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As a child growing up in an atypical American household, I was taught to eliminate the ego, or at least to be very suspicious of it. But what is the ego? A glance at the dictionary indicates that this word has many meanings, not all of which are synonymous. 

The ego can be a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance. Which is healthy and not to be eradicated, lest you become a yellow-bellied, spineless, mind-benumbed basket case. Sound like anybody you know? One would hope not. 

In psychoanalysis, the ego is "the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity." Again, not something we'd want to do without in daily life. Personal identity is important, or else we'll find ourselves in the post-apocalyptical world envisioned by Ayn Rand in her prose-poem, Anthem. A world in which individuality is replaced by collectivism, where the word I is struck from the vocabulary and replaced with the all-embracing word We. A world where "it is a sin to think words no others think," where "there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone." In this world, the slogan is "we are one in all and all in one. There are no men but only the great WE. One, indivisible and forever." 

It's weird how the most laudable feelings can be twisted and employed for devious ends. For isn't "all for one and one for all" the celebrated slogan of the Three Musketeers, whereby they are united in brotherhood, putting individual gain aside for the good of the team? Isn't this what teamwork is about? There is, after all, no I in team. Thanks, Coach. 

But yes, all good ideas, like tools, can if used wrongly lead to suffering and death. Like the notion of slaying the ego. I get that we should de-emphasize the lower self, the ego-based consciousness that views itself as separate and in antagonism to others, and so it focuses on self-aggrandizement and winning rather than losing. But what if the individual's gaining translates into a greater loss, for the community, the planet, for posterity? Isn't this what happens when we seek to get rich by polluting or pillaging the environment, as big business has done in the centuries since the Industrial Revolution? Not to point fingers, but as Prince would say, if the shoe fits... And so maybe individual industry and invention should be tempered by a consideration of what such invention and industry may lead to, in the big picture. Just one person's take on the subject.

But there is a deeper meaning to the word ego. Or at least it is more fundamental. For the ego, in philosophy, designates a conscious thinking subject. This is what you are, or should be. The word itself is Latin, and literally means I. And the I is the very word that the Hindus use to refer to the Self, or the Lord, or the Awareness that is the Source of all. In Sanskrit it is proclaimed, Tat Twam Asi. All that there is, I AM. In the Bible when Moses asks the Lord who it is that sent him, the Lord's reply is "Tell them I AM sent you." It's a confusing world in which the term you use to refer to yourself, I, is the very term designating all that there is, the entirety, which is I as well. Confusing or revealing. Because maybe they are one and the same. The individual and the totality. Like a drop of water and the ocean from which it is distilled. The essence is the same.

We cannot slay the essence of our existence. I've tried, and I've just wound up indecisive, lost and confused. But not anymore, because I've learned that what we can do is to allow the pure consciousness to envelop the small, opinionated, often petty and self-centered point of view that seems to dominate our day and age. We can be conclusionless, expecting nothing while being prepared for everything, open to all possibilities. And in that state of abeyance, floating like autumn leaves in the gentle and even not-so-gentle breeze, we are truly free. Did I say we? Excuse me. I mean you and me. Or for the sake of brevity, simply I. You'll find, as do I, that the I is irresistible!

Because, as Ms. Rand writes, "Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me, the guiding star and the loadstone which point the way. They point in but one direction. They point to me.... My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose." Yours too. So, let's be happy! Whatever loadstone means...


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