I ended up maturing into a remarkably egotistical person. My Zen practice and meditative practice have regularly given me no choice but to confront my ego. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about what the ‘ego’ really means, and who I am aside from my ego.
In my head, I have an image of the ego as a small child behind a curtain. The child has a man’s voice, and is yelling things at me from the other side of the curtain. It’s yelling about careerism. It’s yelling about personal finance. It’s yelling about sex. It’s yelling about exercise. It’s yelling in a way that’s intimidating, and it’s convincing and alluring enough that one would never think to pull the curtain aside and investigate. The ego sounds like it could kick your ass. But it’s really just a version of yourself as a little boy or girl, shouting at the world until it gets whatever fleeting satisfaction it wants.
The ego yells at you about important things, but for the wrong reasons. It tells you to put profit above all else. It tells you to blow that profit on pointless distractions and shiny objects. It tells you to seduce anyone you can. It tells you to exercise not because it keeps your mind and body in tune, but because it’ll give you a six pack. The ego focuses on both appearances and hard rationality. It’s cold, and in its extremes almost sociopathic. It can lead you down really destructive paths if you’re not careful.
The ego leads us down the tunnel of deep attachment. We cling and cling to these ephemeralities that give the ego satisfaction, but these things don’t provide us with any lasting joy or meaning. The ego makes people forego meaningful relationships in exchange for playing the field. It makes people do inhuman things in their careers just to make a buck. It causes residual pain that sometimes takes years to manifest. The ego leads to most of our bad karma, seeing as karma is merely cause-and-effect. It leads you subtly towards potentially toxic life situations.
Some people meditate intensely for X amount of time and report back on experiencing ego death. Ego death is simply the process of pulling away the curtain, recognizing the ego for what it is, and moving past it. For some people, the ego is so strong that once it disappears, an entirely new world is visible. This revolutionizes their consciousness and lets them see things through a new lens. For others, the draw of ego is less severe; meditative transcendence allows them to see past the subtle egotistical desires that end up causing anxiety, depression, and overexcitement.
Meditation is saying “no” to the ego. The ego has no interest in sitting and counting its breaths, reflecting upon itself. It’d rather be out looking in the mirror, getting wasted, or plotting new ways to decimate the competition. Sitting in silence for a few minutes a day is a conscious rebellion against the ego. Over time, the ego learns its place. It comes out occasionally, but it mostly remains behind the curtain— silently.