There is no escaping the ego. It comes with the territory of being human. The ego is our individualized identity and all the personalities, roles and abilities we build to create that identity. It is made up of our personal stories, fears, desires, emotions, thoughts and characteristics that form our outer persona. Although this persona is a social and psychological necessity that develops from earliest childhood throughout adulthood, most of us become completely identified with this image of ourselves and forget that within us lies the greater inner self.
Here I'll explain more about the nature of ego, how to identify its negative effects on your life, then how to take back control and enjoy an ego-less life.
The Runaway Ego
At the heart of our being we are all beautiful and unique expressions of the Divine. Our inner self remains untouched by the variances and impermanence of life. The trouble is we become convinced that the whole of who we are is this exterior persona. The fact is this persona is just the vehicle for the Self and, like a car left running without its driver, the ego can spin out of control in a multitude of destructive ways.
The runaway ego is what the Yoga Sutras instruct us to manage by cultivating more trust in the divine Self. When we speak of "taming the ego," it is with the intention of putting the vehicle (physical self) back in service to its driver (inner self). Then, and only then, will we be able to clearly express our intended dharma, or purpose, for this life. Only when we reconnect with our wholeness will our deepest longings for love and peace be fulfilled.
Identifying the Ego
In order to do this effectively, we must be able to recognize who is in the driver’s seat of our life at any given moment. It is fairly easy to identify the ego, as it is usually the one running the show. It acts something like this:
- Comparing, judging, criticizing yourself or others
- Projecting, reacting, manipulating, instilling guilt
- Over-analyzing, worrying, self-doubting
- Feeling defensive and fearful
- Feeling separate and alone
- Chasing endless desires
Taking Back Control
The tiniest bit of introspection (svadhyaya) as part of our spiritual practice reveals a myriad of moments that the ego is fully in charge — often out of control! In fact, all the ways in which we suffer are due to the ego’s strangle-hold on our consciousness.
(More on the meaning of Svadhyaya: A Lifetime of Self-Study.)
However, if we get tired enough of the suffering caused by the ego, we can rise up to a higher awareness and live from our true essence. By enabling the greater inner Self to take over the management of our lives, we regain the innate peace, balance and ease that is our birth right. In order to oust the ego from the driver’s seat, we need compassionate awareness, self-forgiveness, and strength of will.
Begin by asking yourself, “Who am I really?” Then ask it again. Ask it as many times as it takes to get beyond your outer definitions, actions and roles played, and to the core essence of you. Mindfully witness the physical and mental events that constitute your life, all the sensory responses to stimuli that you cling to as all-important. Create a strong resolve (sankalpa) to direct your ego to the path and destination your inner being desires. Breathe deeply as you shed the layers of false personas and dive deep, connecting to the divine Self within.
(You may also be asking Who Am I?)
Identifying the Ego-less
Over time, with the ego in service to the inner Self, you will feel greater ease in your life. Ego-centered desires will be transformed by the purifying light of higher awareness. Notice the following changes that inevitably occur as the inner Self takes the helm:
- Accepting the changes of life with ease
- Trusting core values even in difficult situations
- Not attaching to any particular outcome
- Assessing action based on whether it fosters peace and harmony
- Witnessing desires without mindlessly following them
- Expressing unselfish love
- Recognizing the inter-connectedness of all life
Live Your Bliss
As you recognize yourself as the Consciousness within, rather than as the ego’s self-created persona, you will enjoy the unique sense of being separate and know that you are an inseparable part of the One in manifest form. A true yogi — once liberated from identification with thoughts, feelings, and bodily desires — is no longer motivated by past or future yearnings and can rest in the bliss of his/her true divine nature.
(Continue reading in How to Dissolve Your Ego.)