Over and over, we experience the rise and fall of our egos. We ride the wave of superficial elation from being hailed as talented, superior, better, or more – only to experience the fall from glory as we are ignored, forgotten, and perhaps even insulted. Distracted by our thirsty egos, we fail at executing our roles within society with selflessness and, as a result, society crumbles under the weight of these elaborately constructed mental burdens. How do we escape this all-consuming wave of destruction inflicted by our very own egos, knowing that we can never be fully accepted or liked by everyone? How do we prevent the inflation of our egos in times of prosperity and cushion ourselves from the likely blows as different people interpret our “failures” and “successes” in different ways?
To accurately define ego it is necessary to look at what ego is not. Ego is not to be confused with self-confidence and self-respect. Ego comes about from comparison with others. Self-confidence and self-respect are independent of others; it is valuing yourself for yourself and without the need to compare yourself to anyone or put anyone else down. It is a positive feeling and is a necessary trait for both worldly and spiritual success. Therefore, for a full solution, we will need to keep our self-respect and self-confidence intact while diminishing our egos. Sounds tricky, doesn’t it?
The ego can be a player in two scenarios: One in which we are overly smitten with ourselves and our accomplishments or forms and feel superior to others, and the other is when we feel less than others, or broken, and dejected – our egos are hurt, and this pushes us into despair and even depression. Both are manifestations of ego that arise from an attachment to those things that are not our true Selves. These two manifestations of ego are not usually mutually exclusive in individuals; a person can dart between the two, some staying in one scenario more than others. Even the most pompous among us seek the endorsement of others and feel dejected when we do not receive it unequivocally, leaving us vacillating between the two scenarios constantly. When we follow our ego without discrimination, our paths are littered with pitfalls, and our minds are pulled towards manifestations of a false and temporary world – a world that depends on comparisons which are created within our minds.
To cast off the heavy cloak of our egos, we must acknowledge that we are not our bodies; we are not our careers; we are not our progeny; we are not our accomplishments – we are our Spirits. The rest are all temporary manifestations and, therefore, not true because truth is that which is permanent. I was a Perumal (my maiden surname), and then my name changed – but I did not cease to be; I was an engineer, and then I left work to be a mum – but I did not cease to be. I am a mum, and oneday my children will go off to make their own lives – but I shall not cease to be. I am the owner of this project, and if this project fails – I shall not cease to be. I am my body, but my body too will perish in death, and still I shall not cease to be. These are not what I am. These are merely names, forms, and roles. It is easy to say this in theory, but we often still associate ourselves with these things and, like heavy anchors, they weigh us down and keep us from swimming in an ocean of freedom and bliss – which can only be experienced when we acknowledge that we are complete and whole outside of all of these things. If we have accumulated or achieved much in a worldly sense, then we may become possessive, always thinking of how to maintain the facade of moreness; or we may become greedy, wondering how to accumulate even more to compete in our new social class. If we don’t have or have failed to achieve or receive, we are often anxiously obsessing over how to gain or regain respect, roles, relationships, or objects. And the cycle is endless. For peace, for true-fullness and satisfaction, we must break the cycle by breaking our association with these superficial definitions of ourselves. When our egos are in a slump, we must remind ourselves that our true Selves are not affected by the storms of the world; our true selves remain unscathed and perfect.
Contemplation: Contemplate on the impermanence of all the worldly things, positions, and titles on which we focus. Recognise that we are not our titles, positions, bodies, or names, as these are temporary manifestations and are not a part of our true-Selves.
Meditate on your Spirit, which is your real and eternal identity.
Ego arises from a sense of separation from God and others – in truth, we are all inextricably connected. To appreciate our connection, each of us has to acknowledge that we are all created by God, connected to God, and therefore connected through God. All others are also Spirit, and we should keep this truth in our awareness, not placing unnecessary importance on name, appearance, role, and position. This remains true regardless of differences in outward appearance, roles, or names. The scriptures of the Hindu religion are the Vedas, from which come the Upanishads. The Upanishads teach us that variety, and multiplicity is but a delusion caused by circumstances. The soul/spirit (or atma) is a fragment of God Himself and all are unified by this commonality. If we truly accept this, competitiveness will dwindle and fade, and we will begin to experience a sense of love and unity with all. By constantly reminding ourselves of this, it could enable us to let go of our egos and experience the true and lasting peace of oneness.
