“I” vs “Ego” ~ “self” vs “Self”…

The following blog entry is a commentary/response to a blog comment left on this site.  The comment innocently reflects a valid observation on the human condition of suffering and offers one strategy that has been developed and used to try and deal with the suffering that occurs to the “I”.




“ The unfortunate side of “self” is the inability for many people to dismantle their constant doubt. Affirmations are tools that help people rid themselves of the self defeating doubt that lurks within…”



I think it is important to qualify which self we are speaking of.  I often use a small “s” to identify the “I”: our personality or psychology, what most, especially in the west call the ego. The “I” is the story (good or bad) that we have about ourselves.  It is our memories, our history, our associations, our ideas, the concepts we have about our self and the world.  It’s our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, discrimination’s, and emotions.  It’s the personal “I”, the “I” of the body/mind, it’s something we see when we look in the mirror, and it’s what we think about in the mirror (good or bad).  It’s the “I” we imagine in our minds; it’s the “I” that in reality does not exist…


I make mention and use the word “I” in most of my recent writings while also avoiding the use of the word “ego”. The majority of people think/use the word “ego” in a very dichotomized, misunderstood, way.  We place significance on the word ego especially when used in a negative context, i.e. “someone who is full of themselves”, “a wanna be”, “a pre-madonna”, someone who has achieved and now has “a big ego”. 


The other side of this coin is of course the person who has somehow has “no ego” or who has qualities that are considered loving, acceptable, nice, non-confrontational etc. where we sometimes say “they are ego less”.   We then spiritualize the good definition of ego and demonize the “bad” definition of ego, when in actuality they are both egoic expressions of our personality or psychology; they are all part of the same spectrum or ego.


The true understanding of the word ego is “all inclusive”, both the “good” and the “bad”.  It is the ego that is “the tyrant” and it is the ego that is the “unconditional loving person”.  Both the movie star AND the saintly priest have an ego or psychology.  The kinds of thoughts you are having and the behaviors you pull do not determine whether you have an ego or not.


Most conventional Spirituality and psychology believes in the existence of an “I” or ego and uses strategies to change, fix, improve or transform the “I” or ego.  The “I” or ego wants to make itself better… the “I” or ego wants to be more happy, prosperous, creative, loving, giving, on purpose ~ the “I” or ego wants to be more spiritual, complete, whole, healthy, successful.  The “I” or ego wants to be healed and it wants to love and be loved.  The “I” or ego also comes up with strategies to elevate and enhance this process: in the new age we call it spirituality; in psychology it is called therapy. 


Please do not get me wrong here.  I have spent most of my life and thousands of dollars exploring psycho/spiritual strategies to improve the quality of my life or my ego “I”.  Many of them have provided more comfort and “success” in expressing the “me” or the “I” ego that I appear to be.  As a student, practitioner/facilitator I used affirmations early on in my journey and also, early on, suggested them as a tool towards self improvement.  I also teach stratagies on improving the quality of life… 


I now realize that (however successful) the entire process of “self” improvement, and any modality that falls under this umbrella, including most “spiritual” practices were and are, actually designed to fix, change and provide a better “I” or ego. 



“ The unfortunate side of “self” is the inability for many people to dismantle their constant doubt. Affirmations are tools that help people rid themselves of the self defeating doubt that lurks within…”



The “Self” I speak about is not the small “self”.  The small “self” is the “I” or ego.  As long as we identify with our small self as our true “self” or “I” there will be doubt.  We will suffer.  While affirmations may have some effect on the small “self” or “I” they do not touch your true, real “Self”.  Trying to persuade the small self or “I’ that you are this or that, while providing some comfort in life, will never allow you to discover Who You Are. 


Who You Are is beyond the small self.  Your true Self is already perfect, whole and complete, in this now. 


Why would you want to change, fix, improve a false small self? 


Why would you want to try and “heal” the small self when in fact you are the true Self? 


Again, do not get me wrong here.  I’ve done my affirmations, I’ve spent lots of time “healing” old wounds, but those negative thoughts and those old wounds belong to the “I” or small self, and have nothing to do with Who I AM. 


