Does the Ego Ever Disappear?

Question: 

Does the ego ever come into alignment with the evolutionary impulse? And if so, what happens to it? Does it go away or dissolve?

Answer:

 It depends which ego you’re talking about. Ego is a term that is used in different ways, by different people to mean different things. So when you hear the word ego, you might have a certain set of reference points, but they might not reflect the definition of ego that I’m using.

So there are many different ways that people talk about ego, but for the purposes of this conversation, there are two main definitions: the psychological and the spiritual. 

The psychological definition, which originated with Sigmund Freud, talks about ego as the functional center of the psyche. It’s the organizing principle of the self that allows us to engage with the world. It’s where our values and commitments live. It’s our psychological center, which allows us to make good, healthy, mature choices, and not just be ruled by our primitive impulses or by the influence of others. That kind of ego is something that never goes away.

But the definition of ego commonly used by spiritual teachers is something altogether different. Ego, in this context, is your self-image. It’s your story about yourself. But it’s even more than that. Ego, in this context, is the emotional investment you have in your self-image. It’s your attachment to the story you tell about yourself that causes you to defend it, no matter what. 

And if you’re invested in a narrow, limited view of yourself, it will be extremely difficult to discover the limitless consciousness that is your true nature beyond the ego. It’s for this reason that, in spiritual circles, ego is often described as the primary obstacle to awakening. 

So, going back to your question, I think what you’re really asking is “Can my own sense of self become fully aligned with the evolutionary impulse? Can this impulse become my core orientation for how I relate to the world?” 

The answer is yes! This kind of reorientation of your own psyche is definitely possible. In fact, it’s the goal of all this work.

Transcending the Pathological Ego

So, then the next question is what do we do to deal with the pathological ego? How do we get it out of the way so that we can become a fuller expression of the evolutionary impulse?

The first step in the process is to learn how the ego operates. You want to observe its patterns and tendencies so that you get to know it very well. You want to know how the ego operates in general and how it operates very specifically in you. By beginning to understand the ego in this way, you give yourself the freedom to choose whether or not you will allow its impulses to guide your actions. 

Over time, you can get to a place where you consistently see the ego for what it is, and then choose not respond to it or follow its unwholesome impulses. You want to get to the point where the ego is no longer getting you to do the kinds of things that are not in your higher evolutionary interest.

This is an important juncture in your own evolution. It’s the point where you can attain freedom from the ego through your own awareness of it and the cultivation of a deeper motivation to no longer be driven by it.

Does the Ego Ever Disappear?

Some people like to say the ego can disappear altogether. I would agree that this is theoretically possible, but I don’t think that’s a safe assumption for any human being to make. We’re still too early in our evolution. We still have too much primitive hardware and software at play in our psyches. 

Regardless of how aware you are of the ego’s tendencies or how much freedom you’ve cultivated in relation to it, the ego tends to persist. The ego keeps going even when you’ve seen that its stories are not worth listening to and its impulses are not worth following. It has a kind of momentum from the past that causes it to continue to derail the evolutionary process. 

Even when it might seem as if the ego has disappeared, it’s more often the case that it’s gone dark or dormant, and will eventually re-form and find its way back into your life. So it’s dangerous to ever assume that the ego has gone away. You need to always be on the lookout. 

But while the momentum of the ego may persist, I can assure you that it does get quieter as we awaken to who we are beyond the ego. The truth is that the ego gets its power from our continued response to it, our attention to it, our obedience to it. So if you’re not feeding it, or paying attention to it, or following it, it loses momentum. It loses power. When you’re no longer listening to it or obeying it, it starts to fade and gradually deconstruct.

Simply put, when you take a consistent stand to no longer align with it, the ego stops bugging you as much. It’s there, but it doesn’t have as much influence as it used to. It goes from being like a Rottweiler that’s got you pinned to the ground to being more like a little Chihuahua who’s a few feet behind you yipping at your heels as you walk down the road. It’s still annoying, but it doesn’t really affect your walk. Even though you’re aware of a noise behind you, your eyes are facing forward.

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