When we think of our major challenges facing humanity, it’s easy to come up with a lot of candidates for the top spot. Consider: global warming, overpopulation, income inequality, political polarization, war, genocide, terrorism – the list goes on and on. It’s easy to find potential problems in the world “out there”.
Yet as great as all these concerns are, the greatest challenge facing us does not come from an external source – rather it comes from within our own consciousness. In fact, most of our outer fears can have their origins traced back to the inner issue – our individual personal identification with our ego.
What is an ego? There are a number of ways this term is used. When I asked my smart phone for a definition, it gave me three: “an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others”; “your consciousness of your own identity”; and, “(psychoanalysis) the conscious mind”. Obviously, how we define the term is important in whether we see the ego as a concern. In some psychological camps, having a healthy sense of self – that is, a healthy ego – is critical to solving some of our human problems.
Therefore, when I say that our personal identification with our ego is our most salient problem, what I mean is that we identify so much with being this individual person we believe ourselves to be – with a name, a personal history, a set of needs to fulfill, a set of beliefs we hold and so on – that it leads us into believing that we are separate and apart from everything and everyone. Our clinging to our individual personal identity, feeding its needs, feeling disconnected from all else and acting in our self-interest at the expense of others is our greatest challenge.
By the way, your ego is that part of you that argues with the last paragraph!
“The ego is a belief or false concept we hold about ourselves. It is a dream about who we think we are… It is an error, a misconception, a fantasy which has nothing to do with truth. To the ego, the ego is God.… It is the part of us that likes being a separate individual… It is that which defines, interprets, projects, and judges. It is the thing that is always making up the world. You are – I am – we are – always making up the world. In truth, in reality, there is no ego. It is just an idea.” – Jon Mundy
When we buy into the belief in our personal egos (and separation), this leads us to numerous mistakes in our thoughts and actions. We do all we can to defend our ego from attack and harm. These actions include our defense mechanisms such as denial (we don’t have a problem!) and projection (you are the problem, not me!). Our defensive actions can ultimately lead to anger and attacking others.
“Anger always involves projection of separation, which must ultimately be accepted as one’s own responsibility, rather than being blamed on others.” – A Course in Miracles
Believing in the ego and feeling separate from everyone, we believe we are in competition with them. We want to win even at the expense of others. Sometimes we even enjoy besting others – such as fighting for material gain or in the battle of ideas. Anything that feeds this sense of “winning” strokes our ego.
This sense of competition – a survival of the fittest – has led to major problems as people who overly identify with their ego moved into positions of corporate or political power. Their belief in separation and competition drives decisions that feeds an attachment to winning even when it cost others. They value corporate profits even when it harms the planet or the people on it. They value gaining political or military power so much that they condone violence against their fellow humans.
The truth is that we are not our egos, we are not separate from one another no matter how compelling the illusion is. Deep reflection on the findings of science – especially in the areas of biology and physics – reveal a vast interconnectedness of everything. Science is confirming what the mystics have been telling us for years – everything is connected in the vast oneness of the universe.
“Quantum physics thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe.” – Erwin Schrodinger
“All differences in this world are up degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.” – Swami Vivekananda
“The great central fact in human life, in your life and in mine, is the coming into a conscious, vital realization of our oneness with this Infinite Life, and the opening of ourselves fully to this divine flow.” – Ralph Waldo Trine
“There is a point in the supreme moment of realization where the individual merges with the Universe, but not to the loss of his individuality; where a sense of the Oneness of all Life so enters his being that there is no sense of otherness. It is here that the mentality performs seeming miracles, because there is nothing to hinder the Whole from coming through.” – Ernest Holmes
“The direction of life is from duality to unity.” – Deepak Chopra
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein
It is our clinging to the illusion that we are always individuals, separate and apart from one another, that feeds the actions causing many of our problems upon the planet. The only solution, therefore, is in our individual minds – in my use of consciousness – and in yours. We must free ourselves from the control of the ego. We must let go of clinging to a belief in separation which leads to competition and violence. We must see in its place the truth – of what’s really real – our oneness and our unity. And then we must act from that realization. Moving to this place is our greatest challenge.
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