By : Nikki Savage
So often I hear people talking about ridding themselves of their ego, as if it is not an inseparable piece of who we are. We are told by many that the ego is bad and we need to shut it down. Then we hear messages about a “healthy ego” and wonder if we heard wrong when we were told we should ditch it. It is confusing. So what’s the deal with the ego?
My studies of Ayurveda have given me some personal clarity on the subject. The Vedic philosophies tell the story of the evolution of man from subtle to gross and then the involution of man to reconnect to his/her subtle nature. When seen through the Ayurvedic lens, I feel the ego is more clearly understood. The following is my breakdown of what I have studied.
In the beginning there was just consciousness without awareness (God, The Force, insert whatever name you have given the be-all-end-all of life). This consciousness is without awareness because it was all there was, so there was nothing else to be aware of. No separation, no division, just pure consciousness.
At some point, awareness was born. I like to think of the infinity symbol (like an eight) and believe at some point consciousness folded upon itself and in the friction of that touch there was a vibration born. This created the first division that allowed consciousness to be aware of itself. In the ancient texts, this vibration was Aum (or Amen – the word of God). While still very subtle in nature, the first gross aspect (Prakriti or primordial matter) was realized and the union of the primordial energy and this matter became Mahat (universal intelligence, Holy Spirit). The flow of this intelligence is called Prana. Mahat, when realized on an individual level, is what is called the Buddhi. This would be the state of being attained when we are consciously aware of life without any attachment to it, just witnessing. We can access this space but we cannot live there and maintain the experience.
Below Mahat and Buddhi is Ahamkara. This is the ego. It is the birth of self. It literally translates to “I am”. This is where individuation truly begins. This is where the “I” becomes the center which has to mean our boundaries have been defined. After all, there can be no center found if our edges are not established. Since this is a universal principle, all that is created must have an ego. We are then part of a collective ego of the Earth and, in our individuation, we also have an ego of our own.
Life breaks down further into all of the universal attributes: the mind, the elements, the forces, senses and body. But for this post, we are really just concerned with the ego. It is the ego that makes us our own individual being. It is the ego that gives us our identity. Without the ego, we have no earthly experience. So by my understanding, we cannot rightly seek to rid ourselves of the ego. If we did, the experience would have to end.
So then what’s the deal with all the down talking on the ego? I believe, it is when we seek to define our experience solely through our individual ego and limit ourselves by believing our perspective is the only true perspective that we get into trouble. When we have no regard for the collective and universal principles that we are born from and possess within, and believe the collective experience should just a mirror our own individual view. This is where we falter and limit our experience by isolating it.
The ego is the process of differentiating us from the rest of the universe, but it is not a separation from the universe. All that ever was is still within us. The ego just fixes us in time and space, gives the subtle frame for the body to form around. It is what allows us to experience this place. So just as the body is the temporary vehicle that allows us to explore the world, the ego is the temporary vehicle to explore the universe. The problem is when we get entrapped within our earthly egos, when we have allowed them to become larger than life. Above our egos, we realize we, as individuals are just a drop in the cosmos but we, as part of the cosmos, are boundless.
So we need to nurture the ego, not beat it up. We need to feed it in healthy ways to establish ourselves within the context of our experience. We need to allow the ego to be rigid enough to maintain our personal integrity and to prevent another from diminishing our experience. But still soft enough to understand, at the core, all life is one.
This is my understanding of the ego. And I am hoping others may share their understanding with the community. We all have unique perspectives. What is yours?
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