Self-transcendence has always been an essential aspect of spiritual practice. One could perhaps say this self-transcendence is the very core of all spiritual endeavors, whether they be religious, philosophical, empirical, or otherwise. We fundamentally seek to transcend the ego, to move beyond all internalized limitations, though the true essence of this venture has perhaps been greatly lost in the world today.
Let’s discuss the meaning of this. To understand the workings of the ego is to move towards higher knowledge.
What is the ego?
The ego is our thought-identified sense of self. It is the image that has been cultivated about one’s self. When the entirety of our awareness comes to be unconsciously associated with an idea or a set of ideas, a personalized sense of self is formed, and this sense of self encompasses the ego. The ego is the internal entity that is born of our thoughts. The “me”. The “I”. The “self”. It is our sense of identity, the notion of who we are.
What is the problem with this?
All we need really do to recognize the weaknesses of the ego is merely observe it in motion. It strives. It compares. It fears. It divides. It offends, and is quite easily offended. All of the negative proclivities of the human being are embodied by the ego.
The problem with the ego is that it invariably detaches us from the present moment. It does this because it is purely a product of ideation, which is to say it is only concerned with ideas. The idea is not the thing. The image is not the actuality.
The ego is a fantasy. It arose out of fantasy, and works to perpetuate fantasy. The reason the world is so violent, disorderly, and chaotic is because it is greatly driven by ego, by this false sense of self.
The ego exemplifies everything that is wrong with human consciousness, and it does this because it is not grounded in reality. It need not travel with a sense of truth, and in that acts as a mechanism of illusion.
Ego Versus Self-Esteem
It is quite necessary that we make this distinction. This is very much a source of confusion and misconception in the realm of spiritual work. The ego is different than self-esteem because it is solely a mental projection, whereas self-esteem arises from a much deeper place.
Self-esteem is healthy and necessary. It comprises our sense of ambition and drive, our natural proclivity towards existential success. This is an inherent component of the underlying consciousness that we truly are – our true identity, our intimate sense of self – rather than the purely ideological and superficial structure that is ego.
We need self-esteem to function in the world, to move through life with dignity and integrity. It is our heartfelt sense of identity, whereas the ego knows only the mind.
Self-esteem propels us. The ego does not.
How do we transcend the ego?
We overcome the ego through embracing the actuality of immediate experience. It cannot survive amidst the here and now. To be aligned with the immediacy of the present moment is to be free of the ego.
Step fully into the now. When the energy of our awareness is centralized in the now, the fallacies of self-image are dissolved. Where there is the entirety of our conscious attention, the ego cannot exist.
Tune into your energy. The accumulation of internal energy results in the dissipation of the egoic mind. When we are cognizant. When we are present. When we are sharp. During these states, we do not succumb to fallacy (which is precisely what the ego is).
To amass perceptual energy is to transcend the ego, and we do this through bringing our awareness to what simply is. Observe the breath. Observe your mind. Observe others. To do this is to be directly connected with the now, and herein the ego is disempowered.
So, the ego, which is the pseudo sense of identity that arises from thought, is ultimately a kind of distortion, for it works to detach us from who and what we truly are. For this reason it is imperative that we move beyond the ego, and we do this through skillfully engaging the present moment, through directing the entirety of our attention upon the now. When we proceed in this fashion, life becomes free and beautiful.