Friday, February 15, 2008

The Philosophy of the Ego


We’ve all got one...whether you want to admit it or not.

For some it makes us competitive, always striving to be first, to be better than the person next to us, to go farther, faster, longer. For others, it drives the inability to say no, always volunteering for the next thing in hopes of praise and complements. And it contributes to the martyr syndrome, the one who continually feels they have to sacrifice their time because, tsk!, no one else can do it. It manifests itself in so many different ways: subtle, direct, altruistic, sidling, big and bold or manipulative and quiet.

As I grew in inner awareness, I began to be aware of my ego. I know it lies underneath the surface of my being, much like a shark under the brilliantly calm blue waters of the Caribbean. It glides around below the edge where water meets the sky. Meanwhile, my essence, my consciousness, floats upon the surface, happily dozing or interacting with other members in my flock of birds, when suddenly there is an upward explosion of water droplets, calmness shattered, feathers flying everywhere and with a giant SPLOOSH my ego is gone again, leaving behind waves that turn to ripples then calmness, and maybe, if I’ve been particularly unlucky, one less member in the flock.

Much is often said of the Ego in yogic philosophy and Buddihist Dharma talks. Often the ego is discussed in terms of "removing" it, or "suppressing the ego" and even, "letting go of the ego". I have found I am uncomfortable with these terms and concepts. After all, it’s my ego. Why would I want to remove this part of me any more than one of my limbs?

I forget where I heard this first, but I have carried it with me for several years now: the idea of the ego as a small child. And as you would raise a child: with firmness, discipline, joy and love, so too should you treat your ego. The ego IS your inner child in many ways. When he or she becomes surly and temperamental, give yourself a "time out". This can be as simple as taking a deep breath or as involved as excusing yourself the room or situation. If he or she becomes whiney, demanding, or petulant, step back and ask yourself does this become you? Does this behavior make you a better person? If he or she pushes hard for that finish line, that raise or promotion or business goal, remind yourself to stop and thank those who helped you along they way or wish well those you were competing against.

So when your ego does not become you or serve your better actions and thoughts, take your ego by the hand and firmly tell it that that behavior is not acceptable. If your ego has given you a positive competitive edge, warmly thank it, but don’t let it go to your head! So I say, don’t try and "remove" or "suppress" your ego, draw it to you in a warm embrace and know that it is uniquely yours to care for.

If you are interested in reading more on the philosophy of the ego, try this link:

Yoga Journal


Brenda Plakans said...

Nice and thorough. I love how a carefully done dog can be so invigorating.

Another thing to think about is the placement of the wrists. The fold of the wrist should be parallel to the edge of your mat so that the inside elbow creases face each other. I was doing some reading on wrists and found a discussion of wrist health that recommended this placement so that the ulna and radius of the lower arm were coming into the joint evenly instead of being crossed. If you do Dog with this in mind you will notice a lot more work in the pecs, and it prevents a locking of the elbows (same goes for plank, up dog, etc.)

Thank you for your careful consideration of my fave pose!

Barbieri said...

There are many things in this life we must unlearn in this exsitance. The ego is not so much part of you, as it is something that has become part of you... A persuasive 'voice' that prevents your true self from seeing past what is front of you, past formation, into the formless. However, one must embrace their ego. Unless you are familiar with it, truly know it, your ego has a power over you that is unbreakable.

heavy hedonist said...

Well said! Nurturing the ego to a state of strength and pliancy is important to me-- getting myself to a place where I can weather hard knocks, take on new projects and assess my own skills truly, but without feeling a need to over-- or under--state them, is a goal.

lee woo said...

The ultimate aim of the ego is not to see something, but to be something. See the link below for more info.