What is the ego? Read on to discover why and how your ego poisons your reality. You’ll also learn about the window of opportunity, why the simplest of techniques to see through that window can be so frustrating, and why you should throw open the window and climb out!
I often ask the existential question, “Why am I here?” But as recently as yesterday, I noticed an unvoiced second half to the question, “… in this cruel, meaningless world?” No wonder I have periods of melancholy and find it hard to have faith in anything — or is that just my ego?
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle states:
“The term ego means different things to different people, but when I use it here it means a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind.”
Later he says:
“As you grow up, you form a mental image of who you are, based on your personal and cultural conditioning. We may call this phantom self the ego.”
A Course in Miracles says the origins of the ego are primal, which makes perfect sense if you believe in reincarnation.
In Kenneth Wapnick’s book, Ending Our Escape from Love he affirms that from the point of view of A Course in Miracles, awakening is:
“… awakening from the ego’s dream of separation…”
My understanding of this separation — which A Course in Miracles attributes to the separation from God, historically also called ‘the fall’ — produced a dream-life where we identified with the perceiving, conscious mind and the body it created. We forgot who we truly are, so this mistaken identification with the body and the perceiving mind became the core-belief we now call the ego. Having forgotten that we are the creator of it all — in the same way we imagine our dreams — we then got caught up in conceiving other false-beliefs based upon fear.
The ego holds tightly to those beliefs, so they become a part of its structure. Including a belief that if you were to undo your separation from the Divine, the phantom-self (which the ego mistakenly believes is the authentic and only self) would be annihilated!
The question may arise, why should we fear annihilation from a Loving God?
According to A Course in Miracles we fear God due to a false-premise of guilt. The ego believes you are guilty of turning your back on the Divine. As any psychologist will tell you, guilt unconsciously begets punishment. A Course in Miracles tells us, your mind projects that guilt and punishment and manifests it in the dream-world we call reality — hence its main remedy — forgiveness.
The ego’s primal purpose is to keep you safe — initially from the wrath of God, then from the perils of a concocted-world, in which you are vulnerable from bodily harm and demise. But also, threats to the mistaken fear-based beliefs, subsumed into your shadow-self.
Today, it seems the ego has taken over most people’s minds, with constant dialogue to keep them from noticing the truth of the situation. The Truth being, the whole of your reality is a dream-like projection of your beliefs created by the mind. The ego believes it needs to keep it all in place, or YOU will be obliterated.
There is, however, a window in the ego-built walls of separation.
The present moment, which the ego doesn’t understand, and has no use for, is an opening to the Truth of who you are. Since you can find Truth in the present moment, but the Truth is a threat to the ego’s survival, then it’s no wonder it ignores it as much as possible. Keeping with, the wall with a window analogy:
the ego pulls a curtain to keep out the light!
In The Power of Now, Eckhart proclaims:
“To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are considered important. This total reversal of the truth accounts for the fact that in the ego mode the mind is so dysfunctional. It is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it who are you? It constantly projects itself into the future to ensure its continued survival and to seek some kind of release or fulfillment there.”
I’m going to get to ‘how you can turn this around’ in a moment, but first, there is one little detail you need to know. It is your True Self who intends or chooses. However, I take issue with the meme that says “You can always choose something different”. Unfortunately, since we believe the illusory ego-self is our authentic self, most people, most of the time, agree to the ego’s dictates, thereby subordinating their power of intention to the fear-based mind. And if someone is dealing with chronic stress, then it is almost impossible for them simply to choose to be happy.
However, there is another way. You can decide to be present in the moment.
Although it sounds easy to stick to the present moment, in practice the ego trips us up in countless ways. Two decades after my first Buddhist meditation retreat, while on my 3-month retreat of 2020, I remember a period where I made my mind into the enemy. I had three voices; one kept me busy with mindless chatter, another chastising the mind for being the enemy of my peace, and the third viewpoint was angry at how the mind was deviously voicing all sides. But this is just one of innumerable ways the ego keeps us from the Truth. No wonder, the Buddhists say a life-long teacher is indispensable.
Having said the fear-based ego is scared of you finding out the Truth (without knowing what the Truth is); it’s of no surprise, it has a myriad of idiosyncratic ways to distract you. One way is to tell you the peace and space you experience when you witness the present is, in fact, a fearful death-like nothingness, emptiness, or void.
It is a favourite for those who’s ego has gotten ahold of them to such an extent they feel anxious a lot of the time. We discern the calm and feel the angst arise in our gut. But fears are distortions due to your core beliefs that make the dream a reality. It all appears so real! Yet, the world you create via your ego is mad. No wonder those who have to deal with chronic anxiety feel they must be mentally ill.
In the book, Stress, Anxiety and the Battle for Your Sanity I declare:
“Stop the battle — by not engaging in it — using Mindfulness instead.”
The ego may want to cause a breach of the peace, but you can skilfully use mindfulness to sidestep the egos melee. Mindfulness has various interpretations and many practices — not all skilful. I’d love to give you a full exposé on mindfulness, so you can leap over many of the egos manoeuvres, but I’ve already written books and articles on what is and is not mindfulness. For now, one definition I use is to say Mindful Awareness is ‘to notice on purpose’. This is not the usual way people say they have noticed something; by classifying it with a label. This is only awareness; no labelling required. Since it is awareness, it cannot be other than in the present.
A direct path to know the Truth is to use your mindfulness practice to ascertain the difference between what’s True and mistaken. It can take a lot of patience and wise guidance to get you close. At the same time, if you know what to look for, it will not take long to gain experiential insights.
The breath is an anchor to the present. Observing the breath therefore is a benign focus of your attention on the here and now.
If you relax and observe the breath until you notice the peace, you will eventually become aware of the contentment that arises within the calm. Synonyms for peace, depending on the facet you perceive, are calm, stillness, space, blank, empty, void, nothingness, and serenity.
As I describe in my book, Gentle Art of Mindful Awareness, whatever tactics the ego uses to distract you, be gentle. One way to be gentle is to relax. Be relaxed about your mindfulness practice (but not about getting around to doing it — haha). Be tender and loosen up toward yourself and your mind no matter the outcome of your attempts to observe the breath. Relax deeply when meditating.
Gentleness is an attribute of Love and therefore forgiveness (how and why the power of forgiveness incapacitates the ego is another article). Love is a characteristic of your True Nature. Your True Nature is the most authentic, natural ambience of your being and is the opposite of fear. Being gentle, therefore, undermines the ego.
Stress is a direct effect of ego. Without ego, there is no stress; just your True Nature.
When you relax and enter this contented, peaceful space, you connect directly to your True Nature — which is outside the belief system of your ego. I’ll say that again. When relaxed, still and focused in the present, you fall outside the belief system of your fear-based ego. Instead, you’re touching the authentic, natural ambience of your True Self. This is just the start of your journey back to Wholeness (non-separation and non-duality), but it can have many immediate benefits.
Even within the first few attempts, some people describe it as a feeling of “Coming home”.