It's all in your head.
It was ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu who said, “if you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living for the future”. And Jason Silva: “our society today is afflicted with pathological amounts of anxiety and depression … which have metastasized into a disorder of the self. Anxiety and depression both come from a mind that has become too ordered, too rigid, too hyper-vigilant. What the research tells us is that in safe containers and with the experience of ecstatic surrender - the experience of ego death - this is where all of the healing is done. You realize all of your fears are unfounded”.
Something has happened to us. If anxiety disorders are, “a group of conditions that make you feel scared, distressed, excessively worried – even when no real threat exists”, then a sign of how most of us are even slightly afflicted maybe seen through our fears of missing out and mutters of the Sunday scaries and Monday blues (Imagine Thriving).
I am aware that anxiety and depression are serious mental health issues - I am more so speaking to the more flimsy universal worries we all seem to be facing day to day. All is not well. Perhaps a great place to start in analyzing how to progress past these unabating inner stresses is to look at the role of the ego.
An Alternate Definition: What is Ego in a Psychological Spiritual Sense?
Laymen in the everyday understand ego to be arrogance - but in a psychological or spiritual sense, ego is the voice in your head that tells you who you are and who you aren’t, what to do and what not to do. Especially influenced by our upbringing, culture, movies and television, peers, and society, ego is the judgements and barriers in our mind we take on to create identity and it directly influences how we experience the world.
In effect, ego is that inner chatter that draws the line, that tells you you have to be married with 3 kids by 25, that the only way you will experience success is if you get into Harvard, that you can’t enjoy eating that because you’re too fat, that you need to tone down your personality because you are too much, that to be a valid human being you must be on social media 24/7, that you are not good enough, that you have to post another selfie to fit in, that you are not smart enough to go back to school, that you are too old to find love.
You see, the world just exists. It is the way we each choose to take it in and live that is a cause for difference. It is easier to blame someone or something else, but our lives and reality, they are self constructed. To truly grasp that we have the power to shift judgements of ourselves and the reality before us is so simple and powerful.
Defining Ego Death
Ego death is the surrender that comes when one dissolves the barriers in the mind that tell you who you are, how to live and how to take in the world.
Influenced by our genetics, traumas, life experience, and childhood, the voice in our head, otherwise known as ego exists and it provides the lens for how we take in the physical world. If you grew up with your parents telling you the color purple is the worst color ever to exist, you will most likely be conditioned to think purple sucks. You will go through life with a self imposed view, your mind telling you to avoid grapes, the Lakers and anything with this hue of royalty. Note however, purple is just a color, only bad because you tell yourself it is bad - in reality purple just exists.
Ego is simply an interface - it is that voice in your head, the judgements you set in place to view the world that further dictate your behavior. We have come to find identity in the emotions and thoughts that run in our heads from morning until night - I feel sad, so therefore I am a depressed person and I will present, behave and take in the world as such.
Surrender, Just Let It Go
Many philosophers and ancient teachings purport that to free the self from suffering, we must be able to transcend and lose this attachment to the voice in our head. I am not saying you shouldn’t feel for example, sad, we experience many thoughts and emotions throughout our day - but it is having the power to observe them and watch them as they pass that is important. What most of us are doing right now is grabbing on to these emotions and thoughts that enter our minds, stapling them to our permanent existence.
Imagine if you had the perspective to know that your ego even exist - most people don’t - to even simply grasp that you can balance your judgements of the world - create and uncreate them. To actually know that your views and beliefs don’t have to be static, is in its own way transcendent.
You create the world before you. You are in control of creating what you value, what you see, but like Silva suggested, our minds have evolved to become so rigid that we seldom see or accept just how much power we have to change the way we are living and experiencing life. When we surrender the barriers of the mind, that is called ego death.
What is on the other side of just letting go? “In transcendence, our ego is still there, with its boundaries, but now we are as though in an airplane, seeing the fences surrounding our home, but not being limited by them” (The Order of Time).
