Inner Reflections
May 18, 2021
Episode 10

Your Ego is Not Your Amigo

In many of the wisdom traditions, the ego is considered to be the obstacle or even the enemy to enlightenment, causing ignorance, suffering, and delusion. In this podcast, we will explore how to meet the ego with true awareness and wisdom.

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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “Dare to Awaken Podcast.”]

In many of the wisdom traditions, the ego is considered to be the obstacle or even the enemy to enlightenment, causing ignorance, suffering, and delusion. In this podcast, we will explore how to meet the ego with true awareness and wisdom.

Welcome to episode number 10 of the Dare to Awaken podcast. Your ego is not your amigo. So in the yogic tradition, along with many of the other wisdom traditions, there’s a lot of emphasis on this idea of overcoming and conquering the ego. In yoga, the word for ego is Ahamkara. It’s the ego. It’s the identity that we carry. Typically, research shows that the ego develops in children around the ages of three to five. Now, the ego and identity is really a constellation of thoughts, sensations, memories, beliefs, our name, age, gender, ethnicity, nationality. It’s really the thing that puts a big label on us. Now, being the father of three kids, it’s been fascinating to see and such an honor to see each one of my kids having been born. And it’s a godlike experience. Those of you that are parents, you know this to be true. And this is why people often say the highlight of their life is when their child is born. There’s something that happens that’s truly miraculous. This being is being brought from this other world, this other dimension into this world of form, this world of duality here on planet Earth. And when these kids are born and these babies arrive, they certainly don’t have an awareness of any Ahamkara or ego or even a name. And there’s part of me that almost feels weird even giving a child name because a name in of itself is a box. It’s a label. And yet who we really are is so beyond a name. Who we are is so beyond all these labels that society often puts on us. So it’s very important to have an awareness that we’re much bigger than our own ego. We’re much larger than our own identity. But at the same time, there’s recognition and this understanding that we actually need some of these labels and we need an ego and we need an identity in order to function in this world and in this society.

Now, for years I’ve been joking in yoga classes that your ego is not your amigo because I often see people being dominated by their ego when they do a pose, that you see somebody around them going deeper into a pose, and that triggers their ego. And then they start competing, and they start comparing. So I throw that expression, your ego is not your amigo out there as a way of bringing humor to this subject. But the reality is we do need an ego. And really, this podcast, this talk is about transcending the unhealthy ego. There was a wise sage who used to say there’s three types of ego. Number one is the unhealthy ego. Number two is the healthy ego. And number three is the illuminated ego. And the idea is that, on this spiritual path, we all want to move from the unhealthy ego to a healthy relationship with our ego to the illuminated ego. And the illuminated ego is ultimately where the ego becomes so translucent, so thin of a veil that who we truly are at our very core and our very essence has an opportunity to radiate through that thin veil of the ego. But the thicker the ego is, the more delusion, the more illusion, the more ignorance, the more confusion that there is, then the less likely that that spirit and that soul that resides within us will ever have an opportunity to see the light of day. As Ram Dass said, “You need to remember your Buddha nature and your Social Security number.” Because being a human on this planet is ultimately a paradoxical experience. Part of us is eternal and timeless and beyond the label, and then there’s part of us that is in this world of form, is in this world of duality. And we have to hold both. We have to recognize both. And this is really the beginning of developing that healthy relationship to our egos so that ultimately the ego doesn’t possess us, but we possess it because the problem is that many of us have forgotten our Buddha nature or our Christ consciousness. Spiritual practice, you could say, is really this remembrance of who we truly are.

