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Is Your Ego Ruining Your Life? 3 Ways to Escape Your Ego


A pawn chess piece in front of a mirror reflecting a king

We all have egos. In fact, egos are necessary to help us identify ourselves as distinct from everyone and everything else in life. All things have a high and a low end, however, and the low end of the ego can and does cause us problems. In this article, the Pathways of Possibility Team examines the role of ego in our lives—and ways in which we can escape its more negative effects.


3 Ways to Escape Your Ego


(1) Separate ego habits from true wants.

(2) See things for what they are.

(3) Play a different tune.


What to do about the ego?


The crux of the problem with the ego might be summed up in one word – isolation. Plus what comes with that in terms of a tendency to be neurotic and have self-centered views.

Your ego is the upfront awareness of who you think you are, and this underlying sense of isolation causes you to hunger to be something, so that you have some sense of what you are. This then becomes the means by which you relate to the world, so that what you have developed or can do (and cannot do) become the trademarks by which you see yourself. 


Thus we end up believing ourselves to be that which we have become, such as, ‘I am a doctor’, or a ‘mother’, or an ‘artist’. But that is only a slice of what we actually are, more a role we have ended up playing. Sometimes it is chosen, often it is not, and sometimes these attributes are unfortunate, like the angry person who has that trait and it is very difficult for them to change it.


Also your ego might be prone to puff out its chest because it was the one who solved the problem, or said something funny, or won the competition. You might have a slightly vain sense of pride in what you are good at, or the country you come from, or the football team you support. But that isn’t you, it's only what you have attached yourself to so that you can identify with it, perhaps because it's so difficult to see and know yourself directly. 


The ego can easily become self obsessed, as if it is forever wondering about how it's doing and what other people are thinking about it.


The nagging fears of the ego seem to be summed up by Shakespeare when Macbeth said, “A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more”. The ego is very good at strutting and fretting about itself, finding it difficult to have a balanced view. 


What else is there but ego?


There is a high and a low end to ego - this writing is looking at the low end, or the troublesome side of ego. At the high end it can lead a person to be all the great things that the human being is capable of, such as an Olympic gymnast, a skilled surgeon, or a virtuoso musician for example. 


There is also the perception that you are a spiritual being that has a pedigree well beyond your ego. In the words of the French priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience”.

Thus a useful way to think about your life is to see yourself existing on two levels at the same time. 


One is the day-to-day life on this planet that we all know so well, where the principal player is the ego. It is built to navigate this life and the ways of the world it grows up in. Thus it is born empty so that it can become whatever that life is calling for, whether it lives in Siberia, the Equator, remote hills, or the bustling city.


The other is your spiritual, deeper side, which you bring into this world irrespective of your subsequent experiences in life. Thus it's your fundamental character, your nature, your longings and your natural inclination. It is the part of you that, even if you’ve been successful, can make you wonder what your life is for; or ask the question, “Is there something more?”


Of course when we were born we knew nothing about our ego, or our spiritual side, or even what this world was about. All that had to be discovered and learnt, including finding out about ourselves and what we actually want to focus upon in this lifetime, as opposed to what life has thrown at us.


A good way to think about your ego is that everything about it has been adopted from outside. Thus it forms up through your experiences, by what you are told, by what you see others doing and, of course, by your own addings up that accumulate along the way. And with its tendency to swing between inferiority and superiority, because it is not naturally part of anything, ego drives a person to hunger for approval and results that are confirmed by others. 


Thus an overactive ego is likely to make a person hypersensitive to criticism or morosely deflated at failure, have a tendency to blame others for their own shortfall, and always be watching over their shoulder to check what others are thinking about them. Hardly the sort of person you want on a mission! And what if that mission is your own life. Thus the worst aspects of ego can make you a sub-standard operator and it's natural to want to bypass that. And in many ways we can, and do.


Three ways to learn about and train your ego


There are many ways to do this and here are 3 to get you started. It is good to see these not so much as exercises, but more as a journey of increased awareness to realize how multi-faceted your life actually is if you exercise your mind beyond the usual preoccupations of your ego.  In other words the best way to deal with the ego is to become aware of those parts that are beyond it.


(1) Separate ego habits from true wants


Have you noticed that how you respond is often not what you want? 


You might be talking to a friend, who makes a critical remark about something you said and you fly into a rage, instead of taking it calmly as you know you should. Then days later, having resolved to make up, you see them again and instead of being polite, you are suddenly flooded by the same resentment and anger that you had before as your ego is determined to justify itself.


These habitual responses develop over time and are a product of our upbringing, experiences, and how we have responded in the past. But inside of that we have grown up and changed as well. We might know better now what we want, but there is often a disconnect between that and how we express ourselves today because of the shackles of our ego.


To make matters worse, your ego is great at justifying your behavior, often to defend and cover up its shortfall. It says things like, “Dancing is not my thing”, or “I just can’t stop talking once I start”, or “I’ve always been a worrier”. There might be a good reason for your less-than-suitable behavior that your ego will be keen to highlight, but this tends to lock you into that trait. 

So where are you today with such things? This is the drama and development battleground of human life. 


Exercise

As often as you can, call over what you want the outcome of what you are doing to be. This can be in relation to now, that day, or even your whole life. Speak it out in your mind, be it small and trivial, or large and mighty. It might start with the obvious but over time should become more multi-threaded as it paints a more graphic and richer picture as you start to understand more clearly who you are inside.


Don’t be fanciful or fantastic, try to be realistic in terms of what actually matters for you.

