By Kyle Brooks
In a simple sense, we can understand the ego as a function of the mind that creates an image of ourselves from our experiences in order to interact with the world. This is a normal function, and in many ways, it is necessary to exist as a human being. Our situation then, provided we wish to continue to function as humans, concerns having a healthy ego or an unhealthy one. Maybe there will always be a self-image, but is that image fluid, basically transparent, adaptable to change, never holding to the past or resisting things that don’t fit with it? Is it able to die as each experience passes and be born again, totally anew, in response and not in reaction to the current situation? Or is it frequently feeling “jarred” or at odds with what’s happening? Are we carrying around the same set of ideas, expectations, or resentments and projecting them onto each new situation we encounter?
What Is a Healthy Ego?
A fluid, adaptable, transparent self-image is possible when the experience of our “self” is rooted more deeply than the transient layer of images and conditioned reactions to events. The sense of rootedness in presence allows the surface level to be more fluid, more adaptable, because we don’t invest in it, i.e., not drawing our sense of safety, security, meaning, and existence from a mere image. So as far as self-images go, we can speak of a healthy one when there is a fluid expression of our presence, operating in alignment with the values and understandings that arise from that presence and dance in harmony with the situation. It’s also when our attention is not pulled from a full, direct experience of the moment and into abstract thoughts, images, and narratives about or against the moment.
What Is an Unhealthy Ego?
In contrast, an unhealthy ego has the opposite tendency. It’s carrying a sense of self from situation to situation, either subtly or grossly asserting our self-concept onto whatever is happening. Living in this unhealthy expression of “ego,” we try to etch out a piece of the illimitable vista of life’s experiences. We attempt to create an island of “me,” a concrete self-definition. We seem to do this to create a sense of safety, of familiarity, a fortress to protect us from the great unknown and the “other” that life appears as, to the ego. While this mechanism is understandable from its perspective, it unfortunately and often unconsciously puts us at odds with the world. Everyone and everything becomes opposite, different, or other; becomes subtly or overtly threatening. Then, we inevitably fall into needing the situation to be a certain way to feel okay. Thus, we unwittingly give rise to the consciousness of victimhood.
However, if there is enough clarity of awareness or humility in such a moment, maybe we stand a chance of seeing through the ego game’s sham. Perhaps we take the opportunity to meet the situation from our innate openness rather than our contracted control drama.
Questions for Contemplation
So, with all honesty and pretense aside, how are we relating to our experience? Is there a fear of being seen or a sense of anxiety about the outcome of certain situations that draws us into attempting to show specific sides of ourselves while hiding others? Or do we lean more in the direction of an openness that allows the free flow of spontaneous interaction with events as they arise in real-time? Do we worry about how other people might receive us? Or are we simply curious to meet, receive, and share with the various beings with whom we interact? Is our attention primarily drawn towards or preoccupied with our self-image? Or are we simply resting and available to life?
What can we do practically? Is there a way to become more self-aware at the personal level? Can we way to “show up” to the dance of life, to experience, and more clearly perceive the mechanics that drive our behaviors? Do we already know how to lessen the disturbance or distortion caused by our conditioning and stabilize the potential of freedom, of naturalness?
Maybe we do. Maybe being interested and willing is a good starting place.
I invite you to contemplate some words from I Am by Jean Klein:
“It is only through silent awareness that our physical and mental nature can change. This change is completely spontaneous. If we make an effort to change, we do no more than shift our attention from one level, from one thing to another. We remain in a vicious circle. This only transfers energy from one point to another. It still leaves us oscillating between suffering and pleasure, each leading inevitably back to the other. Only living stillness, stillness without someone trying to be still, is capable of undoing the conditioning our biological, emotional and psychological nature has undergone. There is no controller, no selector, no personality making choices. In choiceless living the situation is given the freedom to unfold. You do not grasp one aspect over another, for there is nobody to grasp. When you understand something and live it without being stuck to the formulation, what you have understood dissolves in your openness. In this silence change takes place of its own accord, the problem is resolved and duality ends. You are left in your glory where no one has understood and nothing has been understood.”
Kyle is a Hridaya Yoga teacher serving at our center in Mexico. If you’ve done a 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, you can explore the themes discussed here by joining him and Luna Cabasés Corral for the Hridaya Retreat Integration Course starting April 3, 2021.