Rising above the ego


When the September issue of The Shambhala Sun arrived and I saw its theme–the Wisdom of Anger–I immediately put it into my current magazine rotation. As I was reading the magazine this past week, I came across this timely passage:

The basic act of aggression is ego. It is what distorts the energy of anger into a cause of suffering. When we define ourselves as separate and truly existing beings, we automatically set ourselves against others. –Melvin McLeod

I found this equating of ego with aggression extremely interesting and thought-provoking. This would certainly help explain why ego flare-ups and fighting often occur simultaneously. It also helps explain why some else’s ego flaring can feel so upsetting, if indeed it is an act of aggression.

A couple of egos belonging to coworkers working on the same project as I am were flaring pretty strongly last week at work. I’m sure you’ve heard “What you resist, persists,” and it’s certainly true in this context.

When I say ego, by the way, I’m referring to that part of us that loves nothing better than to make others wrong. That says, “I am right, and therefore you are wrong–which is, of course, the natural order of things. I will defend my rightness and attack your wrongness without counting the cost.”

That cost, by my reckoning, is substantial. I’ve seen it cost people their health. I’ve seen it cost people pretty much their entire support system. Perhaps it goes without saying that much if not all the time, the ego’s interests are at odds with our own. The ego has no problem, for example, with alienating helpful people. It’s happy to do so until no one is left. I’ve concluded that trying to make sense of the actions and decisions of a rampaging ego is like trying to make sense of a wildfire. I suspect the ego is like a disease that stops at nothing, not even at killing its own host.

Thus it is in our own best interests to learn to recognize the ego when it appears on the scene. I have found that my own ego always gives itself away by insisting, “I’m right!” And perhaps it’s true that I’m right much of the time … but that doesn’t mean anyone else is wrong. There are many ways to be right, many right ways to do things. Many paths lead to the same destination. No one has a monopoly on right–or wrong.

Recognizing one’s ego the moment it appears is, I believe, the key to getting it under control. Once you recognize it for what it is, its lies are no longer believable, and you are no longer at its mercy.

So as I was preparing to go to work this past Tuesday, the still, small voice within offered this advice: “Rise above.” Immediately the image I’ve created a SoulCollage card for here came into my mind … an eagle soaring in the sky, far above the treacherous, rocky ground below.

I found taking this advice to ‘rise above’ to be far more effective than engaging with others’ egos. The ego is always spoiling for a fight. But graciousness refuses the insult and disarms the ego, leaving it with nothing to fight, nothing to feel threatened or thwarted by. When someone else is pointing out how wrong I am, or how utterly I failed to notice or predict something, it takes just a grain of humility to say, “Good catch!” or “You know, I misunderstood,” or “I forgot to fix that,” or “I got that wrong, I’m sorry.” Takes the wind right out of the ego’s sails. That’s what I observed this week.