One morning my daughter woke up in a panic. She said she was terrified. She’d had a bad dream and apparently this dream rocked her to her core. Even though she knew it was a dream, and even though she knew the most likely cause of the dream—she’d watched a scary episode of a TV show UniKitty, she was still afraid. She didn’t want to walk around the house until the sun arose or until I walked around with her. First, I had to make sure that I turned on the lights before we entered a room. I didn’t get upset with her though. I happily obliged her. I understood her fear. I could remember being a child and being afraid of the toilet flushing. I would have this overwhelming need to rush to my bed and hide under the covers before the toilet completed its cycle. And while I knew it wasn’t a logical fear, it was one I held for many years.
But beyond that, I understood because in that moment I felt as if I was able to witness the ego in the flesh. Many psychoanalysts and psychologists from Freud to present have defined and redefined what the ego is. The ego is essentially our identity that is constructed of the thoughts and beliefs we hold about ourselves. In the spiritual sector, and other sectors for that matter, the ego can get a bad rep. Check your ego and humble yourself. Don’t be so egotistical. Don’t let your ego rule you. These are just some examples of the warnings we receive regarding our egos. We’re sold an image of the ego as a savage dictator and brat, hell bent on feeding its own desires well past satiation. And sometimes that can be true. Sometimes the ego can operate like a toddler. It can want what it wants without any regard for the consequences. It can be bratty. It can be ruthless in its pursuit to feel better.
But what if it’s more than that? What if the ego isn’t actually a dictator? What if the ego is actually just like my daughter this morning? Simply scared and asking for attention? What if our ego is actually asking us to shed some light in the darkness to illuminate those shadow parts of ourselves? We tend to look at ourselves through cloudy lenses. We grade ourselves with high marks when we do those things which are pleasing to us or when we feel good. When we don’t feel as good, or we feel we’ve misstepped, we tend to fail ourselves. Perhaps our ego is our loving friend who is guiding us to look beyond the surface of what we see and to see ourselves fully as we are, without judgment. But since we humans can be more than a bit stubborn, we don’t always take heed at its first nudging so it has to work harder to get our attention. It has to get louder. It has to start kicking and screaming. Those are the moments where we are at what we deem to be our worst. Those are the moments we look as if we are out of control. We’re fearful, angry, short-tempered, arrogant, and maybe even more than a bit selfish. Those are the moments that in spite of knowing the fear is illogical, we refuse to walk around our familiar home until our mom walks with us and turns on all the lights. But instead of it being about us getting out of control, perhaps we can consider that it’s more than that and that’s just the moment when we have the opportunity to gain control and begin to take the steps to accept ourselves. It’s the moment we get to turn on the lights to see things and ourselves as they truly are and not as they simply exist in our minds, which gives us a chance to accept ourselves and grow. That’s a pretty radical thought, isn’t it?
Ego, just a three-letter word and yet so interesting. If we did not have an ego, we would be lost. Feeding it too much we would also be lost.
Lida van Bers