Meditation For Ego Release

For millennia, people have used meditation for ego release and the practice has been tied to the concept of “Ego Death” and of becoming selfless. The idea is that if we release the ego and achieve oneness with the universe we will live in a state of perpetual peace. That, however, might not actually be true. While there are inherent disadvantages of being “egotistical” there are also dangers of being literally “selfless”. As someone who suffers from a mental health condition that literally causes “no self”, I can assure you, it’s not all roses. Let’s investigate.

The Link Between Meditation And Ego

Ego is the part of ourselves that creates the sense of “self”, which is comprised of the “id” (the part of animalistic desires) and the superego (social ego). Well, that’s what Freud would tell you. Buddhists would tell you that there is in fact no self (anatta) and that the perception of such is a mere delusion. Interestingly, neuroscience cannot provide any proof of whether this Buddhist view is factual or not. 

Either way, whether the ego is real or a delusion of the mind, it dominates our lives. We humans naturally view things in an egocentric way insofar as we see the world as it relates to us as individuals. And some people also stray into egotism, whereby they view themselves as more important than everyone else. 

As a whole it seems that society tends to reward the egotist, who will do anything to achieve their own success and prosperity, while spiritualists advocate ego-death as the path of everlasting peace and enlightenment. So who is right?

Is Ego A Bad Thing?

Let’s set one thing straight right off the bat. There is nothing inherently “bad” about the ego. In fact many people, myself included, would argue that it is essential to have an ego. Problems occur, however, when we become egotistical and when we hold too rigid a sense of ourselves. And the reason for this is that reality doesn’t always conform to our sense of ourselves. 

Consider:

  • You’re egotistical about your intelligence and always assume you’re the smartest dude in the room. But uh-oh here’s Reginald with his PhD in astrophysics. Reginald challenges your perception of yourself so you ignore he even exists.
  • You’re sexy and you know it but this one guy doesn’t seem to notice. Is he blind, stupid, or just being a jerk…? How dare he ignore you!
  • You’ve always been spoiled so you assume that you’re entitled to everything and anytime you’re told you can’t have something it drives you around the bend!
  • You’re so up your own ass you think you can do absolutely everything and anytime you’re reminded of your imperfect humanity you feel disgusted at yourself.
  • How many egotists does it take to save the world? One. Or at least that’s what they tell you.

The more rigidly we hold onto our ego the more we will suffer as time and again the world will refuse to conform to our view of ourselves. So, if rigidly holding onto our sense of self causes suffering, surely “ego death” must be a good thing… right…?

What Does Ego Death Mean?

Ego death is the dissolution of the boundary between the “self” and the world. It is a moment when we achieve oneness with the universe. And if you ask most spiritualists it is the moment of “Awakening”.

Many famous thought leaders have discussed ego death, such as Carl Jung who called it a fundamental transformation of the psyche, and Joseph Campbell who described it as a “phase of transition” in The Hero’s Journey. Eckhart Tolle described ego as an accumulation of thoughts and feelings that create an illusion of separation from the outside world and ego death as the dissolution of that. Similar notions are mentioned in Buddhism and Taoism. It is supposed to be a beautiful moment that leads to profound inner peace. 

And yet in my experience, all of this is nonsense. Indeed, I myself have an absolute lack of self caused by the fact that I have Borderline Personality Disorder. Yes, a huge part of my mental health condition is that I do not have a self. And I can absolutely guarantee you that being literally without self is a very, very bad thing. The problem is that the mind demands a “self” to cling to and if we don’t provide that for ourselves, the mind will find it elsewhere. As someone with no self I have spent years literally “becoming” the people I am around, and I can assure you there is nothing peaceful about that.

Now, I know that there is an elephant in this room, and that elephant is the Buddhist sangha (community). Buddhist sanghas are full of monks who have achieved “no self” and who are happy, peaceful, and healthy. So how do we explain that? Well, here’s the thing, Buddhists do not genuinely have “NO self”. Rather, they have a sense of self that identifies with Buddha and with the sangha itself. When Buddhists talk about “ego death” what they really mean is “letting go of the individual self to become a part of the bigger Buddhist ‘self'”. Think about it like water. Let’s say there is a puddle of water. That puddle is comprised of billions of individual molecules of water. Those molecules exist individually, each being its own unique molecule, but we would never say “There’re a billion individual molecules of water here”, no, we’d say “There’s a puddle”. Buddhists choose to be the puddle. But the individual molecules, the individual monks, still exist as an individual molecule / self. And that’s crucial, because to literally be “selfless” would be a terrible thing.

