What is ego? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it something we should seek to embrace and understand, or is it something we should try to reduce and get rid of? How do we define ego and what role does it play in our lives? This is certainly an important topic that deserves a closer look…
Coming up with a clear ego definition is no simple task. The ego is illusive; unseen. It shows up in many different guises and can change in the blink of an eye. For these reasons, some would say that the ego is ‘illusory’, yet its effects are very real indeed.
Ego and thought are inextricably connected. When thought arises, ego arises with it. When thought subsides, the ego subsides too.
A baby is born without a sense of self, without a sense of being a separate human being. One could say that a baby is born ‘egoless'. Without an 'ego' they are quite naturally at one with everything. However, this ‘oneness’ doesn't last, does it? In the space of a year or two, the child develops a sense of themselves as a differentiated human being. One could say that an ‘ego’ has developed.
How does this happen? What is ego and where does it come from?
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It is interesting to note that the development of a young human ‘ego’ seems to coincide with the development of language. With this bran-new ability, a young human being is suddenly able to think for themselves. With abstract thought comes the budding of a child's identity, as they are now able to create a self-image.
This is the ego. The ego comes with our capacity for abstract thought. It comes with our ability to self-image. Once abstract thought has entered the picture, we start living double lives. Where we used to live in one world; we now start living in two.
One world is the world of our natural instincts, body sensations and intuitions. The other world is what we think, or imagine, about our instincts, body sensations and intuitions. It could be said that the first of these worlds is life; and the second of these worlds is of our thoughts and imaginations about life. One world is of the Self; and the other world is of our thoughts and images about the Self.
The first of these worlds is primary. Our instincts, bodily sensations and intuitions come from life. They are life being expressed through us. The second of these worlds, the world of abstract thought and imagination, is secondary since it arrives after the fact.
For example...we can do something; and then have thoughts about what we just did. We can feel something; and then have thoughts about what we felt. We can know something; and then have thoughts about what we have come to know. We can be something; and then have thoughts about what, or who, we are. This is the relationship between reality and ego. To ask ourselves, ‘What is ego?’ is to ask ourselves to have a close look into this relationship.
We are living both the world of the ego and the world that is before ego. They are two parts of our human heritage. The real question is, how well are we doing living with both? Are we at war with ourselves or at peace? Are we fighting life or are we learning to move with it? Are we confusing ourselves with too much thinking or are we being aware?
When we start to ask ourselves the question, “Who am I?”, which is another version of the question, “What is ego?”, we start living the answers to the questions above. We discover for ourselves the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of the ego as it plays out in our daily lives.
Have any thoughts, insights or impressions about the Ego? How do you define ego? How do you see it playing out in your life? Do you remember a time where ego may have wreaked havoc in your life? How did you deal with it and what did you learn? What important lessons have you learned about the ego that may be helpful for others to know? Share your insights, thoughts or experiences here! You never know who might benefit from what you have to say...
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