For example, we have probably all found ourselves bursting to say something in a conversation and realized that we are not actually listening to or interested in what others are saying -  we just want to talk about what we know, thinking what a great contribution it will make. It can be hard to stop that, but you can call over what you would prefer - such as a better ability to listen, and a willingness to adapt and blend to how the conversation has moved on, even to dropping what you were going to say and not minding. And so on.


This is not about changing your habitual responses at this stage, it is just bringing to mind what you would prefer to occur. Yes, it can affect the outcome for the better, but the main reason is to create a state of mind that is watching your responses and starting to discern which are ego-driven habits so you can become less attached to them. 


Ultimately we need to be more realistic about ourselves and often that can be achieved by being able to listen to a different inner dialogue to that of our heavily programmed, easily offended and defensive ego. 


(2) See things for what they are


Believe it or not, your ego has great difficulty seeing something for what it is. It primarily sees through its past lens and struggles to see it anew or realistically. It also loves its own opinion and this can limit you in being able to see what is actually at play. 


The ego is prone to be blind because it tends to deal in ‘focus’. Thus it’s only aware of what its center of attention is at that time. An alternative to ‘focus’ is ‘awareness’, because in doing so it changes the center of gravity to a more throughout consideration as to what is going on that is also less self centered.


Exercise

Find situations where your ego is getting in the way. Say it’s a social occasion that you don’t like because it makes you nervous, or you’re looking forward to it because you know you will shine in the eyes of others. Or you might be out for a walk wanting to tune into nature, but keep thinking about your next holiday instead. Or you’re having a meaningful discussion with a friend but other thoughts keep distracting you.


Whatever it is, start talking it over in your head - ‘What are you doing, what is going on, repeat in your head what someone just said, what is your reason for being there, why are others here, any concerns or hopes you have - or can detect in others, and so on’.


A woman looking to the side

Your aim is to fill out the picture in a neutral way by bringing all sorts of detail to the surface, hopefully in a broad and varied fashion. Thus you are shifting your mind from your normal personal response to a greater overview of what is actually occurring and why. 


What should start to happen is that your systems become less based in your normal highly focused personalized reactions and are more aware of a multi-faceted interrelated sense of what is occurring. You should become more balanced in terms of what is going on and your ability to read and assess it; not only in you, but also in the situation as a whole.


(3) Play a Different Tune


It is very clear that we, the human race, did not create ourselves. Nobody made their own face, or agreed on the number of arms and legs they would have. For want of a way to describe what did create us (as well as everything else) lets call it the universe.


Now we and our ego navigate this life primarily through ideas, knowledge, beliefs, opinions, reasonings and so on. But have you noticed that in the great example of life that surrounds us, the natural worlds, they do not use words or reasoning like we do? The Buddhist Lao Tzu said, ‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished’, so can we tune into that same ability to be successful that nature has. In which it is not just nature, it’s the intelligence of the universe. Because we were made by the universe and it's worthwhile trying to open our minds to the many ways that it can instruct us. Our ego is very prone to focus on what it already knows and furthering the existing view of itself, but in doing so isolates itself from the universe and its inherent powers and intelligences.


Exercise

This is a deep exercise that links to the spiritual side of you, so don’t struggle with it, more try and get the gist of what it is saying. Then, outside the exercise, it might also show up at other times as an alternative way to see things.


Start with something simple like a plant or a flower and put it in front of you and look at it.

Think what it would be like if you had no education about that, you didn’t even know it was a plant. Imagine you were born on a planet with all your memory wiped and you were looking at it for the first time (which, as it happens, is what you did some years ago as a baby). At some point you encountered such a thing with no prior education about it, no words or ideas by which to interpret it. It's you and it, encountering each other for the first time. What are you noticing, what are you feeling? Is anything suggesting itself to you? As much as you can, try and locate the feeling and avoid the thinking, because as a baby you didn’t know how to think, you could only feel.

A red rose with green leaves

An example of what you should not get is, “It's called a rose, it's good for funerals and weddings, it makes a great romantic gift”. That is your education talking!


Instead you might get, “I am attracted to it, it feels like it has subtle and quiet strength, it feels enhancing to me and makes me feel strong inside but with a sense of value to it, I am wondering what my relationship with it could be”.


Go on your own journey with it, you might get something quite different. Remember it is more about what you feel than what you think, so only use your thinking in a supportive way, not a leading way, to explore and interpret what you feel.


This is about what you as a spiritual being would have to say, avoiding what your ego would say. It is an important idea, worth returning to often if you can. It is best to use natural examples, and avoid the man-made ones, but the principle does work for both. Its just not so conducive to finding the greater spiritual flow that will occur with natural objects.


This is a small stepping stone into getting more attuned to your deeper self, which tends to run on feelings more than thinking. Deeper feelings are a great way into that spiritual side of you where the ego cannot go, because the ego is centered around shrinking things into what it knows, whereas our spiritual side exists at a level that is mostly unknown, making us aware of its presence by what we feel.


Finally


We live in a world that is heavily motivated by the wishes and anxieties of the ego. From the preoccupation we have with our own image, to the importance we put on popularity and celebrity, to our tendency to have self-centered thinking.


The quest today should not be about how to suppress that, but how to put something better alongside it, to outshine it in a more relevant way. Because ego cannot be removed, but it can be fashioned and developed from that more balanced, aware and open side of ourselves which is what we are, in truth, spiritually - if we can give more time to it.


A good place to start is not in how everybody else needs to change, but in how you are able to change yourself, and hopefully this helps in some way towards that.



 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to read more Spiritual Pathways and Mind Expander posts.



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