There’s No Such Thing as Ego

I don’t have an ego. And nor do you.

That doesn’t mean you and I don’t get caught up in egocentric thinking and behavior, but that we are mistaken in thinking of the ego as some separate individual self. some “thing” in the mind.

When I observe my own mind, I notice there is an ever-present sense of “I-ness”. This has been there all my life, and has not changed. The feeling of being “me” is the same feeling I had 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 the sense of “I” has not.

I do not find a separate ego, another “self” that sometimes takes over. What I find instead are various patterns of thinking that condition how I decide and act. At times, I may feel fearful or judgmental, and I may behave in ways that are manipulative or self-protective. 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, seeking to feel important. I may draw a sense of identity from my social status, the roles I play, my character, or my lifestyle. And when this is challenged in some way, I may try to defend and reinforce this constructed sense of identity.

In each case, past experiences and conditioning create beliefs, attitudes, needs, desires, and aversions. These become the lens through which I see my world, affecting how I interpret my experience, the thoughts that arise in my mind, and a whole set of stories about what to say or do, in order to get what I think will bring make me feel better. However, the “I” that is interpreting and thinking is the same “I” that is always there. But its attention has become engrossed in some or other “egoic” pattern of thinking, leading to correspondingly egocentric decisions and actions.

What we call the ego is not another separate self so much as a mode of being that can dominate our thinking, decisions, speech, and actions, leading us to behave in ways that are uncaring, self-centered, or manipulative.
Our exploration of ego would be more fruitful if we stopped using the word as a noun, which immediately implies some “thing”, and instead thought of ego as a mental processes that can occupy our attention. For this a verb is a more appropriate part of speech. I am “ego-ing”.

The difference is subtle, but very important. If I see the ego as a separate self, some thing, then 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, a system of thinking that I get caught in, suggests that I need to step out of that mode of thinking—to look at the world through a different lens, one less tainted by fear, insecurity and attachment.

This is a much easier and more effective approach. When I notice myself caught up in egoic thinking, rather than berating myself (or my imagined ego), I can notice what is going on and step back from it. This doesn’t mean I have eliminated that way of thinking. It will surely return. And when it does, I can choose to step out of it again. Transcending the ego thus becomes an ongoing practice rather than a far-off goal.

See also: Another way of seeing in Prayer for Peace

5 Replies to “There’s No Such Thing as Ego”

  1. I enjoyed your thoughts on ego-ing Peter. It points to another pattern that we often find ourselves in with spiritual practice. The whole idea of the higher Self gives the same impression of separation or something out there that we must acquire.

    A monk recently reminded me that we all experience cosmic consciousness every day, perhaps only for flickering moments. That thought helps me see things differently.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    With Love and Respect, David

  2. Yes, I find the whole notion of a higher self misleading. There is nothing to acquire – but a lot that obscures our own being that we can let go of.

  3. In my opinion, the EGO certainly is not “real” per se, but an outward look at our world certainly confirms that EGO currently RULES this world. Fortunately, EGO’s NUMBER will soon be up…if you catch my inference.

    EGO began when ONE individual looked at another and thought…”I AM GREATER THAN YOU.” Although Mother and Father creators are ancient and vastly powerful beings, even they do not look at anyone else with that kind of thought.

    If you look at creation as an = sign, everything moving along equally together, and nothing else interferes, things work smoothly through the SOURCE of life.

    The moment someONE decided they were GREATER THAN…….well, quite frankly, that’s is WHY we are STUCK here today, in the realm of “greater than”…..Because whenever ‘greater than’ exists, someone else has to be lesser than. This type of thinking causes “death.” (A word jingle for death = hated.) EARTH word jingle is HATER and then HEART….Have you ever noticed these things?

    EGO will most certainly cease to exist. Guaranteed! I assure you it will be a mighty struggle for many. Tough luck. Mother and Father creator SOURCE know exactly what they are doing…..even though things may appear haphazard at times.

    EGO: Beside being a letter, “e” is a mathematical constant called “EULER’s NUMBER.” There is a predetermined fractal moment in time when EGO’s number is up, and then………………..well, e’ has to “go.” 😉

  4. A read a quote from Pemo Chodron in Shambhala Sun a while back that fits this perfectly. I’m afraid I’m paraphrasing but I recall it as:

    “We are by nature self-less. It is when we take the stuff we are made of and try to make a self out of it that we bang our heads against reality.”

    I agree – Ego doesn’t really exist. But our attempts to construct one can sure cause a lot of suffering!

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