It can bring you power, it can make you miserable and it can cause you abundant happiness. Since you were born it has been evolving inside you and affecting every decision you make. You think you’re in control? Think again. Do you know your ego?
The word ego is thrown around a lot in everyday conversations. To many of us the idea of an ego is linked to a superiority complex – I am better than / sexier than / smarter than / quirkier than / more spiritual than …
Yoga and other cultures have taught for hundreds of years that understanding and separating ourselves from the ego is our path to enlightenment. At the opening and ending ceremony of my yoga instructor course we chanted and threw spices into a fire symbolizing the burning of our egos. I clearly remember sitting down afterwards totally perplexed, what did burning the ego even mean? I started to think that I should throw out my mascara, only wear boring clothes and ditch everything that made me feel good about myself. I asked my guru Mahesh after class if he could explain what the ego was and he very kindly spent our next philosophy class talking about just that. He explained the ego as comparing yourself against others.
After a lot of reading and thinking I’ll respectfully make a slight edit there – an unhealthy ego is comparing yourself to others.
The ego is a build-up of memories, beliefs and opinions – we all have one. What matters is if our ego is healthy or not. An unhealthy ego is like a parasite, it lives within us affecting our behaviour and ultimately our health and although we may think we are under control it controls us.
Caroline McHugh describes two states of a fragile ego, the superiority complex and the inferiority complex. The inferiority complex is extremely common, it is a lack of self-love and refusing to accept ourselves as we are. A healthy ego McHugh calls an ‘interiority complex’ – a completely uncomparative state. Developing this interiority complex she goes on to explain is the art of being yourself.
We are born into a particular environment with a specific biological blueprint. As young children we are ego-less. We have a unique identity right then and there which is everlasting, pure and constant throughout our lives.
When yoga and other philosophy based systems teach us to remove the ego it is to remind ourselves that we are more than our egos, and to try glimpse this childlike and pure source. Has anyone seen those Natwest adverts “we are what we do”? I hate them! Your ego is what you do. Listen, this is important, you are not the clothes you wear, you are not your past, you are not defined by your thought processes – all those things change over time. You are everlasting, pure and constant. To find yourself you need to scrape everything else away, your true joyful self lies under the ego.
So where does the ego come from? As we grow we develop opinions related to ourselves. “I am good at writing, I have stumpy legs, I can sing well, I am terrible at maths, I am awkward in social situations… “. None of those opinions would exist if we were the only human alive – they are all comparative. Those opinions form a unique mixture of superiority and inferiority complexes as your ego. If you were born in the wilderness with no contact with humanity you would still have a sense of self, an ego, but it would be an interiority complex – totally uncomparitive and healthy.
So an unrealistically healthy ego is fully accepting yourself without comparing yourself to anybody else. Once you can accept yourself as you are you can celebrate what makes you different and that is when you can be the awesome version of yourself that you were designed to be.
Realistically we all compare ourselves to others in some ways. In the capitalistic word we live in we need to make comparisons in order to survive. However, we have many habits that are unnecessary and through diligent practice we can strip them away. Looking around the urban environment so many of us live in, we can see unhealthy ego traits everywhere. Selfie culture, conversations all about talking and not about listening, competitiveness in the workplace and even the yoga studio! Not to mention the epidemic lack of self-confidence sweeping the world.
So let’s wrap this up. You are not only your ego. Try and get to know your true self under the ego – and this means stripping the ego away. You need an ego in the capitalist world so try and make it a healthy one by gradually changing your habitual superiority and inferiority complexes. Then use your ego to help you express your unique qualities and achieve what you want to achieve. You are here in this crazy beautiful world and you can do great things – your ego can help you, don’t let it hold you back.