We need the matrix of thoughts, feelings, and sensations we call the ego for our physical and psychological survival. The ego tells us what leads to what, what to avoid, how to satisfy our desires, and what to do in each situation. It does this by labeling everything we sense or think. These labels put order in our world and give us a sense of security and well-being. With these labels, we know our world and our place in it.
Our ego renders safe an unruly world. Uncountable sense impressions and thoughts crowd in on us, so that without the ego to filter out irrelevant information, we would be inundated, overwhelmed, and ultimately destroyed by the overload. Or so it seems.
The ego has convinced us that we need it – not only that we need it, but that we are it. I am my body. I am my personality. I am my neuroses. I am angry. I am depressed. I’m a good person. I’m sincere. I seek truth. I’m a lazy slob. Definition after definition. Room after room. Some are in high-rise apartments – I’m very important. Some are on the fringe of the city – just hanging out.
Meditation raises the question: Who are we really? If we are the same as our ego, then if we open up the ego’s filters and overwhelm it, we shall be drowned. If, on the other hand, we are not exclusively what the ego defines us to be, then the removal of the ego’s filters may not be such a great threat. It may actually mean our liberation. But as long as the ego calls the shots, we can never become other than what it says. Like a dictator, it offers us paternalistic security at the expense of our freedom.
We may ask how we could survive without our ego. Don’t worry – it doesn’t disappear. We can learn to venture beyond it, though. The ego is there, as our servant. Our room is there. We can always go in and use it like an office when we need to be efficient. But the door can be left open so that we can always walk out.
– Ram Dass