One of the most powerful ways to change your life is to step back from your ego. A few weeks ago I wrote about how You Are Not Your Ego, and this topic is such a vital part of improving your life that I’m feeling compelled to elaborate.
What is Ego?
If you are wondering What is Ego? then you are in for a real treat. Learning about ego is the first step towards freeing yourself from its control. The process is similar to waking up and realizing you’ve been asleep. For a serious crash course in ego (and how to free yourself from it) read Awareness or Power of Now—both are excellent life-changing books.
The short version is this: there is you, and there is also your ego, and you are not the same as your ego. You are not your thoughts, your identity, or your life story. You are the awareness behind the thoughts, the one that has the ability to observe the thinker. This distinction has the power to change your whole life.
In our house, we refer to ego as “Head” because it is so closely related to many of the thoughts we have (the constant dialogue in our heads). And by observing thoughts, one can learn a lot about ego. Many of the emotions we experience, especially the negatives ones like anger or anxiety, are the result of thoughts we have. As we observe events in our daily lives, we interpret them in our minds, and our interpretations do not always accurately reflect reality. We often misjudge the actions, motives, or thoughts of other people. We also spend much of our time “lost in our heads” as we think about the past or future while missing the present moment. When we split ourselves in this way, when our bodies are here in the now while our mind is in the past or future, we open the gateways for many negative emotions, such as regret or fear.
Thus, our ego/thoughts/Head is often the cause of our suffering. Head is easily offended, and when facing a disagreement, Head likes to be right and it wants to win, and it often prefers “winning” over harmony. Head may try to control others because Head likes things to be a certain way, and Head tends to think that its way is quite certainly the best way. At its best, Head may manifest as pride, but at its worst, ego is the cause of nearly all the violence and suffering that exists in our world.
Yet there is no doubt that our ego seems to be a natural part of life. Early in our childhood we begin to understand ourselves as separate individuals, and this process of developing our ego continues dramatically into our adolescence. As adults, we continue to revise and develop our sense of self. Yet our tendency is to identify so strongly with this identity we’ve constructed that we forget our true nature. The challenge is to reconnect with our core – the awareness that is present when we step back from our ego.
Life is better when your ego is not in charge. Here are some reasons why:
The Present Moment
One of the most significant changes that takes place when you step back from your ego is that you experience the present moment more often. By learning how to observe your thoughts instead of identifying with them, you also learn to observe everything else. You’ll be more aware of your surroundings; more things will surprise you that you never noticed before. Even the same walk you take every day can feel fresh and new when you aren’t experiencing the cached version in your head.
More Peace/Fewer Arguments
When you are aware of ego’s agenda, you are less likely to identify with it. If you have a thought that causes you to feel angry, you can learn to just observe the reaction almost as if it were happening to someone else. You still feel the anger, but you will be less likely to act on if you realize it is your ego that feels wounded. By learning to step back from your ego, you’ll find you have fewer arguments with family and friends. You will also notice when others are acting through ego.
Make Good Decisions
When you step back from your ego, you will make better decisions in your life. You’ll find that your choices will be based on what ultimately matters to you, what you value on a deeper level, and not just the superficial whims of your ego identity. Ego has a tendency to value things like status, material gain, and image. When you are not ruled by your ego, peace, love, and sharing are more likely to become priorities.
More Happiness/Improved Moods
When you no longer identify with every thought in your head, they do not have as much of an affect on you. You can experience your thoughts and the emotions they trigger much like the weather, something that is always changing that you don’t really have control of. To learn more about this concept, read You Can Be Happy No Matter What, an excellent book on how thoughts affect our mood.
When you free yourself from the grip of your ego, you’ll realize how many things you were doing just to please your ego, and you may decide to stop doing some of those things. You’ll also care less about what people think of you. You’ll notice when others are acting through ego and trying to control you, but you aren’t easily manipulated when you are aware of what is happening. When you stop identifying with your ego, you can finally relax and just be yourself.