In my bid for inner peace, I’ve been thinking a lot about ego for the past year or so.
Now, when you say ego, all kinds of things typically come to mind; people who are stuck up, “egotistical”, condescending, etc. But I’ve been thinking of it in terms of the idea that ego is a separate entity from our true selves. An entity created and fed by the way others perceive us and our attachment to those perceptions.
I’ve read a lot on ego, but this is by far the most profound and fascinating explanation of ego, what it does, and the harm it can cause us. This description by Osho explains that the ego given to us through the perceptions of others is a “false center,” one that causes us misery because it needs to be fed constantly, and the only way to feed it is to be pleasing to others, or to “the society” as a whole. It goes on to explain that much of human misery arises from being a slave to the ego.
The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve found it to be true. I used to dread going places sometimes, even someplace close like the store. I eventually traced part of my annoyance to the fact that I had to shower, put make-up on, make sure my hair was presentable, put on a certain “outward” affect, etc. when what I really wanted to do was go out, get the errands done, and come home to work or do something else I enjoy. And my need to do all that pre-errand prep arose from ego; my desire that others would find me pleasing.
The same can be said of a lot of things. If I’m anxious in public, it’s because I’m concerned with how others perceive me. If I’m hurt because I feel someone has snubbed me, it’s because I fear how they see me, that they don’t like me, or perceive me as somehow not being “good enough”. If I feel bad over negative reviews, it’s because my work (and in some way, myself) hasn’t been accepted the way I wanted it to. The way I needed it to to feed the ego.
There are areas where the line is blurry. I hate getting negative reviews, but even when I manage to set aside my feelings about how others perceive my work, there is a very real concern; my livelihood and ability to support my family. But in general, eliminating the ego-driven things I do and say is helpful. I feel more at peace now and spend more time doing the things I love with the people I love. I don’t feel obligated to maintain friendships that aren’t good for me (though I’m always friendly when running into people I know), attend events I don’t enjoy, wear make-up to the grocery store (and now, I rarely wear it at all), say things I don’t mean, etc., etc.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the things we do for us and the things we do to serve the ego. I’ll go to a birthday party for someone I care about, even if the event itself isn’t something I want to attend (I’m a recluse by nature). But I’ll do it out of love for the person in question, NOT because people will think I’m a selfish bitch if I don’t go.
Then there are things we do just for us. Things we enjoy and love and feel passionate about. Those things represent our truest selves. When we are true to our truest selves, a lot of life’s suffering and uncertainty and petty little unhappiness falls away, because we can focus on the experience of being in each moment without that little voice in the head, “What if so and so is mad at me? What if they don’t like me? What if they think I’m a slob? What is they think I’m rude/ugly/stupid/humorless?” And on and on.
I still wear make-up every now and then. But only when I WANT to for whatever reason. I still go to social events, book events, parties for work or because I genuinely look forward to communing with others. I still buy new clothes for myself when I find something that really speaks to me or something I just love looking at, but not because I think others will judge me for not being put together enough or wearing jeans and a black t-shirt (my uniform) for the 100th time. I’ll splurge on nice perfume, not for anyone else, but because catching the scent throughout the day brings me pleasure. I’ve turned to vegetarianism (and try to be vegan 3-4 days a week) and yoga, not because I want to look better, but because I feel healthier and have more energy. I refuse to weigh myself or be concerned with weight in any way shape or form. I did that for too many years. It was all about everyone else and it made me miserable. Now, I just want to feel good in my own skin. I couldn’t care less what the tags on my clothes say.
It’s a work in progress. The ego is an old, insidious friend. We now who we are when staring at ourselves through the lens of others. Losing that means we have to see ourselves as we truly are.
And that can be scary as fuck.
But also wonderful and beautiful and so, so liberating.