Q. You said something I don't quite understand. Can you please define "ego?"

A. We define the concept "ego" a bit differently than most. In our view it is simply one's sense of self, of separateness from the Universe. It's the "me" that you see when you look in the mirror.

But we've created a further distinction.

Take a look at your hand. See your thumb? Humans have created the word "thumb" to describe something that appears distinct, unique. It's purely a concept. There is no thumb, without a hand (another concept). And there is no hand without an arm (ditto), and so on, and so on, and so on.

Ultimately, there is no separate "you." It's simply another concept. But there is a persistent feeling of a separate self, a conscious thinking entity. We refer to that feeling as "ego."

We then create a distinction between that ego's essence and its identity.

Imagine that your thumb has conscious awareness. It's essence would be... to be a thumb! It would pick up a grape, give a thumbs up, thumb the nose, or even thumb wrestle, all without worry or care about what it thinks it should do or how it feels about itself.

By contrast, a thumb's identity is its sense of self-worth, of its importance relative to others. Being obsessed with what others think of it, it would be proud of its title of "the first digit," and it would boast that it is opposable and has an emoticon for "Like" created in its image. It would probably feel envy towards the ring finger, but morally superior to the middle finger.

So, that "me" in the mirror is both the manifestation of the Universe (essence), and it's our, and others, idea of it (identity). Ego is simply where you direct your conscious attention. For example, the weaker our essence—the less accepting we are of our unique self—the more we try to fill our emptiness by propping up our identity through the external world, through the eyes of others, with ambition, titles, recognition, pride of ownership and dogmatic beliefs.

There is a paradox, a dual existence of the ego, within each of us. Does the artist feel passionately about "the artist" and her work? Does she have a big ego? Yes. But the "person" does not. She doesn't cling to an identity, swelling with self-importance. Rather, she radiates her self, her inner spirit, out to the world.

We don't believe you will ever get rid of your ego, nor is it good or bad, as the paradoxial wisdom of Lao-tzu makes clear in the Tao te ching:

"Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;
But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations."

 

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