Ego always seems to get a bad rap. It would be great if we felt confident most of the time…without going too far. But then if we go too far in that direction some folks might feel we’re being egotistical. It’s like this fine line between pride and being proud, accomplished verses feeling entitled, lucky or earned, real verses imagined.
It’s a mind game that only mixes and muddies up the reflective waters lapping around inside our heads. I was raised by a generation of folks who truly believed it was wrong to’ feel good about oneself’ and that giving children praise was wrong because it might ‘go to their heads.’ Thus, love, affection, and praise were withheld for the betterment of the child.
Nowadays parents are being accused of being over-indulgent and willing to give awards just for showing up. Recently a losing Super Bowl player couldn’t grasp the concept of losing because ‘he only likes to win.’ Is that ego talking or just an over-inflated self-image propagated by self-serving agents, ESPN, and advertisers?
I think, within reason, they got it all wrong. I now believe that in reality the ego is what allows us to differentiate ourselves from others. On one hand a healthy ego can give you physical boundaries and a sense of worth. But when it’s out of balance, your ego can lead you to define yourself by external qualities and circumstances, like your material goods or physical appearances.
We can’t ‘not’ have an ego. It is a function of consciousness and as such won’t go away. It is a part of who we are…like it or not. Ego allows us to see ourselves separately from others. However, this becomes a problem when we allow ourselves to identify too closely with external aspects of our lives at the expense of our internal, essential self.
It’s when we come to believe that our thoughts, anxieties, success, and failures are who we really are that the problem arises. Those are simply external manifestations of outside forces colliding with our true selves. In short, we have to avoid the trap of self-definition in order for the ego to be of benefit to us. Now tell that to the legion of Hollywood press agents.
Meditation can be a powerful tool to become an observer of your own mind. You then begin to recognize what it is in you that is essential, as opposed to what you’ve acquired through culture or family or as a part of your persona. It means stripping away the veneer, the façade, the trappings of success and the accumulation of material things. What is left is the true you.
Yet it can be difficult to see beyond what is in front of our eyes. A classic example is the young man who thought he had hit a home run (in business or society) when, in fact, he was born on third base. Most folks I know who were born with that proverbial silver spoon have no real idea of what ‘being hungry’ is really all about. Certainly on an intellectual level they can espouse the value of hard work, sacrifice and taking risks. In reality, most wouldn’t be able or want to give up their present status in society or know how to earn it by themselves.
I believe ego allows those accustomed to hard work the confidence to believe that if they work hard, they just might get lucky. They see little to no down side to their daily struggle. It, in fact, defines who they really are.
A healthy ego allows them to balance ego with opportunity, pride with being proud and real verses imagined. It’s a life-long road trip inside our head. As with any journey there are detours, side roads, distractions and almost daily obstacles. It’s recognizing feelings of inadequacy, failure, loss and sadness as the price to pay for living each day to its fullest.
My hope for my grandchildren is a healthy ego tempered by hard reality, caring parents, and perhaps a few words of wisdom from Nana and Papa.
A small price to pay for getting to know and accept the true you.
· Some of the ideas and comments made were inspired from an article by Nora Isaacs which appeared in the March 2014 issue of Yoga Journal Magazine.