What is the ego and why does it cause problems in our life? Join us as we clarify Carl Jung’s concept of the ego and the role it plays in our early life development as well as how it influences our adult life. According to Debra’s new book, “Like a Spark From Fire: Break Free from the Past, Find Your Brilliance and Become Your True Self,” the ego is a false representation of who we truly are. Instead, we need to go beyond the ego to discover our true personality. In this episode we explore the following questions:
- What is the ego?
- Should we ignore or get rid of the ego?
- How do we co-exist with the ego without letting it run our life?
- How do we face the shadow that the ego creates so we can have free will?
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Robert Maldonado 00:07
Debra Maldonado 00:25
My book, you can see it on my bookshelf, “Like a Spark From Fire,” just came out last month, if you want to find out more, just a little plug, likeaspark.com. We were number one a couple times in Jungian topic and then also psychology and education. We have some great reviews and a lot of our students and fans over the years that liked my first book, Let Love In, have read the book. It’s just a fresh take on what we teach now, which is Jungian coaching. In this episode, I thought it would be really great to talk about the ego, how to tame the ego and get unstuck in life. Because I always say that the only problem we have in life, we think we have all these problems, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have great relationships, we have poor health — the only problem we really truly have is that we believe we’re the ego. If we can really believe that we’re not the ego, and that there’s something bigger and greater in us, then our life would change. That’s what the books about, “Like a Spark from Fire,” you have that spark within you. The ego just covers it up, that spark is your true potential. Why don’t we start with what is the ego?
Robert Maldonado 01:47
It’s worth talking a bit about the topic we left off on the last session, which was non dual philosophy. The non dual philosophy says we’re not actually in a material universe, we’re in a consciousness universe. It’s made out of mind stuff. The universe is not a big clock or a big machine. It’s more like a big thought. The divine big idea. When we look at it from that perspective, it makes more sense.
Debra Maldonado 02:31
It’s more fluid and less solid than we think it is. But it appears solid.
Robert Maldonado 02:37
When you believe it’s solid, it creates that solidness for you. A lot of people ask “Why are we not observing that fluidity of our thoughts, being able to manifest things or to create things?” Because you don’t believe in it. At the heart of it, you bought into the materialistic perspective. It’s called the materialistic paradigm. It’s what science uses. Most people were brought up and educated in the paradigm that we are in a material universe. Mind is this abstract thing that we can’t really see.
Debra Maldonado 03:16
It comes out of our brain and body. We have this mind, it’s separate from the world, it could maybe send electronic pulses out to the world and bring material things back. But that’s actually not how it works. It’s more mechanical. It’s describing how we experience it, how it appears to us but it’s not how it actually works.
Robert Maldonado 03:38
It’s the paradigm that current neuroscience uses in the study of the brain. Because for neuroscience, the brain is the mind, it is the seat of consciousness. For the Eastern wisdom tradition, especially the Upanishads, consciousness is not contained in the brain. The mind body, everything we experience, the observable universe arises from pure consciousness.
Debra Maldonado 04:11
If you think about the early days of science, the old idea was that the sun revolved around the earth. The earth was the center of the universe. That was science back then. When these wonderful scientists came in and said “I think I have another idea, actually we revolve around the sun”, it was blasphemy. If that can change and we now accepted that, what would it be possible for us as human beings to say. Science has created all these rules and ideas about what we’re experiencing. But now with quantum physics, they’re starting to question this idea of materialism. That scientific proof is the scientific theory, science keeps evolving. As we evolve, we start to see a new reality. These are the things that the monks from Vedanta, thousands of years ago, already knew. Now science has this idea of quantum physics, and the monks are like “Our people have done this for thousands of years.” It’s interesting how we experience something and think it’s true because we experience it. That’s the illusion we’re under.
Robert Maldonado 05:37
We need a bridge between those two worlds, those two very distinct paradigms, neuroscience in the West and Eastern wisdom tradition in the East. The bridge for us is Jungian psychology. The Jungian model essentially encompasses both worlds. He did that very well, that’s why we’re still talking about him today. As people become more and more interested in finding out what is consciousness, his work becomes more and more relevant.
