Last month we focused on the ideas of Love and Compassion as we practiced our yoga, on and off the mat. This month we study what it means to have a healthy ego–this is in fact an essential step to being able to love either ourselves or others. Without a very clear sense of the unique joys we bring to the world, as well as an honest and compassionate understanding of our areas for growth, we will end up with either an underdeveloped ego–yogis might call it tamasic, meaning dull, dark or low in energy–or a high ego–we might call it rajasic, meaning disturbed, agitated or frenetic in energy. A tamasic ego leads to low self-esteem and a hesitancy to try new things, keeping us from knowing our amazing potentials and callings in life, while a rajasic ego traps us in the exhausting and usually fruitless struggle of maintaining a false identity. Interestingly, both are simply different sides of the same coin: an inability to accept that we all have weaknesses, dark sides, and room to grow.
When ancient spiritual texts refer to “shedding” or “slaying” the ego, they are referring to shedding our sense of disconnection from the universe in which we live. These texts encourage us to recognize all the ways in which we are one with the people and places around us; they are not referring to the ego as we in the West know it. Western psychology recognizes ego development as a very important stage in human development, when we start to realize that we are our own beings, not just extensions of our mother figure. We realize that we can do some things for ourselves and have our own preferences. (The mantras of the toddler? “No!” and “I can do it myself!”) While it can sometimes be exhausting to parent our young through this phase, imagine the tragedy if they never got through it–evolution on an individual and a large scale would essentially cease. It’s important that we make our own decisions and mistakes, and find our own unique ways to add to our communities and societies. The problems begin when we interpret, through family or culture at large (either correctly or not), that we are “bad” for making mistakes, and then unconsciously decide to shrink into meekness or puff ourselves up without acknowledgment of our faults. What we might seek is a balanced or satvik ego, where we honor both our brilliance and our faults. Ask yourself honestly where on the spectrum you tend to fall: giving away power and being overly self-critical, or feeling the need to control situations and finding it hard to listen as well as you talk.
Challenge yourself to own it when you reach a goal or sense your internal goodness shining through. When someone gives you a compliment, don’t just deflect it in the ritual politesse of our culture–absorb it, and thank them. On the yoga mat, feel and celebrate any increased strength, flexibility, or balance and be kind to yourself when you feel tired or unbalanced. Don’t forget to laugh at yourself from time to time! Know that you are human, and by definition will at times be petty, frustrated, greedy or jealous. Give yourself some grace as you allow yourself to admit what you would do differently next time. Likewise, ask others about themselves and their ideas as much as you yourself share. Notice any needs to control and find ways to loosen the grip on the small stuff. Become a partner, a team member, a collaborator. People will notice, and you may feel more free.
Support one another in seeking a balanced ego. Difficulties are simply part of being embodied as a human. Share your struggles. We are all in this together.