The ego is the image we have of ourselves based on the thoughts we have about who we are. The ego begins to develop when we are small, and that is exactly as it should be. We need to create an image of who we are in relation to others. But we are not only our ego. If we identify too much with our ego, our life becomes limited by the rules that the ego sets up.
The ego and the soul
As we grow up our thoughts about how good or bad we are gets added to our self-image and ego. We compare ourselves to others and create a life that we think communicates who we are. We also develop a relationship with “who we think we are”. We can like ourselves or dislike ourselves. Which is quite interesting. Who is it really that has an opinion about whom? And who makes up the rules?
As we get older our ego likes to keep comparing itself to others. But this is really unnecessary, because by now we already know where we end and others begin. Now the comparing is more about ensuring that we are good enough. Or maybe a little bit better than others. Because the ego likes to receive approval and praise from others. But constantly judging and evaluating oneself based on comparisons with others makes us vulnerable. It also makes it difficult to feel good on your own.
In the book “The power of now” Eckhart Tolle writes about the importance of being present here and now. He believes that the ego is stuck in thinking and doing, while our higher consciousness/soul is focused on being. We live in a physical world and need our ego, but we are not only our ego. Because if we only act from our ego, we are limited by our own intellect.
The ego also likes to preoccupy itself with thoughts of the past and worries about the future. The soul/our higher consciousness has a greater perspective and sees things as they really are here and now.
Eckhart Tolle proposes that we function optimally if we alternate between thinking and not thinking. Instead of automatically being sucked into our thoughts, we can make a habit of pausing and just being in the space between them.
Switching between thinking and pausing gives us access to parts of ourselves other than our ego. It makes us more creative and less touchy, as it means that the ego does not get as much space.
Animals don’t have an ego so they don’t create a mental image of who they are. They don’t compare and measure their worth based on how other animals look or what other animals have or don’t have. For example, a dog doesn’t start hating itself because it is not as cute as the neighbour’s dog. This makes it less complicated and happier, but also less conscious.
Compared to animals, humans have a superior intellect, but this obviously does not make us happier. One of the reasons for our dissatisfaction may be that we allow ourselves to be controlled by our mental image of ourselves (i.e. our ego). If the ego is allowed to call the shots, it will be difficult to feel satisfied for a longer period of time.
What is real and what is important?
A great thing about animals is that they can remind us that life doesn’t have to be so complicated. If everything is good right now, it is a very good idea to focus on that, instead of thinking about what was bad in the past and what could possibly go wrong in the future.
We often have a hard time accepting what cannot be seen and touched, but really the ego is just as mysterious as the soul/higher consciousness. Because the ego is actually just an image that we ourselves have created. A mental image of who we are that we have invented ourselves.