Debra Maldonado 06:16
Ego can be described as conditioned consciousness. Consciousness is unlimited, then it collapses into name and form and becomes conditioned. Then we think that’s all we are. All the limitations and all the assumptions, we start to see out of that filter. The ego is the sense of I. When we’re born into a body, it can’t be like “We’re connected to everything.” I guess when you’re a baby, it feels that way, you’re connected to everything. Then slowly, the world tells you “No, you have to be careful. You need food, you need nurturing, all these things to survive.” We forget our limitless nature and start to think in that materialistic paradigm because our experience and senses are telling us “There’s a me, and there’s a you, and there’s these things out there, and the world out there. We have to navigate and survive in this world.” I call it spiritual amnesia, we forget our true nature.
Robert Maldonado 07:23
That’s the big picture. Jung defined the ego as the center of our conscious mind. Our conscious mind, the term is to distinguish the conscious mind, our everyday awareness from the unconscious mind. For Jung the main part of the mind was that iceberg model, we’re seeing the very tip of the iceberg, but most of the body of the iceberg is submerged in the unconscious, we can’t see it. Most of the work is going on unconsciously. When you think about that tip, which is our current everyday awareness, he says the ego is the center of it, the central point where we feel that sense of I.
Debra Maldonado 08:25
The ego creates this, when we have a body, we have to protect it. We believe we’re the body, and the mind is connected to the body. We think that our existence is connected to this body, we all have that fear of what happens after we die, it is a spiritual thing, we can’t see it, all we know is what we can pick up with our senses. We tend to prune away all this possibility and limit our experience of life based on what we can see touch, smell, taste, and things that make sense to this rational mind. It’s a gift to have this body and the separateness because it’s the opposite of limitlessness, so you have an experience of what it would be to forget. But if we stay stuck there, we never can experience the wholeness of who we are. Jung believed that in the beginning part of life we build up this ego, we have an identity, we create a persona, we get a job, we fall in love, we get good grades, get our degrees and certifications, maybe write books, like I wrote a book, or create a movie, or become a star. Then we think that’s who we are. We are this character that is alive in the world in this body. But it is an illusion. We start to believe we’re the character, and because we believe it, we have to defend it. We have to protect it, we feel like how are we going to fit in with all the other characters. We create all these, almost neurotic beings just to stay in this survival mode in the world, getting people to like us, making money so we can have a nice home, have delicious food, and sex, and all the things that the senses will give us. There’s all these sensual things we feel in life. Ultimately, all we’re really doing, if we really look at it, is that ego is looking for pleasure. It’s looking for pleasure and safety. Sometimes that doesn’t mean growth, that doesn’t mean bliss. It’s like a temporary relief from pain.
Robert Maldonado 10:52
One more element that’s important to understand about the ego is that it’s a function. More like a process, more like an activity of the mind instead of a solid component of it.
Debra Maldonado 11:07
If you think about when you go to sleep at night, you have this solid ego that feels very real, then you go to sleep and have these extraordinary experiences, but you still have this sense of “I’m dreaming”. But there’s this part where you don’t remember you’re self aware, it’s a deep sleep. The ego goes back into nothingness or everythingness. But we don’t remember. As we slowly come back to life, we wake up in the morning, the ego starts to regenerate itself. Again, I’m in this body. This happens every night. If we can let go of our ego every night, what can we do in our waking life? How can we not let go of it but how can we see beyond it? How can we be self aware in that deep sleep state? How can we make that deep sleep state aware without being with a sense of I?
Robert Maldonado 12:06
Which brings us to the next question, should we ignore or get rid of ego?
Debra Maldonado 12:12
I say no, because you can’t know something until you know its opposite. We don’t want to get rid of the ego because it does a lot of great things. If we want to have a human experience, we need an ego, we need a part of us that’s going to pull us back if a car in the street whizzes by so that we don’t get hurt, pull us back if we’re standing too close to a ledge, avoiding danger. Having social experiences, enjoying the fruits of life. We need it because the ego runs our senses and our emotions. A lot of people think that the emotions are really higher information. But it’s really the ego conditioning, thoughts, feelings, and emotions are really about the ego. We need that because we want to see who we are, then we could see who we’re not. That’s really where that growth comes in. The tension between the two helps us really understand because if we’re all bliss, it would be hard, like we’re in deep sleep, do we know? But having that joint of awakened and deep sleep higher bliss, together at once, that’s an amazing.
