ego2I write about the ego and its counterpart True Nature all the time. This is a great question queried recently by Dave, a friend and fellow blogger… Is our ego a friend or an enemy? Shall we settle this once and for all?

This is a complex question and it will come with a complex answer. I have overheard Wayne Dyer tell Oprah on TV once that the ego is not necessary – that there is no need. I totally disagree. Still I am cautious in saying that the ego is our friend… it is not in most cases.

What is the ego? The ego is part of our mental devices that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of our being and the demands of the social and physical environment. . The ego for better or worse thrives on ideals, beliefs and laws that determine a perception of the world and life that is larger than the individual. It becomes the governing force from which we unknowingly base our daily actions.

Ever heard of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? The model describes an imaginary pyramid that begins with physiological needs at its base and aesthetic principles of self-directed growth at its apex. After the satiation of water, food and warmth, humans seek love and safety needs. These requirements are born from a more primitive human existence dating back millions of years. The ego was necessary for the early evolution of humans; competing, breeding and foraging to survive; and it is necessary in the early development of children today. Many of us are born into a world where social Darwinism defines our existence. Though its mechanisms are crude, the ego is an unavoidable social phenomenon that helps trigger survival instincts and stimulate early social evolution.  Now, imagine if a child lives totally alone and isolated from social interaction; he or she will never come to grow an ego. But that is not going to help in human evolution. This child will remain like an animal never progressing or evolving. The ego is basically a bi-product of our social existence.

It was not until more recently – the last 3,000-5,000 years that humans have began searching for self-actualization. This is when modern religion was born and it is when humans began to cross the threshold of a physiological needs based society to an aesthetic needs based society.  Still, the ego remains rooted into our mind facilities growing and maturing as we progress into adulthood. The ego becomes this borderless entity that is so interwoven into the fabric of our minds we do not even realize its influence. . It is a complex array of sources that feeds an ego: From the unattainable benchmark set by celebrities to the materialistic urges brought forth by our peers and the advertising we are inundated with daily. It deals with social acceptance in communal arenas and the moral and mainstream pressures of life. In the “material world” the ego unknowingly gains power from these sources and we as malleable creatures inherit control patterns which subconsciously dictate our actions and reactions in life. Control patterns are subliminal hard-wired urges and intentions that are controlled by the ego and facilitate and reinforce the emotions of fear, anger, jealousy and low self-worth, many times unknowingly.

So what was once a crude but necessary friend in early development becomes this complex false-self that feeds on the infinite variables and situations that society yields. Still, without the ego, how would we know what is a balanced and unbalanced existence? How are we to know what our True Nature is without already knowing the extreme opposites of self-gratified bliss and suffering?  We need to have a matrix in place that takes in consideration all facets: bliss as it relates to our false-self, suffering as it relates to our false-self and this elusive middle ground called enlightenment. When we are born, society hands us our ego. True the ego is not found in the womb – the ego is manmade and in order to socially evolve it is a necessary function in our lives. It is true that most Buddhists would contend that the ego is not a part of us – it is merely a distortion. Still, even distortions are tangible evidence of who we are. When we look in a mirror, that image may be a distortion of our true self – a mirrored copy that is not real, but still it is rather difficult to deny that this image is not us.

The concept of an ego is in itself a yardstick in societal evolution. Whether we need the ego or not is really not the point – the ego exists whether we like it or not. The focus is not to say we do not need the ego but to acknowledge that it exists and then separate its facilities within our mind – make space for it so that when thoughts and emotions arise we can distinguish which ones are proactive to our evolution and development and which ones are merely there to create false-self and ultimately suffering. We cannot deny the ego but must find awareness for its power – the ego helped build a crude but necessary foundation in our human evolution. Now in the search for enlightenment, the key is to limit its authority and power so that true authentic empowerment can arise from within.

John C. Bader

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