The ego is that part of ourselves that views life as a battle for survival. Feeling limited, the ego seeks control and power. Feeling isolated, the ego seeks outside validation and security. As Deepak discusses in his column this month, most people confuse who they really are with their ego identify. They garner their sense of self from external things, such as how much money they earn, what kind of job they have, and the opinions of others.
The following quiz will help you gauge the degree to which you’re identifying with your ego and allowing it to limit your highest potential.
Read through the exercises below and identify the ways in which ego is manifesting in your life. Remember that the goal isn’t to declare war on the ego and attempt to banish it. If life wasn’t meant to be a struggle, it wasn’t meant to be a struggle against the ego either. Rather than bashing the ego, it’s more helpful to see it as a small, scared child . . . like the bully on the playground who tries to intimidate others out of fear and a deep-rooted sense of helplessness. Once you can see the role the ego is playing in your life, you can start to befriend it and use the ego’s natural tendencies for your own highest good.
If You Crave Control Controlling behavior is usually driven by the ego’s need to feel like it has to know what is going to happen in order to feel safe. There are many kinds of controlling behavior, including perfectionism, intolerance, possessiveness, jealousy, and the tendency to get angry when someone disagrees with you. Sometimes what appears to be caring or kind acts are actually controlling because your motive is try to control someone’s response, obligation or gratitude.
No matter what form it takes, whenever you find yourself falling into controlling behavior, one or more fears is at work in your unconscious. You may be afraid of rejection, abandonment, failure, humiliation, loss . . . or you may fear being wrong, powerless or destroyed. The truth is we don’t know what is going to happen. Really feeling safe, peaceful, and content comes from knowing your true self, and an acceptance of the inherent mysteriousness of life. Embracing the wisdom of uncertainty not only frees you from the illusion of control, it puts you right in the middle of the joyful flow of cosmic creativity.
Meditation The question naturally follows, how do we get to know our true self? Meditation is the most effective way we know of to directly experience our inner self. In the stillness of meditation, you connect to your real essence . . . the unbounded, limitless self that lies beyond the constrictions of the ego. While you won’t lose your craving for control right away, as you meditate regularly, exposing your mind to the refreshment of pure consciousness, your impulsive reactions and fears will naturally begin to melt away.
If You are Hooked on Approval Almost everyone is at least somewhat invested in the quest to earn the approval of others, whether of our friends, employer, spouse, board of directors, or others. It’s an ancient pattern that goes back to our infancy, when we were dependent on our parents and earning their love felt like a matter of survival – and it might have been. If you’re not sure whether your ego is still in pursuit of approval, think about how you feel when a waiter ignores you, when a loved one doesn’t pay enough attention to you, or someone slights you.
If you want to feel really good about yourself, renounce your self-image and identify with your authentic inner self. The next time you feel wounded by a comment or perceived slight, let yourself feel whatever emotion comes up. Doing so will allow the feeling to dissipate. Then ask yourself, Do I recognize this feeling? Is it old or new? Most of the time, you will recognize that it’s a very old, very familiar feeling. The ego triggers old emotional reactions out of a mistaken belief that you must keep defending yourself.
Now ask yourself, How much good has remembering old hurts ever given me? If you are honest with yourself, you will probably see that dwelling on past pain has never made you feel good in the present. Using simple awareness, you will see that you are repeating conditioned thought-patterns that don’t serve you – and you will begin to free yourself to let go of the ego’s grievances and identify with your inner self.
If You Are Plagued with Self-Pity Self-pity is based on a false sense of self. It is based on past experiences that you interpreted as unjust and unfair. When those feelings of victimization get triggered in the present, you revert to that old persona with its conditioned reactions. Recognizing this self-pity in yourself is a good first step in learning to see through this false image of yourself that is based on past hurts.
From here you can work on bringing more conscious attention into the moment. This allows the silent witness within to observe your feelings and behavior without judging them. You experience your true identity in the stillness of meditation.Simply bringing your conscious awareness to the experience that has triggered you will heal it because that consciousness is your true Self.