The Subtle Art of Ego Balance Is Where It's At
“The ego, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, it's when ego starts taking control of your life, and is out of balance, that it becomes difficult”. When we don’t have any boundaries or too little ego, we will have, “lost touch with reality in a way that we wouldn't be able to function in society”. If we have too much ego or our boundaries are so rigid they prevent us from seeing any other sides to a story, “we become controlling, perhaps narcissistic, and perhaps out of touch with those around us, at worst, we make decisions that seriously affect others because we have no empathy” (Lisa Larson, MA, Human Behavior).
In the west, “many psychological problems are related to the ego, specifically deficiencies in self-esteem and identity” (The Order of Time).
The ego is just a bridge we build to see the world and ourselves in it. It is the filter constructed with bricks from your childhood, culture, traumas and so on that lies between your true self and reality. The ego or judgements and voice in your head provide for boundaries that get you through your day. The way we see the world itself however, should be viewed from bird’s eye, adaptable and open to contemplation.
People presumably suffer because they hold what the voice in their head tells them as steadfast. People suffer through the movie of life when it is possible to change the channel - the remote is already in your hands. See it. Use it.
I think that even being aware that we are not stuck in the rigid - that we can change our values, see new boundaries - it's profound. The only person stopping you, is you; You are not actually fat, you can switch political parties, you don’t have to go to Harvard to be successful, you don’t have to get married by 25 to be happy.
Tips for Developing a Healthy, Well Balanced Voice in Your Head
Stress is a function of firm boundaries. Although we do need a guide in our head to provide judgement that will for example prevent us from killing another person, what we don’t necessarily need is the voice in our head becoming entrenched with our identity so that we cannot wiggle or adapt our way out of burdensome states of mind.
To live a life fed and full is to have a healthy ego. Here’s how to balance it and be in constant surveillance of it tampering with your well being.
1 ) Don’t Take Things Personally, Observe What People Say About You
“Do not take things personally. When you do, you are subconsciously (or consciously) in agreement with whatever you have taken offense at. This can leave you in constant need for validation from external sources which is the need of the ego. Be at peace with what other people think of you, even if it is not congruent with how you see yourself. You are never going to have universal appeal, there will always be someone out there who doesn’t like you — get over it now and save yourself any future distress. Acceptance of what is is key” (Cherie Roe Dirksen).
2) Know When To Speak
“The ego loves to make itself right. A common trap to fall into is trying to make someone else see that you are right. Really? Is it that important for you to force someone to see life through your eyes and perceptions?
No, that is your ego trying to justify itself. Masters know when to speak, when to be silent and when their words will be like farting against thunder. Control over your mouth is like having control over your sphincter muscle at a dinner party. Exercise it and you will notice how easy it becomes to have total control of outbursts or having to explain yourself constantly” (Cherie Roe Dirksen).
3) Look Beyond Labels
“Get in touch with who you really are and reconnect
to your source or core being. Look past the labels and identifications that society plasters you with. You are not your profession, you are not the role you play in your family or community. You are a special individual spark of the Divine that is nameless and authentic” (Cherie Roe Dirksen).
4) Fall In Love With Yourself and Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
“Learn to be comfortable in your own skin. There is no-one in the world like you — from your individual fingerprints to all the exclusive experiences your soul has accumulated. Comparing yourself to others is another trick of the ego — don’t fall for it. Fall in love with yourself” (Cherie Roe Dirksen).
5) Be Grateful
“Instead of complaining about all the things that are wrong with your physical appearance and situation, try to see all the positive aspects of your life and body” (Cherie Roe Dirksen).
6) Love and Show Compassion to Others
“We transcend the negatives of the ego, whenever we express love, or we act altruistically, or we extend our identity into an association with our family or nation or another group, or when we experience midlife” (The Order of Time).
“See the divinity in yourself and see it in others too. The ego won’t be able to do this. If you are finding resistance, you need to go into why you can’t accept that your fellow human beings are just as much a part of God as you are. To see the internal beauty in another will put you on a level playing field instead of comparing yourself and others and passing dangerous judgments” (Cherie Roe Dirksen).