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Transcending Ego to Find Your True Self

A Journey Toward Authentic Happiness and Inner Balance

By Cyndi Myers

Think for a moment of the word ego. We’ve all heard the term, but what exactly IS it? What does it mean to you? To me, the term has always held a somewhat negative connotation, as if the entire concept of having an ego is only equivalent to being pompous, arrogant and self-centered. In reality, its meaning is much more complex; it’s a complicated and often misunderstood concept, and some Buddhists would actually argue its existence at all. Strictly speaking, ego is simply a psychological term, popularized by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century, meaning the conscious mind or the awareness of one's own identity and existence. It’s the part of your personality where your common sense and reasoning lives, enabling you to organize your thoughts and use them to make judgments on the external world. Ego refers to a part of the mind that mediates between the unconscious, animalistic instincts of the id (pleasure-seeking/pain-avoidance), the values of the superego (right vs wrong), and the demands of the environment or what is.

Science aside, what I really want to talk about is how our egos impact our daily lives, how our own egos impact others’ lives, and how to find just the right balance so we can live as authentically ourselves as possible.

Me, Myself and I…and You

Many of us have limiting beliefs that have been drilled into us for many years. Oftentimes what happens is that our parents, out of love and a desire to protect us, shape our beliefs about ourselves and what we truly want for and from our lives. From very early ages, my sisters and I were always told how we should dress, how we should think, act, style our hair and how to create an appearance that suited our parents and won the approval of the rest of the world. How we wanted to reflect our true selves wasn’t important. As you can imagine, this led to much internal conflict and, ultimately, much self-belittlement and low self-esteem. A sign of the times, I suppose, but it’s something I struggle with and work hard to overcome to this day. I do not wish this struggle upon my children, so I use this as my north star, my motivation to maintain awareness of the source and direction of my parental guidance. 

While parents today seem to offer more support for individuality for their children than past generations, many of us still strive for some level of conformity and expect our children to do the same, whether we realize it or not. It’s human nature. I know I struggled a bit when my youngest child decided not to go to college and instead took over a year off after high school to figure out what he wanted for his future. I was fully supportive of his choice, but there were so many moments where I found myself almost in full panic mode at the thought of him lounging in his room playing video games until he was 30. Thankfully I was aware that these thoughts were baseless and unproductive, but I did still find myself often pushing him to make a decision, likely fueled by the needs of my own ego. I found that in stepping back, he had the space and freedom to choose the next step along his path that suited him, rather than others (okay, his parents). And, rather than trying to satisfy his parents’ wishes, he chose a path that satisfied himself. I am proud to say he is now enrolled in Massage Therapy school and not only doing incredibly well, but loving the program and looking forward to his future.

So, how do we break free from what seems almost instinctual in order to serve our own greater good as well as the greater good of others? And, more importantly, is it best for us to work toward letting go of ego or simply understanding our own ego in order to be able to weave it into our lives in a healthy way? I believe both are necessary.

Finding ME

If your ego is wounded with afflictions such as self-belittlement and low self-confidence, reclaiming a balanced sense of self is the best place to begin. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, an American Buddhist monk, says a healthy ego is necessary to have an “honest sense of how to learn from your past mistakes for the sake of greater happiness in the future.” Furthermore, in the Buddhist paradigm, the pursuit of happiness isn’t just about you; it’s about the amount of happiness you can bring into the world as well without compromising your own. Because here’s the thing: the Buddha advised us to use the pursuit of happiness as the most trustworthy compass in life. This way, your innate pursuit to be happy becomes the only compass you need. It motivates you to update your sense of self into more useful forms. 

However, Buddhism doesn’t see happiness as a zero-sum game. We don’t live in a bubble, after all, so how we behave and the energy we infuse into the world has a direct impact on others around us. This inevitably leads to letting go of your ego, but that comes as an end result, not the starting point of the process.

Understanding ME: Where to Begin

Holding on to falsehoods about yourself only serves to stunt your personal growth, leaving you feeling stuck, unmotivated and unhappy. Instead, ask yourself the following questions, and perhaps even keep a journal with your answers to revisit if you’re ever feeling unmoored and disconnected from yourself and the world around you. 

  • What are my strengths?

  • What brings me happiness?

  • Do my choices reflect my own interests or someone else’s?

  • What are my values, and do I live my life accordingly?

  • Do I say “yes” to make others happy, even at the expense of my own happiness?

Maybe you’ll choose to revisit these questions and answers daily, as repetition tends to be the backbone of true change. The more you repeat this new “story” about you, the more your mind and body will default to your true self and the struggle to find happiness will be a distant memory.

As his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet tells us, “the destructive forces of ego combined with our negative emotions is a lethal formula, reducing our sensitivity to others and causing immense destruction." However, he states, "a strong sense of self" is necessary to "to sacrifice one's self for the benefit of others." In other words, life is really a team sport rather than a competition. When you learn to create happiness inside of yourself, the whole paradigm shifts. If we all do the work to strengthen ourselves, the team becomes unbeatable.

With love and light,

The Transcend Team has a beautiful class, led by a renunciate monk (or sanyasi), Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, titled “Ego Death: Restore Your True Self-Identity. Click here for the link to the class.


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