I was in the midst of teaching a workshop and we had just gone through the difference between the impulses of deeper self and ego. I had just read a laundry list of negative aspects of the ego and how it creates toxic and fear-based cycles in our lives. One of my beloved clients had just raised her hand and and brought up a really important point.
“Okay, I feel like the ego is getting a really bad rap here.”
For those new to this subject, here is a quick recap of ego vs pure consciousness/deeper self:
Ego is the part of our human mind that attaches to identity, our body, beliefs, accomplishments, material goods, attributes, positions, talents, intelligence, opinions as being who we are. It reinforces our thoughts and narratives as absolute truth. It feeds its sense of safety by increasing the sense of self and understanding where we lie in the hierarchy of life and society. It thrives on separation, otherness, labeling and making others wrong. It is the voice that tells us we are better than others and also tells us we are less than others. Ego, simply put is a massive fear computer searching for all the paths for us to feel safer and more secure in the system. We ALL have one.
Keep in mind that there was a time you contained NONE of this, where the ego was not yet formed, and you were still you. Babyhood.
Pure consciousness is simply present moment awareness and experience free from ego. It is it is found in the space between thoughts. It is pure experience without the lens of judgement. It is the eternal energy running through all of us. It is the meta computer, the observer of our thoughts and feelings. It is the birthplace of creative impulse, connection, intuitive knowing, empathy, connection and compassion. It accepts every experience and life as it is free from judgment or resistance. Some would say it is the eternal self and even love itself. I have found pure consciousness coaching, performing, writing, teaching, nature, meditation, grief, when I held my babies on my chest, in moments of intuitive downloads, where I’m not thinking, I just know. Sounds pretty good, huh?
Operating from that deeper presence is what I had been working on with people in their relationship with food, their bodies, careers and personal relationships; to connect and operate from deep self-knowing over the calls of maintaining the status quo, in breaking through resistance and self-sabotage and taking the most aligned action possible.
But I was kind of relieved that my client waved her hand, and started defending the ego, because despite my vilifying it, I kind of felt the same way.
If the ego was “bad”, it meant a lot of my life choices had been made out of a “bad and wrong” place. It meant a part of my human mind, my human machinery was deeply flawed, dark, self-serving and had to be put in its place. And although the goal was always to be compassionate with that part of myself, it still felt like we had to be obligatorily nice to the loser in the corner. If the goal was complete acceptance of myself, making any part of myself “wrong” felt strange.
Why would we have an ego it if it was so counterproductive to deeper meaning and joy?
I yearned to understand how the ego was actually….awesome.
I didn’t have to look too far.
Almost every area of my life had at one point been born primarily out of ego. In early childhood, most things were done out of pursuing joy but by elementary school, the need to be admired and fit in was full blown. In middle school, high school, college, and for much of graduate school–I was operating almost completely out of a motivation of fear; fear of not being enough as I was.
The deeper self would have her moment every once in a while. I would brush up against her in a performance or acting class, where I abandoned looking good over a force that was moving through me like electricity. I would be kind to someone when no one else was around. I would let someone see “the real me” when I was vulnerable and a mess. It was always short-lived before I armored back up again.
I began to realize that while many paths in my life BEGAN with ego, they wound up pointing toward soul. Along the path, they wound up shifting and changing to something deeper as challenges arose. When the path became painful, I was forced to look deeper.
For a long time, my relationship with my body was born almost completely out of seeking love and admiration from others. Even going into a health coaching program, I was initially hoping to learn how to get skinny fast as an actor. On that path, that relationship with my body began to hurt so badly that I had to search for new teachers and perspectives. That is where the healing began and where I began to explore my relationship with myself, and as an extension of that, my body.
Pursuing acting initially came primarily out of a place of wanting to be special and appear exceptional at something. I loved all eyes on me. I wanted to be a star. I wanted to be celebrated and safe from mediocrity. Through pursuing performing, I learned that it had a far more meaningful purpose. It had the capacity to be a vehicle of deep self-exploration, of healing for myself and others, curiosity and compassion for the human experience and a channel to access divine creative energy. I learned that an acting studio can house the sacred and help you enter into a precious relationship with the “now.” I learned these lessons, however, through failing in the acting studio, in the audition room, and onstage over and over again. I learned that from the pain that I felt in between gigs, from questioning my worthiness.
Entering into a relationship with my husband was initially born of ego. We joke about this, so don’t worry, he knows. He was a classmate in my graduate acting program and I was coming out of a puppy love heartbreak. I just wanted someone to validate me, make me feel attractive and heal my insecurities. Luckily, he saw the Beth underneath all of this because he had seen the deeper self emerge in acting class, so he stuck around. Over the next two years, he challenged me. He let me know when I was behaving like a crazy loon. He drew loving boundaries. He didn’t bend to my ego’s desires. He inspired me to look deeper, to be better and to ascend to new levels of self-responsibility. He loved me and simultaneously didn’t let me run my tricks. Our relationship deepened as I started to actually fall in love with myself as a result of our challenges together.
I began to see ego in a new light and grow appreciative for it. It always pointed me in the direction of a super important lesson.
Egoic desires are the shiny objects that deeper self dangles to get you on an important path in the first place. Then the obstacles appear. The more obstacles appear, the more you need to rely on and become present to that higher and deeper self to alleviate suffering.
Ego is the shell we need to house our deeper selves, but we are always outgrowing it. At just the right time, it grows too tight and the pain of confinement causes us to break through to less protection and the growth of or search for a new home that fits our current consciousness.
Ego is the force that often gets us into the room but it cannot turn the lights on for us. We need to do the re-wiring to allow the electricity of consciousness to light our experience. That is where the deep meaning comes in, that is where the joy and reverence can enter.
We only change when it becomes painful to stay where we are, and if we are present, ego will always grow painful eventually. Challenges are the ONLY way we change and grow as humans. Because a dark night of the soul will always follow an ego-based desire, growth is guaranteed.
Our ego is our compadre in this life. Deeper self and ego are driving together for this entire road trip. Sometimes, ego will take the wheel when we get tired and bring us to a town we wouldn’t have explored but wind up finding a treasure in.
Ego will NEVER stop challenging us because we our mind’s are so drawn to certainty, to safety and to acceptance, to strengthening our positions and arguments. In that way, we will never stop evolving. It is meant to be this way. Ego IS awesome. It is the MOST important teacher we will learn from, and the learning never ends because it is inseparable from our humanity and daily experience.
Ego is our greatest teacher because eventually we realize, it can’t do the things we hoped it could. Eventually ego hurts. That is where the opening for change begins.
Rock On & Be Well,