The ego is your image of yourself and the world around you. It is the temporary identity you assume based on your external circumstances and the thoughts you build around them. The ego is the illusion that your consciousness builds for you that separates you from others. The ego is the part of you that feels emotions of desiring more than what you have and that feels it is entitled or not enough. The ego sees separation and competes. The ego writes stories about the past and the future in order to sustain its identity. The ego always wants more, but feels less.
What is the opposite of the ego?
The higher self (or soul) is the true you and the truth of you – something than cannot be changed. It has no identity based on externals so unlike the ego it cannot be threatened, changed or lost. It simply exists. The higher self is peace, does not want more – it sees that it has everything that it needs. The higher self unites. You could say the ego is about having and the higher self is about being. What you have or believe you have always changes but being is infinite and forever in the moment.
Sound confusing? A juvenile understanding of the ego vs. the higher self might see it like this:
‘The ego is selfish, bad. The higher self is selfless,good.’
Perhaps this comparison best summarises the contrast:
When you are living unconsciously with ego you are acting from a place of fear because you are attached to an identity which is always changing. That doesn’t sound fun, right?
So how do we find and centre ourself with our higher self?
There are two main energetic categories: Fear and Love. Hatred, envy, resentment, bitterness and indifference (all subcategories of Fear energy) are all foreign to the higher self. The higher self recognises itself as an indivisible part of the whole universe, rather than a separate, isolated and vulnerable entity and as such it treats everything that it encounters in a way that fosters unity rather than separation since unity is our true state. In a purely physical sense we are divided of course – separate bodies in different places on unique journeys with hopes and dreams, goals and ambitions, fears and insecurities. But if you zoom out far enough you will begin to recognise the similarities that exist in the motivations, the desires, the mental structures residing every human being – in fact, to a lesser degree, in every living thing. In the physical realm we cannot deny the separation of our being from others’ but there is one way to transcend it and enter a state of unity: to connect to the higher self.
So, if you want to know if you are on your way to knowing your authentic self, here are a few places to start:
Ask yourself: Is this coming from a place of love?
In an emotionally charged situation, before speaking or acting, ask yourself this. You might think that your frank advice or plea for support is morally acceptable but when you force yourself to re-examine your behaviour under this microscope you may experience a shift in perspective. If it’s not coming from a place of love it’s probably coming from a place of fear, of defensiveness, of need, of anger, of pain – none of the emotions associated with the higher self! To feel all these emotions is fine – you are a human with instincts and desires that your higher self acknowledges and accepts but if you are not acting out of love you are feeding your lower self – feeding these negative emotions.
An example of where your actions appear to be morally justified but you are not working with your higher self might be:
- when you do something helpful for someone but only because you want them to give you something in return
- when you get angry at someone when they are not meeting your needs
- when you emotionally withdraw from someone and refuse to communicate during a conflict
You will notice that when you are coming from a place of love, you are thinking about the other person’s wellbeing. When you aren’t, even if you appear to be selfless on the surface your actions are motivated by some kind of personal gain, be it material or emotional – even the motivation of ‘feeling loved’ doesn’t come from a place of love because love is about giving, not receiving!
I’ve recognised I’m not acting from a place of love: what do I do next?
Well done. You are already recognising ego or unconsciousness within yourself, which means you are becoming conscious – connecting to the higher self. The ego likes to see itself through rose-tinted glasses and have us believe we are ‘good people’, but the very idea of good and bad people is an egoic comparison. There is potential for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in everyone. It is the force we choose to act upon at each given moment that counts. Don’t be mad at yourself for not being in unison with your higher self at all times (or even most of the time). Whilst writing this post I recognised a major absence of higher-self in myself in my attitude earlier whilst stuck in a waiting room running late for an appointment – even whilst sat there drafting my key points for this post the impatience of my ego, or ‘lower self’, reared its head!
So, what we do now is not to look back but to move forward:
How can I be better next time?
What elements of my character show room for improvement?
Is there anything I can do to correct the negative consequences of the times I did not act out of love?
