Ego and Self
The thing that amazes me the most in this discipline of writing some spiritual reflection is where I get the ideas. Sometimes I have to struggle to get an idea, but with some perseverance, I can get one. More often than not, something happens and, boom, the idea pops into my head. Such was the idea for this entry. The idea came immediately, but the title came only with some reflection.
Oddly enough, the idea came when a car turned the corner in front of me. I was out for a walk in the wonderful Metropark that is close to my campus. It is a tree-lined, fairly wide path that goes for miles. Where I join it, it passes a couple lakes. There is some traffic on the adjoining road, but for the runners, walkers and bikers, the cars are a secondary distraction. Most of us are enjoying the beauty of nature.
As I approached the corner where the Metropark leads me back to the street, I heard a car coming, so I stopped. Quickly this white car comes to the corner and turns almost recklessly on to the Metropark road. As the car sped by, I noticed the driver was a rather young guy. I also noticed the car was a really nice Mustang—a pretty sporty car. As he rounded the corner, he hit the gas and the motor roared. Within seconds I am sure he was well above the speed limit. The car oozed sounds of power, etc.
I laughed at myself. Immediately, I felt sixteen years old and could imagine that being my car. It was all masculine---power, might, almost a kind of arrogance. Since I am not sixteen any more, I really don’t want that kind of a car. I did not judge the guy. In another world, that would be me if I could manage it. There was nothing wrong with it. And it did give me an idea and caused me to begin pondering.
I have often thought that things like cars can be one way we express ourselves. I know if I had that sporty, white Mustang, I would be making a statement about myself! That’s when it hit me. I am not an expert psychologist by any means, but I do like to make a distinction between ego and self. I understand ego in the sense of its Greek meaning. I know ego literally is a Greek word. I could write it in Greek, but then in English you would spell it: ego! It translates as “I.” So ego is “I.” It is myself knowing what I want.
Self, on the other hand, is a deeper, more spiritual person that I really am. As I am understanding it, self is not superficial. If I can distinguish ego and self, I would say the ego says “I want” and the self says, “I am willing.” Let’s go back to the Mustang to explain it further.
I think the guy’s Mustang was an expression of his ego. Effectively, he is saying, “I am a Mustang!” In this case ego is bold, powerful, fancier than most other cars, etc. That’s how he wants to feel about himself. Again, this is not bad; it is not too deep and, likely, not very spiritual. But it was where I was at sixteen!
Ego is not bad, but it is often fairly superficial. Ego can never be our true self. Ego can never be the real me. In this sense, ego is not wrong or bad; it is just not true---at least, deeply true. Down deep, the guy knows he is not a Mustang, but he wants to be! Again, I don’t blame him. While I know that my ego is not lusting after a big, powerful car, my ego can want other things that are just as much a sign of egocentric perspective.
Egos get lived out in clothes, as well as cars. Egos get lived out in sports and all sorts of other ways. It is always well to know how easily ego links to egocentric---that which “I” am centered upon. It usually is putting an image out there that we want to be and we hope others perceive us to be. It is not bad; it is often just false. As long as we live out of our ego, we usually are not very aware of our self.
The self is deeper and usually more subtle. The self is who we really are---at our core. Our self is unique. The spiritual journey can be understood as our quest to come to know our true self and, then, to live from that core or center. When we know and live from that center, we would never think, “I am a Mustang.”
As I understand the self from a spiritual perspective, our discovery of our true self will simultaneously be to discover the Holy One. The self is the person God imagines us to be---or to become if we are not there yet. This deeper, true self is the place where real love and compassion are possible. The self is not competitive, but collaborates in the building of a better world.
When we are in touch with this deeper self, we both tend to know who we are, but we are also aware of and sensitive to others. This is why the “I want” of the ego shifts to “I am willing.” The self is willing to help, care, laugh and cry with others. The self shows up instead of showing off.