Contemplation: Contemplate that all others emerge from the same source and are constituted of the same stuff (both physically and spiritually). Acknowledge that all others are equally deserving of God’s love and grace based on this.
Meditation: Imagine a light within yourself. This light is your spirit, it is loving, it is joyous, and it is beautiful. Imagine this same light in your family members and friends. Now imagine this light in all others, in all parts of the world. Let the light within each of you grow till all the lights merge into one. Meditate on the oneness that you experience, as if you are everyone, and everyone is you. All are your limbs, and all are your eyes.
Activity: Serve those that are not in your family or social circle. See the goodness in these people: by acknowledging that other mothers/fathers love their children as much as you do yours, by seeing other children as your own, by breaking down the social barriers created in your mind through years of brainwashing, and acknowledging that all people, whether underprivileged, elderly, sickly, people of different religions, races, genders or social classes are all more like you than you previously took the time to appreciate. By serving these people in whatever way you can, however small, you can connect with them on a human to human level, and they can bless you with the appreciation of our inherent connection and oneness and broaden your ability to love all.
Jesus gives us another clue to overcoming our egos.
Mathew 16, verses 24 to 26 states:
“24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? “
Here, Jesus asks us to deny ourselves – which is, in my interpretation, a request for us to deny our egos. He then expands on this by asking us to forsake the world with its fleeting trophies, to take up a spiritual path, a path with a focus on God and our souls, because there is nothing that this world can give us that is of more value than our Spirits. Let us look closely at Jesus’ words, “…whoever loses their life for me will find it.”. The words, “for me,” indicate that the process of pushing out the world is to be performed with the intention of having God fill the void that the world will then leave. This could be the next clue to ridding ourselves of our egos – fill ourselves up with thoughts of God, and our egos will be pushed out.
Of course, we need that which we need to sustain our bodies, and God is not asking us to neglect ourselves or our duties when asking us to push out the world – but Jesus is referring here to the theatre of our minds and where our focus lies. The exaggerated focus on the body and its various roles in the world can distract us from God and our true and most pressing purpose. God accepts us as we are, He alone understands us, He forgives us for our errors – His love is truly unconditional and the only worthy love that can fill the void when we grow weary with the world and its temporary treats.
However, another egocentric pitfall lurks around the corner of even this solution, one that we must be wary of – the spiritual ego. When we do see benefit from focusing on God and start to have spiritual experiences, it must not then fill us with a sense of superiority – this will surely stop the progress that we were making.
Meditation: Breathe in and out deeply. With each deep breath in imagine God’s loving energy flow into you. With each breath out, feel your ego shrink. As more space is being made for God by expelling your ego with your breath, feel God infusing every cell of your being.
We know that it is God that gives us the energy, the life-force (known as Prana in Hinduism) to perform all our actions. It is God that gifts us with skills, talents, and abilities to perform these actions well. It is also God that enables us to “enjoy” the fruits of those actions. When starting new projects or engaging in your current ventures and tasks, have confidence in God’s ability and not your own. By doing this, you immediately shift the ego off yourself and onto God, turning your work into an act of recognition of God’s greatness – an act of worship. All good work can then be instruments of spiritual growth. This radical change in mindset could become more natural to you if you spend some time tuning into God to receive inspiration for your work. If it is not that kind of work, you can also pray to God to give you wisdom and strength to perform a high standard of work, with a spirit of gratitude for the opportunity to serve society. In this way, you can make the shift from thinking that you are the doer, to God is the doer, much easier.
Prayer: Dear Lord, please guide my steps in this project. Please inspire my thoughts, words, and actions so that they are in-line with Your own. Help me to be an instrument of Your will. Dearest Lord, thank You for guiding me thus far, like a lamp unto my feet. Lord, please give me the strength and wisdom to put the best-efforts into this work, and thereafter Lord, please take the results of this work – they are Yours . Lord, as You decide on the outcome, please give me the strength and wisdom to accept whatever that outcome is. I am Yours.
To lose attachment to our failures and successes, and free ourselves from the ego, it is effective to see all results as decisions of God. This means that in times when the odds seem to be in our favour, and we are on an upward trajectory in some sphere of our lives, we keep reminding ourselves that it is only through Gods grace that we see success, and not because we are better than others, or specially selected (we are all ultimately, equal and perfect), but because this assigned path is what is best for our development at this time and for the development of those in our spheres. We should also recognise that God can also take away as easily as He has given to us.
