This is a tricky one. In many spiritual teachings, there’s this sense that you’re at war with the ego, that you must vanquish it, kill it, destroy it. That’s not at all accurate. Your ego is YOU. How can you kill YOU and still live to tell about it?
Yet it’s also true that the ego is the cause of suffering.
If ego is making you miserable, why not try to get rid of it?
Perhaps another way to look at this is that there’s two points along a spectrum: Confusion and Clarity.
When you’re “in” ego, you’re confused. Or more confused than you are clear.
(It’s also not accurate to say that you’re “in” ego, thus the quotation marks on that word, but please bear with me as I try to explain things that are very difficult to explain!)
The confusion stems from this simple fact: The job of the ego is to protect you — or, the “you” that you imagine yourself to be.
When you think of yourself as an independent, autonomous, separate being, then the ego rises up to defend that.
All of our very basic human emotions and instincts come from this place.
Your boyfriend says he wants to break up with you?
Your boss says there will be layoffs?
Someone cuts you off on the freeway?
These are all very different situations, but in each one, the ego comes rearing out to defend.
Any reaction of anger or retaliation or insecurity in relationship is simply the ego doing its job.
It thinks the world is a threatening place, one that you must be protected from. So it acts, either outwardly in your behaviors — shouting at the guy who cut you off, tailgating him for the next two miles; going into panic-mode with your boyfriend, or with your boss around your job — or by generating a loop of fear-thoughts that cause physical distress. A chill through your chest. A clamped stomach in knots. Or you stuff the difficult feelings by grabbing a Snickers.
Your ego is simply defending.
That’s all it does. Day in, day out. It’s what it’s been trained to do.
It comes from the DNA of our ancestors and the ingrained fight-or-flight tendency that we all have as animals.
Being compassionate to yourself and understanding that the difficult emotions that arise, the painful ones that make us behave badly, these are all coming from a need to stay safe. It’s erroneous thinking about how the world works that drives it.
As Byron Katie says, the universe is friendly. It cannot harm you.
After all, if what is YOU — the eternal, magnificent, luminous YOU that you can perceive when you’re quiet — if that part lives forever, then how can you ever be hurt?
Yes there is pain. But there need not be suffering.
When a difficult emotion arises, instead of labeling it as “bad” and trying to stomp it down or stifle it, let it be. Rest in it, even, if you can. The radical approach is to WELCOME IT.
It will be here anyway. Why not invite it to be experienced fully?
No, this is totally not easy!!!!!! I’m not trying to say that it is.
But investigating what is in the emotion can be exceedingly powerful.
That way you know.
When the ego reacts, be gentle with it. It’s only reacting from fear.
When that reaction causes discomfort or pain, then see if you can be brave enough to walk straight into the feeling.
Seek what is behind it, or underneath.
What you discover may surprise you.