Just hearing the word Ego usually makes us cringe. It has such a negative association, one we associate with people demonstrating an inflated sense of self, an insatiable need to be right, always having dramatic stories and even the more subtle display of drawing attention through apologies. It took me a while to see that people who constantly say, "I'm sorry" are really just being in their ego, making everything about them. It's challenging to have a healthy discussion with someone who apologizes mid sentence, because as soon as the "I'm Sorry" comes out, we start trying to make them feel better. We start trying to explain why it's not their fault. In that simple phrase the whole conversation gets turned to them and how they feel.... the original issue of discussion, lost. This is an Ego move….
This is classic of the main role of the Ego. It is a part of us that is always trying to protect us and if we feel unsafe in the world, our egos are generally bigger. When we feel secure and confident our egos have less to do. So yeah, the Ego generally has a bad wrap. We pretty much believe it doesn't serve us and we follow teachers like Eckhart Tolle to help us overcome the dreaded Ego.
What's interesting though is that the ego is actually quite fragile. Like the iridescent spheres of soap derived bubbles, our egos are beautiful and frail. Our egos really just want the best for us yet is a bit misguided in how it goes about that. Egos are all in our head, not in our hearts. Egos come from a place of fear- analyzing and over-thinking. Hearts come from love- trusting and knowing. We can either approach life from our head or heart and if we choose our head, the ego is in charge. If we choose our heart, then our spirit, the divine within, is in charge.
We may wonder why do we even have egos in the first place? To be honest, they actually DO serve a purpose. They aren’t really that bad. The ego part of us is always concerned with how we are being, doing, thinking, seeming and appearing. It is hyper aware of how we look, how people respond to us, what people say and think and is constantly concerned about us being judged. When this is our dominant expression in life we miss having true connections. We are busy judging others because we are worried about being judged ourselves. We miss seeing people for who they are and we sadly miss out on the beauty and intimacy of being vulnerable. This is still the downside of egos; an upside though would be that in it’s awareness of others, we get inspired. The ego sees things in the world that can motivate us, inspire us, drive us. We may see someone we admire and realize we want to be a bit like them or have what they have or enjoy a similar experience. So the ego has the ability to show us ways we may want to expand. Where it goes sideways is when we start judging ourselves for being less than or not enough. And that serves no one, ever.
Egos are not only in the head, they are more of a left-brained function as opposed to the right. The left brain is the part of our brain that thinks linearly. It is concerned with the future and the past and it analyzes everything! It looks at all of the details and will rehash a story, thought or conversation over and over again, looking for any nuance or hint of anything that might have been missed. It will try at all times to read between the lines. The right brain, however, is more associated with our hearts. It is the part of the brain that is able to be in the present moment, loving all that is, feeling a sense of oneness and beauty in all things. The right brain is unattached to outcomes, trusting in the simple nature of being and can see the divine in everything.
Here’s a good way to understand and work with your own Ego…Imagine yourself- at the very center of you is your heart, your core, your divine essence. See this as a sphere in the center of your body. This part of you is the calm, wise-being, able to live in the present moment. It is the part of you that is non-reactive; the part that can observe without judgement and expectation. The part that can choose consciously how you want to be in every moment. Now imagine around this center is another sphere, surrounding the body like a shield, although a somewhat fragile shield. This is the layer and ring of your Ego. I like to think of the Ego as our first line of defense. Whenever something comes at us, the Ego is the first to respond. It is the first to be aware of whatever it may be. The Ego is reactive and reacts from subconscious patterns we developed or learned many years ago. The bigger our egos, the bigger we react and the longer we hold an indifference.
For example, if someone says something that is unkind or offensive to us, those words hit the outer layer of our Ego then have to travel all of the way through that sphere to reach our core, where we are able to look only with love. We hold no ill will towards others and we immediately forgive a transgression when we are in our heart. We intuitively know that they are coming from a hurt place, their own ego, a place of fear or feeling unsafe. We know in our heart not to take things personally. So when our egos are big, it takes longer for those words to reach our core. And when we aren’t reacting from our core we may hurt back. We may talk about the transgression to others, we may get angry and hold resentment inside, we may lash out to the nearest person. Those reactions come from patterns we learned and are not really who we are at our core. The true nature of us is divine. It will always be. This goes for us and everyone else.
Jill Bolte Taylor is famous for her work as a neuroanatomist and having a stroke in her early 30s. Not only did she study the brain, she got to witness and study her own brain as it was suffering through a hemorrhage. If you haven’t read her book I highly recommend it My Stroke of Insight. One of the things she shares in the book is something she now calls the 90 Second Rule: When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop. That is, something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. It takes less than 90 seconds for those chemicals to totally flush out of the body .This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away. After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again. Dr. Taylor herself made the decision to maintain the dominance of the right brain in areas in which it performs better than the left brain.
So you may not think you have control over your ego, and really for 90 seconds you kind of don’t. You will naturally react to an offense, have a chemical response in your brain, yet after that you have a choice. You can stay in the loop of the ego mind and keep reacting or you can choose to move into your heart and be in a place of love. I had a friend tell me once that when he was struggling with judgement or feeling judged, he would go stand in the mirror and have a conversation with his ego. I had another friend who joked that he would check his ego at the door whenever he was in the company of others. For me, meditation has been key to accessing the inner divine guidance, the heart of being, that calm center within. When we practice meditation we cultivate the observer within, we learn to look at life without judgement and we become less and less reactive. A meditation practice allows us to be in the right brain more. When we meditate we access the right brain, we become present in the moment and the more we do it the easier it is to get there.
I can imagine us all as a bunch of bubbles floating, dancing, moving around this universe, bumping up against one another, hoping not to get shattered. I can see us desiring to simply share the beauty and colorful nature of who we are, while appreciating the same in others. The larger the sphere of our ego, the more delicate and subject to bursting. The smaller and more contained sphere of our ego, the easier it is to take a bump and keep floating.
If you ever watch a child playing with bubbles, it’s always the largest bubbles in their vulnerability that pop first. It is the smaller bubbles in their vulnerability that connect and hold one onto another….