“Look at it this way, my friend tells me, you are not Hitler or Stalin, your death will not make a difference in the world… yeah, maybe a couple of people will miss you but that’s it. So why make a big deal about our ego?”
I sat there not knowing if I should cry or laugh while my friend who had hired me to do some wood-splitting with him –one of my many work incarnations- was preaching to me gently about ego and letting go of ego, since, according to him, we both struggled there.
What is ego?
Freud defined three stages of consciousness to the ego: id, ego, and superego. He saw the ego as playing a balancing act between primal instincts and urges, the realm of the id or the unconscious, and the moral, idealistic self, i.e. the superego otherwise known as the evolved self or the higher self in many spiritual circles. In this breakdown, that would make the ego the conscious part since it is in between…but conscious of what exactly?
Here, I will attempt to answer this question.
If I could summarize in one sentence what ego is to me before I get into some details “proving” my knowledge, I would say that ego is the seed and part of the Manifestation of the “I” of God within us. But like anything beautiful, alive and divine, when corrupted by malign intent or denial, it can be the devil within us.
What does it mean to be conscious? Does it mean one is conscious of what and who is around them? Does it mean one is self-conscious? Does it mean one is conscious of one’s self-image? Ego is first and foremost an idea, a concept of who we are, of our identity. I hesitate to use the word conscious there, even though it is generally agreed that the ego is a conscious awareness of our own self, because the word “conscious” has a broad meaning. In my own experience, I have been driving, awake, alert to all appearances, but my ego is in my versionof the past or the future. In this example, I know somewhere inside that I am driving, but it is my body which is doing the driving, and although I am dimly aware of my surroundings, I am not consciously present, and hence I am not vigilant, and shouldn’t be driving.
Grounding oneself in the present is the best way to catch what is not balanced and real in our ego. In trying to stop our ego from imagining what we will do in the future or what we should have done in the past or even what we would have wanted to accomplish in the past, we will start to get a sense of what is our real ego, and hence our real self. It is a false sense of self, our false self or false ego that we want to end.
For me, the false ego is the real ego that has been damaged and traumatised and has become unbalanced and unhealthy. Whether from childhood or past-life imprinting, or unpleasant experiences in adult life, our wounds, insecurities, fears and denials can eventually take over our real ego and take control of ourselves and our lives if not dealt with in a healthy manner.
If the false ego controls our perception of life, whether past, present or future, it will simply feed us whatever version of reality it needs in order to continue to live outside of our real self.
The self, the alter ego and the false ego:
The false ego is always chasing an outside image of ourselves that is pleasing to it or serves its purpose. It almost never takes the outside in perspective to look inward at the self. It is only interested in projecting a self-image that is far from what the self really is, not to mention it actually distorts our experience of life. Unless the outside responds to its agenda, the false ego wants to escape anything that is uncomfortable, that will rock the boat, i.e. its presentation out there in the world. If for instance one’s false ego is wrapped around a victim theme, then it will do what it can to sustain that victim performance including self-sabotage. It wants to jump into the image it projects; the false ego is always in performance mode.
One of my biggest struggles with my own false ego was around the concept of being self-made. I had a very rigid, narrow view of what it actually means to be self-made. I made my life a lot harder, trying to prove to my insatiable, misplaced, and unbalanced ego, that everything I did, thought, created, or lived came from me…as if I were living in a little bubble all by myself. I remember worrying when my mother sent me some money to help me pay my university courses for a semester; I was on my own, paying everything, but I had needed some extra help. This money was VERY helpful to me: it allowed my body to get some rest as I was both working and studying overtime. Yet, I did not enjoy the money, because the help I received was in “egodystonic” or in disharmony with my false self-image out there, meaning the money represented a conflict for my false ego’s agenda and needs.
I worried about how this material help would look like to others: “They are going to say that I got some financial help at 15 years old to first pay for my college, and also now at 17!” My false ego gave me the impression, and I felt it strongly, that accepting my mother’s money took away from my great story of independence at a young age. I was already living in some past, glorified myth of myself! I was scripting my life story through my false ego before having actually lived my life.
In this article, what I call the false ego is NOT to be confused with the alter ego, although they are parallel, and at times can be one of the same. The alter ego, just as its name says, is an altered state of consciousness of ego from which stems another behaviour, generally dissociated from what is the known, conscious behaviour of the ego.
The alter ego is well portrayed in the film “Fight Club” in which the main character and narrator, Cornelius, played by Edward Norton, manages to suppress his feelings of anger, powerlessness and frustration to such a point that he creates unconsciously an alter ego, Tyler, played by Brad Pitt, who is expressing and acting out Cornelius’ suppressed emotions. When Cornelius starts having doubts about his real identity, his alter ego starts to disappear in the film.
In contrast to the alter ego, the self or the real ego, is an aware ego and an ego that can sustain itself alone as it does not feed itself on the outside reflections or from the attention of others. What is real, ego and otherwise, has Life and is by definition self-sustaining; it is not an illusion for it is inside of us, and not formed by the outside or by others.
Osho said that: “The real can be known only through the false, so the ego is a must. One has to pass through it. It is a discipline. The real can be known only through the illusion. You cannot know the truth directly. First you have to know that which is not true. First you have to encounter the untrue. Through that encounter you become capable of knowing the truth. If you know the false as the false, truth will dawn upon you.”