Perhaps the least egoic word of all is sorry.
Saying sorry makes us powerful
When you recognise you are not acting in line with your higher self, grant forgiveness. Sorry can be a really hard word for some of us to include in out vocabulary in the right manner – we see sorry as making us vulnerable. On the contrary saying sorry makes us powerful – it says ‘I am giving us a chance to make peace with this past disagreement and allow us to move forward’ The act of saying sorry is far more important for the soul than the act of being granted forgiveness by another – if they choose not to accept your genuine apology it is they that must carry their grudge, not you.
Of course, save your sorries for when they genuinely mean something otherwise they will lose their value. ‘Sorry I lost my temper at you last night, I was really stressed about my deadline on Monday but that wasn’t your fault’ is a much more valuable apology than say, apologising for buying your friend the wrong flavour of drink at the supermarket when they didn’t make their order clear – a better response here would be ‘Oops! I thought you wanted ____! At least I know for next time!’ It may not even be necessary to say sorry aloud – often our distance from our higher-self comes from being cruel to ourselves by putting ourselves down, not making our emotional health a priority, disrespecting ourselves with things that are bad for us.
When you find yourself disrespecting your own value, say to yourself :
‘Sorry I did that to you. You are worthy of respect and I intend to treat you as such in future.’ Then move on.
So now we know what to do when we slip up, let’s return to the question: How do we know when we are coming from a place of love? One way to assess this is to ask this question:
How does this situation look from a third person perspective?
It’s easy to become wrapped up in our own thoughts, feelings and desires and forget that this is only one angle from the multitude of perspectives from which we can see things. If you have an ongoing conflict with a loved one, try this:
1) Open your word processor and type out a letter addressed to the person who is causing you grievances. Tell them what they have done to hurt you and why it bothers you. Nobody will see this letter but yourself so be totally honest, even if when you write them down some of your feelings sound silly (if they do, this is progress!)
Here is an example of what your letter might look like:
I am really angry with you. Even though I am an adult now, it seems like you still treat me like a child. You don’t believe in me – even when I got promoted and invited you over for a big celebratory meal with all our friends you brought your negative vibes along with you and you didn’t even congratulate me! You just said ‘Are you sure you can handle the workload?’ Of course I can handle the workload – even when I was a child I was always the one who had to do all the chores because you and mum were ‘too busy!’ On top of this you’re always calling me to tell me about the most trivial details of your life when you know I have business to attend to! Plus you were so rude to my boyfriend last weekend!
As you read your letter back you may be surprised at how emotionally charged your words are. The fact you chose this person to practice on means they probably hit a nerve! This is okay. You may feel a sense of catharsis already from getting your feelings down. If not, that is also okay.
Rewrite the letter as if you are telling a friend about the person that annoyed you.
My letter might now read like this:
I am really angry with Dad. Even though I am an adult now, it seems like he still treats me like a child. He doesn’t believe in me – even when I got promoted and invited him over for a big celebratory meal with all our friends he brought his negative vibes along with him and he didn’t even congratulate me! He just said ‘Are you sure you can handle the workload?’ Of course I can handle the workload – even when I was a child I was always the one who had to do all the chores because him and mum were ‘too busy!’ On top of this he’s always calling me to tell me about the most trivial details of his life when he knows I have business to attend to! Plus he was so rude to my boyfriend last weekend!
Read through the letter again: do you feel any differently about your situation with this person now?