The “I” will always have a negative thought at some point.  As long as we continue to identify with the small self, there will always be some part of the “I” and its story that needs to be “healed”.  But you and “I” are not the small self, we are not the “I”.   We are the “one” Self.  When spirituality fails, when psychology fails, we have brushed up against the inherent issue and fact that the ego or “I” in reality, does not exist, (or, better said, it exists only at the level of the imagined mind).


If the personality we imagine ourselves to be, is actually a false, an imagined composite self, with a history and story, memories and beliefs, associations and thoughts, feelings and perceptions that occur only at the level of the “I” mind and we are not the “I” mind then not only does the small self not exist, but there is nothing that needs to be healed. 


If we really want to build the life we were designed to live, we need to find out Who We Are, which is beyond the small self, “I” or “ego” that we imagine our self to be. 


Within the Self,

there is nothing to dismantle,


Within Self,

there is nothing to doubt,


Within the Self,

there is nothing to defeat,


nothing to fear,


nothing to fix,




nothing to change.




“ Try to give up the tendency to improve yourself… ”


Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj


7 Responses

  1. I recommend Kierkegaard, his know more about this than others. If not then Socrates or Lao Tzu, well and Jesus. Rather they all say the same thing in language reflective of the time in which they lived. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj would know that the self need not express anything if it knew anything.

  2. The Ego is illusion. The real I is the spirit.

  3. Wow… either you’ve seen my stuff, or we have the same mind. ~Vc

  4. … “I” visited you site for the first time today… 

    What happens if we discover that the mind itself is an illusion? That there is in fact no mind ~ same or different.

    What happens if the ideas, notions, beliefs, philosophies, words, images, writings, all the creative expressions that “we” take ownership and possession of and for, our in fact, not ours; that our nervous system instead and in fact “receives” the energy and information of those ideas and creative expressions and then the “I” falsely assumes that it is the sole source of the idea and creative expression in the first place?

    What happens if the imagined “I” begins to step aside or disolves into awareness, relinquishing ownership for the “best” things the body/mind can be in life, simply allowing, not owning, simply surrendering not controlling, authentically expressing not regurgitating?


  5. As Obi-Wan Kanobi would say “May the force be with you.
    Found it interesting reading.Jedi Jack.

  6. We never get rid of our ego. Our ego trips just become ever more subtle each step of the ‘way’. It IS possible to live completely in the now in a total effortless authentic way, however I don’t think this gets rid of our ego.

    A guru wearing robes who has spiritual name is possibly on a very huge but subtle ego trip. They get lots of ego strokes off their followers. Even your article got lots of ego trips. You might mistake these ego trips as feeling good, which is great. I want you to feel good.

    However flowing in a total effortless way, i.e. beyond a story, is still maybe a story but just on an unconscious level we are no longer aware of. i.e. the ego has just been hidden!!! Look at how many gurus have gone bad to see a hint at this probable truth.

    There are others who try to NOT be spiritual because they know about spiritual materialism. However tricking ourselves that we are no longer seeking is still seeking. We are now just being more cunning about the ego trip.

    I wonder if a rock star on a total ego trip is at least honest about it. Maybe a lama or swami are the biggest fakers of all?

    Some non-duality teachers even start saying that they are not teachers. That to me is just a more subtle ego trip. I believe that the ego just spins ever more subtle complex webs of trickery in order to make us feel content.

    Even wanting to be compassionate to all beings is some form of ego trip. Even though it’s a very nice one.

    Even me writing this is all ego. It’s a case of ‘ooh look at me, I have realised something oh so clever’. But even me telling you that, is ‘me’ trying to appear transparent and honest, and authentic in order to prove my superiority over you, and that last comment again was a clever comment to show I’m even more superior now. Ad infinitum. I don’t think it ever stops. It’s just self-trickery.

