This is something I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. Personally, I feel that most of the world’s human-caused problems are due to ego. A struggle of mine was coming to terms with what that meant for me, as an individual. This is clearly a struggle many people have in trying to navigate through life, especially those who wish to grow into more enlightened people.
By my definition, where individuality and ego diverge is in application and perception. Most people have an inflated self-importance. It makes sense. You only know yourself. You can only perceive this world through your own individuality. Thus, most people develop an expectation that their will and their freedom is somehow more important than another’s will or freedom. The problem is everyone has this same misperception.
Expressing yourself, being who you are as an individual, is not the same as acting upon others, oppressing others, forcing others to conform to your will or forcing others to make way for your freedoms. The freedom to act upon the world as an individual is naturally tempered by the reality that everyone must function in that same realm, i.e., millions of individuals with differing interests, needs, wants and individual self-expressions much somehow co-exist. Problems ensue when people over-inflate their right to exert control over a given reality - i.e., not everyone can have their way without limiting someone else. Thus, by definition, you have free will, but everyone else also has free will, therefore, so long as this remains our reality, no one can ever be entirely free and exist in peace. So you have two options: 1. Cling to your ego and fight…forever. You can spend your entire life fighting to get to the top, hurting countless others along the way. The moment you get to the top (if you ever do and you likely never will), everyone will be vying for you. You will never stop fighting. You will never know peace. 2. Let go of your ego. Express your individuality by treating yourself with respect and treating everyone else with that same respect. Make compromise. Self-restrain.
The question humanity has thus far failed to answer and is seemingly and hopefully in a continuous quest to achieve is how we can all co-exist harmoniously and with balance and compromise.
I do not believe this can be achieved on a mass scale simply through revolutionary fight. It must also be achieved through mass enlightenment and individual effort to self-improve, i.e., we will not change the world only through changing the systems in which we all live, we must also work hard to change ourselves. That includes people who often feel they are more evolved or enlightened. Without making changes at the individual level (e.g., learning to let go of ego), it will not matter what system we live in, we will never know peace.
Here are seven suggestions to help transcend ingrained ideas of self-importance and ego.
1. Stop being offended. That which offends you only weakens you. If you’re looking for occasions to be offended, you’ll find them at every turn. This is your ego at work convincing you that the world shouldn’t be the way it is. But you can become an appreciator of life and by all means, act to eradicate the horrors of the world, which emanate from massive ego identification, but do so always in peace. Act not in anger or vengeance, but with a genuine desire to eradicate the horrors of this world. Being offended creates the same negative and destructive energy that offended you in the first place and often leads to attack, counterattack, and war rather than logical and rational resolution.
2. Let go of your need to win. Ego serves to divide people into winners and losers based on something as subjective as the current fashions and values. You will never reach a place of peaceful contentment in the pursuit of winning. Why? Because ultimately, winning is impossible all of the time. Someone out there will be faster, luckier, younger, stronger, and smarter-and back you’ll go to feeling worthless and insignificant.
You’re not your winnings or your victories. There are no losers in a world where we all share the same energy source. All you can say on a given day is that you performed at a certain level in comparison to the levels of others on that day. But today is another day, with other competitors and new circumstances to consider. Let go of needing to win by not agreeing that the opposite of winning is losing. That’s ego’s fear. Be the observer, noticing and enjoying it all without needing to win a trophy. Ironically, although you’ll hardly notice it, more of those victories will show up in your life as you pursue them less.
3. Let go of your need to be right. Ego is the source of a lot of conflict and dissension because it pushes you in the direction of making other people wrong. When you’re hostile, you’ve succombed to ego. Living free of ego is to be kind, loving, and receptive; and free of anger, resentment, or bitterness. Keep in mind that ego is a determined combatant. I’ve seen people end otherwise beautiful relationships by sticking to their need to be right. I urge you to let go of this ego-driven need to be right by stopping yourself in the middle of an argument and asking yourself, do I want to be right or be happy?
4. Let go of your need to be superior or special. True enlightenment isn’t about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you used to be. Stay focused on your growth, with a constant awareness that no one on this planet is any better than anyone else. We all emanate from the same place. We all have a mission to realize who we are and how we cope in this world. So your neighbor might be mean and rude, but loyal and principled. You might be kind and accepting, but unreliable and unprincipled. We all have our faults we must work through and different ways of coping and learning. Don’t assess others on the basis of their appearance, achievements, possessions, and other indices of ego. When you project feelings of superiority that’s what you get back, leading to resentments and ultimately hostile feelings.
5. Let go of your need to have more or that you deserve to be rewarded. The mantra of ego is more. It’s never satisfied. No matter how much you achieve or acquire, your ego will insist that it isn’t enough. You’ll find yourself in a perpetual state of striving, and eliminate the possibility of ever arriving. Yet in reality you’ve already arrived, and how you choose to use this present moment of your life is your choice. Ironically, when you stop needing more, more of what you desire seems to arrive in your life. Since you’re detached from the need for it, you find it easier to pass it along to others, because you realize how little you need in order to be satisfied and at peace.
What separates life from non-life is will to survive. That drive that propells us forward can be “co-opted” by ego. Rather than a drive to self-protect and survive, one develops a drive to conquer, amass, defeat. This is an ego driven desire. A more enlightened desire is to strive to coexist, to give back, to honor this world and those around us. Create to share and for personal enjoyment, not for acclaim or power or money. Stop viewing life’s events as opportunities to defeat others. Start viewing life’s events and opportunities for self-improvement, learning, discovery, creation.
6. Let go of identifying yourself on the basis of your achievements. This may be a difficult concept if your worth is wrapped up in the sum of your achievements. You’re not this body and its accomplishments. All of that is fleeting. You are the observer. Notice it all; and be grateful for the abilities you’ve accumulated. Accept that chance and luck are huge factors in life’s events. Try to be aware that with every accomplishment you make, there were those who helped you in the process, whether you can see it or not (as simple as those who invented a device you used to reach your accomplishment, or wise words from a mentor). While you can and should feel accomplished for your principled follow-through, you must never inflate your ego with accolades or you will live a contrived life.
7. Let go of your reputation. Your reputation is not located in you. It resides in the minds of others. Therefore, you have no control over it at all. If you speak to 30 people, you will have 30 reputations. Just think of the thousands of impressions you gain about others through such unreliable things as gossip. Now imagine the same sort of conversations are being had about you outside of your presence. You have no control over how other interpret your actions or convey your actions to others. You have no control over the misinterpretations or lies others might spread. To consume yourself with something that is out of your control will distract you from things you can control. Focus on BEING a good person, not on being perceived as a good person. Stay on purpose, detach from outcome, and take responsibility for what does reside in you: your character. Leave your reputation for others to debate. You are not a good person or a bad person. You are a person who can do good and bad things. Try to be a person who does only good things and that is all that will matter.