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Friday, July 9, 2010

How do I get rid of the ego?

"How do I get Rid of My Ego?"  I saw an internet video the other day with this as the title.  I did not watch the whole video, but what I saw talked about the need to rid ourselves of the ego.  The ego, the video said, causes many problems in the world, and we would all be best served by getting rid of it.  This is a common theme in many contemporary spiritual teachings. The ego has become the pariah of  new age spirituality.  Its as if, if we could just all get rid of our egos, everything would be fine.

So, how do you get rid of your ego?  You don't.  Don't even try.  Here's why.

To me, the question "How do I get rid of my ego," is analogous to "how do I get rid of my mouth?"  Many people have challenges in using their mouths.  They either don't control what they take in through their mouths, or what comes out of their mouths, or both.  But the problem isn't the mouth.  We don't say "how do we get rid of our mouths?"  Such a question would be absurd.

Each of us has an ego.  And we are intended to have an ego.  The ego is not inherently bad.  The challenges created by the ego are not because we each have one, but because of what we do with it.

To transcend these challenges, we must first understand what the ego is, what is useful for, and where we go wrong in our use of the ego.  Simply put, the ego is nothing more than a set of thoughts that we use to describe ourself in this world.  For example, I can discern a difference between the fingers of my hands, and the keyboard I am using to type this message.  The fingers are part of me; the keyboard is not.  This discernment is useful, and the thoughts (words) I use to describe how I am in this world are also useful.  I also use thoughts to describe what is mine.  The concept of mine (ownership) is an egoic concept.  Ownership is a useful idea in our society. (Though, my belief is that we overuse this concept to the point where ownership becomes harmful to society - but that's a commentary for another post.)  It is helpful to say "these are my car keys," because if I try to use "your car keys" to start "my car", it won't work.  "Me" and "mine" are useful concepts for getting along in the world.

In The Five Gifts, I talk about the usefulness and limitations of thought.  It is useful, for example, to describe things.  However, there is a fine line between "describing" and "defining".  We can not use our thoughts to define anything, and when we do so, we cause difficulties.  These same limitations apply to the ego.  Remember, the ego is nothing more than a set of thoughts that describe our presence in this world.  The difficulty arises when we allow ourselves to be defined by the ego, or when we define others. Doing so creates problems in our lives.

You are not what you think you are.  You can not be defined by the ego, or by any other set of thoughts. You are a piece of the infinite, a wave of awareness rising from the infinite ocean of divine consciousness, a manifest expression of the divine source.  Even these descriptions are limiting, for no words can define your true self, or that of anyone or anything else.  All thoughts are limited.  You are infinite.  How can any set of thoughts define you?

There is no need to "get rid" of the ego, only to use it as it is designed to be used.  "Me" and "mine" are useful ideas.  Let go of the impulse to use these idea to define your self.  This sounds simple, but it is not easy, especially for those of us who live in a thought-centered, strong-ego culture (like the USA).  For me, managing the ego is a daily task - one that never seems to go away, though it does get easier with practice.

One more comment.  The concept of the ego is just that - a concept.  A concept is nothing more than a set of thoughts.  Since the concept of the ego was introduced by Sigmund Freud, psychologists and spiritual teachers have used this concept to help many people.  While this is a useful concept, it is still only a set of thoughts.  When we say things like "the ego is a cause of too many problems in the world," or, "how do we get rid of the ego," we give this concept more solidity and power than it merits.  In other words, if we believe (think) that the ego is a real, negative force in our world, it will be.  To reduce the power of the ego, we simply need to let go of the concept.

Letting go of the ego begins with awareness.  Become aware of the ego as a set of thoughts.  Recognize the ego's usefulness.  And, know that, as a set of thoughts, the ego is limited.  When you have ego thoughts that are useful (e.g. it is useful to discern the separation between my fingers and this keyboard), then use them.  When you have ego thoughts that don't serve you, let go of them.  Don't let the ego define you.

This is the practice.  When you let go of the limiting thoughts of the ego, you become free to experience your selves as a divine manifestations.

Namaste
Joe

1 comment:

Ken said...

Nice post Joe... One comment, though... To say that the ego is merely a set of ideas that, if we let it go, will somehow reduce it is a fallacious argument. If the ego is real, as you argue, then "letting it go" is no more possible then letting go of ones hand or head baring having them physically severed. You can work around not having something like a hand (probably not a head though) but that is different from letting it go. Try not using your hands. If you have them and they are functioning properly and they are not restrained then not using them seems silly, right?

Nice work!