Ego: It’s something all of us have, yet most of us don’t really understand. According to Eckhart Tolle, who has written two of the most influential “spiritual” books of our time, “Most people are so completely identified with the voice in the head—the incessant stream of involuntary and compulsive thinking and the emotions that accompany it—that we may describe them as being possessed by their mind.”
“As long as you are completely unaware of this,” he continues, “you take the thinker to be who you are. This is the egoic mind. We call it egoic because there is a sense of self, of I (ego), in every thought—every memory, every interpretation, opinion, viewpoint, reaction, emotion. This is unconscious, spiritually speaking.
All quotes taken from A New Earth.
He goes on to explain how our thoughts and thought patterns are conditioned by our past experiences, family life and upbringing, and overall environment that surrounds us.
“The central core of all your mind activity consists of certain repetitive and persistent thoughts, emotions, and reactive patterns that you identify with most strongly. This entity is the ego itself.”
The ego is full of thoughts and emotions with which each of us identify and which cause us to play certain roles in certain situations, without even being aware of it. And we have “collective identifications such as nationality, religion, race, social class, or political allegiance.”
“It also contains personal identifications, not only with possessions, but also with opinions, external appearance, long-standing resentments, or concepts of yourself as better than or not as good as others, as a success or failure.”
He also describes how all our egos are essentially the same:
The content of the ego varies from person to person, but in every ego the same structure operates. In other words: Egos only differ on the surface. Deep down they are all the same. In what way are they the same? They live on identification and separation. When you live through the mind-made self comprised of thought and emotion that is the ego, the basis for your identity is precarious because thought and emotion are bey their very nature ephemeral, fleeting. So every ego is continuously struggling for survival, trying to protect and enlarge itself. To uphold the I-thought, it needs the opposite thought of “the other.” The others are most other when I see them as my enemies. At one end of the scale of this unconscious egoic pattern lies the egoic compulsive habit of faultfinding and complaining about others. Jesus referred to it when he said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
5 Core Components of the Ego
Complaining and Resentment
What is complaining? A lot of the time it is a lack of gratitude and awareness. It’s a feeling that places us in the victim mentality, a feeling that ‘something has happened to me.’ This is the ‘I’ to which Tolle refers. Complaining is the result of your mind taking on certain beliefs about how things should be and then finding fault when they end up being something else. It’s, as Tolle points out, “a little story the mind makes up that you completely believe in.”
“When you are in the grip of such an ego, complaining, especially about other people, is habitual and, of course, unconscious, which means you don’t know what you are doing.”
Another part of this is blame, which often goes hand in hand with complaining. When you feel as if something has been “done to you” by someone else, you are completely engulfed in your ego. While this doesn’t apply to all situations, it does to most. Judging and complaining about another person often reflects ourselves and our inner state. Stating that “he is this” or “she is like that” is simply, again, a story your mind is making up based on various observations and experiences.
This happens all the time. Having thoughts about someone else in general indicates that your mind is making up a story, whether “good” or “bad.”
“Applying negative mental labels to people, either to their face or more commonly when you speak about them to others or even just think about them, is often part of this pattern. Name-calling is the crudest form of such labeling and of the ego’s need to be right and triumph over others: ‘jerk, bastard, bitch’—all definitive pronouncements that you can’t argue with.”
The ego will then gather with others, to confirm and encourage these views. We mask these tendencies by claiming they are normal, that when we are upset, we confide in others. But really, it’s just gathering with those we know will “support us” and agree with our viewpoints when we are upset.
“Resentment is the emotion that goes with complaining and the mental labeling of people and adds even more energy to the ego. Resentment means to feel bitter, indignant, aggrieved, or offended. You resent other people’s greed, their dishonesty, their lack of integrity, what they are doing, what they did in the past, what they said, what they failed to do, what they should or shouldn’t have done. The ego loves it. Instead of overlooking unconsciousness in others, you make it into their identity. Who is doing that? The unconsciousness in you, the ego. Sometimes the ‘fault’ that you perceive in another isn’t even there. It is a total misinterpretation, a projection by a mind conditioned to see enemies and to make itself right or superior. At other times, the fault may be there, but by focusing on it, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else, you amplify it. And what you react to in another, you strengthen in yourself.”
“Nonreaction to the ego in others is one of the most effective ways not only of going beyond ego in yourself but also of dissolving the collective human ego. But you can only be in a state of nonreaction if you can recognize someone’s behavior as coming from the ego, as being an expression of the collective human dysfunction. When you realize it’s not personal, there is no longer a compulsion to react as if it were. By not reacting to the ego, you will often be able to bring out the sanity in others, which is the unconditioned consciousness as opposed to the conditioned.”