Finally, the most important step: take ‘I’ out of the equation altogether and replace it with a name which is not your own, making the problem totally impersonal to you. Edit the wording of any statements that now sound overly dramatic or childish in this format. In a different colour add in any observations that come to mind along the way. Think about the deeper reasons as to why you are upset with the person and why they may have acted the way they did. Your finished letter should look something like this:
Sarah is really angry with her dad. Even though she is an adult now, it seems to Sarah like her father still treats her like a child. Sarah feels like her dad doesn’t believe in her – when she got promoted and invited him over for a celebratory meal with her friends she felt like he was negative about her success – for example he failed to congratulate Sarah. This upset her because she worked really hard to achieve the promotion and she thought her dad would be proud of her but it he failed to acknowledge that at all, which led Sarah to believe her father doesn’t care about her success. However when her father said ‘Are you sure you can handle the workload?’ he did so because he was concerned – Sarah had been really stressed out lately and she had been turning to him for advice more than usual over the last couple of months.Also it can be hard for parents to watch their little girls grow up – he still remembers the time she couldn’t even tie her laces for herself so he finds it hard to adjust to this idea of Sarah as a successful businesswoman! His paternal instinct is still to protect Sarah from the ‘big bad world’ out there. Sarah didn’t see it this way and was mad that her father saw her as incompetent when as a child child she was did most of the household chores because him and her mother had busy jobs and the other children to take care of so Sarah felt she had already proved her competency. Her father’s negative comment took her back to the inadequacy she felt as a child as none of the help she gave around the house was appreciated or rewarded – it seemed like she could never be good enough for her father and she saw this attitude repeating itself when he asked is she could cope as an adult. Sarah is also frustrated that her father calls often and shares many details of his life with her when she is busy. Again, he wanted to check up on her to make sure she is coping okay. Sarah never seems to pay much attention to her father anymore and that upsets him as he often finds himself feeling lonely now that Sarah’s mum has passed and he is living alone. Sarah also thought her father acted rudely to her boyfriend at the weekend. Perhaps he was a little bit cold towards him but Sarah has been hurt by men in the past and he just wants to make sure this new man is good enough for his precious daughter!
Now compare the first and third letters. You may be astonished how much they differ: yet they are about the same problem! It’s amazing how when you take yourself out of the equation things become clearer and you are able to operate from a place of objectivity and empathy. If I read just the first letter, I would most likely feel mad at Sarah’s father too! But if I read the third letter I would see the situation as a miscommunication of needs between two people who are going through difficulties – both have a point!
When you have completed this activity you will find it easier to answer this question:
Have I been acting out of irrational emotions or rational thoughts?
Chances are, there is some element of the former to your grievances. Your negative emotions highlight where your needs haven’t been met and highlight areas for personal growth. Acknowledge that your irrational emotions don’t make you a bad person but they give you a starting point from which you can try to meet your needs in a healthier way – for example Sarah’s needs which she expressed unhealthily here are ‘to be appreciated’ ‘for others to see her as as capable’ ‘to be approved of’. She needs to strive to express these needs to her father in an assertive way, rather than defensive or aggressive.
For example she could say:
‘I am really excited about this promotion and I would really like your support. I know that it will be difficult at first to balance my responsibilities but I know I am capable so you don’t need to worry. I would love to be able to celebrate my success with you, do you think you could do that for me?’
Think about how much better you would respond to this request than if Sarah exploded at you saying:
‘I was really excited about this promotion! Why do you never support me! I am perfectly capable! Stop worrying about me! ‘
Focus on the ideal scenario and request of the person the action required to reach it, rather than focusing on the less-than-stellar present situation.
Go out and seek the conditions that will meet your needs – this may be a conversation with a loved one to get you both on the same page, finding a new job, taking up a new hobby, making a commitment to improve your physical health etc. If your lifestyle at present doesn’t support you meeting your needs, change it! You may have to let go of old habits, lifestyle choices or even people but the higher-self is always striving for personal growth and if your externals don’t facilitate that growth it is time to move on. Ask yourself ‘can I both love myself and be attached to this thing/person/place?’ If the answer is no, it may be time to let them go.
This leads onto the final question:
Am I being true to myself?
If not, why not? Maybe you have conflict with yourself? The letter writing activity can apply to anyone that has hurt you – and sometimes the person we hurt the most is ourselves.
The higher self is always authentic and in search for peace and truth. Grant yourself these gifts and grant them to others – when you are in touch with your higher self you will know it as you are connecting to your innate wisdom. When you are in touch with your higher self everything seems to fall into place, and even when there are external challenges your higher self reminds you : you will always find a way.