What is the Ego and What Does It Mean to Us?

The ego constricts us and causes us to suffer. But once you become tired of this suffering and these mind programs that cause you to be unauthentic and unhappy, you can then start to transcend the ego.

The ego constricts us and causes us to suffer. But once you become tired of this suffering and these mind programs that cause you to be unauthentic and unhappy, you can then start to transcend the ego.

The ego has been one of the most misunderstood concepts for many decades – many people talk about ego when referring to someone who has an overwhelming sense of pride or a great affinity towards oneself. While this can be true, it is also just a small fragment of what the ego really is – these traits such as pride and arrogance are all by-products of what the ego influences the mind to do.

The mind is in fact divided into two parts, the left brain and the right brain. The left brain tends to label and judge things, and the mind’s ability to do this is actually heavily influenced by the ego. 

To truly understand what the ego is, therefore, we must first learn how it originated and what its main functions are. There are two main theories regarding the ego. First let’s take a look at the viewpoint of religious theologians, who would argue that the ego is a part and parcel of being human.

The creation of life theory states that the ego was around before the beginning of human life, and continued to expand. The universe is constantly evolving to aid in the expansion of consciousness, which is an infinite source. So, for consciousness to experience itself, it needs to create some kind of finite experience. In order for that which is infinite to have a finite experience, it has to project the illusion of being a finite entity. So, consciousness needs a filter to condense itself down and to have a localised experience – and that is what our brains and bodies do for consciousness. The ultimate goal of consciousness, therefore, is to express its freewill in an infinite individual i.e. you and me. 

To explore the opposing theory we need to take a deep dive into our history as humans back into ancestorial times. The alternative theory is that ego is a product of Darwinian evolution and survival of the fittest. This is why the ego is viewed as inherently selfish by nature. In order for our brains to get where they are today, we needed some sort of survival mechanism to guide us through millions of years of evolution. Without the ego, we would have not have had the natural impulses to go and reproduce, hunt, and survive.

While we cannot be 100% sure where the ego first originated from, it is fairly likely from a Darwinian perspective that the ego began at the advent of human language. At some point in our evolutionary past, our ancestors would have begun using language as a form of communication, as this was used to label objects, etc. At this point, the brain would have started to develop a mechanism that could store the language away for future purposes. This process would continue to play out and it was at this point in our evolutionary history where the ego began to form, through the mind labelling things and forming identities. 

Now let us look at the functions of the ego from a survival standpoint. As we know by now the ego is survival orientated. As a result of this, it primarily focuses on the negative which in our ancestorial times would have been seen as beneficial, as a mind focused on negatives and threats would have been more likely to survive. Therefore, from an evolutionary standpoint, it is a benefit to remaining in a negative and paranoid state.

The ego constantly stays in this state because it is not aware that it isn’t actually in physical danger. You may have noticed that even in positive situations the mind can still somehow find a way to worry and second guess itself because from the ego’s perspective, it is trying to help you. The ego doesn’t observe and say “I have a body and mind”, but instead, it says “I am the body and mind”.

This is what makes us vulnerable to suffering because when our bodies or our minds (ideas and opinion) are threatened we begin to feel as though our true nature is being threatened. Our identity is being brought into question when in reality, we are pure consciousness that is simply observing the body and mind.

Regardless of which of the two theories resonate more with you, it is clear that both state the ego’s nature is to cause us suffering. Once we recognise this, we can begin to see how vital it is to no longer be controlled by our egos.

Many people suffer from how their ego makes them feel. The problem with this is that the ego is never satisfied. Once you get that desire the ego was so desperate for, it will move on to the next desire, and the cycle repeats. The ego thrives on a false sense of control, and the result of this causes pride to be born within the ego. The ego then starts to believe it knows everything and has all the right answers. This in turn can lead to an endless cycle of suffering through chasing fantasies and false identities.

An example of this would be a person who constantly debates and wins the debates they participate in. They will then in turn label themselves as ‘good’ debaters and will start to judge and label others as ‘bad’ debaters. The ego will then in turn use this as fuel and that person may then not let others voice their opinions and constantly see themselves as the best debater. 

The ego is the matrix of the mind, these are the programs of egoic conditioning which we have been unconsciously enslaved to. A crucial thing to know is that this automatic process can only play out when you’re unaware of it. The ego can only be an unconscious movement, therefore the moment you can observe and see that a thought has come from the ego, you can begin to drain it of its power and influence over you. Once consciousness expands enough, the automated system of the ego can be drained of its influence over you. Due to the nature of evolution being very efficient, the ego can begin to be drained of the power it has over the mind once you no longer let it control you. 

Both the Buddha and Jesus spoke about the same concept from two different perspectives. The Buddha referred to it as ‘Emptiness’ when he spoke about this – he did not mean emptiness of life, he meant emptiness of mind, which then, in turn, drains the ego of its influence. The Buddha often did this through the practice of meditation, where he would empty his mind completely and just be. Jesus also referred to this same concept as ‘the fullness of life’, because to have an empty mind of egoic conditioning is to be full of life. Jesus practiced this through the form of prayer and filling his mind full of love and non-judgment. Another great example of this is from the doctrine formulated by Ibn Arabi, the famous Islamic Sufi scholar. In his works of Wahdat Al-Wujud (The Unity of Being), Ibn Arabi refers to it as ‘the universal man’ (the man free of ego) who then becomes one with God. The egoless man has his veils of illusion and separation lifted, and he then begins to see no reality but the reality of God – known as the unity of being.

The ego constricts us and causes us to suffer. But once you become tired of this suffering and these mind programs that cause you to be unauthentic and unhappy, you can then start to transcend the ego. It is only through the suffering that the ego creates do we start to desire self-realisation and our true nature. We as humans want to fulfill the lack we feel as humans and grow in the process of life, and some would describe this as moving from an unconscious state to a conscious state of being. The ego is the catalyst to start this journey. An example of this is how a caterpillar evolves into a beautiful butterfly. It is the destiny of the human race to reach a state of consciousness that is enlightenment collectively, the very same we way achieved the state of ego in our past. 

So, it is clear to see that the ego is the root of our suffering as human beings, and transcending this outdated automatic thought system can help lead us to our true potential. When evaluating my own actions in the past I can begin to see areas in my life where I was run by my own ego while remaining totally unconscious of the fact this was happening.

What I now realise is that these automatic behaviours were part of a program which can be drained of their power the moment you’re aware of them. What I feel we need to do collectively as human beings on this planet is to raise awareness of what the ego truly is and together, we can begin to rise above this state of unconsciousness. Together we can all take the first step and start to be more conscious of our daily actions in order to live a life of true fulfillment, and to one day achieve a state of enlightenment.