Warning- there’s some pretty raw language ahead.
It involves the F-word so proceed with caution.
Read the next sentence and then stop reading for a moment and consider your answer.
Who are you?
I mean it. Don’t read on… just yet. Ponder the question, arrive at an answer, and when you’re ready with that answer, Commit to it. Say it out loud or write it down. Only then, read on.
The question seems simple enough but did you have to stop and think about it for a moment? Did you have to ask yourself, what would be the best answer considering who’s asking?
Was the answer you conjured up in your mind a police description of your physical attributes? If that were me, I’d say, “I’m a white male, 51yo, 5′ 11″ or 180 cm, 165 pounds or 75 kg, blue/grey eyes, and dirty blond hair.”
Maybe your answer was similar to your LinkedIn profile: You’re a manager, or a plumber. Maybe you work in the financial sector or else you fly planes for a living. Perhaps you’re an artist or a scientist. I can’t list every occupation here but you get my point: You might describe yourself as the personification of your work, whether you find it satisfying or not.
Perhaps you’re a stay-at-home Dad and identify yourself with the house and your delightful little rug-rats.
Or maybe you answer the question like you’re on a dating site- describing how chill you are and how you love long walks by the river and and seeking a soul-mate.
There are a thousand ways to answer that question and none of them is wrong. It’s just that none of those kinds of answers is right either. You see, if you had to ‘think’ about it, you created an image of yourself to project to the world which is a product of your ego. Let’s be honest, you are not going to be the same person to your boss as you are to the stud-muffin or sex-kitten you look forward to meeting one day, are you?
So go back to the question and try answering it again. This time, find a quiet space and some quiet time and really consider the things that are unchanging about you.
Who are you?
Are you ready to answer the question? You’re committed? Ok. Read on.
I’m willing to bet you’ve simplified the answer. I’m willing to bet you’ve reduced your description of yourself to a few basics: Your gender, your age a few things that are going well for you and probably a few things that aren’t. If they’re not in the actual answer you’d write down for me if I asked, I’m willing to bet you considered them as plausible answers.
Again, you’re not wrong. But you’re not all right either. And the odds are, I don’t even know you, let alone met you.
So here’s the thing- almost 100% of any answer that you give, unless you’ve already done some of the work to understand the basics of spirituality and inner peace- unless you’ve already started the journey toward your heart, your answer inevitably is based in your ego.
Your ego. Notice it’s “Your ego”. Just like “Your shoes” or “Your house”. They belong to you, but they are not you.
So before I get back to asking this question “Who are you” again, let’s consider your ego.
What is your ego?
We hear people say things like, “Drop the ego”, or “He has such a big ego”. So what the heck is this thing people call “Ego”?
Before I blurt out what the Oxford English Dictionary says, I’ll tell you that I’ve emphasized a few words to mould your thinking. The dictionary defines “ego” as “A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance” and more specifically, “The part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.” Both of these descriptions are brain-centric processes that involve thinking. What a person thinks of themselves, and how a person thinks the world is and what they think they are.
So you see, when you answered the question I posed, it was your ego making a whole pile of assessments which included what activity you were doing (reading this blog), whether you are alone or out in crowds, and what might be the most fitting ‘honest’, ‘banal’ or ‘generic’ or ‘specific’ answer that would suit the circumstance. If we were talking face-to-face, your ego would probably have a whole different set of variables to consider and so your answer might well be different if we were sitting having a coffee, and different yet again if it were over a beer- and different again if we were standing over a cadaver.
We’re starting to get deep here- but conversations like this are not superficial. They are deep because we’re talking about super-deep-inside-of-us stuff here. For some of you, you’re already feeling uncomfortable because what you are experiencing is an attempted end run around your ego. If you are feeling uncomfortable, what are you thinking? Let me guess:
“This is a waste of time.”
“What does this guy know?”
“What an asshole. He presumes to know me.”
“This ‘spirituality’ stuff is stupid.”
“I’ve got better things to do.”
Just realize you feel discomfort because your closest companion on Planet Earth, your ego, is unhappy with me because the words I write are refusing to talk to your ego and rather talk about him or her.
And as any therapist would say, lean into this discomfort. Accept it as experiencing something different. You’re going to be ok. These words on the page are not going to injure or kill you so you have no reason to act on your ego’s insecurity. So… choose to read on.
Thanks for choosing to read on.
So if I’m not talking to your ego when I’m talking to you, then who am I talking to?
You see, your ego is actually not you. Your ego was not part of you when you were in your mother’s womb. Imagine- as you grew from a genetic explosion when your father’s sperm collided with and found its way inside your mother’s egg, all you ever experienced was this warm and completely protected space. All your needs were taken care of, thanks to the umbilical cord that was connected to you at the centre of your body. As you grew arms and legs, as you matured into a baby of several pounds and ounces the space got a little confined and you moved around a bit. Certainly your mother knew when you were stretching. But you never, ever, ever imagined not being where you were-wherever that was, when suddenly…
… you weren’t.
Talk about a shock to the system!
Suddenly, you had to breathe. Well what the hell made you take that first breath? The nurse, mid-wife, or doctor waving you around in the air? Certainly not. Maybe it was the rush of cold air that got you breathing. Maybe it was instinct. Whatever it was, to survive you had to breathe. In the end, it was your ego that commanded you to breathe, even though you didn’t know what you were doing. At that moment, your ego was born. Because if you didn’t breathe, ego would have failed it’s first test and you would have died.
Ego is a personal companion of every single living animal that guides it through the perils of living in this physical world. It is with us from our very first breath until we take our last. Our desire to live, the methods we use to succeed at living- our actions, words, thoughts, beliefs, values and dreams- all come from ego. And, so that it’s said, for those who contemplate killing themselves, that urge- a thought process- also comes from ego.
