Why ‘Silencing The Ego’ Is Probably Bad Advice
What is the Ego? What does it mean to actually silence it? Should this be our aim when practicing meditation?
A few months ago, I was blessed enough to talk with a few companions about the importance and purpose of mindfulness practices, including meditation.
All of us, in one way or another, had been practicing meditation for quite a while, so we decided to ask a few questions, so as to reinvent the relationship between meditation and the Ego.
This conversation shook my belief and inspired me to write this article about my mindfulness journey. It is my view that exploring this relationship is an urgent issue, as there is a huge amount of misconceptions that lead practitioners to paralysis, rather than progress.
Ego: Illusion or Reality?
A common truth that meditation masters are trying to instill in practitioners is that by observing the Ego, one can potentially realize that it’s just a social construct, a mask created through consistent learning, conditioning, and adjustments. Essentially, they are suggesting that the Ego is just an illusion, and our purpose, through meditation, should be its inhibition or even silencing.
Before moving on, I’d like to admit that there’s a large amount of truth in that statement. However, in order to truly distill its value, we need to become familiar with the Ego and its function in daily life.
According to the psychoanalytic theory, the Ego is the part of the human personality that’s experienced as the ‘Self’ and ‘I’ and is in contact with the external world through perception. In addition, it’s driven by the reality principle. It’s trying to control our instinctive/primitive behavior (ID) and to be realistic about the internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from our parents and society (Superego).
Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires, and subjective experiences are linked to our sense of Self.
Hence, it would be impossible to conclude that the entirety of our Ego is something that needs to be silenced. It is my view that it’s a structure, composed of anatomical formations which are associated with perception, critical thinking and planning ahead, representation, analysis, emotions, language, and memory.
Like every structure, it can either function properly or malfunction.
On one hand, the Ego is responsible for clinging to social recognition and acceptance, overanalyzing to the point of paralysis, ruminating, and creating fixed action patterns linked with trauma and projections. On the other hand, without our sense of self, we can’t feel connected with our being, with others, and the whole world. We can’t cultivate behaviors that are useful for being an active agent in today’s society, like adjusting our impulses, having mental resilience and coping mechanisms. Last but not least, we have to consider that the Ego is essential to generate goal-directed activity with passion and ambition.
Even if the Ego is a social construction, it can be both useful and detrimental to our daily life. Just because something can be molded and conditioned, doesn’t mean that it’s an illusion. Our subjective experience indicates an enormous part of what’s real. But yet again, that’s only my opinion.
Some teachers suggest that by silencing the Ego through meditation and abandoning desires, attachment, and passions, one can reach Nirvana or spiritual enlightenment. Others believe that meditation can inhibit the Ego’s malfunctioning, such as overanalysis, addiction to individuals and feelings, fixed action patterns related to trauma, etc.
Personally, I strongly relate with the second viewpoint, as it provides a more concrete and functional goal for everyday life. A lot of practitioners become stultified when they first encounter the teachings about silencing the Ego because it is such an absurd idea for them. They just can’t associate with the approach of having the Ego completely stripped away.
That’s why I believe we should strive for balance.
After practicing meditation consistently for the past two years, I came to the realization that I really want to protect and embrace my sense of self. It’s not something that I want to relinquish or destroy. Actually, I need it, to be me.
Meanwhile, I aspire to inhibit aspects of the Ego that make me crave social recognition and behave through trauma and projections. That’s exactly where meditation becomes useful.
Reinventing the relationship between meditation and my Ego, was one of the most important things I’ve done for myself. Now, I don’t feel any kind of pressure to become ‘enlightened’ or ‘awakened’ by silencing the Ego completely.
On the contrary, I deeply appreciate and embrace my identity, dreams, functional attachments, and visions, as well as my vulnerability, fragility, and cravings. You can’t have one without the other, but that doesn’t mean that meditation should be about eradicating everything.
Thank you for your time and attention