Spiritual teachers have in the past talked about killing or destroying the ego. But, increasingly, many people are coming around to the idea that actually the ego is a necessary part of us, and one that we need as we grow and evolve. It serves plenty of perfectly useful functions, and berating ourselves for having an ego is probably not that healthy or productive.
An alternative approach to your ego is to befriend it. To learn about it, to understand its quirks and idiosyncrasies, and all the funny ways it behaves. In doing so, rather than being at its mercy, you learn to take back control, and to choose to react to situations from your highest Self, rather than taking the limited perspective of your ego. And the first step toward doing this is to learn to observe the ego. (Learn more in Svadhyaya: A Lifetime of Self-Study.)
Establishing a regular meditation practice is one of the best ways to observe your ego. It helps you to practice stepping into an observer, or witness, state, rather than getting caught up in the fluctuations of your mind. The more you do this, the more you learn to simply watch when your ego reacts to things that happen. And you notice the way that these thoughts and feelings simply arise and subside. They are nothing more than transient manifestations of your ego, and they have nothing to do with your inner self. As you move through the day, begin to take a step back and see your reactions to events. This doesn’t mean you have to get all judgmental on yourself. Instead, you can simply try noting, “Isn’t that interesting,” rather than becoming ensnared by negative thoughts. (Read more in How to Master Your Mind.)
Another great exercise is the contemplation exercise of reflecting on a situation where you behaved in a way driven by your ego. This might be a time when you felt impatient or annoyed. Visualize yourself and the way you acted when fueled by ego, then try visualizing how you would have or could have responded if you were driven by your highest Self, the Self that is never concerned by threats to your status or superiority. Try to really imagine and experience the difference it makes. Then, next time you find yourself in one of these situations, you’re more likely to be able to observe when your ego is coming into play, and potentially be able to make wiser choices about how to respond.