A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula, Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)
Trying to eliminate ego has been kind of like a teeter-totter for me; just when I think I have it squashed, it pops up again out of nowhere. Over time, I have managed to reduce it to a weak and sickly thing that has only brief rallies of influence before it is sent back to bed.
I have been working to rid myself of ego for many years. It’s a work in progress that I find quite liberating. It requires a lot of conscious effort and determination to extinguish ego, or more accurately to keep it at bay.
By ego I mean a need for recognition, excessive pride, and a feeling of superiority to others. I believe that the prevalence of ego in today’s society is a consequence of materialistic values that appear to be the guiding principle of the majority these days.
As a young man, prior to embarking on my career, I was very humble and all about self-sacrifice and helping others. However, I remember an incident later in life that happened at a time when I was enjoying great success in my career. It illustrates how ego can unwittingly overshadow one’s spirituality and disengage one from compassion for others.
I was walking down a city street with my son when he was 12 or 13 years old. We came upon a homeless man walking toward us. The man was dirty, in rags, weak and trembling. When we met, he did not speak but put his hand out for alms. I ignored him and shuffled my boy past.
My son stopped and grabbed my arm surprised at my lack of compassion. He insisted that I give him some money for the man, and he straight away gave it to him. I had no idea how much I had changed until that moment.
It is difficult for me to admit to having had such a failure of character. I attribute it to ego as it happened during a time, I realize in retrospect, when my ego had a strong hold on me. The innocence and generosity of a child had shown me the depravity of spirit that existed in me during that period of my life. It took a while, but thankfully, I managed to crawl out of the muck of ego, put on clean clothes, and reclaim my spirituality.
This taught me that ego is insidious; it gradually invades the psyche little by little so that one does not notice that it is happening. It can slowly become a more and more prominent part of one’s personality and behavior. By the time your ego is full grown, you are not even aware of what a selfish and self-serving lump you have become.
Ego and the materialistic way of life go hand-in-hand. An inflated image of oneself is intimately intertwined with the selfishness, greed, and lack of compassion we see today.
This is because ego is one of the motivators that drives us to try to seek recognition and prestige from the things we have, where we live, and the people with whom we associate.
I may be sticking my neck out here, but I do not think that recognition or prestige are basic human needs. I believe they are created needs from very effective marketing strategies that span decades. So many advertisements we see play to, or seek to create in us, a “need” for prestige or just being noticed whether it is for white teeth, a flashy car, a big house, or expensive clothes. We must find a way to resist and reclaim our humility and dignity.
How does ego conflict with becoming a more spiritual person? The egotist’s primary concern is their needs. Consequently, ego can prevent us from seeing what those around us need. The sense of superiority that comes with ego can cause us to dismiss or overlook the adversity, suffering, and deprivation that others endure. This is one of the main ways that ego compromises expression of our spirit and militates against our becoming a spiritual person.
We are not defined or valued as individuals or human beings by what we have, how we look, or who our friends are. We are defined by the degree of humility we exhibit, how we live our lives, and how we treat other people; these are indicators of the degree to which we have become spiritual persons.