Nonreaction, calm, and inner peace are key. This type of inner state, unless you’re a monk or other spiritual teacher, will also bring reaction from others within the “spiritual community.” Those who strive to diminish these aspects of the ego are constantly challenged by people like this. Egoic feelings of jealousy and disbelief will emerge, and you need to mitigate these through your non-reactionary state. They may also be in so much disbelief at your non-reactionary state that they simply believe you are “holding it in” or “building it up.”
“At times you may have to take practical steps to protect yourself from deeply unconscious people. This you can do without making them enemies. Your greatest protection, however, is being conscious. Somebody becomes an enemy if you personalize the unconsciousness that is the ego. Nonreaction is not weakness but strength. Another word for nonreaction is forgiveness. To forgive is to overlook, or rather to look through. You look through the ego to the sanity that is in every human being as his or her essence.”
Tolle does clarify that complaining is not to be confused with putting up with bad behaviour or quality. He uses the example of being served cold soup. You can tell your server nicely that your soup is cold and you would like it warmed up, which is different from complaining and making a statement such as, “How dare you serve me cold soup.”
The key to mitigating our complaining and resentment is to simply become aware of it and observe it. So many of us complain so regularly that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It’s an unconscious habit that becomes a part of our everyday lives, so much so that people will even try to defend their right to complain.
“The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just as an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist. The old mind-pattern or mental habit may still survive and reoccur for a while because it has the momentum of thousands of years of collective human unconsciousness behind it, but every time it is recognized, it is weakened. “
Reactivity and Grievances
Reaction is one way for the ego to grow itself. We instantly react to a person or a situation in our lives that triggers and emotional response. In my experience, when you become aware of your reactivity and emotional response, those triggers begin to fade away. It’s not to say that we cannot feel these emotions, and take them on, but rather that we usually feel those emotions and let them take over more when we are unaware of our reaction. The next step is to, while feeling the emotional trigger — be it anger, hate or resentment — control your reaction and observe yourself from a distance. The more you do this, the easier it will become for you to not react from your emotional response. Furthermore, the more you practice this type of self-awareness, controlling your reaction will not only become easier, but the emotional response will diminish. You will no longer take on feelings of anger and frustration; it will be as if you have a protective shield around you, or a force field. Reaching this state brings you closer to diminishing this aspect of the ego.
Without observing yourself or becoming aware of these aspects, the cycle will just continue repeating itself. In your own life, and for collective humanity as a whole.
“There are many people who are always waiting for the next thing to react against, to feel annoyed or disturbed about, and it never takes long before they find it. ‘This is an outrage,’ they say. ‘How dare you …’ ‘I resent this.’ They are addicted to upset and anger as others are to a drug. Through reacting against this or that they assert and strengthen their feeling of self. A long-standing resentment is called a grievance. To carry grievances is to be in a permanent state of ‘against,’ and that is why grievances constitute a significant part of many people’s ego. Collective grievances can survive for centuries in the psyche of a nation or a tribe and fuel a never-ending cycle of violence. A grievance is a strong negative emotion connected to an event in the sometimes distant past that is being kept alive by compulsive thinking, by retelling the story in the head or out loud of ‘what someone did to me’ or ‘what someone did to us.’ “
This is negative emotional energy that can also impact other areas of your life, including your health, given what we know about the mind-body connection.
Being Right, Making Wrong
This is a great transition from complaining. As Tolle explains, “When you complain, by implication you are right and the person or situation you complain about or react against is wrong. There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right. Being right is identification with a mental position—a perspective, an opinion, a judgement, a story.”
Personally, I am very passionate about information about our world, more so because so much about what is happening on our planet isn’t really presented in mainstream media. When you come across cool facts, you want to share them with others. But when you share information with others, sometimes they are viewed as challenges, and people cut you off or ignore you, or are triggered to share even more information because they want to show that “they know a lot too.” That’s their ego. If they are challenged by new information, or by your also having knowledge, factors associated with ego will step in, and it’s a great lesson if you can watch and be aware of your emotional trigger and reaction. If, for example, you were a child sharing facts with an adult, the adult would be encouraging, and listen with wonder and awe at the child’s enthusiasm. But if you change that child into an adult and share the same information, the adult, in most cases, does not see the enthusiasm and can in fact be blinded by their own desire to know more, or to be right.
“For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, and so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right. In other words: You need to make others wrong in order to get a stronger sense of you you are. Not only a person, but also a situation can be made wrong through complaining and reactivity, which always implies that ‘this should not be happening.’ Being right places you in a position of imagined moral superiority in relation to the person or situation that is being judged and found wanting. It is that sense of superiority the ego craves and through which it enhances itself.”
