The spiritual ego is not the same as the psychological ego, and not the same as the conventional idea of someone having a big ego. It’s not even the same as most spiritual seekers imagine! Let’s look at all three of these closely, so we know what we mean when we use the word ego, so we can be on the same page. (When I use the word ego, I am normally only ever taking about the spiritual ego.)
The psychological ego
The psychological ego is explained like this in Wikipedia…
“the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego. The super-ego can stop one from doing certain things that one’s id may want to do.”
Whenever I read that, it always results in mass confusion. What is a “set”? And a “trend”? What is an “organized part”? Part of what? Ah, but then we have the “Super-ego,” which is not defined as anything, but supposedly has power. Where are you, in all this? Are there three of you, battling for supremacy?
Actually, it sounds like there are four! The id, the ego, the Super-ego, and “one” who needs protecting from the id, via the Super-ego. Phew.
And all but the id sound like they have some kind of autonomous ‘other-than-you’ entity, intelligence, power, or ‘being’ making decisions, doing things–without your permission.
I find this whole concept to be a completely imaginary construct, with no reality. I cannot find an id, an ego, or a Super-ego to exist anywhere, and I have not found anyone else who has either.
The best they can do is fumble through more empty imaginary words to try and support this unsubstantiated, unreal imagination.
Actuality, truth or reality is not found in deep thinking, and actually, deep thinking takes you further away from it.
Intellect is very heavy, and complicated. There is a presumed thinker, doing the thinking about oneself, and there can be endless ideas, each examined and thought about thoroughly, but the thinker itself is never questioned. Never examined. It is assumed, and this is a grave error. “I think therefore I am,” is a disastrous error if you take that to mean you are a “thinker.” However, if you take it to mean you are aware of thinking, and don’t identify with, or as, an imaginary “thinker” then this is true.
While this can all be a heavy head-trip, reality is actually very simple. More on that later on.
The conventional ego
The conventional or social ego means “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.” Having a “big ego” means being “excessively conceited or absorbed in oneself; self-centered.”
It is believed that we need a “healthy ego,” or self-esteem–but not too big a one!
In society, having a big ego means someone who thinks extremely highly of themselves, and even as being superior to others. “Absorbed in oneself; self-centered,” is conventionally used to mean in opposition to others. Here we have self and other, duality. We also have self and other in the psychological self and the spiritual ego–and that is the crux of all egos.
Being egotistical with a “big ego” in the conventional sense is not the same thing as what the spiritual ego means to spiritual seekers, although there can be some overlap. Someone may not consider themselves egotistical, with a “big ego,” but still know they have an ego, which they’d rather be without.
What the spiritual ego is not
Spiritual seekers think ego is having bad thoughts and feelings (of any, and many, sorts). They think that’s what ego is because they can’t control the arising of unwanted thoughts and feelings, and think that they somehow should; they think these thoughts and feelings are the problem in and of themselves, and perhaps are even who they are.
This is a major mistake, because now they start a battle with the mind that they can’t win. There will always be another bad thought-feeling after another. That is the nature of thoughts, and is perhaps what the idea of the id is trying to describe. Rather than give them a name that seems to give them more reality or substance than what they actually have, let’s just call them what they are: thoughts and feelings. This is just the habitual functioning of the brain. The brain is a reflex organ, bouncing from one thought to another, triggering emotion along the way.
None of it has anything to do with you, or who or what you are. Like the so-called psychological ego, it’s all just imaginary, irrelevant thought. The problem is not thoughts and feelings. It is your essential identity.
The literal meaning of ego
The word ego is derived from Latin, and literally means “I.” Not an egotistical “I,” and not a self-deprecating “I.” Just I.
And “I,” itself, not in opposition to “other,” is sacred. Be careful what you taint it with.
What the spiritual ego is
The spiritual ego that seekers are trying to eradicate is not a thought-feeling, nor a collection of thought-feelings, but rather their false idea of who and what they are.
When this happens, you no longer identify your “I” with anything (else, other than Itself). It remains pure. Unattached to temporary, fleeting ideas; which are sometimes good, sometimes bad–your real identity, not confused with the body, mind, or feelings, can then be revealed, recognized, realized.
It’s not that thought stops. There is just no more care about thought; it’s not personal. You are not at risk of thought, whatever the content of a thought is, no matter how crazy, or how dramatically you used to respond, back when you used to believe it was you at risk in thought.
That’s why this insight about your identity can be so funny, and can trigger laughter–you see how it’s all been a bad joke, and none of your ugly story of you is real, or true, or matters. It’s such a relief.
In its purity, I say the literal definition of ego is close to the truth because if not used conventionally, (as in opposition to others), then it can actually lead to enlightenment. Let me explain…
If one were to be actually fully 100% self-absorbed, one would not be able to conceive of “others,” and so “others” would not appear.
That is the dropping away of the imagination of self and other, of subject and object; the end of separation and duality. What is revealed is, that all there is, is the one, undivided same Self. Seeing this, all attachment and fear stop. The battle with mind and emotions comes to an end.
You might try to argue that what I present is just thought, imagination, and not real, however, if you actually check with your direct experience, and not thought, you can see this is real and true.
Listening to the birds, where is the sound? The automatic, conditioned, unquestioned mind answer is “It’s coming from the birds.” But, without the air is there sound? Without the ear drum, is there sound? Where is the sound?
You see, there is no separation. If you actually could separate something, or remove one aspect, you’d not have the experience. There’d be no sound.
Reality is simple. You don’t need any thought at all to perceive or understand it rightly. You directly, immediately recognize.
You will find that you cannot separate the sound of your friend’s words from your hearing. And, where is the understanding of those words? Where are they heard? Whose words are they, then? You find you are losing the sense of a separate “you,” and “them.”
This is the same for all your senses and experiences. These real exercises begin to eat away at the false ideas of who you are, who others are, and what this world is. Allow your direct experience to inform you, and to be the point from which you perceive, not through the imaginary, divisive, defensive, and therefore offensive mind.
Putting an end to the ego
To put a final end to the madness, you must make the discovery of who and what you really are. To do that you must question everything you thought you were, in a much deeper examination than the usual acceptance of mere flippant, conditioned, superficial and ever-changing thoughts ‘about’ you–but of your actual, direct, and immediate existence. Your reality. Who are you?
Is it ego? Should you act on it? How can you know?
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