I admit I’ve read more than my share of popular spiritual self-help books like Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth’. And although I was able to glean helpful truth from such books (thank you for the wisdom), there is one significant idea that doesn’t quite fit for me in the current arena of spiritual self-help and that is the ego and its place in our lives. A lot of our spiritual leaders will have us believe that the ego is something inherently bad that we just have to learn to live with and do our best to ignore, dismiss or extinguish even.
Well my ego just refuses to let that one go. Today, my ego can concede to staying calm despite another driver cutting it off. And sure my ego is much better at forgoing being right in the name of peace. But relegated to useless, destructive, mind-chatter? Now that is going way too far even if awareness of something else gives everyone the blissful peace they yearn for and rightfully deserve.
Yes, the ego goes haywire on occasion (or often, if we let it) and rather than respecting our boundaries and our differences, the ego in the haywire scenario tends to place uncalled for emphasis on said boundaries and differences. So alright, the ego is something we have to learn to live with (like an ice-cream eating habit), but ignore it and demean it? What an illogical, erroneous idea! Sorry, there goes that quick-to-judge ego of mine.
That we can talk about our ego separate from some other part of ourselves is true progress today. There is our task-oriented ego and there is our nothing-matters-but-right-now soul. Yah, technology and iPhones are great (really great), but our evolved awareness of ego today is truly the crowning of humanity. What does this crowning mean for us, exactly?
What does it mean to have both a wise soul and a useful, albeit somewhat unruly, ego. As it turns out, the meaning of our dual lives is literally in our own heads.
Our brain reflects the fact that we are an entity made of two distinct parts with opposing personalities because it is an entity made of two distinct parts with opposing personalities. The left-hemisphere processes life according to ego and analyzes numbers, learns languages, and applies logic, while the right-hemisphere perceives the world as our soul and specializes in creativity, intuition, and big-picture concepts.
The main lesson our brain offers us is its design and function. Here it is, the profound lesson for the week: the opposite parts work together. Linked by a superhighway of communication (the corpus callosum), the left and the right–the ego and the soul, work seamlessly together to perform even the smallest of tasks, like reading this post. They do it so efficiently that we take it for granted the parts are not only separate, but opposite too.
And that’s because opposing characters are typically associated with heroes and villains–Batman and the Joker, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. But in the brain the opposing parts aren’t used for battle. The opposition is for maximum range; the farther the two ends, the wider the rainbow in between.
This is all well and good; so long as the opposites play as a team, we’d have a rainbow of a life. But in a world that places emphasis on the results that our ego produces it’s easy to see where we go wrong everyday and where our rainbow loses its colors. It’s also easy to see how our natural reaction to an over-emphasis on ego is to swing excessively back the other way, like a driver who over-corrects after crossing the center lines. But in the end, center is where we want to be and the ego is as necessary to maintaining that center as is our soul.
If we can follow the model of our brain, we can use our dual personalities to obtain the best of both worlds and live a rainbow of a life. Sure the right-hemisphere allows us to interpret the world as “one and all is well”, but the left-hemisphere makes sure we don’t forget that we are individuals and that we need to get up (off our yoga mats) and carve out an individual niche for ourselves in this wonderful world. And okay our left-hemisphere–our ego, produces results, but where would we be if those results did not relate to everyone else in the larger, ‘we-are-all-connected’ scheme of things?
In one of the most viewed TED talks, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, shares an inspiring story about her very unique experience with the two sides of herself. She personally attests to where we would be if we had no ego. She literally lost hers one day after experiencing a severe hemorrhage in the ego-processing center of her left-hemisphere. And although it hurt, she says losing her sense of ego allowed her other side—her soul to completely dominate and it was absolute bliss, a total trip to Nirvana.
But as peaceful and joyful as Nirvana is, Jill Bolte Taylor would have surely perished that day if it wasn’t for her ego, who managed a plan to dial for help, and who saved her life when her soul was blissfully willing to let it all go. Ultimately both the ego and the soul together make up this complex entity we call a human being, and maybe nobody alive knows that better than Jill Bolte Taylor. But if you can take her story to heart, the ego plays an important role in our life. So when you feel the need to restore balance for yourself amidst our result-driven society, don’t take the easy way out and let your ego take the rap. Literally give your ego a rest for a bit; let your soul travel to Nirvana for a moment (or two) and go revel in the smell of a flower or something.