Welcome to the 12 new subscribers that joined the newsletter since last Sunday! A big thank you to you. The Examined Life is dedicated to our spiritual and emotional well-being using verified consciousness research. If you were forwarded this email, get your own:
📋 This post has been updated since the original publication
Time for a quick story?
Halfway into writing this post about the ego, I did something I hadn’t in months. I stayed up until 3am. With a toddler at home, late nights have been entirely replaced by early mornings. But I decided to push it a little because I thought it would help
It’s my experience that if one goes to bed while in the middle of writing something, the next day is filled with motive moments. as the unconscious starts to pull up ideas to complete the task.
At 6 am, three hours later, the toddler woke up screaming from a bad dream. The more we tried to calm him the more he refused to.
Sleepy and tired, I felt a growing irritation. The wife, who has a radar for such cues, immediately picked it up. An abrupt line or two were exchanged, and I felt angry now.
Can’t you see I’m exhausted? Should I be feeling bad for being angry because I didn’t sleep?
Wait, was I not the ‘victim’ here?
Meanwhile, a dull and cloudy morning unfolded. With melting snow and mist, the driveway needed clearing. A big Christmas pine had to be dragged in. And then impromptu festive cleaning took over half of the day.
You see, my attachment to the idea of writing this post led me to resist the events of the day as they unfolded. Even worse, each little upset seemed to fuel another.
Did I mention that I’d been trying to write a post about the ego?
Ego = “It me”
Spiritual intention tends to bring up its opposite into one’s experience. Like, if we decide to become more compassionate, it seems as if the unconscious now pulls into our life instances and opportunities to choose compassion over its opposite.
This isn’t to ‘test’ our intention. It’s simply because something within us that awaits resolution is now invited for examination and healing.
The crux of spiritual work is the letting go of me, me, me with all its attractions and aversions, until our attachment to the small, limited self gives way to a deeper realization of our identity.
So, when you think of ‘ego,’ what’s the first few things that come to mind? I’ll go first.
There is also the notion that egos belong to the personality as attributes
“John’s got a big ego”
“Don’t let your ego get in the way”
By making the ego yours or mine, we tend to miss the forest for the trees.
That it is really impersonal and biological.
Let’s put it in a broader context:
Through eons of time, the evolution of animal life, from the simplest to progressively higher life-forms, is also the evolution of the ego.
The ego as a primary survival mechanism
Dr David R Hawkins frames it this way:
“[The ego] is our biological inheritance.
Unlike plants (that derive energy from sunlight using chlorophyll), animal life had to acquire the energy needed for survival from its environment…
Survival then established the main core of the ego, which is still primarily involved in self-interest, acquisition, conquering, and rivalry with other organisms for survival.
– from The Map of Consciousness Explained (p. 98). Hay House. Kindle Edition.
In this remarkable book, he explains that in the animal world, the ego evolved along with intelligence into sophisticated survival mechanisms:
pack formation, among others
Sounds a lot like the human experience, doesn’t it? One difference might be that while animals use teeth and claws, we use Twitter.
The Ego’s Greatest Hits
So, now that we can see the ego differently, let’s examine some dominant patterns.
As we go through this list, all the stuff that we hate in ourself and others now makes sense as a whole. For example:
The ego likes to take credit, and wants to be the center of attention.
(“That was MY idea!”)
The ego is the source of thinking that maintains the separate individual “I”
(Me vs you, us vs them)
The core of the ego is the experiencer function of the mind that experiences phenomena.
The ego is insatiable. It craves novelty and excitement, and abhors boredom.
(“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Pascal)
The ego is like an information probe, constantly seeking and processing inputs from the world.
(See phone notifications)
The ego is the limited self with a small s. It thinks in linear terms, like causality
(A causes B causes C…)
The ego clings to ease and familiarity. It is averse to uncertainty, change and effort.
(Why old habits die hard)
The ego loves to extract a payoff from negativity; it likes the “juice” derived from being right, and winning.
(See football hooligans, violent social movements)
The ego enjoys the suffering of others.
(See schadenfreude and political theatre)
The ego loves pride, anger, force, and winning, and is averse to losing, humility, passivity.
The ego loves specialness, glamour, control, and possessiveness
(Hollywood version of love)
The ego loves status, importance, opinion and attention. It is averse to acceptance, letting go, and being ignored. (See Twitter)
The ego would rather change the world than change itself.
The ego wants more (success, money, sex, chocolate...), it is afraid of having less
(“The person who suffers from inner poverty is relentlessly driven to accumulate on the material level.” ― Hawkins)
The ego clings to the past or frets over the future. It avoids the present.
(See the news cycle)
The ego loves being right, and it loves victimhood and being wronged.
It loves to hate and blame, and despises kindness, forgiveness and peace.
