By Steve Mills
Many eastern spiritual texts put forward the idea that you must learn to have a full awareness of your whole self. While our self looks like it is an integrated whole from one level, scratch the surface (via meditation or other methods of self-enquiry) and you will find a whole heap of different parts of your personality, all striving to express themselves. The one that stands out the most initially is the Ego, the self-important, self-centric aspect of our personality . The ego (which is a modern western psychological term I might add) has been given a fairly bad rap in the modern “new age” scene.
image by Swiss Bones
Somewhere along the way, our Western minds have turned this into the ridiculous notion that to be happy you must get rid of, or even completely destroy the ego.
My own personal experience has brought me to a different understanding. I believe that there is no reason to destroy what is essentially a part of yourself. The real power is in learning to integrate this and all of the other interesting and unique parts of your personality into a functioning whole.
People go through life without a second thought to the idea that there are separate parts of their self, which manifest themselves at different times and in different situations. The ego is just one of these parts, the one that thinks that it is separate from the rest of creation, and that IT is the most important thing in the known Universe.
And quite frankly, it is good to have this instinct kick in from time to time. It stops you getting walked all over, gives you the confidence to claim your place in the world and also to create and express yourself. Knowing that YOU are you, what your place in the world is has a profound importance to our whole selves. But it also has a negative side of selfishness, aggressive behavior and helping us justify doing things that may not always work out best for everybody involved.
The image that makes the concepts more tangible for me is the Yin-Yang. Your personality is in constant flux, and each part must be in harmony with the other for balance. The Ego, or separate, selfish self must be brought into balance with your quiet, inner, calm, connected observer self. Let one part express itself too much and you become overbearing, self-important and obtuse. Too much of the other and you become meek, mild and can have no meaningful interaction with the outside world.
Hey, and don’t get too beat up if you find yourself acting like a complete tool from time to time. Seriously, everyone does it!
DYNAMIC balance means that even though you may find yourself at one end of the Ego scale, you have the self awareness to bring yourself down to a centered state at the appropriate time.
Of course it is not as clear cut as all that, and these are only arbitrary labels that we have placed on very strange and complex phenomena. But at least it gives you a framework to get our talking monkey-brains around and be able to see where all of the pieces fit in.
So in order to address this all important balance, here are my top 5 strategies to keep your ego in proportion.
1 Realise your size in proportion to the universe
When it comes down to it, you are a tiny speck on a tiny speck, floating in a vast sea of nothing more giant and unfathomable then you could ever get your head around. The very notion that what you do on a daily basis affects things at the scales that really seem to matter in the universe is wishful thinking gone crazy. As Seamus put it in his excellent “Looking through the wrong end of the telescope“: You. Don’t. Know. Anything. About. Anything.
The liberation and true freedom of insignificance is yours to grasp at any time. When the ego gets up and starts jumping up and down about its importance, just keep this fact in mind to bring it all back to perspective.
2 Realise that you are where you are only through the help of others
The network of other people you build up around you in friends, co-workers, family and neighbors is one of the most fundamental assets in life. Think that you have accomplished so much in your life? Sure, a lot was done by you, but there is no way anyone could get anything done without the help, co-operation and support of people around them. All of life is a team exercise.
3 Understand that everyone is just as important as you
A lot of the ego’s jumping up and down, complaining and self importance is because it believes it is more important than ANYONE else in the world. You know why so many people in traffic jams start getting irate and honking their horns? It is because each of those people think their journey is more important than the person in front of them. Next time you feel the anger and indignation that the ego fires up when it feels like it is being threatened, just remind yourself that everyone, and everything is just as important as you in the universe. No more, and no less.
4 Realise the inherent impermanence in all things
As I stated before in the “Impermanence Top 40“, today’s front page news is tomorrow’s forgotten fact. So many events in our life that the Ego blows up into monumental proportions seem trivial the next day, and are forgotten next week. Nothing lasts forever, and nothing remains in the same state as it is now for even a second. Strive for your goals, and enjoy the journey. But realise that everything is just a castle in the sand, to be washed out to sea by the waves of time.
5 Realise that humour is the true currency of the universe.
Just about anything in life has a funny side to it, when looked at from a certain perspective. The greatest way to disarm the Ego is to see the inherent humour in everything. When we laugh, we see the connectedness of things, the joy in everyday life and realise that the world is not such a serious place after all.
Humour is all about connectedness, it shows us how previously unthought-of concepts are connected in unexpected ways. It connects us to others in the shared experience of having a laugh and goofing off for a while. Next time you find yourself acting from ego, have a laugh.