The self-development field is a fascinating place, filled with fascinating individuals.
As lifetime students of the Human Condition, we have always been rather intrigued by the highly diverse paths people take in pursuit of their personal journeys towards enlightenment, self-realization or whatever else it is they seek.
Which brings us to this thing called “Ego.”
Ego is perhaps the single most over-analyzed, over-discussed and over-used concept in the so-called New Age and Consciousness business. Look around and you’ll see and hear phrases like “transcend the ego” and “kill the ego” plastered all over the place. If someone does something others don’t like, at least one or two people in the crowd will pipe up and claim “Oh, well, they are in their Ego;” typically delivered with all the wisdom and clarity of someone saying “you should go see a doctor!” after you’ve sneezed twice.
That’s all fine and dandy, but there’s a bit of a problem here—namely that we seem to have reached a place where Ego has become this “Universal Bad Guy” commonly blamed for all manners of unconscious and self-involved behavior without a second thought or—for that matter—without the speaker possessing any deeper understanding of what Ego actually is and does.
The thing about Ego is that it is no more “good” or “bad” than money. Let’s examine that analogy, for a moment.
Self-professed “Spiritual” and “High Vibration” people spend a lot of time talking about how money is “the root of all evil.” Many try to “cleanse” themselves of all things material. But what is money, really? Money is just a convenient common base for facilitating exchange. Money actually makes it easy for us to exchange things by offering us a temporary store of value that enables exchange and trade. Money allows us to not be concerned with whether the person with whom we want to trade for a bag of potatoes actually needs their house painted that week. Living “without money” tends to make life super inconvenient and even those few who claim to live “moneyless lives” are engaged in a form of subtle self-deception since 99% of them would actually not be able to survive absent their interaction with a world that does use money.
It’s what people do with money that can become a problem.
How does that relate to Ego? In a similar fashion, Ego is neither good nor bad—it is merely a “messenger” that alerts us to ideas and events perhaps warranting our attention (or perhaps not), and typically serves as an “exchange agent” between the instinctual drives of the Id and world around us. The Ego is responsible for our ability to parse such concepts as “choices have consequences,” and hence we can grasp that it’s probably not OK for us to whack our neighbor in the head with a shovel when their dog poops on our newly mowed lawn. Truth be known, we would probably not even be able to survive “without ego.”
It’s what people do in service of the Ego that can become a problem.
So what’s the point here?
While sharing ideas this morning over coffee my wife remarked on someone having posted the stereotypical “Oh, it sounds like you’re in your Ego” comment on a blog post she had written.
As we got into discussing the deeper meaning and underlying intent behind comments like that—and the ways they sometimes feel more “aggressive” than “enlightened”— it seemed increasingly ironic that self-LESSness can often feel like just as much of an issue as self-ISHness.
Think about the times you have seen someone completely eschew all things material and all things Egoic, purportedly in service of pursuing higher ideals and a more spiritual life, yet go on virtual crusades to brandish their minimalistic lifestyles and Egolessness as badges of “Spiritual Superiority.”
And how ironic is it that someone might decide to call themselves something like “Selfless Peace Blossom” or “Rainbow Sparkle Bubble” and then proceed to gallivant through life throwing aggressive barbs of moral and spiritual superiority at all those whom they perceive as “less evolved” than themselves? Forgive the impertinence, but how do you reconcile ranking people as “inferior” with your claim to be without Ego?
We then considered how interesting it is that Ego is often used as this strange self-regulating “get out of jail free card,” allowing those of dubious personal awareness to get themselves off the hook of UN-conscious behavior without taking a deeper look at their own issues. In a sad and twisted way, it feels like a form of UN-conscious Consciousness.
It allows someone to enter a discussion, simply say “Oh, you’re obviously in your Ego!” and then metaphorically “leave the building” without even a shred of personal accountability or conscious self-awareness. Furthermore, if anyone dares to question their perception they merely point back to the speaker’s Ego as “the problem” and thereby abdicate all responsibility for even the possibility that their own perceptions might warrant a review. It would be a bit like Einstein declaring 6th graders to be “stupid” for not understanding quantum mechanics and then storming out of the room in a self-righteous huff.
Balance matters. So often, the complete absence of the ostensible “evils” we rail against — be it in the pursuit of Consciousness or in life itself —offers little improvement over the presence of said evils. On deeper examination, those who run towards (and even embrace) extremes are often running from something, and living in fear; typically the fear of sitting truly still and examining the root essence of their actual reality, here and now.
“Living without Ego” or “Living without Money” are not the kinds of answers the world needs. They mean nothing unless we are willing to take the time to truly understand the deeper underlying motivations for each choice we make.
It’s a bit like guns. We might be able to create a fantasy world in which all firearms on the planet magically vanish—and you could definitely argue that people were no longer dying from gunshot wounds—but removing the guns would not eliminate people’s underlying tendencies to want to hurt each other. Violence would simply take a new form. Similarly, eschewing money will not eliminate greed, in turn resulting from the underlying fear of being without. And killing the Ego will not eliminate people’s root fear of being hurt as a result of feeling “less than,” and facing possibly rejection by their tribe or peer group.
Peter Messerschmidt is a writer, artist, beach comber, rare stamp dealer and eternal seeker. When he’s not wandering the beach or the Internet, he facilitates groups & retreats for HSPs, and shares his musings at “HSP Notes,” the web’s oldest HSP-specific blog, at http://hspnotes.com. He lives in Port Townsend, WA with the great love of his life and several furry “kids.”