Ego: It’s something all of us have, yet most of us don’t really understand. According to Eckhart Tolle, who has written two of the most influential “spiritual” books of our time.
“Most people are so completely identified with the voice in the head—the incessant stream of involuntary and compulsive thinking and the emotions that accompany it—that we may describe them as being possessed by their mind.”
“As long as you are completely unaware of this,” he continues, “you take the thinker to be who you are. This is the egoic mind. We call it egoic because there is a sense of self, of I (ego), in every thought—every memory, every interpretation, opinion, viewpoint, reaction, emotion. This is unconscious, spiritually speaking.
All quotes taken from A New Earth.
He goes on to explain how our thoughts and thought patterns are conditioned by our past experiences, family life and upbringing, and overall environment that surrounds us.
“The central core of all your mind activity consists of certain repetitive and persistent thoughts, emotions, and reactive patterns that you identify with most strongly. This entity is the ego itself.”
The ego is full of thoughts and emotions with which each of us identify and which cause us to play certain roles in certain situations, without even being aware of it. And we have “collective identifications such as nationality, religion, race, social class, or political allegiance.”
“It also contains personal identifications, not only with possessions, but also with opinions, external appearance, long-standing resentments, or concepts of yourself as better than or not as good as others, as a success or failure.”
He also describes how all our egos are essentially the same:
The content of the ego varies from person to person, but in every ego the same structure operates. In other words: Egos only differ on the surface. Deep down they are all the same. In what way are they the same? They live on identification and separation. When you live through the mind-made self comprised of thought and emotion that is the ego, the basis for your identity is precarious because thought and emotion are bey their very nature ephemeral, fleeting. So every ego is continuously struggling for survival, trying to protect and enlarge itself. To uphold the I-thought, it needs the opposite thought of “the other.” The others are most other when I see them as my enemies. At one end of the scale of this unconscious egoic pattern lies the egoic compulsive habit of faultfinding and complaining about others. Jesus referred to it when he said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
5 Core Components of the Ego
What is complaining? A lot of the time it is a lack of gratitude and awareness. It’s a feeling that places us in the victim mentality, a feeling that ‘something has happened to me.’ This is the ‘I’ to which Tolle refers. Complaining is the result of your mind taking on certain beliefs about how things should be and then finding fault when they end up being something else. It’s, as Tolle points out, “a little story the mind makes up that you completely believe in.”
“When you are in the grip of such an ego, complaining, especially about other people, is habitual and, of course, unconscious, which means you don’t know what you are doing.”
Another part of this is blame, which often goes hand in hand with complaining. When you feel as if something has been “done to you” by someone else, you are completely engulfed in your ego. While this doesn’t apply to all situations, it does to most. Judging and complaining about another person often reflects ourselves and our inner state. Stating that “he is this” or “she is like that” is simply, again, a story your mind is making up based on various observations and experiences.
This happens all the time. Having thoughts about someone else in general indicates that your mind is making up a story, whether “good” or “bad.”
“Applying negative mental labels to people, either to their face or more commonly when you speak about them to others or even just think about them, is often part of this pattern. Name-calling is the crudest form of such labeling and of the ego’s need to be right and triumph over others: ‘jerk, bastard, bitch’—all definitive pronouncements that you can’t argue with.”
The ego will then gather with others, to confirm and encourage these views. We mask these tendencies by claiming they are normal, that when we are upset, we confide in others. But really, it’s just gathering with those we know will “support us” and agree with our viewpoints when we are upset.
“Resentment is the emotion that goes with complaining and the mental labeling of people and adds even more energy to the ego. Resentment means to feel bitter, indignant, aggrieved, or offended. You resent other people’s greed, their dishonesty, their lack of integrity, what they are doing, what they did in the past, what they said, what they failed to do, what they should or shouldn’t have done. The ego loves it. Instead of overlooking unconsciousness in others, you make it into their identity. Who is doing that? The unconsciousness in you, the ego. Sometimes the ‘fault’ that you perceive in another isn’t even there. It is a total misinterpretation, a projection by a mind conditioned to see enemies and to make itself right or superior. At other times, the fault may be there, but by focusing on it, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else, you amplify it. And what you react to in another, you strengthen in yourself.”
“Nonreaction to the ego in others is one of the most effective ways not only of going beyond ego in yourself but also of dissolving the collective human ego. But you can only be in a state of nonreaction if you can recognize someone’s behavior as coming from the ego, as being an expression of the collective human dysfunction. When you realize it’s not personal, there is no longer a compulsion to react as if it were. By not reacting to the ego, you will often be able to bring out the sanity in others, which is the unconditioned consciousness as opposed to the conditioned.”
Nonreaction, calm, and inner peace are key. This type of inner state, unless you’re a monk or other spiritual teacher, will also bring reaction from others within the “spiritual community.” Those who strive to diminish these aspects of the ego are constantly challenged by people like this. Egoic feelings of jealousy and disbelief will emerge, and you need to mitigate these through your non-reactionary state. They may also be in so much disbelief at your non-reactionary state that they simply believe you are “holding it in” or “building it up.”
“At times you may have to take practical steps to protect yourself from deeply unconscious people. This you can do without making them enemies. Your greatest protection, however, is being conscious. Somebody becomes an enemy if you personalize the unconsciousness that is the ego. Nonreaction is not weakness but strength. Another word for nonreaction is forgiveness. To forgive is to overlook, or rather to look through. You look through the ego to the sanity that is in every human being as his or her essence.”
Tolle does clarify that complaining is not to be confused with putting up with bad behaviour or quality. He uses the example of being served cold soup. You can tell your server nicely that your soup is cold and you would like it warmed up, which is different from complaining and making a statement such as, “How dare you serve me cold soup.”
The key to mitigating our complaining and resentment is to simply become aware of it and observe it. So many of us complain so regularly that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It’s an unconscious habit that becomes a part of our everyday lives, so much so that people will even try to defend their right to complain.