Now that’s a word we’ve all been beaten with, and we’ve beaten others with it too. Ego is also what we use to connect with our fellow humans. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s what makes us great. And what makes the great fall.
What is ego? I don’t think anyone knows for sure. Maybe it’s a piece of our brain, something physical we can track down and surgically tweak. Maybe it’s just the way the human mind works. I like Eckhart Tolle’s take; that the ego is a separate thing entirely, a pain body. I feel like the ego a separate energy, clung to each of us like a symbiotic parasite. I say symbiotic because ego is, in fact, what drives our life. Upwards, or into the ground. Either direction, the ego is driving.
I’ve been in a lot of ego pain recently.
Writing this piece and sharing the way ego pain shows up for me feels downright dangerous. Every time I mention ego, I’m ready for the onslaught. The jibs and jabs never fail. Ego is a touchy, touchy subject, and no one leaves the conversation unscathed.
I spent the entire day in bed today. I slept until noon, and then watched Grace and Frankie on Netflix until 5. Around then, I managed to get the dishes done and do something about dinner, and finally about 6:30 I sat down to start my workday, here, with you. It was a hard day. I couldn’t do anything except distract myself from my ego pain.
Not the “I’m so great” version. That’s the socially and spiritually unacceptable way to experience ego pain. That was battered out of me young thanks to my upbringing. No, mine sneaks in around the back and comes in with a gag order. It shows up as fear, anxiety, perfectionism, worthlessness, success focused, blind ambition, obsessive, and scarce, which can then descend further into greediness, selfishness, scrooge-ness and terror-stricken static. Some of those feelings I just described are socially acceptable flavors of ego pain (unworthiness and scarcity are quite the buzz words), and some of those are full on club-worthy (my ambition and need to succeed). Every single one of those feelings, however, causes massive ego pain, and shame rumbles up right on the heels. It’s palpable.
This is a general description of my ego pain. Yours is different, and no less and no more debilitating.
I like my ego drive better. The days I wake up feeling purposeful, driven, confident, happy, unfettered and unfiltered. I like my ego on those days. It’s funny, because it’s all the same emotions, really. I’m just experiencing them on the other side of the ego spectrum.
I have waves of ego pain and ego drive because I have not found the magic balance formula. Years ago, my friend and I coined this “motional balance” – staying on the spinning top of life through all the varying gravitational pulls. The ego struggles mightily with change.
My gift of today, through rolling around in my ego pain, is the urge to share some of these thoughts and inspirations garnered at the end of a very long journey. Especially thoughts on judgment and shame around our ego pain (ooh, my ears are ringing as I type this). If we would stop beating on each other, and stop beating on ourselves with that oh-so-tempting ego club, we could open up and talk about our ego, and where is undermining us and where it is, in fact, serving us. We could give each other the space and support to grow and shift patterns in a compassionate environment, from one screwy human to another.
But it’s easier to judge. It feels better in the moment to label a person with an ego flare “bad” and ignore it in ourselves. That moment you have seen ego-mania in another, you have seen it in yourself. The moment you beat them with it, you have lost to ego shame. For all we see in others is a picture-perfect representation of ourselves.
I am no stranger to the ego club. I’ve experienced the beating myself, and I’ve picked it up and bludgeoned others. It’s a spiritually savage act.
I’m proud to be seeing my ego in action lately, instead of living blind to its shenanigans. I’ve begun to see my ego for all that it is: a critical driving force for my life’s work, and yet one to be reckoned with. I’m happy to see the shame show up behind it. For years, I was unaware of my shame. This is the reality of being human. And I’m glad to have the privilege of it.
But I would like to inject a new ego dialogue into our new paradigm spiritual mix. We are powerful ignitors of divine transformation for a new age. Let’s do and be better than we are when it comes to our challenging human pieces, like the ego. It does no good to hide our ego pain, run from our ego pain, or be in denial about our ego pain. Let’s do better.
What I learned today, is that when ego pain boils, and ego shame simmers, there’s only one thing you to do: get present with it. I know it hurts. Stay with it though. You can do this.
Get present with your ego, and step out of judgment. Be with the sticky icky ways your ego is reeling, and don’t let shame muzzle you. Every human deals with ego pain. Just because not everyone recognizes their particular pain recipe does not mean they don’t suffer. You are not alone. And you are not a bad person because your ego flares up.
Something that has become increasingly clear to me in my own spiritual work, and my spiritual work with others, is the very sneaky ways ego shows up for people. It can be so easy to miss while we’re watching out for the ways we see it in others.
You may not have bravado. You may be bypassing your power by being overly humble. You may not be aggressive. You may slip into codependency. You may not be narcissistic and preening. You are may fall in to martyrdom.
These alternative ways the ego comes up and causes pain can seem socially acceptable, and in some cases, commendable. But it’s the same stuff. The same out of balance ego issues that that aggressive, narcissistic, chest-thumping dude is experiencing happens within you as well. He’s running from his pain just like you are. It just looks different on the outside.
I thought I’d compile a list of some of the emotions that reflect ego in action. Some encapsulate ego drives, some ego pains, and some, both. I’m sure after reading this article and reflecting on this list, you can come up with more. I’d love to hear them.
The “It” factor
Hey tell me what you think by the points brought forth here. Can we do this? Can we address the ego with more compassion and help us all vibrate out of our deficiencies, and show up as powerful spiritual game changers? I believe we can, and I’d like to be on the bleeding edge of that with you.