By Kellie Bach
For a long time, I misunderstood what the ego is. At first, I thought it was the feeling of being superior to another. Then I thought it was when I made myself right and others wrong. I listened to a lot of talks by teachers describing attributes of the ego, and I would cling to the attributes described and use them to provide myself with a neat and discrete definition that at first, likened the ego to an aspect of my personality. Perhaps this is because it is one of the more popular definitions. This understanding of the ego, allows for some spiritual work. You can work to become a less ego driven person, minimizing the more “egoic” aspects of your personality.
However, I knew I was missing something. The promise of virtually all spiritual teachings is the end of suffering; however, I was still suffering. I would be hard on myself when I realized I had been in an “egoic” state. Relationships did not improve and I found myself in just as many conflicts, if not more than before. I continued to meditate, trying to quiet my mind and just listen. One day as I sat on the beach – in presence – (easy to do on a beach!) it came to me in a jolt. I started laughing out loud. The realization came to me: While I sat in presence, there was no ego.
In contrast, every other time in my life, when I am not present, I am in ego. That is why it was so difficult for me to understand what ego is. You see to understand what something is; we need to have a contrast of something that is not it. For example, we understand cold, because we have felt warm and even hot. We understand red, because not everything is red, there are other colors that contrast with red so that we can see what red is. It is only in the contrast, when there is something that is not what we seek to define, that we can actually define it.
I wanted to share this realization, thinking that there may be others on the spiritual path, stuck where I was. Working on their ego, meanwhile, not understanding that the ego is not something that is part of who they are, it is who they are. Well, those words are not quite right, the ego is not who you really are, but the ego is who you are when you are here in your body and not present. Who you really are is consciousness and the ego is the contrast to that.
So while, it is true that when you feel more than, less than, or separate from anyone that is the ego. When you feel right, and make others wrong, that is ego. When you play the role of worker, mother, father, etc, that is the ego. The pointer that is now the most helpful to me is that anytime you are not conscious / present, you are in ego. So how do we overcome our ego? By being present. So what exactly does it mean to be present?
There are many good books, especially Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and A New Earth that describe presence in detail. I will provide a brief summary here. Being present is being fulling aware in the moment. You are not thinking about the past or the future. You may be looking at something, but you are not labeling it. There really are no thoughts arising, you but may be experiencing or doing something. For example, I was sitting at the beach, I felt the sand in my toes, but was not thinking about the sand, the type or the color etc. I was breathing in the ocean air and paying attention to my breath to help me keep my mind at rest. It is very easy to be present when in nature. You can also be present when interacting with others. When someone is speaking, listen to what they are saying without thinking or forming a reply in your head.
The most important thing is that to be present… you do it at the present time. Thinking I will be present in the future is just a trick we play on ourselves. The best part is that it does not matter if you were present in the past, you do not need to set a goal to be present in the future, and you do not need to worry about how long you are present. All you have to do is be present now, and if you find that you have started worrying about something, that is great! Why? Because you realized that you were not present. I find that realizing that you are not present, when you are not present, is probably the only difficult thing about being present.