We talk about “ego” but what are we really referring to?

According to Freud, the ego is part of personality that mediates the demands of the id, the superego and reality. The ego prevents us from acting on our basic urges (created by the id), but also works to achieve a balance with our idealized standards (created by the superego). Using  this psychological definition it can take a strong ego to let go and transcend the ego. A weak and fragmented ego clings on and struggles to survive, using valuable energy to feed itself. But like any good hungry ghost, it can never be satisfied and always looks for the greener pasture, or darker night, to fuel it’s craving and aversion cycle.

Ego strength is often used in psychology to described a person’s ability to maintain their identity and sense of self in the face of pain, challenge and conflict. The ego is our vessel that keeps us afloat in the sea of consensual reality.

Often in non dual understanding, ego is defined as a part of us that maintains a separate sense of self. But this is only one quality of ego. Where does the teaching of the Buddha of ‘to know the self is to forget the self’ fit into this?

Adyashanti speaks about the ego waiting for us after spiritual experience. It is often wounded and wanting to appropriate spiritual awareness. Who wouldn’t want to claim that lush experience of oneness with all things? So ego waits in the wings in order to get it’s share of the feast.

I am not sure ‘knowing’ ourselves implies a mental knowing. The Buddha, with experience in both worldly and non dual states, could be pointing to a bridge between ego strength and the ego structure falling away.

According to Adyashanti, awakening can be misunderstood.

He speaks of a difference between transcending ego -this has a sense of conflict, duality; attraction and aversion- and the ego structure falling away as a result of awakening.

He uses a definition of ego that implies a division between different thoughts, emotions, beliefs values within myself, a mediator of sorts. If there is fragmentation in these ego parts, there is an underlying sense of resistance and unease. This resistance can erupt into explosive suffering.. a sense of self indulgence and obsession that blocks us off from the spontaneous and intuitive action that life requires. What our practice can give is to bring us back to our centers.. our centers of presence that is a mindful return to this moment as it is. A return to ego after spiritual awakening can be jarring and disturbing or just a part of the necessary, unfolding process.

The ego structure can reestablish itself, fighting against transcendent vision. Ego can see this as a threat. It is our work to not get caught in the struggle to resist and separate, but to surrender to a process of ego death as we know it.

We cannot eliminate ego. It cannot get rid of itself and if it tries it only strengthens itself. We cannot transcend ego through ego; spiritual experience if not grounded and integrated, can be fodder for a separate sense of self.

We can feel the difference between ego (the content of our awareness) and the beingness and awareness/consciousness (the space in which the content occurs). Not favouring one over the other, but just an invitation of awareness. It helps us to start to notice the different between content and what underlies the content… the knowing and seeing of the content, or beingness.

The content has a gravity, a pulling of full attention into it. The more we notice it, the more we aren’t susceptible to this pulling into it. We begin to simply notice the content and from where it arises. The space iof being provides a contrast for the ego structure, reminding us of the big picture. Letting go and letting be.

Being is a neutral place. Mind and body can have experiences of this. When we don’t imprint ourselves with this being experience, it is easy to habitually get pulled back in. To receive the energy of the being when we feel it is our work. It is always here to tap into and is the fabric of all existence.

Adya maintains that we donnot have to get further away from ego. We can’t get away from it. This is wrong understanding and binds us further. The ego will appropriate this: I am away from myself… something happened! I am transcended! This brings us out of the present moment. Being fully here is the freedom we all seek. The ego cannot do this, it cannot make it happen.

In the moment in the midst of the ego structure is non ego. We are invited to stop struggling against the ego, and realize that the denial of ego is the ego.

The raw energy of ego motivates us to do almost everything in life. The more clear we get, the less personal ego operates. There is more of a sense of will coming from another force. This is a flow of life itself. When the personal will is surrendered, this is what takes over. It can only come in when we let go and surrender. What does this look like? Spontaneity. Trust. Intuition. It often does not make logical sense. How does this feel in the body?

We rely on it like a reflex. The new energy doesn’t come online right away, and often there is a lull, an unknown. A discomfort. A no mans land.


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