Ego. A detriment or a benefit?
The body and mind are a perfect blend of the form and the formless seamlessly joined together from birth to death. There are a constant movement and interplay of energies between the two. In the body, a net convergence of energy helps create and hold the bodily form together. In the mind, the divergence of energy helps create space which can accommodate millions of thoughts we encounter during our lives. Convergence of energy in the body and its divergence in the mind is a complex framework within which our life plays out. When these convergent and divergent energies are in balance, we are neither body oriented nor mind oriented. We experience a sense of freedom. By balancing the energies of the body and the mind, another dimension of life may open up through the avenue of awareness.
The conduit that connects the mind and the body perhaps acts as a transformer, turning the grosser energies of the body into subtler forms before being allowed entry into the mind and vice versa. Just as water finds its level, the energy between the mind and the body, in an ideal situation, is balanced. For example, when the mind is active in deep thought, the body naturally becomes quiet and still. Conversely, when we are undertaking strenuous physical activity, the body remains busy, while the mind is forgotten. In both situations, we should ideally allow time for both the body and the mind to equilibrate after strenuous mental or physical work. By doing so, energies reset, and the body-mind mechanism may become more efficient and less prone to breaking down over time.
When the free movement of energy between the body and the mind is impeded, there is accumulation and stagnation of energies in different parts of the mind and body. In some areas, energies may be amplified, and in other regions, it may get depleted. In the mind, thoughts begin to aggregate where energy is enhanced. In the body, wherever energy gets drained, diseases may set in. Uniformity is lost in the body and the mind. The mind of a child is very active full of thoughts and ideas, but each thought is spaced apart from another, and hence there is no one dominant thought or idea. The mind is a more uniform and level field of energy. This contributes to making them free, happy and playful. The average child, in general, is also healthier than the average adult.
The ego body
When thoughts accumulate around specific ideas, they grow by aggregating with other similar thoughts. Over time, this ‘thought body’ takes the shape of the ego. We begin to enter a phase in our lives where we have two bodies, one the physical structure and the other is the ego body. The ego body has a greater pull on our awareness, and we tend to rest our attention on it. The body can function independently of the mind, and the major organs and vital functions proceed on their own while we are focused on the ego body.
The ego body becomes an artificial anchor for awareness in the mind. This virtual body or the ego is the storehouse of all our manifest and hidden attributes. We spend our lives growing and polishing it inside and out. Everything is done for its welfare and benefit. As long as the ego body is limited in scope and well managed it may have some advantages. For instance, without the ego which creates a sense of separation or individuality, we would be no different from animals which are instinct driven. Thinking and looking at life from a variety of perspectives needs room to accommodate a point of reference away from the rest of existence and ego fulfills that role.
The mind is the womb where the seeds of ego are planted. As the ego develops, its energy remains amorphous and changing. If it is not given shape and limited to a specific form early on, its amorphous quality will expand to all corners of the mind. Consequently, every thought in the conscious and subconscious parts of the mind carries the stamp of the ego. A portion of the amorphous energy of ego begins to take a more stable form, and that becomes our personality. When this crystallizes, the happy freewheeling days of the mind are over. We become more serious and adult-like and very different from the carefree children we once were.
When the ego body gets established, the formless aspect of the mind with its diverging energies working with and balancing the energies of the body becomes an insignificant force. The ego installs a ‘doorway’ and everything that is conveyed to the mind from the body, senses and the outside world has to be cleared through the office of the ego. Awareness is no more free and independent. We start to make choices and judgments. Habits will have the final word in shaping our lives. Change becomes hard, for any change needs the permission of the ego body. Through this process, we enslave ourselves from the inside.
Ego and awareness
The body and not the ego is the foundation from which we grow materially and spiritually. The ego fights with the body to monopolize our awareness. The ego tries to become the eyes through which we see and the ears through which we hear. It also wears a 'skin,' for some it is thick and for others it is thin. When the ego outpaces the capacity of the body, its energies get lopsided, towards the ego and away from the freedom of awareness. The ego dominates the body during the day when we are awake, but the body overshadows the ego when we are asleep at night. During the day, the reach of the ego is very far, and it moves outward not to observe and learn but to dictate and conquer. Under the influence of the ego, everyone wants to conquer the world in his or her way. Through the limitations of the body, existence has a check on us. The ego never lets us conquer the inner world, but it pushes us towards the conquest of the outer.
Although the ego body may have our awareness in its possession, awareness cannot become one with the ego. The ego may lead our awareness, or they may both travel hand in hand, but the fundamental separation between the two remains. The reason is that the ego is unreal while awareness is real. Through awareness, we can observe the functioning of the ego, but the ego body cannot witness and remain neutral. It works through our positive and negative affirmations. It keeps us in one or the other and never in between. The ability to stay watchful or in a witnessing state is a unique facet that does not stem from the mind. Awareness and witnessing take us beyond the mind and ego.
Steps to decrease the footprint of ego
The more we watch the ego, the more its strength decreases. As it shrinks, more space is created in the mind. The energy that was previously crystallized as the ego body now starts to melt and move freely. Rather than let the energy of the ego body become completely amorphous, it may be advantageous to retain some of that energy as a small form, just like a statue on the inside. As long as we are aware of this form within us, the ego will be under our watch and control. Imagine a large and serene lake with a small island with a statue erected in the middle. The mind is like the lake, and the ego body is like the statue in the middle. If the figure is small, it will not impede the view of the lake, and even if it breaks, the debris will not significantly impact the lake. But if that statue is so large that it overpowers the lake itself, it would likely appear grotesque. Moreover, if such a structure were to break, the debris may fill up a significant portion of the lake. The key is not to let the ego body grow.
Awareness gives a generalized perspective that is not tied to the body and the mind. The ego body gives a localized perspective linked to the body and the mind. It may be advantageous, and life becomes more enjoyable through both aspects. Without adding the flavor of an individual presence, awareness may grow cold and dull. Consequently, we may fall prey to the hidden danger of dormant desires that seek expression. Having a small and manageable ego body will help us continue our daily living and enjoying some of life's pleasures while awareness takes care of keeping us joyful without being tied to the objects of the world. When the body, mind, and awareness meet without the ego as the middleman, there will be a grand celebration that will reverberate through every cell in the body as bliss and joy.