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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ramifications of the Ego

The ego is manifested when you think you are separate from others and when you compare yourself to others.  In short, the ego is a product of the thinking mind.  The ego is largely illusory and often causes  feelings and emotions.  Sometimes the feeling and emotions are "good" and sometimes "bad".  It all depends on your state of consciousness and the situation at the time.

When we talk about the ego, we are in effect talking about what you believe to be true about yourself.  When you believe you are the physical body (the self) that is when you start having an ego. When you believe you are your name and everything that goes with it, you become attached to the self, and the self needs recognition.  The ego constantly strives to prove that it is separate, better, worse, more important, and so on than the rest of the world's inhabitants.  Some people may believe their religion is the only one God recognizes, some people may believe their type of yoga is the only real yoga, and some people believe if science can't "prove" it it is not true.

Why is there an ego and does it serve any purpose?  These two questions I will attempt to answer in this post.  First of all, the human brain has taken thousands of years to evolve to where it is today.  No other animal has the ability to see cause and effect like humans do.  Humans have no real good defensive mechanisms such as scales, hooks, barbs, fangs or claws.  In the beginning humans probably had a very difficult time surviving in the hostile world.

Can you imagine living in an environment where there are large carnivorous predators such as saber tooth tigers, man eating dogs, wolves, and other ferocious animals?  Also, no quick-stops or supermarkets, no ready-made clothes, no schools or many of the other conveniences we take for granted today.  It would be sink or swim.  People had to survive on their own ingenuity, intelligence, and capabilities. Those that survived passed their genes on to their offspring. As time went on the human brain became larger and smarter.

Rather than relying on defensive mechanisms humans relied on their cerebral cortex for survival. Humans became capable of performing cognitive functions such as thinking in the abstract, tool making, and language. The brain became the organ of defense as well as offense. Humans soon were able to imagine, visualize and come up with new and innovative ideas for surviving. Fire, spears, bows and arrows, animal skins for clothing and shelter were slowly developed to help ward off predators as well as kill them. They could now understand cause and effect and take control of their own destiny. The age of reasoning was born and humans became hunters rather than the hunted.

With larger brains they saw themselves as separate from the world and all other species. They now had a past, present and future - an identity they called self. With the capability of reasoning, conceptualization, and abstract thinking, humans soon had the ability to compare and judge. They could see one thing happen, then another and put the two together and formulate a cause and effect. They could compare and judge and predict the future. This was a tremendous advantage over the rest of the animals.

This ability to see one's self as not only separate and distinct, but also as better or worse, is what modern man calls the ego. The ego is impossible to isolate and describe because its roots go deep into the very fabric of our ancestral heritage. The ego is polygenic - reaching far and wide encompassing all humans that have ever lived - all of their fears, desires, relationships, and pleasures - all of their values and feelings. The ego became an extension of the self.

Next - how the self and the ego are intertwined.

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