Robert Maldonado 13:28
I think a lot of the misconception of trying to get rid of the ego and trying to kill your ego comes from the fact that in doing a spiritual practice the main push back constantly is ego. Because it’s essentially conditioned to keep you in safety. Anytime you try to move beyond that, there’s resistance and you come upon the ego defenses, trying to protect itself.
Debra Maldonado 14:06
Think about it, if you were going to design a game, would you design a game that you won 100% all the time? No. When you were a kid, you always had things that you set up as obstacles you went through. You created a little obstacle course as a kid because it’s more fun. Think about those obstacles in our life that were placed there by us so we can know who we’re not and who we are. It’s that tension that builds self awareness if we didn’t have the opposite. That’s why we have other people that cause us difficulties in our life, or difficult situations, so we can find out how to use them. In every hero’s story in movies and books you read, the hero always has to overcome adversity. In that adversity he or she creates a new identity. The ego serves that purpose.
Robert Maldonado 15:00
So if the aim is not to get rid of the ego, how do we coexist with it?
Debra Maldonado 15:05
You know what I love that you say all the time, which is really profound, Robert, is that you just want to understand its nature. There’s this story of a monk who sees a scorpion drowning in the water. The person tries to save the scorpion, he says “I’ll save you as long as you don’t sting me.” He saves the scorpion, but the scorpion stung him. He said “Why did you do that?” And he said “It’s my nature.” The ego’s not trying to hurt you. It’s gonna act out of its nature. It’s like dropping the judgment. I think the harshest judge we have is the judgement of ourselves. When we act on our conditioning, we have no free will, we have no control. When we’re triggered by people or how we respond to people, mistakes we’ve made, hurt people, not intentionally, and sometimes intentionally, at the moment, we lash back in anger, to be gentle with ourselves and say “That’s my ego. It’s not who I really am. That’s the nature of that conditioned mind.” All of a sudden, there’s this other part that can come through. But if you’re in the ego, it’s like saving a drowning person, they take you down with them. You’re trying to fix the ego all the time. What you want to do is you want to know its nature, without judgment. When you start trying to fix the ego, you can focus on the other parts of yourself that are unlimited. That’s why I wrote the book, I spent so much time trying to fix my ego, it was just rearranging the furniture. We don’t want to build up the ego and fix the ego. We’ve done that already in our life. There’s a lot of defenses. Naturally that happened. How do we step out into the world and understand the ego and then create outside of it?
Robert Maldonado 17:19
For an East-West psychology that’s important because a lot of Eastern models were developed for monkhood. Living in a monastery essentially, away from the world, renouncing the world. Most of us are not going to do that, we’re not going to leave our lives and careers, run off to Tibet. But the idea that we have to live in this modern world with computers, and jet planes, and viruses, and all the stresses of life, but at the same time remember our true nature, reconnect with what Jung calls the soul, or the collective unconscious, then we have to find that balance.
Debra Maldonado 18:31
What comes to mind is I remember when I was first starting my spiritual journey, I used my spiritual growth or my time to escape from the world. I didn’t know how to integrate the two of them. I was like “I want to go and just be all spiritual, I want to escape.” A lot of people use spirituality as an escapism. They reject money, give up relationships, “I’m just going to focus on my spiritual life.” But it’s actually the integration of both, having the spiritual material. Shakti and Shiva, as they say in yoga philosophy. You get to live both ways, consciously. The difference is, some people compartmentalize spirituality, they compartmentalize their healing, and it never really integrates. Jung was all about integration. It wasn’t about getting rid of the negative parts of yourself. It’s about loving those parts of yourself, integrating, saying “I know I have an ego, I’m human, I’m going to have these feelings and it’s okay.” It gives us permission, or gives us that feeling we can let go with judging other people because everyone is fighting the same battle. We’re all locked in our conditioned consciousness and waiting to lift the veil to see who we really are and see the world as it really is.
