional behavior, I would never allow myself to react in such way.
That’s why I find it so necessary to spend time in silence and prayer, meditating and writing my thoughts. It has helped me find peace under all those superficial thoughts and formed opinions. It’s helped me to be aware.
I feel relief when I see my thoughts on paper. I know that those thoughts are powered by Ego and they are not who I am beneath it. I can see a broader picture, and be grateful for those moments of enlightenment.
The Greed of The Ego
Most Egos have conflicting wants. They want different things at different times or may not even know what they want except that they don’t want what is: the present moment. Unease, restlessness, boredom, anxiety, dissatisfaction, are the results of unfulfilled wanting.
The disproportion in the distribution of wealth that we see around us is all because of our greed. The greed of our Ego. Our constant need for more has brought us to the point where we have ones who have more than they need, and on the other extreme, ones who have nothing. We have low, medium and high-income families. Wealthy and poor. Famous and unknown.
During one interview, Eckhart was answering the audience’s questions. One lady shared how reading his book made her confused at this stage in life where she is excited about the opportunities and growth. The book made her believe that everything is an illusion and that she shouldn’t feel excited or want more. Is she supposed to not want a family, higher salary, more kids, successful career..?
He gave her a very profound but simple answer:
You are not meant to believe in all stages of life that everything is an illusion. I didn’t think this way when I was 25 years old and a student. You will eventually come to the conclusion that no form in life is completely satisfying as before. Until then, enjoy your life and be as present as you can. Don’t project yourself into a future moment that promises maybe greater fulfillment. If that happens, if you can’t help it, that’s fine too. But why not enjoy this moment as it is? It is not to take the joy out of life; it is to deepen the way in which you live. Rather than living on the surface of things and expecting fulfillment through relatively superficial things, going deeper where the joy truly resides. There comes a point when you can see it clearly in your life, but until then, the book is a concept. It is not meant to make you feel like that forcefully.
I guess this is the goal of our inner work. To connect with our inner being so we can fully understand what joy and satisfaction are. To feel gratitude for simple things such as waking up in the morning and being alive. To get away from the deception of our mind that makes us believe we are better than, worse than, or different than others.
To learn to love ourselves as we are. We are divine under all those definitions of the physical world. We are in peace and harmony because we belong to something greater than we can imagine.
When we decide to live a superficial life that revolves around how many likes and faves we have, how expensive is our house and car, how much money we have, who we know… we will condemn ourselves to the life of perpetual dissatisfaction, depression, shallow relationships, and ultimately an empty feeling of an unfulfilled life.
These are some of my notes from the first three chapters of the book “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle. I keep coming back to it as it brings such wisdom and clarity to my life.
At the beginning of the year, Oprah Winfrey on her podcast SuperSoul Sunday started going through each chapter of the book with Eckhart. Every Monday they open a new chapter and answer questions by the readers. I have joined them, too.
Have you recognized within you what Ego is and its manifestations? Or was this article confusing and disheartening to you? Let’s talk about this more. Share your thoughts and opinions below.