Osho, along with many other spiritual leaders, believed that while the ego must eventually disappear in its entirety since it is a social by-product, it is the only way to get to our real self, truth or centre. According to several Eastern traditions, we are extensions of God, a Great Consciousness that wanted to experience ItSelf… and here we are. Therefore the very function of having an ego is nullified by the belief that we are the eyes of God so to speak, of One Being.
I, on the other hand, believe in having an “I-consciousness” in the now, a self-realization in which I am aware of my individuality, and thus my difference, in a balanced way with the rest of Creation. Difference does not have to be divisive.
I also agree wholeheartedly with Osho’s take that one must first know the illusion before one can encounter one’s truth. It is at the core of any healing process, to uncover and undo what is not real in order to get to what is real.
To want to cultivate your real self is a good place to start; whether one’s ego identifies with a positive or negative image of the self, it is still an image, an image that was shaped by the outside, by the reflections we received from others including our family. We have grown attached to this image, and this very image is what is blocking the needed changes, that is our evolution. It is important to have, to affirm, and hold onto a strong healing intention to transcend the very image(s) of our ego we’re attached to, and to experience the unknownus in the flow of life.
What is illusion and false is generally threatened by the present, by the now, because the now rarely gives the false ego what it had envisioned for itself, whether positive or negative. It is also important to remember that it is in the now that we connect to the Life Force, to God. What is clear across religions and spiritual messages is that the connection with the Life Force and with our own enlightened consciousness takes place in the present.
Time to transcend the illusion
I have studied and experienced several healing practices, including spiritual healing, and, for me, shamanic healing was the most effective and quickest to both uncover my real voice or self and letting go of my false ego. Shamanic healing is an energy medicine that looks for the energetic source of the illness using medicinal and sacred plants such as ayahuasca.
I have found ayahuasca to be extremely efficient at getting me out of my mind and my false ego at each and every ceremony. The few symbolic deaths I have known while journeying on ayahuasca were some of the most powerful moments in my life; I felt ONE with the universe and loved as my Self and as a part of the Cosmos, the Source of Life.
“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Dr. Martin said. “I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people.” Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again, John Tierney – N.Y.TIMES, April 11, 2010
It is very hard to let our ego shatter completely, and yet so necessary. The artificial ego must breakdown for us to know and be aware of the depth of our soul.
We are, however, conditioned to NOT let our false ego breakdown. Embedded deep down in our unconscious, there is a survival mechanism that believes we will die if our ego shatters; some have preferred suicide rather than let their false ego die. Yet, if one is ready a symbolic death of the false ego is one of the biggest leaps one can take in their healing process.
Our individual and collective truth is in the real self. Even with what our fear may tell us, the real self remains after the crash of the false self. The real self has the seed of Life, and it can therefore sustain itself without needing to manipulate others for attention or use drugs for an ego boost. The real self is connected to what is now, and interconnected with All.
Lastly on the topic of shamanic healing and particularly ayahuasca, there is a time and space when one is ready for such experiences, but in the meantime, and on daily basis, letting our emotions circulate, express our pain, sorrows and joy is the steady healing.
On a more regular and sustainable basis, letting my raw emotions come up to feel and express them thoroughly has also been and is very helpful in letting go of my false ego. Step by step, by reaffirming my intent to not fall into my false ego’s traps, by releasing my judgments and beliefs that are our inner gatekeepers, I will get closer to Truth and Freedom.
An enlightened shaman once told me that it would be ideal if we could die every minute and be born again, so that no ego would have time to build. I was instinctively not too crazy about his idea, but I understood intuitively the lightness of being one would experience in such a scenario.
What is hardest for me is the ego cycle of ups and downs that I endure regularly, not as often as before, but still enough to know I must focus on not being deceived by my false ego. Of course, most of these fluctuations come about because I am not flowing with my life in the present, and not because I have a medical condition that requires a bunch mood enhancers and stabilizers. I think that, for now, emotional ups and downs are part of the course of life on earth, until we, the human race, and the planet, evolves to higher and more complete level of consciousness.
We Are Not Alone
As I wrote earlier, most spiritual messages and messengers tell us that in order to know bliss and enlightenment, we must surrender our ego, but what feels true to me is that we need to let go of our false ego. Ironically, I have met more big egos among spiritual leaders and seekers alike---including and especially those claiming to have no ego (Is that their ego trip?)---than I have in the general population. For a long time, I wondered why ego was such an issue in denial among the so-called enlightened ones… and at the most unexpected time, a healing vision I had while on ayahuasca gave me some understanding.
I saw an endless movie film roll undulating in the universe, and I understood it to represent the cycle of rebirth and awakening humanity. At one point in the film roll, I saw a spiritual messenger and leader of a small group I used to know and whose channeled message I loved and love, but whose arrogance and the kiss-ass, cliquish behavior of the few around her had become insufferable for me. I saw her as if she were waking up from her spot on the movie film roll, which kept moving slowly, looking around her at the other bodies of people who were still sleeping.
Ayahuasca visions are synchronized in a timeless present where all is conscious of what is happening, and it came to me as I saw her looking around, that she assumed wrongly, since she was the only one awake in her place on the film roll, that she alone had the Knowledge.
Ego is a necessary “evil” in my opinion, but I put “evil” in quotation marks because once we start focusing with a healing intent on the ego disease and denial, we start putting it back in its right place within us, and in our lives. We realize slowly but surely that we need not pretend to be anything other than what we are today, to ourselves and in the world, while we stand strong and clear-headed about who we are, what we have to offer, and our place in the All in the eternal present.