What is ego? After all it is one of those words that most people have heard but how well do we understand it? Furthermore it seems to be related in some way to personal development and the soul’s journey. Sometimes people talk about it in terms of “holding you back on your spiritual journey“. While others even use the phrase “ego death” which I hasten to add is not something that ever happens. Later on we’ll discuss how that unhelpful idea may have arisen.
Firstly though let us start to understand it in a more healthy, holistic and spiritual way. In seeking to understanding this topic there is so much to explore that you could write a whole book about it. The good news is that there’s an entire chapter in the book I’m writing all about it so for now I just want to go over the key points.
Let us first explore what the dictionary says and if you are wondering the literal translation of the word is “I”, derived from Latin.
Psychoanalysis: “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.“
Philosophy: (in metaphysics) “a conscious thinking subject.“
It’s a topic that is so important to understand for anyone on a spiritual path that I created this video to help answer the question:
Over a year before this video above was made I was interviewed and the topic of ego came up. You can hear that interview in this podcast below:
The second excerpt from an interview in January 2020. Mark talks about the three things he wished he'd known about when he started his meditation journey many years before. This is part 2 and he shares why he thinks understanding ego and how it can hold ...
When you sit in meditation you can begin to experience a profound inner stillness and peace. This is a state of love and is the opposite of the negativity which gives rise to the small sense of “I”. Therefore meditation gives you the opportunity to realise that you are more than just that small sense of “I”, which is amazing! However over time well intentioned meditation teachers have talked about “letting go of your sense of self“. In fact I was once told “You’ve got to die into your meditation“. Was it true? No. Was it helpful? Not really, though well intentioned. Would I advise that? No.
So it is easy to see why the unhelpful idea of “ego death” or losing your personality as you become more spiritual may have arisen. Reassuringly though these are just ideas and are not the reality of a spiritual journey. You never lose your sense of self or personality and the little “I” is always there. When you have fear it is connected to ego, which seeks to keep things the same, and is why it might actually be stopping you from becoming more spiritually awake. It is ego that holds people back and fear is often the response when ego is challenged.
What can happen is that someone with an enlarged ego might find that through practising meditation, having inspiring spiritual realisations and consciously working on developing the loving side of themselves through approaches like The Six Virtues, that their ego returns to normal size. It is just like an unhealthy person doing exercise and changing their diet to get their body back into good shape. Practising The Six Virtues is like going to the gym and and consciously changing to think more lovingly is like eating healthily.
So what have we learnt about so far?