Robert Maldonado 20:00
There’s something liberating about understanding that we are playing at being a persona, as Jung says. The persona as a term comes from the Greek theatre, the actors would wear a persona, which is a mask, so that people could from far away identify them as the role they were playing. He says that’s essentially what we’re doing. The ego creates a persona for us. We act in that persona, we start to over identify with it. As you mentioned, the only problem we have is that we think we’re an ego, we start to believe the role we’re playing, almost like an actor forgetting that they’re playing a role and getting so much into the part that they forge it’s simply a role, it’s a play, it’s a theater piece.
Debra Maldonado 20:57
There’s a famous story, most of you have heard this before, but it is aligned with what we’re talking about. A baby tiger got lost from his mother, he went off and got mixed in with some sheep. The sheep took him in as a baby and took care of him. He didn’t eat them, which is his natural tendency, he went in with the sheep. All of a sudden, one of his friend tigers goes by and is about to pass on the sheep. He sees his friend hanging out with the sheep and going “Bah bah”. He’s like “What are you doing?” He said “I’m a sheep.” He’s like “No, you’re a tiger.” He’s like “No, I’m a sheep.” He brought him over to the water and said “Look in the reflection.” He’s like “I’m a tiger.” That’s what happens, we get into life, we’re put in with the sheep of what everyone thinks is real. We buy into this narrative we all believe, that we’re human beings, we’re separate, we’re not divine. Then we need someone to show us and reflect our true nature. It’s an old story, you probably heard it a million times, but it brings this point that there’s nothing wrong with his buying with the sheep, but it’s not really living up to its potential where he can go. There’s another version of an eagle hanging out with the chickens. Same thing, if you can fly like an eagle, why hang out with the chickens?
Robert Maldonado 22:42
Isn’t that the story of The Lion King?
Debra Maldonado 22:44
There’s a lot of stories. Even Hercules didn’t know he was the son of a God, he was taken away as a baby, stolen and raised by farmers. He didn’t know he was a god. We all have those stories and myths that we forgot our true nature. It’s not arrogant to think you are divine, it’s actually arrogant to think you’re not, and think that your ego can do it all. One of the concepts in the book that I talked about, which is the Jung concept of the shadow, where when you have an ego and a persona in the world, what happens to those other parts of your human personality that you inherited from your DNA, generations and generations, how many thousands of family lines going back that’s in you, tendencies and human personality traits? What do you do with those? It goes into what Jung called the shadow, we start splitting ourselves from who I think I am and who I’m not. What’s really interesting is the ego thinks it’s altruistic, I’m such a good person, I’m a good ego. Those people are bad. It sounds nice to be a good person. But the shadow really makes us fear the judgment of being a bad person. How does that limit our life? We start to conform and create this conditioning that we can only be good, we have to fall in line. How limiting is that in the world! That’s why most people work for a company, they don’t start their own business. Most people stay in a relationship for years and years, even if they’re not satisfied, settle for less money, struggle because they think this is the reality and I don’t have a choice, and if I go for something outside of my comfort zone, something terrible is going to happen to me, I’m going to lose, I’m going to be shamed, I’m going to fail. The ego can be an enemy in that way. It locks us into that pattern, but also we have to examine it and understand it, so we understand how we can set ourselves free. We can’t just say “Ego, forget it. I’m just going to be unlimited.” Because you have to really come to terms with what’s the ego, and the shadow is unconscious. That’s the key. You can’t just say “I don’t want to be that.” Is there something unconscious that’s keeping that pattern in place?
Robert Maldonado 25:23
A lot of people fear the shadow because people talk about it in the worst possible terms, it is the dark and evil side and all the negative beliefs. Jung did write about the shadow as being potentially that. But he was talking, of course, about people that have serious mental problems, so their shadow becomes something to really contend with. At the same time, he’s also emphasizing that it’s not an easy thing to face the shadow, because it poses a moral question for us. That idea of developing our persona, based on what our family is teaching us, what our culture is teaching us about good and bad, right and wrong. When we want to integrate the shadow, we have to face all those questions. Can I really drop that conditioning about good and bad, right and wrong that is at the heart of my moral understanding of life?
