This Is What Most People Get Wrong About Giving up the Ego

It’s not egoless, it’s egomore

Have you ever wondered what the “ego” is?

Chances are you have. We all use phrases like “He has a big ego” and “He has a huge ego problem.”

This means we do have an idea about what it means. Yet, when asked, we fail to explain it.

Many of us refer to Freud’s work on the Ego. He classified the human psyche into three parts — Id, the Ego, and the Superego.

But the reason they’re so difficult to understand is twofold:

  1. They’re not physical aspects

  2. What psychology tells us about Ego can often be misleading.

    “Ego is a social institution with no physical reality. The ego is simply your symbol of yourself. Just as the word “water” is a noise that symbolizes a certain liquid without being it, so too the idea of ego symbolizes the role you play, who you are, but it is not the same as your living organism.” — Alan Watts

For anyone who’s interested in spirituality, Ego comes up more often than not.

Yet, it’s dismal that the topic of Ego has also created more confusion than it has to. This confusion can often be the cause of misery for most people trying to overcome it.

The purpose of all spiritual practices is to realize your universal identity. But the ego keeps us from doing that. And a fine understanding of what you’re trying to overcome is necessary.

In that spirit, let’s explore what ego means. When someone says “you have an ego” it can mean a lot of things.

Psychological Ego

In the material world and in the works of popular psychologists, the ego is the identity of the individual sense. In Freudian and Jungian terms, it is the center of your awareness and the framework of your individual being.

To put it in simpler terms, whatever comes to your mind when you think of yourself is a part of your ego:

  • “I am a writer. “

  • “I am a businessman,”

  • “I like to eat pizzas without broccoli,”

  • “That car is mine,”

  • “I deserve the promotion more than John,” etc.

Any thought that considers yourself as a separate entity from others comes from the ego.

Spiritual Ego

In the spiritual world, one can portray the ego in different, esoteric ways. (It’s worth mentioning that the ego is the same, it’s the understanding of the ego that’s changing in psychological or spiritual contexts.)

In spiritual terms, the ego is anything that keeps you from realizing your Oneness with all Creation. That might seem “new-age” and “woo-woo” but it’s true.

The ego is the sole cause of our separation from our Higher Self, universal consciousness, and God.

In esoteric terms, the ego is a soul attached to the body. When the soul starts to think of its reality constrained to this physical world, it’s ego. The ego confines the soul to these bounds of limited potential in perpetuity. (Unless we do something about it, of course)

In his book Whispers from Eternity, Paramhansa Yogananda says:

When the Invisible, the One, became the many, He condescended to give freedom of choice and power of independent self-evolution to all His creations. So He gave to everything His own power — “to be able to do whatever one may want to do.” Thus, all things went farther and farther away from Him by believing in the cosmic delusion and painstakingly working for it. Yet, all things, by the right use of self-evolving reason, can move ever nearer and nearer to Him until the many again become the One. But the cosmic creation, or nature — being conscious, and having received unlimited independence — wants mostly to move farther away from the Divine Father, or God, thus creating self-imposed suffering from self-made or man-made laws of evil.

That’s a mouthful to understand. Yogananda is illustrating that God manifested into all souls and gave free will to each soul. This means man is free to believe whatever he wants. Thus, he believes that he’s only what he experiences through his material senses.

Even though man, in reality, is a soul, he refuses to see it and live his life in a cosmic delusion. God can’t take this free will back from him. And that’s the essence of the spiritual path — to realize that you are a soul and not the ego — and to come to this understanding of your own will.

Is the Ego Any Good?

“He who is free in the body, but bound in the soul is a slave; but on the contrary he who is bound in the body, but free in the soul, is truly free” — Epictetus

When you operate from ego-consciousness, you believe that you’re separate from others. Your actions then work in tandem with your beliefs.

This leads to fear, desires, greed, lust, hatred — in short, it leads to suffering.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that having belief systems built on top of such negative emotions will only derail human progress.

So what’s our alternative? The alternative is to realize our universal consciousness. Once we have that understanding we can operate in this world from a better point of reference.

Many successful people in the world have had big egos. From the hotshot entrepreneurs to even the popular creatives like Michelangelo.

This has forced people into thinking that you have to be egoistic to succeed in material terms. But here’s the truth:

They don’t succeed because of their egotism, they succeed inspite of it

When you have a big ego, your drive to succeed comes from the need to be famous, and get rich, often at the cost of others. Why? Because when you have a big ego, you believe that you’re separate from others. This is why you see no harm in taking advantage of people as long as your needs are satisfied.

