There’s no such thing as ego. That doesn’t mean you and I don’t get caught up in egocentric thinking and behavior, but we are mistaken in thinking of the ego as some separate individual self, some “thing” in the mind.
When I observe my own experience, I notice an unchanging sense of “I-ness” that has been there all my life. It’s that feeling of being “me,” and is the same feeling I had yesterday, a year ago, and when I was ten years old. My thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, attitude, character, personality, roles, desires, needs, and beliefs may have changed considerably over the years, but this sense of “I” has not.
Along with this sense of self, I may find various thoughts about what I want, what would make me happy, or give me more control over my world—what we might label “self-centered” thoughts. At times, I may feel fearful or judgmental. I may think that if I could just have things be a particularly way I would be happy. I may feel insecure and want attention from others. I may draw a sense of identity from my social status, the roles I play, my character, or my lifestyle. But I don’t find another self, or ego, that is thinking these thoughts.
What we call the ego is not another self. It is a mode of thinking, a process rather then a thing, a verb rather than a noun. It would be more accurate to say “I am ego-ing.”
The difference is subtle, but very important. If I see the ego as some form of self, another part of me, it is easy to fall into the belief—common in many spiritual circles—that I must get rid of my ego, transcend it, or overcome it in some way. But seeing ego as a mental process I get caught in, leads to a very different approach. It is a way of thinking that I can step out of at any time.
Letting go of ego thus becomes an ongoing practice rather than a far-off goal.