Debra Maldonado 26:42
Here’s a good question. We have our training with our coaches, and someone asked. We get this question a lot. Bigots, people that are racists, how is that my shadow? I say, it doesn’t mean you are that. But there’s something that fears you about a person with that quality. We have to look deeper in that. If those people trigger you, what is it about them? They maybe say what they want without filter? They’re judgmental, they’re uncaring and mean, then you look at it and say “I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want to be like them.” But how does that limit your life? Not that you go and be a bigot, but how do I not express my full self because I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing, or being mean, or hurting someone. Let me just live this mediocre life where you’re not getting too much attention, you’ve not disappeared, you’re not hiding, but you’re not getting too much attention. The ego tends to want to stay with the lowest common denominator, let’s just stay in the group, stay in the tribe for survival. Don’t take too much attention. Don’t trigger people. It’s very helpful to see the type of people that trigger us because it’s showing us where we’re limited. It’s not who we are, but it’s who our ego is defending against, not everyone you see that triggers you is you. They’re reflecting that defensiveness or conditioning, they tell you a lot about what you can’t see of the choices you’re making in your life that you’re not even aware of that are driving your results.
Robert Maldonado 28:27
Somebody asked the other day, what are the parallels in eastern philosophy or other spiritual traditions to the individuation process, meaning that process of integrating the shadow. The way I see it is that all the spiritual practices were essentially about individuation, about facing and integrating the unconscious mind. Jung simply wanted to create a psychology, something that fits into the modern world that people could use. Instead of rejecting all that work humanity did to keep those processes alive, simply rejecting those because they’re not scientific, or that we can’t measure them or quantify them, his idea was that that would be a shame, that would be a loss of a great tradition of humanity that is needed because, in essence, we’re all spiritual beings, whether we like it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. Our true essence is that pure consciousness, that pure awareness, the Upanishads say “You are the infinite consciousness.” Very clearly, very upfront. It’s not a hidden process. It simply says “Your task is to find your way out of that labyrinth of conditioning, which is the ego.”
Debra Maldonado 29:58
If you think about it, in the Eastern philosophy, this idea of pure awareness is who we really are, the self, which doesn’t have any name and form, it’s just a witness to, we all have that personal I, pure awareness in us. Right now you can be aware you’re listening to us or watching us, that part of you that’s aware. There’s another part of your mind analyzing and thinking and is going to think after this and wrestle with these ideas. That’s the ego. The part of yourself that’s moving and changing all your emotions, everything in your body, all the feelings you have, even disease and illness, that’s on the ego level, it’s conditioned experience. Some of it our ego gets a template from our genes, it gets a template from our early life experience. Then we get this fixed sense of who we are. We have to go beyond just healing our body, healing our emotions, we have to go beyond the ego and say “I’m not the ego.” It’s just faster than actually spending so much time rearranging the furniture where you’re just making all your negative thoughts positive, or your negative feelings positive, because you’re just fixing the ego. Since the ego is not real, it arises temporarily and is conditioned, it’s going to bring back the same thing. You may be reconditioning it to make it a little better. But it’s like a game of Whack a Mole, where it’s never ever done. What we hear a lot when people come to us is “I’m so exhausted from personal growth.” It shouldn’t exhaust you, it should exhilarate you. If you’re exhausted, you’re trying to build up your ego, you’re still in that ego building. For some people who have had deep issues, therapy is really good at building up the ego, getting you that stronger sense of self, there’s nothing wrong with that. But individuation is like “I’m ready for the next level, I’m ready to transcend this ego, this surface identity, and know who I really am.” Sometimes it comes in the form of you making a decision. Other times it happens, events in life show up to push you along, getting laid off from a job, ending a relationship, an illness, all of a sudden it stirs up your life enough for you to ask those deeper questions and get you out of that limited way, having the blinders on, just going through life and thinking “If I just get that next raise, or if I just find that partner, everything’s gonna be fine.” Then you get to the end of your life, and you’re saying “I’ve chased this illusion all my life”, and the answer has always been within you. Like you had said, if people would realize that there’s nothing to fix, that the awareness is already there, you just have to realize the ego gives us a great opportunity to see who we’re not so we can see who we are.
Robert Maldonado 33:16
Debra Maldonado 33:18
One more thing, do you want to talk about freewill and what’s possible after we face our shadow?