There was an older monk in a monastery who was showing a younger monk a dirty mirror. And he asked, “So what do you see when you look into the mirror?” And the younger monk said, “I just see dust and filth and grime.” The older monk said, “Your true nature is also obscured by this dust and this grime. Our practice here at the monastery is all about removing the dirt so that you can see your true reflection.” This is what it means to be on the yogic path. This is what it means to be on any spiritual practice. It’s really that removal of the stuff that obscures us from seeing with clarity the true reflection of who we are. And unhealthy ego is the dust on the mirror distorting reality. It prevents us from clear seeing. It’s what causes delusion, ignorance, and puts us in this prison of vanity, depression, and suffering. Famous Indians say Sri Nisargadatta said, “You identify with everything so easily with your body, your thoughts, your opinions, your roles, and so you suffer.” The more that we identify with these things, the more that we get entangled and caught within that constellation of what comprises the Ahamkara, the ego, then the more that we suffer. It’s really as simple as that. The bigger your ego, the bigger your problems, the bigger your suffering becomes. And we’ve seen this, right, with extremely talented athletes who have all the talent in the world, these great gifts from God, from the divine, and yet they bring down an entire team because of their ego. They’re thinking about their own selves instead of thinking about the collective, thinking about the whole. And we see this as well within people that are very famous and celebrities, many of them who are miserable because they’re trapped within that prison of the ego.

So the ego is seductive because it whispers great promises of happiness into our ears. It’s like Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello, whispering these great promises in our ears. And what it really does is that it cuts us off from true, eternal, unlimited joy. I once heard that ego stands for Edging God Out. And whether you believe in God or not, you can look at it as, again, this type of box that imprisons you and keeps you from being one with God, with the divine, with the universe, with nature, with other human beings, however you want to reflect upon it. Now, any time that we feel inferior or we feel superior to another person, this is our ego at work. And the truth is that there’s always going to be somebody out there who is smarter, better looking, taller, thinner, whatever you want to call it. There’s always going to be somebody out there who has more of what we want. And the flip side is true, as well. There’s always going to be somebody out there who has less than who we are. And the ego feeds off that. It loves that. And what happens when we oscillate between feeling inferior and superior and inferior and superior is it puts us on this illusion roller coaster ride of suffering where we go up and down and up and down, which is exhausting. And the yogis present us a path of getting off the roller coaster. Instead of being in this stormlike simulation of ensnared within the storms of the ego, we become more steady, more even, more equanimous. Also, any time we get caught in comparison, this is the ego at work.

So as you go about your day and you go about the rest of your week, just notice when your ego shows up in those ways, when it starts to think that you are less than somebody else because they have a nicer car or a nicer wardrobe, or when it thinks that you’re better than somebody else. Notice when the ego shows up and you start comparing yourself, you start competing with other people. There’s that famous quote by President Theodore Roosevelt that says, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s a very popular quote. You hear it all the time and for good reason. There’s so much wisdom within that. So we take a step back and we realize we have the perspective that everybody is on their path. And sometimes people are going to succeed, and sometimes they’re going to look like they’re accelerating beyond us and our career. They have more followers on social media or whatever it is. And then other times, it’s going to feel like we’re the ones that are ahead. But to have that intelligence and that understanding that we all have the capacity to step out of comparison mode and to just focus on us, to focus on ourselves, of just showing up in the best way that we can through our thoughts, our words, our actions on a moment-to-moment, day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year basis. Also, any time we other people, this is the ego at work, as well. This is when Republicans other Democrats and Democrats other Republicans and one nation others another nation because of the conflicts that are woven into othering. Othering always comes and is a manifestation of the ego.

So bring the light of awareness to, as well, when are you othering people, when do you notice that happening within your life because, again, this is a sign that that ego is showing up. The Buddha said, “Those who cling to their views and opinions not only suffer, but they go around the world annoying other people.” The ego loves to be right. The ego has endless opinions. The ego will defend. The ego will argue and argue and argue and argue. And all of that is causing suffering to that particular individual. And it’s also causing suffering to people that they come into contact with. So we don’t have to necessarily go around trying to convince everybody to believe exactly what we believe. Seven-plus billion people on the planet means seven-plus billion ways that we can view things and have a perspective and that we can debate. We can have a conversation, but we can do it from a place that’s beyond ego. We can do it from a more gentle, centered place that is more in relationship with the illuminated ego instead of the unhealthy ego because the view of the ego is distorted. And it often tells us stories that are untrue, but we buy into them.

