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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Your Ego

What is your ego?

Green grass in forreground, four large tree trunks with setting sun's light casting a yellow glow over them. Sky still blue.
Egoless trees make room for one another and allow the setting sun's rays to fall on them beside the track to Evergreen.

I once read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to MAC OS X. I’d just bought a new desktop iMac and needed urgent help to figure it all out. After reading it, I realised I was more of an idiot than most.

I'm not a qualified expert on the ego, so that’s why I’m calling this article The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Your Ego. It’s basic, easy to follow, and if you read it to the end it will teach you how to plug in, turn on, turn off, and unplug your ego (which, by the way, was about all I learned from reading that Idiot’s Guide to MAC OS X).

Actually, you already know how to plug in and turn on your ego. Your ego is instinctual, a natural outcome of having self-conscious thoughts (unlike your pet chihuahua or goldfish). By the time your baby brain figured out that the object hitting you in the eye was a part of your body, your ego was plugged in and turned on.

Ego means “I” in Latin. Simply put, your ego is all about you. And my ego is all about me.

It's our sense of distinction from other people. Our point of difference. Humans are just a lot of little egos popping into existence, then breathing, talking, eating, walking, and occasionally working, before popping out of existence.

Although our ego is “inside” us, it’s good to think of it as a heavy sack on our shoulders – more an accessory than an intrinsic part of our make-up. Considering it this way makes it easier to get rid of – because that is the ultimate thing you have to do with it. (This is the turning off and unplugging part.)

What Is Your Ego?

So, what is your ego?

Every time I see a picture of Father Christmas carrying a sack of presents over his shoulder, it reminds me of my ego.

I carry my ego everywhere. It’s a sack of hand-picked memories, stories, perceptions, opinions, desires, and fears that I lug around. I use the things in the sack to explain and justify myself to other people every time I get the chance – like in conversations at parties and family gatherings, when giving a speech, defending my belief system, and especially during arguments.

In quiet moments, I also dig into the sack to find something that explains and justifies myself to myself. These are uncomfortable moments when I try to defend why I said what I said, did what I did, or didn’t do what I didn’t do. Doing this removes the discomfort, and once more I feel okay with myself.

An example of me doing this was when I was walking down a street in Fremantle, looking for a place to buy a coffee. I saw ahead of me an older, unkempt woman sitting on the pavement, with a shopping trolley beside her which obviously contained her earthly possessions. I resolved to buy her a cup of coffee too. But as I drew nearer, she turned to face me, and I saw she was smoking.

‘Ah,’ I said to myself. ‘Why should I buy a coffee for a street person who has money to buy cigarettes?’ I passed her by, found a café, and ordered a coffee for one.

Later that day, I felt bothered by my decision. It had been judgmental, moralistic, and unkind.

But then my little ego reminded me of the danger of cigarette smoking, the need to spend money wisely, and the possible reasons that may have led the woman to be forced to live on the street in the first place, although I had no way of knowing the truth of my smug conclusions. This ego trip removed the discomfort I felt about my decision. However, this incident, and my self-justification, come back to me from time to time. I cringe and I wish my actions had been different.

Egos can be petty, self-centered, narrow-minded, and destructive.

When we defend our egos, we perpetuate suffering in others as well as in ourselves.

My Ego Hides My True Self

For years I believed I needed my ego because it defined me as a person and kept me safe. But it does neither of these things.

My ego is a façade, a mask, a fancy-dress costume covering up the real me.

If I let go of (turn off and unplug) my ego, what am I left with?

My essential self.

  • No stories to justify my actions.

  • No self-aggrandisement.

  • No stale opinions.

  • No divisive judgments.

Turning off and unplugging the ego means being a person who doesn’t cling to the past, has no beliefs, and no agenda. You whittle yourself down to the simple being – the presence – you were before you started storing stories and thoughts in your head.

In the above example of “me” and the “street person”, the encounter could have simply been a being buying a coffee for another being.

Be Your True Self for an Hour

Today, for an hour, be your true self – a person with no ego, no past, no beliefs, and no agenda.

Turn your thoughts off and unplug yourself.

Just be presence in the world.

In his book, Oneness With All Life, Eckhart Tolle refers to this as:

the Being behind the human, a field of pure potentiality rather than something that is already defined.

If you feel a bit weird, that’s a good sign.

You won’t be living automatically.

You will be living consciously.

You won’t be responding to situations and people like you usually do.

Your thoughts will be few, and those you have will be fitting.

That hour will be full of fresh, clear, in-the-moment living.

If an hour seems a dauntingly long time, just try it for five minutes.

Every moment we live an egoless life contributes to the flow and beauty in the world.

With love, Marlane

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