In Defence of an Illusion
Tolle brings up a great point here. As I mentioned above with the child example, facts exist, and sometimes we want to share them. This doesn’t mean that they always come from a place or intention of “being right,” or the ego, but rather a place of genuine passion and curiosity.
“Facts undoubtedly exist. If you say: ‘Light travels faster than sound,’ and someone else says the opposite in the case, you are obviously right, and he is wrong. The simple observation that lightning precedes thunder could confirm this. So not only are you right, but you know you are right. Is there any ego involved in this? Possibly, but not necessarily. If you are simply stating what you know to be true, the ego is not involved at all, because there is no identification. Identification with what? With mind and a mental position. Such identification, however, can easily creep in. If you find yourself saying, ‘Believe me, I know’ or ‘Why do you never believe me’ then ego has already crept in. . . . A simple statement: ‘Light is faster than sound,’ although true, is not in the service of illusion, of ego. It has become contaminated with a false sense of ‘I’; it has become personalized, turned into a mental position. The ‘I’ Feels diminished or offended because somebody doesn’t believe what ‘I’ said.”
Working in alternative media, and being an avid researcher of the entire human experience, I know what this is like. I’ve experienced anger when I share information and people don’t me. Inside, I always knew that that reaction was unnecessary, and that the response “I” receive shouldn’t matter, because I am comfortable within my own knowing.
Tolle goes on to describe the problem of the “I am right and you are wrong” type of mentality, and all of the trouble it’s caused for the world. He describes it as one of the ways the ego fuels itself, stating that “making yourself right and others wrong is a mental dysfunction that perpetuates separation and conflict between human beings.”
Does this mean that there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong?” Not necessarily. You can remain in your truth, and the truth you perceive to be, without the need to push it on others, or defend your position. To each his own.
You can still share your own truth without the need to be right, or to “win” an argument. If you are sharing information to be right or to “win,” as opposed to simply sharing from your soul, from your passion, from your excitement to share information, then you’re engulfed in your ego and allowing it to grow.
The Ego Is Not Personal
“On a collective level, the mind-set ‘We are right and they are wrong’ is particularly deeply entrenched in those parts of the world where conflict between two nations, races, tribes, religions, or ideologies is long-standing, extreme, and endemic. Both sides of the conflict are equally identified with their own perspective, their own ‘story,’ that is to say, identified with thought. Both are equally incapable of seeing that another perspective, another story, may exist and also be valid. Israeli writer Y. Halevi speaks of the possibility of ‘accommodating a competing narrative,’ but in many parts of the world, people are not yet able or willing to do that. Both sides believe themselves to be in possession of the truth. Both regard themselves as victims and the ‘other’ as evil, and because they have conceptualized and thereby dehumanized the other as the enemy, they can kill and inflict all kinds of violence on the other, even on children, without feeling their humanity and suffering.”
This is a great point, and shows how at the micro level, in everyday life, the human ego is present, which is also reflective of the collective attitude of “us” against “them.” Whether this narrative is being upheld and encouraged purposefully to create more separation between people, to further elitist agendas, is a topic for another debate, however. But the point is, we are in control. If more people on the planet worked on diminishing aspects of the ego, we would see a collective transformation as well, and perhaps that’s exactly what we’re going through: a collective evolution.
“Greed, selfishness, exploitation, cruelty, and violence are still all-pervasive on this plant. When you don’t recognize them as individual and collective manifestations of an underlying dysfunction or mental illness, you fall into the error of personalizing them. You construct a conceptual identify for an individual or group, and you say ‘This is who he is. This is who they are.’ When you confuse the ego that you perceive in others with their identity, it is the work of your own ego that uses this misperception to strengthen itself through being right and therefore superior, and through reacting with condemnation, indignation, and often anger against the perceived enemy. All this is enormously satisfying to the ego.”
Ego can be difficult to understand and discuss effectively, but it’s something that’s at the core of creating a change in the current human experience. Once humanity learns to transcend the collective ego, we will make tremendous advancements in how we communicate with each other, and probably enter into an age of abundance, or, “A New Earth.” It’s a key component of not just global change, but changes within our own personal lives as well.
There are many opportunities to transcend your ego, to lose your buttons so they cannot be pushed, to diminish your need to always be right or label others according to your own limited perceptions. The points made above from Tolle are simply a few important ones out of many, and you will no doubt gain a better understanding by checking out A New Earth, the book that inspired this article.