Is It Good To Be Selfless?

We usually say that it is a good thing to be selfless, and indeed it can be a noble quality, putting others ahead of ourselves. But when we say “selfless” in this way we really mean “kind and compassionate”, rather than “a person who literally does not have a self”.

If you ask a New Age spiritualist if it is good to literally have “no self” they will likely say that yes, that is the pathway to peace and enlightenment, as Buddha taught. Yet I myself, as someone with a mental health condition that literally causes “no self” will tell you that having no self makes it absolutely impossible to live in this day and age and puts you at the whim of the elements because if we have no identifiable “self” then our ego molds itself to whatever situation we happen to be in and whomsoever we happen to be with.

But if that is the case, was Buddha wrong? 

Buddha was not wrong. But he is very often misunderstood.

As Melvin McLeod explains on the Buddhist website LionsRoar, when Buddha discussed Anatta, no self, he didn’t literally mean that we do not have an individual identity. Rather, he meant that our view of our true nature is distorted. We have a sense of self in that we are alive and have our own energy, but we are not defined by many of the things that we associate with the self, we are not our jobs, our race, our religion… we are beyond all of that. We are one with the entire universe in the sense that we are all interconnected, but we are unique in the sense that we do indeed have our own consciousness and our own being.

And so, where does this leave us? Where does the scientific understanding of “self”, the Buddhist philosophy of no self, and my personal struggles… Where does all of that leave us?

We need the right amount of self.

The Right Amount Of Self

Too much “self” causes suffering. And too little self also causes suffering. 

When we are egotistical we create a delusional and rigid sense of who we are. Inevitably, the world will not always comply with this “identity” that we are clinging onto. And so we suffer. But equally, having a weak sense of self, which is called identity diffusion, also leads to suffering because it makes it hard to have any consistency in life and also makes us very susceptible to external influences.

And so, as is so often the case in life, the ideal situation is somewhere in the middle.

The right amount of ego is when we do have a good sense of who we are, of our core values, our personality traits, and the type of person we are, but we are flexible in this view. For instance, maybe we do consider ourselves intelligent, but not to the degree that one wrong answer in Trivial Pursuit causes a panic attack. Maybe we do consider ourselves a good person, but not so much that one small transgression causes self loathing. 

The right amount of ego is a keen and positive sense of one’s self, but set in playdough not concrete.

Using Meditation For Ego Release

Through my experience both from meditating myself and from teaching meditation, I’ve seen that meditation can balance out our ego. It can make egotists more flexible in their sense of self, and for people who suffer from identity diffusion like myself it can give us a better sense of identity.

We achieve these two things in different ways. For reducing the ego I’d say it’s best to practice Vipassana and Self Inquiry. Vipassana is a method in which we observe and label our thoughts and feelings, which makes them have less of an effect on us. Self Inquiry is about observing the empty silence at our core. In my experience these two methods can loosen up a stubborn ego. You could also try Neti Neti.

For overcoming identity diffusion and lack of self we want to meditate on our idea of ourselves, bringing our awareness to our core values and to memories that have shaped us. I’ve actually created a meditation for BPD that I always hear great feedback on. Take a look.

Below, I’ve shared a guided meditation for ego, which will help you to find just the right amount of ego! 

Guided Meditation For Ego 

Guided Meditation For Ego Death & Creation

This guided meditation for ego begins with Vipassana. We meditate on the breath and observe and label our thoughts and feelings. This creates a sense of calm and emptiness, which is releasing the ego. We then bring to mind our core values and reflect on times when we have enacted these values. This produces a positive sense of self.

Closing Thoughts

Ego is a tricky thing. Too much of it and we become attached to a false view of ourselves, which can lead us to suffer. Too little of it and we lose our sense of being, struggle to relate to the world around us, and become at the mercy of outside influences. Thankfully, we can use meditation to balance out the ego, and the guided meditation above is a great place to start.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.

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