The Ego Tree

What to do with the ego? We all have one. The ego is always at play, driving our behavior. Making sure others know how awesome we are. Often the ego shows up as the “I”, the “self". “I did this great thing!”, “I don’t like you anymore” or “I need to take care of myself”.  

At its best the ego protects us and gives us the confidence to keep moving forward. The ego keeps up alive, sometimes literally. On the negative side, the ego doesn’t really care about others. It’s job is to serve and protect. Anything that threatens the ego is subject to some kind of attack- passive or aggressive. 

Raised in a Christian home I was taught to think of others first. To be a servant. Thinking of yourself before others was, basically, sinful. Although aspects of that teaching still resonate with me post-Christianity I have also come to see the ego in a different light. My recent exploration of Buddhism has revealed a new way to consider the ego- as something that deserves respect if not domination. 

When I feel my “ego” rising up to make sure “Jeb” is getting the needed acknowledge my initial reaction is to feel a low level of disgust. Not dissimilar to the feeling you get after scratching poison ivy. The initial endorphin surge is replaced by the knowledge that the poison is only spreading. Same with the ego, it never seems to be satisfied, always wanting more. 

So what is one to do? It’s not like we can just get cut the ego out of our lives. It's there for a reason. Also, the Christian ideal of “dying to oneself” seems increasingly foreign to me as I further explore what it means to be a “self”. Now I am seeking the acceptance of the self- and all its dimensions. Instead of trying to kill off the ego, what if we got to know it better? See what it needs to be healthy? After all, the ego isn't really poison ivy, it's just feels like that sometimes. 

I've come to think of the ego as a tree. It needs to be fed- water, light, air, etc- but it also needs to be trimmed and pruned. A healthy ego is not weak nor on steroids. It has its place and its space. It leaves room for others. It plays a role but isn’t the only tree in the forest, if you will. Instead of trying to cut it down maybe we should care for it as a living thing that has its own needs?

But who is it, exactly, that can feed and trim the ego tree? Perhaps it's the universal “Self”. The Self that runs through all of existence, playing hide and seek between conflict and peace, light and dark, on and off. I don’t know. But I’m ok with that for now.