What comes to mind when reading the word “ego?” What associations or preconceptions arise? For me, I think one that comes to mind is “selfish,” as in “selfish desires” or self preservation. It often seems that the ego is dealt with, spoken of, and treated with contempt – as if it were an enemy to be vanquished, a foe to be overcome and cast aside. It seems that we frequently see the ego as a stumbling block on our path to a more enlightened and spiritual state. We must “wake up” and “shake off” the hold that ego keeps so tightly on our souls and minds and hearts.
Perhaps first we should examine ego. How do we know what we are working to overcome without first realizing what it is? From the Latin, ego literally means “I.” According to a psychological interpretation, the ego is “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and unconscious and is responsible for the interpretation of reality and the development of a sense of self.” Both definitions revolve around the sense of self, or I, which exists as our conscious identity. Without ego, there is no “me” to write this, and no “you” to read it. Without ego, I cannot relate to you on a personal level because there is no distinction between us. In essence, if I attempt to cut myself off from my ego, I am cutting myself off from myself.
Now, there are some who would claim that this is merely a trick of the ego in its own struggling effort to preserve itself. I ask you, though, who is making the argument? And who is listening to it? If there is no ego, there can be no “I” in “I Am.”
The mistake seems to be in a presupposition that this is a black and white world. We accept the argument that we are complete as either ego OR Spirit. That, for one to exist, we must deny the other. At other times, we accept that we are BOTH, without really asking ourselves what it means to BE both. At those times, we mistake one for the other. We make claims such as “I AM GOD,” accepting the identification on an egoic level. While it is true that the Divine is a part of each and every one of us, the Divine is that part that exists within us beyond the ego. If the ego is the part that we define as self or our “I” then the Divine exists in an eternal moment beyond that sense of self.
Again, we may find ourselves tempted to make the argument that it is our ego, then, which keeps us apart from the Divine. However, if we look at countless spiritual texts and creation stories (whether you consider such stories myths or divine revelations), we see again and again that Man (ego) is the pinnacle of creation. If we accept that Man is the only creature on the Earth capable of self-awareness, then self-awareness can also be seen as the pinnacle of the evolutionary process (so far). If this is true, then self-awareness is a blessing, not a curse. It is a gift that we have been given, and to deny it is to refuse the very gift that we have been given. To carry disdain for the ego is to carry contempt for the very part of us that provides our self-awareness. Anyone who hates his/her own ego must necessarily hate him/herself.
If we accept the fact that the ego is a part of us, then where do we go from there? Perhaps the next step is to embrace both ego AND spirit, rather than attempting to eliminate one or the other. To open a dialogue between the two disparate parts of our entire being. To accept that we are not one OR the other, but both/and. This could also be the meaning behind statements such as Jesus saying that “I and the Father are One.” The meaning of communion – the body being flesh (ego) and the blood being spirit. The meaning of the alchemical marriage (heiros gamos).