    We can awaken to a total effortless authenticity or flowing, which feels lovely. I’m there now. HOWEVER I still have an ego if I allow myself to be TOTALLY honest. I don’t think enlightenment exists, however some form of awakening in the form I described is possible. But it’s not that special, and it’s not clever. It is possible to reach a non-doing way of being. However the ego definitely remains.

    Next I’ll be giving satsang and giving myself a spiritual name! (joke). However many people have gone this route and ended up on Oprah! I think some of these teachers or gurus aren’t consciously conning people (although some are), I think the decent seeming teachers have just cunningly tricked themselves. They would pass a lie detector test, but that means nothing if they have tricked themselves in to some kind of way of being or talking. It does not mean ego has gone.

    Ego is our survival software. That never goes. It might just cleverly become camouflaged if we play enough games with ourselves and others.

    • Wow, thanks for taking the time to express yourself. You’ve brought in many ideas in your post that could, if someone wanted – be a book. It’s been a while since I wrote the original piece [2008]… I do value what you have said, as it’s always interesting to watch what comes up in awareness when someone actually responds to something that’s written on these posts.

      I’d like to speak to a couple of things:

      Your observation that the ego is survival software is elegant and essential in understanding its nature from a physiological level. Too often or not, we have a tendency to spiritualize ideas that create unnecessary complexity & distraction – missing a glimpse of the miracle of what’s possible. Our ego appears to be hardwired into our nervous system at a biological level.

      From the appearance of birth we cultivate a sense of self both consciously and unconsciously & the innocence of awareness – a glimpse of our true nature, is replaced with conditioning and self engendered ideas like body/mind that we identify with/to – something we call ego.

      As we grow the background of our nature appears to be replaced by the foreground – a very sanitized version and sense of self, that is constantly attended too and elevated.

      We could say that when so-called spirituality is successful, the foreground fades and the background [our essential nature] once again becomes the foreground. In some cases, this also can occur spontaneously or by accident as has been expressed by a number of contemporary non duality speakers/teachers i.e. the foreground [ego] or “I” thought, drops away dramatically. Fundamentally speaking, there is no foreground and there is no background – they only appear this way depending on where we are standing in awareness.

      If we are to accept the feedback of those people who have had or who have experiential understanding of this, we can see that there appears to be a spectrum i.e. mostly foreground [all ego] and the other “end” no ego what-so-ever.
      For the record I’d like to add that I don’t believe there’s any external expectation we be one or the other of those extremes, as both are equally valid within the apparent spectrum of diversity: oneness expressing itself as two-ness, three-ness, fore-ness etc. It appears more often or not, most have the unique some sort of ability to focus on one, more or none of those spectrums.

      I’m going to invite you to examine your own experience if you wish; verify for yourself that ego is not permanent, in fact it comes and goes – frequently throughout the day – every day; naturally & effortlessly: during sleep, making love, during creativity/inspiration, when you wake up first thing in the morning, during meditation etc. etc. etc. Some call it the zone, others Samadhi; it’s all the same a moment here/now, when the background swallows the foreground and there’s no awareness of being aware.

      If we want to get real picky, it happens a hundred, hundred, hundred, times a day between each “I” thought; said differently ego as an “I” thought appears, then there’s a space; ego appears as “I” thought, then there’s a space, scientists suggest we have approximately 50 – 60 thousand “I” thoughts a day. If your only focused on, identified with & to the “I” thought then it might appear to a you, that there is some sort of continuity, but there’s not – it’s only memory that creates the appearance of continuity. For every “I” thought there are around 60 thousand spaces or gaps where there are no thoughts – just background, when there’s no thought, there is no sense of self as we normally define, there’s no you as [ego].

      Do games appear to occur with self to self and others, yes this appears to be the case as we witness the apparent spectrum of diversity. Would I want to discourage someone’s desire to enjoy the value and peace that appears to occur when they bump into someone who appears to identify themselves more fully and clearly by the background? Not for a second.

      Here’s the open invitation: there appears to be an opportunity to “redefine” a sense of self that is not solely based on or determined by the foreground, but instead by background, and it appears to be a sweetness which can only be defined as divine?

      Be well


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