I have just finished reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now and A New Earth over the winter break—and while I got a lot out of these books, there is one point I wanted to touch upon and clarify. And that’s about The Ego.
The Ego is not The Enemy. Treating one’s Ego as something highly extraneous to oneself—and, indeed, as something pretty close to evil—is not the way to go about things. In fact, in my opinion it will only make things worse.
The Ego As False Self
First, let’s look at how Tolle defines the ego:
As you grow up, you form a mental image of who you are, based on your personal and cultural conditioning. We may call this phantom self the ego. It consists of mind activity and can only be kept going through constant thinking.
…it means a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind.
Tolle believes that this Ego is not our eternal, deeper self—the self that is a part of Source. The Ego is always tripping us up, getting us into fights, coming to wrong conclusions, giving us stress and depression, indulging in shitty hobbies, and on and on and on. And so what one must do is stop the mind-chatter, and focus on the Now.
If the Ego gives us any trouble, we can step back and “observe” it—shining a light on its workings, and thus rendering it powerless.
Now, Tolle himself never says the Ego is “evil,” or that one should picture themselves in a “fight” with it. And yet, it seems to be very easy to come to that conclusion anyway after reading his work. On some sort of level, that adversarial relationship with Ego/mind/thinking—referred to by him as “a monster” and “a disease” (not impartial terminology)—is implied.
Why The Push To Obliterate The Ego Doesn’t Work
If everything comes from Source, isn’t the Ego/mind and all their notions also from Source? If we say that Ego is somehow “artificial” and outside of what is truly “real”—that’s like saying that something exists that is not a part of Source. (No matter that Ego is “a mental construct”—we are asked to believe that other intangible things like Our True Self are real, so why not this as well?)
If Source is omnipresent and omnipotent—how can Ego/mind be this rogue artificial thing that somehow “slipped in,” perhaps when the Creator was blinking?
Is not the more uncomfortable truth that there are parts of Source that we might not personally agree with? That Source is infinite, which means it encompasses All—even stuff we attribute to the Ego that we don’t like? (for example, those shitty hobbies)
Source in its unmanifested “whole” state contains the potentiality for things we look down upon and try to obliterate from our lives: insecurity, pettiness, gluttony, etc. Source contains EVERYTHING. To say that there is something within the world that is not a part of Source is to imply that there is some “alternate” force out there, on par with the power of Source, that is creating all the “bad stuff”—and we can go down that road, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what Tolle’s intention is.
Learning To Love The Ego
Is not the goal instead to synthesize the Ego—to synthesize this “shadow self”—rather than hope to “melt it away” by the power of our attention or whatnot? To me, this seems how we ultimately get closer to Source. Not by the destruction of Ego, but by the processing and synthesis of it.
It reminds me of this clip from the 3rd season of the TV series Mr. Robot, where Elliot realizes he has to work with his alternate personality—read: Ego—instead of trying to get rid of him. He has been having this adversarial relationship with Ego, but finally decides to speak to it like a friend.
Further, Elliot realizes that a piece of him “humanizes” his up-to-this-point nefarious alter-ego…and that this is a valuable thing.
Similarly, what if the parts of us that we are embarrassed of—that we suppress in our efforts to for enlightenment—can be “humanized” by the “better” parts of us? What if instead of working to “melt away” or dismantle or obliterate this pesky Ego we instead throw our arms around it and hug it as if it was a child (and indeed, Tolle makes the “child” metaphor for Ego) and love it?
What if we love Ego/mind/thinking like it is a child? We love it, we listen to it (with the consciousness and wisdom of the Now), and we work with it?
Perhaps in this way, we can truly create some alchemy—transmuting what might have been dysfunctional (and both you and Ego may think the other is exactly that) into a Higher Order, the next step of evolution?
And towards the end of A New Earth, Tolle acknowledges that you need both Order and Chaos…both working towards an overall cosmic plan:
In the forest, there is an incomprehensible order that to the mind looks like chaos. It is beyond the mental categories of good and bad. You cannot understand it through thought, but you can sense it when you let go of thought, become still and alert, and don’t try to understand or explain. Only then can you be aware of the sacredness of the forest.
More to read about on Butterfly Language:
10 Low-Cost (Or No-Cost) Resources For Self-Improvement
How Forced, “Unprocessed” Forgiveness Can Be Toxic
Empathy Vs. Guilt