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LATEST DIALOGUES There’s No Such Thing as Ego

Photo by Thachhan

Photo by Thachhan

I don’t have an ego. And nor do you.

That doesn’t mean you and I don’t get caught up in egocentric thinking and behavior, but that we are mistaken in thinking of the ego as some separate individual self, some “thing” in the mind.

When I observe my own mind, I notice there is an ever-present sense of “I-ness”. This has been there all my life, and has not changed. The feeling of being “me” is the same feeling I had when I was ten years old. My thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, attitude, character, personality, roles, desires, needs, and beliefs may have changed considerably over the years, but the sense of “I” has not.

I do not find a separate ego, another “self” that sometimes takes over. What I find instead are various patterns of thinking that condition how I decide and act. At times, I may feel fearful or judgmental, and I may behave in ways that are manipulative or self-protective. I may think that if I could just have things be a particularly way I would be happy. I may feel insecure and want attention from others, seeking to feel important. I may draw a sense of identity from my social status, the roles I play, my character, or my lifestyle. And when this is challenged in some way, I may try to defend and reinforce this constructed sense of identity.

In each case, past experiences and conditioning create beliefs, attitudes, needs, desires, and aversions. These become the lens through which I see my world, affecting how I interpret my experience, the thoughts that arise in my mind, and a whole set of stories about what to say or do, in order to get what I think will bring make me feel better. However, the “I” that is interpreting and thinking is the same “I” that is always there. But its attention has become engrossed in some or other “egoic” pattern of thinking, leading to correspondingly egocentric decisions and actions.

What we call the ego is not another separate self. It is as a mode of being that can dominate our thinking, decisions, speech, and actions, leading us to behave in ways that are uncaring, self-centered, or manipulative.
Our exploration of ego would be more fruitful if we stopped using the word as a noun, which immediately implies some “thing”, and instead thought of ego as a mental processes that can occupy our attention. For this a verb is a more appropriate part of speech. I am “ego-ing”.

The difference is subtle, but very important. If I see the ego as a separate self, some thing, then it is easy to fall into the belief—common in many spiritual circles—that I must get rid of my ego, transcend it, or overcome it in some way. But seeing ego as a mental process, a system of thinking that I get caught in, suggests that I need to step out of that mode of thinking—to look at the world through a different lens, one less tainted by fear, insecurity and attachment.

This is a much easier and more effective approach. When I notice myself caught up in egoic thinking, rather than berating myself (or my imagined ego), I can notice what is going on and step back from it. This doesn’t mean I have eliminated that way of thinking. It will surely return. And when it does, I can choose to step out of it again. Transcending the ego thus becomes an ongoing practice rather than a far-off goal.


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Peter Russell is a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, of The World Business Academy and of The Findhorn Foundation, and an Honorary Member of The Club of Budapest. At Cambridge University (UK), he studied mathematics and theoretical physics. Then, as he became increasingly fascinated by the mysteries of the human mind he changed to experimental psychology. Pursuing this interest, he traveled to India to study meditation and eastern philosophy, and on his return took up the first research post ever offered in Britain on the psychology of meditation. He has written several books in this area -- "The TM Technique," "The Upanishads," "The Brain Book," "The Global Brain Awakens," "The Creative Manager," "The Consciousness Revolution," "Waking Up in Time," and "From Science to God".

3 Responses to “There’s No Such Thing as Ego”

  1. September 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm, Colleen Dunn Saftler said:

    Re: ego-ing. I have found myself drawn to the “ing” form of verbs: being, having, doing, because they seem to connote “in the action of.” If we are to “Be here now”, it seems “be” is a single point in time, when in fact if we are “being” in the moment, it is a ceaseless continuum, as duality morphs into Oneness and back again continually, as the infinity symbol demonstrates. It feels as if “Be” implies static, while “ing” implies ongoing, and as infinite, eternal beings, part of Source, physically part of all that is, we are liv”ing” in each moment. Its just something that jumped out at me from the above as a course of thought to add interest to our journey.

  2. September 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm, Flugel Horn said:

    W.C Ellerbroek, author of Language, Thought, & Disease, appearing in Co-Evolution Quarterly in 1978 suggested referring to diseases in verb rather than noun form. The implication then switches from a disease being a “thing” to being a “process”. Diseases seen as “things” are generally thought to require the intervention of a physician, or drugs, or fate. When a disease is seen as a process, something in which you are either participating, or have created and are sustaining, you are awakened to the possibility that you may ultimately be in control. If you have been colding, measling, or cancering, you may develop insight into how to “stop doing that”.

  3. October 05, 2014 at 7:57 pm, Chip said:

    Been seeking a general systems theory compliant perspective. Ego appears to be what is wrapped up in symbols and the self a composition that includes memory of sensory experiences that are more first-hand observation. Ego is a top-down fixed hierarchical structure while self is something that continuously scans base data to reckon steerage of our multicellular selves. The self seeks to be a sustaining steersman. Seems the hippocampus is involved like a search engine that seeks references to symbolic data. Observed probability distributions of symbol reckoning have a relatively unpredictable set of probabilities of state transitions. Inter-cortex processing appears to approach ergodicity where Shannon’s entropy or syntropy can be maximized by sustaining equitable co-respecting behavior. Direct experienced sensory data is stored there without symbols.

    Ego considers itself a member of one or more factions, rarely acknowledging an allegiance to humanity. The second-order cybernetic assumptions hold sway as chief steerage considerations. Consider that proper nouns, words capitalized in the midst of a sentence, are often a codification of personal bias. Even your own name can serve to blind one from their humanity, our humanity, the self. That is a big recognition that is pertinent to any form of a functional paradigm shift that we so desperately need. The self can sustain. Ego is often suicidal and homicidal. We’ll need an unprecedented, rapid improvement in our information handling technology if we are to survive the information explosion. Governance of, by and for symbols rather than living beings is terminally dysfunctional.

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