(Contrast present day social resentments with examples of Holocaust survivors who forgave their captors)
The ego would rather kill or die than admit that it is wrong.
Egomania, as seen in the world, is the unbridled entitlement of the infantile mind.
(See megalomaniac dictators)
The ego secretly wants to be recognized as God.
(See the megalomania of dictators, plus fallen spiritual or religious teachers)
The core of the ego is narcissism. That which the ego hates, it projects into the world, so it can then direct ‘justified’ hate, blame, anger, etc.
For a society or culture, the inability to recognize the egomania of its rulers can ultimately lead to the catastrophic: large scale conflict, war, genocide, slavery, and every kind of inhumanity that we’ve seen or read about.
(See the Holocaust, the Nanking massacre, man-made famines, etc,)
As I go through this (by no means exhaustive) list of qualities mentioned by Dr Hawkins, I realize how much of my life is dominated by these ego programs.
A TINY bit disturbing.
Declining the Ego’s Programs
This insight by Dr Hawkins helps in putting it in context without associating blame or guilt:
We can see the extent to which individuals are dominated by the ego’s programs
The degree of dominance varies from one person to another; determined by how much we identify with the ego.
Spiritual growth leads to an exponential increase in the power to decline the ego’s programs
We realize that people who are dominated by such programs are relatively unable to help themselves without any real awareness or feedback.
We say they are ‘driven’ by selfishness (hate, greed, fear, addiction, or pride) … To be unconscious means just that
Thus the error or ‘sin’ can be seen really as a limitation in the evolution of consciousness
Historically, this limitation was termed ‘ignorance’ by both the Buddha and Jesus Christ
— Dr David R Hawkins, I: Reality and Subjectivity, p. 112
Ego isn’t the “enemy”
The way to dismantle it, as Dr Hawkins explains, is to accept it for what it is:
Paradoxically, the ego is reinforced by condemnation, labeling it as “sin,” and wallowing in guilt.
Such approaches merely utilize the ego to attack the ego, thereby reinforcing it.
Understanding the ego and adopting it as a “pet” allows its eventual dissolution.
It can be viewed as a cute little pet that needs supervision, lest it hurt others or oneself.
When you totally understand the truth about the ego, it begins to lose its power of you.
Furthermore, he adds:
Putting spiritual information into effect, to evolve the capacity to love, compassion, acceptance forms the crux of spiritual work.
The way to way to heal the small self is not to come from a polarized, right-and-wrong position, but from a loving compassion
To see our intrinsic innocence, like the innocence of the child’s consciousness which has been programmed.
Easier said than done, but to dismantle the ego is ultimately the path to out of unconsciousness and towards enlightenment 🙏
On individual spiritual work
There is no spiritual progress without awareness.
Awareness follows one’s inner intention which could be aligned with
becoming aware of one’s own limitations and behaviours
becoming free of the ego programs that run oneself
to be of service to our fellow human beings
to fulfill our own innate potential
Coming in contact with our own limitations is not easy in any way.
Usually, a life crisis makes it imperative to look within, e.g. addictions, breakdown of important relationships, or some other catastrophe.
Coming in contact with our ‘shadow’ - or the petty, hidden parts of our consciousness which bring us shame, guilt, blame, etc - requires a compassionate approach
The superego - or our conscience can be a punishing influence - it needs to be allayed and assuaged first.
E.g. 12-step groups are designed to overcome addictions like alcoholism, etc. For a new entrant, finding a sponsor to the step work is crucial.
Once the conscience has been rendered benign, the work of examining our ‘shadow’ can begin.
Change begins with an intention
The ego clings to ease and familiarity. It is averse to uncertainty, change and effort.
I personally find it difficult to muster the strength to change, until the discomfort of status quo reaches a threshold.
Sometimes it’s just about taking a step towards changing an unwanted habit.
Other times, it’s about getting honest with oneself and discovering a bigger organizing principle affecting one’s behaviour.
It almost always begins with an intention:
Making a decision about the person we wish to become
Affirming it repeatedly, holding it in mind, but not ‘wanting’ it
Imagining and visualizing oneself as that person
Expressing love and gratitude for our present and future self
Taking tiny steps in the direction that we wish to go
Becoming conscious of what is keeping us from becoming that—habits, patterns, behaviours—and making a note of them without beating ourselves up
Forgiving ourselves for not being that today
Recognizing, it’s about the process, and not perfection
Did you find this helpful?
Your feedback will help me improve The Examined Life :)
If this resonated with you, you can also hit the heart button at the bottom of this email, which helps other users discover this work 💛
Tell a friend
The Examined Life doesn’t have paid subscriptions yet. If you find it helpful, the best way to show your appreciation is to spread the word. 🙏🏼
Have a mindful week,
Amogh (see you on Twitter)