“Theres a difference between ego as identity, and ego as function.”
A few weeks ago I was reminded of a very common misconception about the ego. And this misconception is fundamental to how we understand ourselves and reality. So I had the urge to write about the ego. This is a massive topic but I’m going to do my best in simplifying this and keeping it brief, as I really just want to not only clear up some misconceptions, but express how I personally see the ego.
Growing up I would always hear people use the word “egotistical” to describe a selfish person. I think a lot of you might be able to relate to that. Because of this we are subtly conditioned in believing that the ego is that selfish part of us. This is the misconception that was brought to my attention a few weeks ago. It seems as though most people are under this notion that all the ego is is the “bad” or “selfish” part of us. Let’s get one thing clear; the ego runs far, far deeper than that. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with the ego at all.
If you are a fellow truth seeker, philosophy nut, personal development junkie, on this spiritual endeavor you might be disagreeing with me. And these are my thoughts on why you might be thinking that.
Most spiritual teachings are basically pointing towards letting go of the ego. Because the ego is illusory, as it is not what we truly are. But the thing is most spiritual teachings are speaking to the more “beginner,” focusing on helping people make that first big step into self realization. This is another big source of the ego misconception. It makes us think that the ego is bad and we have to let go of it for good, or “kill” the ego. It’s impossible to really understand the nature of the ego until we experience a full detachment from our own ego. Once we do this we can see how fundamental it is in how we experience our lives. Getting “married” to the teachings can be dangerous in this way. As a teaching is usually speaking to one facet of the process of self realization.
The ego is a psychologically constructed system that we identify with. Except we don’t necessarily have to identify with it. Because you see, what makes an illusion an illusion is your belief in it. And identification can be a lot like belief, if not the same. They are two forms of attachment. When we take that first big step out of what we think we are and realize what we actually are we can look back and see that the ego is actually an essential tool for being a functioning human being. We can use our ego as the tool that it is to express ourselves. This is basically what the personality is.
Like the quote that commenced this article; “Theres a difference between ego as identity, and ego as function.” This is it. The ego is a tool, and a big part of the self realization endeavor is learning to use this tool without letting it use you. To identify with the ego is an illusion. You are not that. But we can use this tool live life. We need to use this tool to function. And as an artist I’ve realized that the ego is how we express ourselves. It is what makes us unique in so many ways.
What some spiritual teachers may not mention is what happens post realization. Let’s say you’ve completely let go of the ego and realized our true nature. Great, now what. Well, first you keep going. Because there are levels to reality. And the beginning stages of realization, as full and complete as they are/seem/make you feel, they are actually beautifully open ended. There’s usually more to it than what you may first realize.
The practice changes after your first self realization experience. Although it does stay the same in a handful of ways. After you realize a deeper domain of our true being you can start to embody that. You can practice living as what you’ve realized yourself to be. After doing this what I’ve talked about above will make much more sense. You’ll see that you don’t need to rely on your ego quite as much. Secondly, it will become clear that the ego can really come in handy sometimes.
Before realization, the ego is the foundational paradigm through which we perceive reality. Therefore, the ego is the entire way we experience the world. It is our entire identity. This is why enlightenment is so powerful. It is a fundamental shift in the way we are oriented within our direct experience of life itself.
The motivation for writing this piece is to show you how big of a role the ego plays in our lives. And how radical it is to go beyond it and realize the nature of our being. As much as it is a construct, it is a necessary construct. It is a part of our realities. So as a spiritual seeker, I’ve realized that at some point along the process of awakening it is absolutely crucial to become friends with your ego. Stop denying it. Because if you deny the ego, you’re often denying a piece of reality. And to deny reality is counterintuitive to your practice of letting go of the ego. It seems like a paradox. But the thing is, letting go and denying are two different things. Let it be there, just don’t become it.
Plus, like I’ve said before, if you fight with your ego, the ego will fight back. So you’ll just end up making things harder for yourself.
When you change your perspective on this, you can learn to see that the ego is actually a very beautiful phenomenon. Theres really nothing wrong with it at all. So stop trying to kill it and leave the poor thing alone. It is your own attachment to the ego which is where things start to go south. When we are attached to it, we are deluded by it. And when we are deluded by it, that’s when we can start to act in toxic ways.
So consider this essay an SOS to never underestimate the ego. Never come to conclusions. Don’t stop letting go, and investigating the nature of all things and what you are. Contemplate this.
There is so much more to be said about the ego itself, the role it plays, and how to work with it. I’ll maybe do a part two in the future. But for now…
Thank you for reading, and let’s live a profound life.