Yoga and the ego

The ego is a survival mechanism. Its job is to keep intact our identity and image; in other words, the reality we wish to project to the world.

When we are operating from ego, we may say things like:

  • “I am better than others”
  • “My way is the right way”
  • “I know more than you”
  • “Anyone who disagrees with me must be against me”

Thinking and behaving in this way can lead us to neglect others and experience conflict in our relationships. As a result, others may then start to neglect us, and we can find ourselves trapped within a selfish and lonely cycle.

People who are in a state of ego will only be with you for as long as they need you. As soon as they feel that you no longer have anything to offer them, they will walk away. They are not interested in the growth of the group, or in the greater good. They yearn only for self-promotion.

It is tempting to believe that if we are successful on a material level, then everything is ‘working’, and if we are unsuccessful then we are ‘lacking’. This attitude comes from the ego, which is always looking to compare and excel.

The ego will only ever allow us to see things from one (very limited) perspective. It can prevent us from seeing the bigger picture or considering things in their totality. We only see the point of view that we feel works best for us. 

Sometimes, in a relationship with someone we love, our interests clash; we argue, and our ego wants us to win and to be right. However, this may not necessarily make either person happy. 

The ego wants to be right, above all else, but happiness and harmony within the relationship can often be sacrificed as a result. Ego encourages us to promote our interests at the cost of others, which leads to further suffering. If we really love another person, we want the best for them.

Ego for Growth

There is another side to the ego, however. When we have a fully-developed mind, the ego can help us to evaluate our position and take into account the total perspective, thereby allowing us to find an outcome or solution that works for all involved. Ego means taking a stance, but once we have developed our mind fully, this stance will always bear in mind the growth of the whole group, so it will never be just for the benefit of one person. A good example is parenting; when we discipline our children, we can be firm if required, but the overall purpose is to help the child to grow and learn. The long-term focus is on the child’s wellbeing, not our own.

In this way the ego can be used for growth, not destruction. When we recognise this and choose to think about other people’s interests as well as our own, then we can move into – and and operate from – our hearts.

When we operate from the heart, we are choosing ‘service before self’. This is when other people’s happiness is more important than our own, and we can accept this role happily.   

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