But, when you transcend the ego, your drive to succeed comes from the need to help everyone succeed. This is a much nobler motivation to have. Not to mention, you don’t end up screwing people over which only causes more suffering in the end.

Now, since ego needs to be transcended, the question that comes to mind is,

What does it mean to not have an ego?

The question seems simple and still troubles many seekers. Yet the answer is not so simple. Let’s understand this.

We defined the ego as the limited-identification with the lower self that keeps you from realizing universal consciousness. This ego of yours contains everything about you — your personality, habits, mannerism, beliefs, ambitions, passions, etc.

Here’s the hard-to-digest part: You have to give all those up.

After hearing that, you might say, “Hit the breaks!”

This reaction is completely normal. After all, if you give up everything you are, what’s left? Nothing’s left — which is good.

I know you’re still confused so stick with me.

Egoless vs Ego-Transcendence

“How can the heart travel to God, when it is chained by its own desires? “— Ibn Arabi

When people think about leaving the ego, they think they’ll become “egoless.” But being egoless is to lose your functional self — and that’s a psychotic, not an enlightened being.

This notion of being egoless comes when we look up to saints and sages of all religions. But we’re dead wrong in our interpretations.

Ken Wilber writes,

One of the many reasons we have trouble with the notion of egoless is that people want their egoless sages to fulfill all their fantasies of saintly or spiritual, which usually means dead from the neck down, without fleshy wants or desires, gently smiling all the time.

He says that we want all the masters of different religions to be devoid of everything that makes us human. We want saints to be free of desires, relationships, etc. But we don’t realize that we’re thinking in the wrong direction.

As humans, we have problems with different things and desires — money, food, sex, relationships, success, fame, death, etc. This is precisely why we look at people (saints) who seem to not have these problems.

We use religion as a coping mechanism because we think that the saints are ‘egoless.’ That being a saint means losing everything that makes us human and sitting and smiling all the time.

What we have to do is to flip the coin upside down. We shouldn’t look forward to saints and religion to run away from our desires. Instead, we should look up to them to transcend our desires and live a life of enthusiasm.

What we’re talking about is ego-transcendence. Ego transcendence means that you still have the ego, but you’re not exclusively identified with it anymore.

Make sense?

This means that you’re still John, Mark, Mellisa, Rachel, whatever. But you know you’re more than that. That’s what all the enlightened masters possess.

They not only possess the knowledge of higher consciousness, they know that they’re not this body. They know that they’re one with all creation.

This means that the Higher Self and the Ego are present together!

Let’s come back to all the famous saints and sages of the past. Think Christ, Moses, Joan of Arc, Paramahansa Yogananda, Guru Nanak, and St. Teresa of Ávila. They weren’t feeble-minded creatures who sat in their room meditating all day.

They shook the world and started movements that still go on. They were “movers and shakers from bullwhips in the Temple to subduing entire countries. They rattled the world on its own terms, not in some pie-in-the-sky piety; many of them instigated massive social revolutions that have continued for thousands of years,” Wilber says.

How could’ve they done so much? After all, they’re supposed to be rid of the ego right? Wrong. This is the perfect example of ego-transcendence that we’re talking about.

Their ultimate source of power was the soul and the realization of cosmic consciousness. **But nevertheless, the ego was their vehicle to carry out the change in this world. **The truth is, as long as you’re in this world, you need a functional self. Yet, you cannot depend on it for your power. True power has to come from deep inside of you.

**Even though they had their own egos, they were not identified with it. **No, that would be a narcissist. They were identified with a higher reality while just using the ego as a means to do their work in this world.

Think of Saint Teresa again. She’s thought of as a great contemplative but she’s the only woman ever to reform the entire Catholic monastic tradition. Buddha, Rumi, Lao Tzu, and Plato are amongst people whose revolutions lasted for centuries in this world something neither Marx nor Lenin nor Locke nor Jefferson can yet claim.

The Takeaway

The aim here was to remove the apprehension around the concept of Ego that many people have. I hope I’ve made it clear that the ego has to be transcended.

And ego-transcended does not mean “egoless” but in a completely different sense, it means “ego-more.” Because the ego is still there, but now you have transpersonal qualities along with your personal ones.

You no longer identify yourself with the little wave when you know you’re the Ocen itself!

All the great ones have come time and time again to prove this. And they were able to do everything that they did because their power plug was plugged right into God. Our plugs are plugged into the limited Ego.

All we have to do is plug it in the right place.

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Written on December 1, 2020