What is the first step on your path to awakening and fulfillment? Ego Development! There, I said it! It may not be the most popular opinion, but I'm sure someone else has said it before...
Yes, ego can get in our way and yes, it's not generally all "right" despite it's desire to be, and no we don't want to necessarily act from its impulses; however, growth occurs in a cycle. In order to detach from the ego and step into a fuller awareness of connection and sense of purpose, that very ego must first be developed! It is ego, with all of its initial need for control, that finally develops to a point giving us the strength to surrender.
The ego that so many spiritual writings urge us to step away from, is simply the early stages or misdirected pursuit of ego. A fully developed ego becomes balanced and provides us the space we need to detach from those early perceptions.
How do I know this? Observance.
I developed my ego in the kitchen and trust me, chef-ing is a very egocentric career! Make the prettiest and tastiest plate, put all your heart into the making, judge all your worth on the diner's response, have the quickest time, get the most stars! Ego, ego, ego! Before stepping into this career, I lacked any confidence whatsoever. The kitchen taught me both the importance of having an ego and the importance of surrendering it. It is in this field that I gained the sense of accomplishment I needed to begin questioning why that accomplishment was as important as it felt. This is the point at which I began to accept how unimportant it really was and began to search for deeper sources of meaning. First, the confidence to persevere calmly in the face of challenge was developed by feeding my ego with successful creations or services. Then, the flexibility to surrender the outcome was learned. Finally, I accepted that the plate did not define me, that I cannot control anyone's reception of it, and that all of that is okay. Balance was achieved through the recognition that there was nothing to prove, that how many stars I swagged had nothing to do with my intrinsic worth, and it was the point at which I was able to begin surrendering that need to define and just allow myself to be who I am, trusting that that's enough.
As ego develops we gain deeper insight into who we are, how we feel, what makes us tick, where our conflicts come from, and what we need to feel fulfilled. We become more able to guide our behavior with purpose, managing impulses, setting goals, and building resilience. We also gain deeper value and respect for ourselves building a sense of self compassion. As our sense of "self" emerges, so does our sense of others. We seek to understand and connect to others thereby boosting empathy. It is also the ego that connects the dots... that identifies a theme. It is the ego that once realizing we are not what we do, is able to step back and identify what parts of ourselves it is that remain consistent throughout all that we do moving us into the beginning stages of recognizing who we really are. It is the ego that can begin to recognize what makes our life meaningful and what values we want to bring to it. Soul and ego are not enemies... Ego is a step in soul awareness-- a building block that gives us the confidence to venture in to the more that you are.
Ego seeks to define you and protect you -- respectable causes. It also wants to be right, only because it thinks that being right makes you better and it wants you to win. In the process of ego development, this can get a bit confusing. Ego seeks to identify with roles, accomplishments, and doings... anything it can really, to feed your confidence... we know from a spiritual perspective, that none of this is who are, however, seeking to identify through these things is kind of like a process of experimentation and discovery that begins the journey of reaching a point where we can realize how much more we are. I know that I could not have logically begun to move in to a deeper sense of wholeness and connectedness if I had not first begun to accept my own worthiness to experience that realization, which began by ego's recognition that I had something of value to offer the world (which all came from these early misidentifications).
Identifying with these things early on feeds the ego development to a point beyond them. I cannot begin to accept how much more I am than what I do, until I have accepted that I am at least that much and have begun to take some pride in it. What you do does not define you, but it is a part of how you choose to show up. In the beginning stages of ego development, sometimes we don't even realize we have a choice.
Ego does not define you either. Ego is, however, the part of you that seeks to define yourself, and it needs direction. We seek to blast through the need for definition... we seek to develop that definition to a point that we can realize that we are more than any definition we as humans can conceptualize. It is when we begin to recognize how short all of the definitions fall, that we surrender the need for them and step into just BEing.
If you are constantly in a place of doubting that you can "do" anything and fearing that you are not enough, how can you ever step into a place of trusting yourself to just "be"? Through development of ego we can build our confidence enough to step into that "be"ing. Yes, ego likes to keep you safe where you are to prevent that sense of failure and disappointment, but by learning to feed ego in a healthy way, we can circumvent that. We can use the confidence it seeks to build to help us move past it. Ego also seeks to define which inadvertently propels deeper thought and expansion. Definitions separate by establishing boundaries and differences. It is through the process of examining these definitions that we can begin to accept the parallels and understand the connectedness thereby dissolving the boundaries and accepting the differences. Without the ego's need to define, there is no transition to the acceptance of the whole (because there is no recognition that there is something to accept).
It may seem favorable to just be born into this awareness... and yet, the point of being here in this human experience is to grow through that perceived separateness into that deeper awareness. The growth process is the journey of your human experience and there is value in it.
How do we give ego the direction it needs in order to develop and grow beyond it? We accept it. We love it as the purposeful part of us that it is. And we stay aware of it. We ask ourselves why we are choosing the things that we choose... are we following our hearts or are we trying to prove something? And can we release that constant need to misidentify and define? What small steps can you take to feed the ego in a healthier way? How can you build adaptability, releasing the need for specific outcomes to prove your worth? How can you focus on your values? And how can you focus on the greater whole? All while accepting your place in this growth process? Here is a place to start.
1. Do a brain purge of who you are
2. Examine how many things on your list are things you do, roles you play, or things that change.
3. Accept that these things do not define you.
4. Ask what qualities or aspects there are that you bring to all of them?
5. Feed your ego through your values! Identify what values you seek to express through them and build your awareness of those values through everything you do by taking stock of how you do them... asking how can I bring the most xxvaluexxx here?
6. Give yourself recognition for every time you bring your values to the world and when you are ready, begin to explore where those values come from. Create a supportive affirmation like "I am a spiritual being seeking to bring xxvaluexxx to the world." And even in those moments when you think you've fallen short, take pride in that intention.
7. Build adaptability and openness through meditation (any kind)
8 Check in with your why and be willing to own any illogical need to prove, protect, or define.
9. Meditate, journal, or pray on the idea that you are worthy just as you are and contemplate your connection to source and to the whole, recognizing that this just is and does not have to be earned.
10. Allow the process and accept where you are in it. You are growing and that's okay! It's wonderful actually!
You are not the person who you think is screwing up whatever bullet point you think you are screwing up right now! You are the spirit committed to growing and learning through all of it! And that is awesome!