What’s the ego in a spiritual context?

I rarely use the word ego in a spiritual context for a few different reasons. It can be confused with how we use the word in a psychological context. It can be taken as something solid and an object. And it can bring associations to something we need to get rid of – since that’s how it’s sometimes talked about.

These ego dynamics are the dynamics that happen when we hold a thought as true and identify with the viewpoint of the thought. This creates a sense of I and other, with an ultimate truth in it. And all of this can happen more or less consciously.

These dynamics are understandable, natural, and innocent, and they come from the desire to protect the separate self. They are something to understand and befriend and find love for.

Awakening is not incompatible with these dynamics. They may not currently be so active, and we may not identify so strongly with the ones that are, and this opens for the possibility to notice what we are.

When we notice what we are, we can notice that these dynamics have the same true nature as ourselves. This helps shift our relationship with them, and it also opens up the metaphorical space for these dynamics to realign with reality and oneness and find a deep transformation that way.

IN MORE DETAIL

I’ll go into a bit more detail on these topics, although not too much since I have addressed this in several other articles.

The word is used differently in psychology and spirituality

First, it’s important to differentiate how the word is used in psychology and spirituality.

The psychological ego refers to the operating system for this human self. We need it to function, and it’s important to help it be as healthy, resilient, and well functioning as possible.

Ego used in a spiritual context refers to separation consciousness. This is a certain dynamic that happens when we identify with the viewpoint of a story and hold it as true.

They are two different phenomena that happen to have the same name.

The downsides of using the word in a spiritual context

There are a few downsides to using the word ego in a spiritual context.

It can be confused with the psychological ego which is something different.

It makes it sound as an object or thing, which is misleading.

When people use the word in a spiritual context, it’s sometimes with a flavor of it as bad, wrong, something to get rid of, and so on.

How does separation consciousness come about?

A sense of separation comes as soon as we hold a thought as true and identify with the viewpoint of the thought. In our own experience, we become the viewpoint of the thought, and this creates a sense of I and other and a fundamental reality in that separation. (It’s perhaps more accurate to say that our system holds a thought as true since this doesn’t have to be conscious, and it often isn’t.)

We then perceive and live as if the thought is true, and this can create struggle, tension, and so on.

What are some other ways to talk about this dynamic?

As mentioned earlier, another word for ego in this context is beliefs or identification. As soon as a thought is held as true, the ego dynamics are created, and we take ourselves as the viewpoint of the thought. We identify as the viewpoint of the thought, which is how the appearance of separation is created.

We can also call it a coping mechanism to deal with unmet, unloved, and unexamined fears. As we meet these fears, find they come from love and find love for them, and examine the fearful stories behind them and what’s more true for us, the “ego” dynamics tend to soften.

Is this ego a problem?

These dynamics can create suffering and struggle for ourselves, and it can trigger the same in others.

But it’s not inherently a problem. It’s natural, understandable, and ultimately innocent. There is even beauty in it since it comes from an innocent misunderstanding and the dynamic within it is here to protect us. It’s an expression of love, although a bit misguided.

Is this ego an enemy?

Only if we take it that way, and if we do, it’s the “ego” dynamics making itself into an enemy. The idea of enemy is itself an expression of holding certain thoughts as true. In reality, it’s innocent, and it is created from unmet, unloved, and unexamined fear. And even if it’s here, we can still find ourselves as capacity for all our experiences including these dynamics.

Do we need to remove this ego?

We can’t decide to remove these dynamics. We can just explore them and understand them. We can see what’s more true for us than the stories initially held as true. We can get some insights into the dynamics. We can dialog with these parts of us and get to know them. And we can get to know the fear behind these dynamics – which are typically unmet, unloved, and unexamined.

The ego dynamics, awakening, and spiritual practice

Since I am writing about the ego as the words is used in a spiritual context, I’ll say a few words about these dynamics in relation to awakening and spiritual practices.

What’s the relationship between awakening and these dynamics?

