The Art of Being
By Deborah Chandler, Ph.D.
Ego refers to our identity. We carve out a slice of our personality and call it “my ego.” We blame bad behavior on the ego, “My ego dominated the discussion.” “My weak ego” makes me dislike myself. “My fragile ego” is easily swayed by others. We let our ego define our motives, having a loving altruistic ego or a base, selfish ego.
But where is this “ego?” What is it made of?
It actually has no existence. We’ve created this thing and give it the power to control us. Why this distance? Why do we empower a non-existent entity to control ourselves? Why do we separate ourselves from our own actions?
Ego in psychology defines the subjective sense of self or identity. But it is the actions we perform that define who we are: actions include thoughts, emotions, physical activity. We create an entity to be the actor for us. This distancing from our direct behavior, leaves us believing that we are not in control of our own being.
The ego is our escape from responsibility. After all, if I’m hobbled by a weak ego, what else could be expected of me? I was provoked into actions I would not choose.
I think we feel cautious about ourselves. We want to separate our actions from our being. It wasn’t me, it was my ego. Yet we are so much more empowered when we own our actions. I did the angry outburst. I saw myself do it. I shut down other options and went for the anger. Afterward, I felt the dismay and shame of having chosen those actions. I reflect upon my choices and want to commit myself to act with greater kindness.
When we look within, do we have an affirming view of ourselves? This inward gaze is the key to learning. When we learn new things, the capacity for self-reflection is our best teacher. Was my tennis swing too tense; was my cooking too salty; was my offer of help too disapproving?
There is action and self-reflection. We have this remarkable capacity to introspect. We can observe our actions and thought processes. We can expand our capacity for loving actions and reduce our fearful actions.
Using the ego, we become invested in versions of ourselves that block our learning. We have a definition of who we are that bumps against change. Instead of following the flow of our actions, we track our ego and how it is being treated. Criticism is too hurtful, so we hold onto what we have, and forgo the transformation into a better tennis player, cook, friend.
When we give up our defense of our ego, we open to a richer capacity for reflection and action. We clear away the narrowing confines of ego. We expand our capability to grow and love.