Our desire to do better is driven by ego. Our wish to be richer, prettier, faster, younger, older, thinner, stronger, smarter, sexier, healthier, all stem from how we see ourselves through the looking-glass of ego. Past regrets come from ego as do concerns for the future.
More specifically, it’s ego making an assessment of our situation and judging it to be inadequate. Ego sees these shortcomings and decides that if we were to improve ourselves, our ability to survive would be improved to the point that we would thrive. And who wouldn’t want that?
First and foremost, as we grow as children, it commands us to do what we have to do to garner our parents’, and more specifically, our mother’s attention. We need to breast feed, after all. Then, as we get older and become conscious of our surroundings we develop little mannerisms that get the adults in our world to like us. We coo. We giggle. We do what we have to do to get fed and clothed.
Our diapers continue to be changed while we explore the world, making earth-shattering discoveries about our new-found bodies and the environment we exist in. As we continue into childhood, partly because we don’t know differently, and partly because we still need to conform to the conditionality of getting fed, we learn from, and reflect back, values and behaviours of the adults who take care of us to make sure we remain fed.
If we have siblings, we discover that if we act exactly like our older sibling we don’t stand out from the crowd so we do different things. If our older sister is gregarious and outgoing, we’ll be more introspective and demure. If our older brother is nerdish, we’ll branch out and pursue more outgoing activities like sports as though our life depended on it. And if we talk to an anthropologists or a biologists, your life actually does depend on it being different which is why you do it- pursuing bio-diversity and the laws of evolution, orchestrated by your ego.
Why do teenagers freak out when it’s suggested that they wear something that is out of fashion? Why are their parents such old fuddy-duddies, to be ignored, if not out-right scorned? Why? Because they’re living in ego, identifying with their bodies and their physical environment as they discover the world around them is so much bigger than the confines of their home life.
Among their peers, teens desperately want to fit in, to conform, yet be as individual as they can possibly be. They want to explore what happens below the belt buckle in others but are imbued with a sense of taboo and inhibition. They hate the family dinners but crave their parents’ approval. All that tension is fucked up, man. But it’s the life of someone struggling with ego, hormones, esteem, values, community, independence, working hard to make it all work at the same time with little experience and few role models to emulate. It’s not much wonder we’re such explosive contradictions when we’re in middle school.
Plus, let’s face it, many teens’ parents are also living in ego- at the very least, striving to provide structure and a protective buffer for their kids. Sometimes, it’s much worse so there becomes a massive clash of differences. Since ego highlights differences and eschews commonalities, the challenges of family life populated by teenagers is that much more challenging. Don’t forget- if it’s hard living with teenagers, it’s much harder being one.
As we mature, our ego matures and gets much more sophisticated and wily. We learn new behaviours which garner attention from those we are attracted to. Like peacocks putting on a show, we all figure out in our own way how to attract a mate, or two… or a dozen… in a row or at the same time. Whatever turns our respective cranks. And if it works for us, our ego is thrilled because it has managed to get us past first base, right up to scoring a home-run. Chalk one up for the ultimate success of ego… reproduction!
Yes, getting lucky is much more than a little game on Saturday night. It’s our biological imperative- driven by hormones and thoughts. All that energy, all that focus in each of us to copulate is managed and orchestrated by ego. Our bodies may dictate their own needs as systems demand nutrients, process food, and a larger gene pool, but our egos play a huge part in the behaviours we act out to share our genetic stock.
When we manage to get it on with someone, our bodies are flooded with hormones that reward us with pleasant feelings which, in turn, are interpreted by our egos as a podium-finish in the race toward immortality. So we’ll do it again and again because it feels good and we feel good about ourselves. Ego could not be more inflated than when we’re in the moment before orgasm- except maybe in the hours leading up to that moment as we concoct elaborate masks to make us more attractive to the one- or ones- we want to fuck.
But if we don’t make the home run, if we’re rejected, if we’re defeated in any way, it can be devastating because our ego just can’t cope with the fact it fucked up somewhere on its planned path to ecstasy.
You doubt that? Go back and re-read the definition of ego.
As I mentioned in my last post, car driving is all ego. Motorists are all trying to get somewhere as quickly as they can. Many ‘bend’ rules, regulations and laws to get where we want to go with the least amount of inconvenience. And don’t play holier-than-thou. We have all committed tiny little infractions here and there quite deliberately to shave a moment off here, or make that light a couple of blocks ahead there. And in certain parts of the world, people see red lights as a suggestion because it’s safer to keep going and risk an accident for which you’d be found at fault than it is to stop and almost certainly be carjacked.
Oh, there’s so much more to say about ego but I’ll leave it for now. Suffice it to say, your ego is not you. While it may be a large part of you, it is still only a part. It is a companion, friend or foe. Whether it is a friend or a foe of the person it thinks you are, that has yet to be determined but in all cases, it only wants the best for you. Whether it actually is the best for you is up to you to determine.
You can choose to follow your ego’s advice, or else do something different. This is a cornerstone in the process toward inner peace so I’ll say it again: You can choose to follow your ego’s advice, or you can choose to do something different.
So now that we’ve determined that your ego is not you, I’ll come back to my first question:
Who are you?
You didn’t think I’d simply cough up the answer, did you? You have to figure this out for yourself. If I simply told you, if I told you what I thought, that would be my ego’s projection on you. And that would give me a big fat “F” in the worlds of self-help and spirituality blogs and you would have no reason to process these ideas independently, arriving at your own interpretation of what you are.
Besides, this is only blog entry number 3. Remember, I promised at least six entries and I’m aiming for a book one day so there will be many opportunities to have a conversation about this down the road.
I invite your comments. I’d love to have a conversation.
In the meantime, be good to yourself; be kind to others.