Robert Maldonado 33:25
You don’t really have freewill unless you integrate the shadow because conditioning precisely means you’re acting, you’re compelled to act by your past experiences, your experiences in the past condition your mind, your ego to respond to life in a certain way, to conceptualize yourself in a certain way. Your self image derives from that experience, as well as how you see the world, what possibilities you see in the world. That’s not free will because you’re simply going by what the totality of your past experiences determine how you respond to the present moment. Real free will would mean that you’re free to choose in the moment based on infinite possibilities.
Debra Maldonado 34:30
I think that’s the key is because we identify with what’s possible through our past experience and our identity. I can’t do that, I don’t have that degree, or I can’t do that because I’m not strong enough, or I can’t do that, I’m too shy, or your personality type is who you are, your astrology sign. None of that is who you really are. It’s just the pattern. To understand we’re more than that gives birth to freewill. The tricky thing about the ego and conditioned consciousness is that we will experience our life as we believe. If we believe that we are whatever our chart says, what our past says, what our therapist tells us, a diagnosis we get, if we believe that’s who we are and what’s limiting, that’s what’s going to be our experience. What we want to do is we want to go from believing, as Jung says, to knowing who you are. Not I believe in myself, but I know myself. It’s a leap. It’s a leap you can experience by wrestling with your ego and getting that direct experience of what’s beyond it. With that wrestling, you see both sides. All of a sudden, you’re seeing there’s a third thing that arises, when you’re watching this battle between who you want to be. The shadow starts to birth something new. Jung called that the transcendent function where we transcend the ego, we go beyond it. We don’t let it go. We use the two opposites to create something new. Then we’re free, which is really empowering.
Robert Maldonado 36:14
That’s the aim of individuation as Jung defined it, to be free, which is also the aim of Eastern philosophy. The wisdom tradition was essentially to have you realize you are free because you are the pure awareness, that infinite consciousness.
Debra Maldonado 36:36
I think the beauty of coaching is that we don’t label people, we don’t diagnose. The person is free, we see our clients and we train our coaches to see your clients with their full potential. This is a potential based being in front of me right now. It doesn’t matter what happened to you, you’re free to become who you’re, who you can become, who you imagine yourself to become. It’s creating that imagination and cultivating that for a person versus just trying to rearrange the furniture your whole life, it is a much more exciting journey. That’s how to tame your ego, basically to understand it and see its nature. That’s how we get unstuck. I think a lot of times we feel stuck because we’re trying to fix the ego, trying to get away from, and we’re believing that something out there has power to give us happiness or security. We’re just chasing ourselves in fear, instead of creating ourselves from possibility.
Robert Maldonado 37:41
Do we know what we’re talking in next session?
Debra Maldonado 37:44
We are talking about your favorite subject, how to escape your mother’s shadow. In my book, which I talked about, it’s really for women, but if you’re a man, I’m sure you’ll get something out of it.
Robert Maldonado 38:00
I think we have mothers as well.
Debra Maldonado 38:02
I mean, I talk about the fact that a woman is really highly influenced by her mother because the feminine role is a part of our ego if we identify as a woman, we’re going to either accept or reject it. Even if you’re transgender or gay, not the traditional woman, you can see your mother’s influence, the way she judged you, she accepted you, what you didn’t like about her, what you did like about her — all influences our life, you can’t get rid of your mother basically, she’s going to influence you. How do we come to terms with the shadow our mother has created for us, that we built based on her?
Robert Maldonado 38:52
You’re blaming the poor mothers?
Debra Maldonado 38:54
No, it’s not the mother’s fault. We will get into it. But Jung says that we’re born with a mother archetype, this divine woman that we project onto our mother, she’s supposed to be doing all these great things. It’s what we felt, what we decided she was short on, it might not even be true, she could have been working three jobs, and the child is like “I’m ignored.” But the mother’s doing all these things. Our personal reality is never what the actual reality is. That’s really what we’re going to talk about. Have a wonderful rest of your day. The spring is coming, I’m so excited for the spring. If you want to find out more about my book, likeaspark.com, and we’ll see you next week on Soul Sessions.
Robert Maldonado 39:48
Debra Maldonado 39:50
Take care, bye bye.