It reminds me of this story of this woman who had just come off a long meditation retreat. She had been in silent meditation for 14 days, and she was going to fly back home. So she was at the local airport there. And as she’s walking to her terminal, she stops. She’s hungry. She gets a bag of cookies, and she makes her way to her gate. She proceeds to sit down. She has her bag standing up by her seat. She places her bag of cookies on top of the bag, and she has her purse close by. And she’s a little tired because she’d been up since 4:30 that morning meditating. So she closes her eyes and she starts to snooze. She starts to go into a light sleep for some period of time. After a little while, she wakes up and she notices that there’s a guy sitting a couple seats down from her, and he has a bag of cookies in her hands that appears to be her bag of cookies. And she begins to think that this is strange. Here’s this stranger that just grabbed her cookies and now he’s eating them. And she starts to sense her blood starting to boil a little bit and conflict starting to arise within her. But fortunately, she had been on a meditation retreat and she knew how to subdue herself. And this particular guy sees that she’s looking kind of oddly at her. So he hands the bag of cookies towards her and offers her to have some. And she just thinks this is the weirdest thing. Not only did he take her bag of cookies, but now he’s offering her own cookies to herself. They board the airplane, and she gets to find her seat. She sits down thinking about how this whole experience is weird and she goes to grab her book out of her purse. And when she goes to do that, she realizes that her bag of cookies was actually in the purse the whole, entire time. But her ego had presented this whole story, this whole drama about her bag of cookies being stolen. And here she thought this guy was being rude and weird, when in reality, what he was actually doing was offering his own cookies to her because she was looking at him so strangely.

So we have to take lightly what it is that the ego is whispering into our ears. And they’ve done a lot of research on people recalling past memories. And what they’ve come to find out is that half of what we think happened is completely false and untrue. But yet the ego thinks that it knows everything. So it will dig its heels into the sand, and it will argue and defend itself till tomorrow. There was a story about a businessman who went to go seek wisdom from a Zen master. And as they sat down to have a cup of tea, the businessman was bragging and boasting about his accomplishments and his wealth and this and that. So the Zen master starts pouring the businessmen tea, and eventually, the cup of tea fills up. The Zen master continues to pour and pour and pour as more and more tea starts to spill out onto the table and then eventually onto the businessman’s suit when he gasps, “What are you doing?” The Zen master says, “Like this cup, you too are full of your own ego and know-it-all mentality. How can I teach you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” This is called Zen beginner’s mind, or what the famous monk, Ajahn Chah used to call the Don’t-Know mind. This is the opposite of the ego mind that thinks that it knows everything and it thinks that it’s always right, the mind that says, “I don’t know or maybe I’m not right. Maybe I’m not a master. Maybe I don’t understand everything. Maybe I have something to learn in this particular experience, in this particular conversation.” This is transcending that unhealthy ego.

Zen master Suzuki Roshi said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s, there are few.” So the way to move beyond the ego, to move from the small self for the big self is humility. Humility is the perfect antidote for the unhealthy ego. We also can meet the ego with mindfulness, with awareness, because, when you’re aware of something, you’re no longer entangled within it. You now have perspective and distance and space between you as the seer, the one who knows, and how your ego is playing itself out. We also can transform the ego by being of service to others because, when we take our attention off of ourselves and we put it on onto another human being, we start to transcend the prison of the ego. We start to expand and open up our own hearts. Our hearts start to become more compassionate, more kind, more generous. And then lastly, we can transcend the ego by living in our dharma. Your dharma is your highest path. And your dharma always has to do with giving back to others, of being generous, of being selfless instead of selfish. And this helps us to stop edging God out and to live with true eternal joy, happiness and peace, and to recognize our shared humanity and greatness because it’s possible. It’s possible to transform an unhealthy ego to a healthy ego and even to that illuminated ego where the veil of the ego becomes so thin that our light has an opportunity to radiate out, to be seen. And this light and this luminescence that is the reflection of our own inherent and innate soul and spirit is able to shine its glory of benevolent compassion, kindness, and love everywhere that it goes.

Much health, much wealth, much love to you. May we dare to awaken.