All results, positive or negative, are assigned to God and His will. Of course, we put in our best efforts to make sure that His will is realised in His time and then allow Him to choose what is best for all.
Sometimes though, best does not seem best for us, it may even seem worst. But we know we cannot view the future or the past; we have only a limited vision of the current scope or situation, and our “best” option may be a short-sighted one. When we fail, like with success, we know this may merely be the best route for our growth or an indication of whether our efforts were adequate and if more is required from you. Either way, “failure” is not something that should weigh heavily on us. It is a momentary and fleeting experience and should be judged with the indifference that we judge other life experiences. Easier said than done – I know. But when we can do this, we will free ourselves from “failure” altogether.
Whether it is success or failure that is the result, when we experience a sense of surrender in our worldly prospects (again, this does not mean no hard work – effort is part of our contract in this deal), then there will be less room for our egos to frolic in.
Contemplation: Contemplate on giving gratitude to God for all past results, whether successful or not. Thank God for the opportunities to be a part of these processes as well as the opportunities to learn, and benefit from them. Surrender all present and future works to God. Ask for strength and wisdom to accomplish any unfulfilled tasks, if it is His will for you to do so. Ask for God to take the burden of the results of the tasks onto His shoulders. Ask God for strength should the results of these processes be negative. Give up worrying about the results henceforth. If worry comes back, then repeat the contemplation.
By banishing the perception that pride and defeat arise from the results of our worldly endeavours, we can redefine the concept of success in our lives so that we no longer gauge our success based on the measurements of others in the world, but rather by the peace and joy we experience from within ourselves, and from the closeness we feel to God. This is the truest measure of success in this world and beyond.
Contemplation: Evaluate your levels of joy and peace. If you are not as joyful and peaceful as you would like to be, give-up the expectation that worldly events, achievements, or possessions will bring you this peace and joy. Rather devote more time to refining your mental stillness, your purity, and your connection with God and His creation. Go through the exercises in this book and other spiritual and religious guides with dedication to help you achieve the levels of peace and happiness that you desire.
Let the successes, achievements, and possessions acquired thus far be a reminder and indication of God’s immense and unconditional love for us and not a mental congratulations to our own ego’s, or our own efforts, then this shift in focus can allow even the enjoyment of these things to become a positive action of worship instead of a tribute to our egos. This small change in mindset could turn even the regular into the auspicious – terms and conditions probably do apply.
Contemplation: As you go about your day (or night), give thanks to God for the opportunity to have all your experiences, possessions, people, and roles. Contemplate on everything to be as a result of God’s grace and love.
And lastly, don’t take yourself so seriously. Be that guy that trips and falls and then laughs at himself. Shrug off that heavy burden of your ego and walk about lightly and joyously.
I have been fortunate to experience some great blows to my ego in the last short while, and these have been some of the most valuable lessons of my life. Now, it would be dishonest of me to pretend that this has been an easy process for me. Be that as it may, I know the uncomfortable situations have been necessary for my growth – a time to evaluate my weaknesses, face my desires, and those things that may distract me from my most righteous path so that I can walk towards the light of wisdom with greater speed. Indeed it is only at those times that I manage to resist the pull of my ego that I have access to the joy that springs from deep within me.
So my 7 stroke plan to abolish the ego is summarised as follows:
- Recognise that we are Spirit and not our titles, positions, bodies, or names. These are temporary and not a part of our true-Selves.
- Acknowledge that all others are also Spirit, emerging from the same source and constituted of the same stuff – equal and equally deserving of God’s love. Do not compete with your brothers and sisters.
- Have confidence in God’s abilities instead of your own. Acknowledge Him as the power, inspiration, and energy behind all noble efforts.
- Place little importance on the mirages of the world and focus our attention on attaining that which is most valuable – communion with God.
- Assign all results to God. Do not take credit for success or blame for failure. But do seek to learn from these experiences and better yourself.
- Redefine success. See success as a measure of joy and peace.
- See all that we have as a result of God’s grace and love and remove ourselves from the equation so that our ego is not artificially inflated.
Jesus is the model of egolessness as He sacrificed all when He was very publicly humiliated, violently abused, and crucified for the good of humanity. Let us learn from His example and drop our “I”ness to develop selflessness and act for the common good.