Many spiritual traditions, old and new, talk about the concept of ego. It is important to examine exactly what the ego is because following teachings that lean heavily toward “conquering the ego” can often lead to greater feelings of self recrimination and low self esteem.
Ego = Fear
When you reduce the concept of ego to its core, what you come down to is fear. We live a mortal life and most of our fears are based on our own mortality. There are two basic kinds of fear.
One: fear of death/survival.
Two: fear of the tribe/society.
Fear of death and survival is simply a basic survival mechanism, but it really can get us into trouble as it evolves into more complex fears. We fear the tribe because we need the tribe to survive. Fear of the tribe accounts for the majority of our actions in the modern world and throughout history.
Within the fear of the tribe there are two basic fears. There is the fear of being insignificant and the fear of standing out. We don’t want to be on the bottom rung of society and we also don’t want to be too strange because this could lead to the tribe no longer taking care of us.
How Fear Becomes Ego
Almost all negative behavior, thoughts, and feelings can be attributed to fear of the tribe. We strive to make money, to gain status, education, beauty, notoriety and fame, we strive to be needed, all in an effort to be loved by the tribe so they will take care of us. Everything from murder to petty jealousy can be attributed to the fear of not being good enough to be loved and taken care of by the tribe.
The need for love and acceptance by the tribe hasn’t lessened any as society as become more advanced. We still strive to impress each other. We still strive for status in order to prove ourselves to ourselves and to others. In fact, fear of the tribe has only increased. Self esteem ratings are at an all time low while narcissism is at an all time high. Both are examples of fear and self-loathing.
What Can We Do?
First of all, realize that the ego isn’t some monster in your heart that needs to be destroyed. Our fears are just ancient survival mechanisms that are installed in the most primitive parts of the brain. Some fear is good, it keeps us alive. That kind of fear bursts in when there is a clear and immediate threat to our lives, like a tiger lunging at us for example.
But the fear and shame we feel when someone criticizes our outfit or our car, does not serve our greatest and highest good. The fear of the tribe makes us bitter slaves to the tribe’s mores and fluctuating styles, it makes us weak and easily controlled by institutions that dictate what is normal and good.
We live in an era where more and more people are realizing that they can best serve the tribe (the world) by being themselves. By standing up for what they really believe and feel is true. We no longer have to shut ourselves down so that people will like us. This only perpetuates the outmoded and outdated fear that leads to our most corrupt forms of “ego” like greed and exploitation.
When You Love Yourself, You Love the World
When one person has the courage to be herself, it gives others the permission to be themselves as well. True, genuine, self-love is a love that is connected to the truth of the Higher Self. The Higher Self is a direct representation of Source, of God. When we love ourselves totally we see the divine in others and we feel the great sense of connection that lies between us.
Loving yourself is not selfish, it is not egocentric, loving yourself is the first step on a truly spiritual path. This is the place where we can begin to let go of our fear, our “ego,” and begin to show our true Selves to the world, so that the world might show its true Self to us.