The Ego's Way of Handling the Now
If all “experience” is thought to solely occur to the ego, then how does the ego as a mistaken identity handle the now? Eckhart Tolle in The New Earth suggests that the ego could be defined as “a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment.”1 Tolle further offers three strategies the ego uses to regard the present moment:
- A means to an end — A way to get to a desired objective or result.
- An obstacle — Some hindrance to overcome that is associated with the onset of anxiety, time-pressure, or frustration.
- An enemy — Making “what is” into an adversary.
While life continually refuses to fit into nice little categories, the above list can be extended to include four more strategies the ego uses to “manage” the present moment:
- A receptacle — Something to negatively or positively throw projections into, and then react to. One negatively projects to diminish, criticize, or punish others and oneself—what's disliked in another is likely to be disowned in oneself. One positively projects to boost grandiosity and entitlement, and justify one's poor attitude and behavior.
- A problem — Make life and its challenges something to be reasonably managed, controlled, structured, and supervised.
- A threat — Something to ignore, resist, avoid, or fight.
- A fantasy — Deny “what is” by ignoring it or treating it as irrelevant, a delusion, or a lie.
Tolle suggests asking oneself how one is treating the present moment—as a means to an end, an obstacle or as an enemy. Becoming aware in this way is a means of unmasking the ego by seeing through its dysfunction. One can laugh, befriend it, and have compassion for it, thus open the space for Presence. Similarly, ask which of the four added strategies above were used to deal with the present moment. When seen, each deconstructs and reveals ego's means of operation, opening space for Being here-and-now.
The imaginary self, the ego, gets absolutely nothing out of Presence. It “gets nothing” from Truth, silence, illumination and liberation from itself. The ego also gains and receives nothing from serenity, joy, natural happiness, kindness and equanimity.
At every moment every one of us stands at the crossroads of life: Will you choose your life, or the ego's version, imitation and simulation of your life? Adapting a line from Lewis Carroll, who is to be master—that's all?!
1. Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. New York, New York: Dutton, 2005, pages 200-204, quote: page 201.