The ego dynamics are sometimes presented as incompatible with awakening. Is that true?

Yes, no, and it depends. If we are completely identified with a thought in the moment, it’s difficult to notice what we are. We may have ego dynamics but they are not so active and we are not so identified with them, and this opens for the possibility of noticing what we are.

So it depends on whether ego dynamics (AKA beliefs) are currently triggered, and how identified we are with them.

What’s the role of spiritual practice here?

Spiritual practice can help us shift how we relate to these dynamics.

Befriending the dynamics and getting to know them helps shift how we relate to them, which helps them soften, and helps us relate to them more consciously and not always act on them.

And finding ourselves as capacity for it all makes it easier to relate to them more consciously, not always act on them, and invite them to realign with and join in oneness.

What’s the role of awakening?

Awakening is another word for noticing what we are. For finding ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our experiences happen within and as. It’s something that happens here and now, and it can become more of a habit over time.

When we find ourselves as capacity for it all, we notice that these dynamics happen within and as us as anything else. We may also notice that our true nature is the true nature of these inherently innocent dynamics.

DRAFT

I rarely use the word “ego” in a spiritual context, unless it’s for the purpose of examining what it refers to and why the word doesn’t work so well for me.

The word “ego” is used in (at least) two different meanings.

The ego in a psychological sense

One is the ego in a psychological sense, which can be described as the operating system for our human self. It’s what makes us able to function in the world, and we want it as healthy, strong, and mature as possible.

The “ego” in a spiritual context

The other is the ego as it is sometimes referred to in a spiritual context. Some use it to mean separation consciousness in general.

The main reason I don’t use the word in this sense is that it makes it sound like a thing or object, and that’s misleading. What it refers to is the dynamics that come out of holding a thought as true.

Is this “ego” the same as the psychological ego? Not at all. The psychological ego is something we need to function and it’s important to help it be as healthy, resilient, and well functioning as possible. “Ego” used in a spiritual context refers to a certain dynamic that happens when we identify with the viewpoint of a story and hold it as true. They are two different things that happen to have the same name.

The “ego” in a spiritual context does create unease and suffering for ourselves, and can trigger the same in others. That’s why it’s sometimes talked about as a problem.

Is it really a problem? Not really. It’s natural, understandable, and innocent. There is even beauty in it since it comes from an innocent misunderstanding and the dynamic within it is here to protect us. It comes from love.

Does it need to be removed? We can’t decide to remove these dynamics. We can just explore them and understand them. We can see what’s more true for us than the stories initially held as true. We can get some insights into the dynamics. We can dialog with these parts of us and get to know them. And we can get to know the fear behind these dynamics – which are typically unmet, unloved, and unexamined.

Another word for “ego” in this context is beliefs or identification. As soon as a thought is held as true, the “ego” dynamics are created, and we take ourselves as the viewpoint of the thought. We identify as the viewpoint of the thought, which is how the appearance of separation is created.

We can also call it a coping mechanism to deal with unmet, unloved, and unexamined fears. As we meet these fears, find they come from love and find love for them, and examine the fearful stories behind them and what’s more true for us, the “ego” dynamics tend to soften.

And we can find ourselves as capacity for it all, in which case we notice that these dynamics happen within and as us as anything else. We may also notice that our true nature is the true nature of these inherently innocent dynamics.

So is this type of ego an enemy? Only if we take it that way, and if we do, it’s the “ego” dynamics making itself into an enemy. The idea of enemy is itself an expression of holding certain thoughts as true. In reality, it’s innocent, and it is created from unmet, unloved, and unexamined fear. And even if it’s here, we can still find ourselves as capacity for all our experiences including these dynamics.

Spiritual practice does help us shift out of it a bit and soften how they play themselves out. Befriending these dynamics and getting to know them helps shift how we relate to them, which helps them soften, and helps us relate to them more consciously and not always act on them. And finding ourselves as capacity for it all makes it easier to relate to them more consciously, not always act on them, and invite them to realign with and join in oneness.

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