Do you know the difference between your true self and your ego? This is what I discovered on my own journey of becoming aware of my ego and how I practice overcoming it.
In Yogic philosophy, the most sacred ancient text is called "Yoga Sutras" by Patanjali. Patanjali compiled the sutras in India somewhere between 500 BCE and 400 CE. Patanjali is to Yoga what Buddha is to Buddhism.
The 'sutras', meaning 'threads', are elegant threads of knowledge that allow you to explore the essential core meaning of yoga. I have read the Sutras numerous times and each time a different thread will take on a slightly new meaning for me. I love how the meaning of each thread evolves with my own life experiences giving me different (hopefully wiser) perspective.
In the Sutras, Patanjali describes five causes of suffering, called the Kleshas. One of the causes of suffering is the "ego" ("asmita" in Sanskrit).
Ego happens when you identify with the parts of yourself that change— your mind, your body, your appearance, your job title, your bank balance, your accolades, your property, your relationship status, your social media following etc...
How often have you identified with how you look, or what you do for a living as things that define you?
I do it often! I find myself identifying with what I do for work a lot. I remember going through 6 months of unemployment in my twenties feeling completely worthless, depressed, and like I did not have an identity.
Patanjali says that if you identify too closely with the changeable elements of yourself, you set yourself up for suffering and disappointment. This is because change is inevitable.
Another example is if you identify too closely with the way you look. As you age and your looks change, you may start to feel unhappy and unsettled with inevitability of growing older.
The body is like clothes for our soul. The body will change, but your soul (aka our true self) stays constant.
Your true self is who you are at your core. If you can disassociate with your ego (the changeable elements) and reconnect with your true self (the unchangeable element) you will avoid suffering and feel peace.
Pantajali says, "Those who know the True Self have fulfilled life's purpose" (Sutra II, 22).
Easier said than done right! Remember it's a consistent practice. You can never be rid of your ego entirely as it's part of human nature, but you can learn to recognise and overcome it.
So, how can we practice freeing ourselves from our ego and connect with our true self?
Patanjali suggests that to free ourself from the causes of suffering we should follow what he calls the "8 Limbs". I won't go into all of Patanjali's "8 Limbs" in this post but I will share the 5 most useful ways that I practice becoming aware and overcoming my ego.
1. Nuture Yourself With Self Care
In order to feel more connected with your true self you need to nurture it. Your soul is like a seed that needs daily watering and tending to in order to grow and flourish. Feed your soul through self care. If you don't, ego's weeds are much more likely to overgrow!
Write down at least 5 things that make you feel nourished. Some of mine are: yoga, dancing, hot bath, good book, healthy food, early night sleep, writing.
How often do you do the things on your list? Practice one even for a little every single day. If you forgot to water a plant seed it would be shrivelled and stunted wouldn't it? Don't let that happen to your true self!
The more your nurture yourself the more you will feel connected to your true self, and be stronger to overcome your ego.
2. Beliving in yourself is the only validation you need
In the age of social media it is challenging not to get caught up in external validation. The problem with being attached to external validation is that when someone validates you positively you feel great, but on the flip side, if you don't get external validation OR someone says something negative you will feel down and unfulfilled.
Rather than seeking out more followers, compliments, and other forms of validation believe in your own abilities. If you are always validating yourself from the inside, then external validation (positive or negative) will not impact your deep belief that you are great.
One of the practical ways Patanjali gives us to overcome the there causes of suffering in the Yoga Sutras is meditation. Patanjali says, "their variations are reduced or overcome through meditation" (Sutra II,II).
Our thoughts can often tell us stories, which more often than not constructed from fears and anxieties. Indulging in our thoughts feeds our egoism and can lead to a distorting reality.
Meditation is like hitting a reset button. It helps to clear chatter in the mind of stories and brings you back to the present moment. Doing so allows you to reconnect with your true self.
Meditation doesn't have to be hours. In fact, I feel the benefits from even a 10 mins meditation. So, even a little bit of meditation is beneficial and wont be wasted.
4. Accept that change is inevitable
The whole world is in a constant state of change. You only have to look at nature and how a tree changes with the seasons to know that change is all around us.
We are conditioned to plan and strive towards goals. As COVID-19 showed us, we don't know what the future holds. If we can accept that change is inevitable, then we can feel more at peace when it happens.
Surrender to not knowing what the future holds, and know that although times are tough, they will change too.
The present moment is all there ever is. Right here right now is the moment of your life that you should cherish.
5. Reminding ourselves that "we" are all part of a collective even if our political leaders tell us differently
There’s a lot of incredibly poor leadership in the world at the moment. Narcissistic and egotistical leaders have promoted the idea of "us" and "them". Egotistical leaders rarely recognise the needs of others. This causes suffering, fear, and separation in society as a whole.
What some of these egotistical leaders do not understand is that in essence we are all souls, no matter what our race, our gender, our religion, our sexual preference.
We can help heal this divide by reminding ourselves that there is no "us" and "them", there is only "we".
What is the opposite of the ego? Peace. Love. Unity. Have empathy, humility, and kindness for all beings. We need this in the world more than ever.
So why is it important to practicing becoming aware of your ego to find peace and happiness?
We will never be rid of our ego entirely. Instead we can practice becoming aware of it so we can free ourselves from the ego's natural tendencies.
If you do not practice becoming aware of the ego, then as Patanjali says, life will be difficult and disappointing.
Once we overcome the ego, your true self will be revealed, and empowered. At the same time, we assist the growth of our true self through acts of nourishing self-care.
Connecting with your true self will ultimately lead to inner peace, and provide a great sense of worth which is not impacted by external validation.
Overcoming ego makes us more compassionate, humble, and empathetic. Practicing overcoming ego not only helps you, but it helps heal divide, unrest, and hate in the world. We can be leaders of peace, love, and unity.
When Patanjali says, "those who know the True Self have fulfilled life's purpose" he is telling us that life's purpose is the revelation that the happiness you have been seeking is actually inside of you right now, ready to be tapped into.