Wu Wei is… Loving and Managing Your Ego

Flickr-lilly-Ron CogswellDavid James Lees, Guest
Waking Times

Note: This is the first of a series of 3 articles. Please read Part II here, and Part III here.

The ‘Ego’ is a term first used in the West by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and has now entered mainstream personal-development parlance.

Many new clients say to me things like, “I hate my critical Ego – it’s always nagging at me”… “my Ego’s running my life”…”my Ego’s out of control, I just can’t help myself”. They believe their Ego is some kind of monster that has no rightful place or purpose within them, and want to eliminate or somehow ‘kill’ their Ego, thinking that only this will allow them to be ‘better’, ‘happier’ or more ‘balanced’. So it can come as quite a surprise when I tell them that I believe these are ALL fundamental misunderstandings of the nature and role of the Ego!

If you can recognise some of these ways of thinking of course I do understand that it can sometimes feel like your Ego is working against you. Certainly the uncomfortable emotions it generates will often make you believe that it’s a negative force to be grappled, fought or battled with – but ultimately this is an illusion.

I also fully acknowledge that your Ego can create unnecessary confusion and complexity in your thinking, leading to unhelpful diversions in your energy, emotions and actions. Indeed, your Ego can absolutely tie your life up in knots – but only if you let it.

So why not tame your elusive Ego, make friends with it, and even learn to love it?

In this and my next blog post I’d like to explore with you the wonderful (and not at all murky) world of your Ego so you can begin to understand its true purpose and mindfully take control of it and your life – once and for all…

 Tao Tip:

You cannot change what you don’t understand

Defining the Ego

The Ego is a word that’s increasingly used in describing a ‘state of mind’ or an action of the mind. It’s worth noting that current meanings can vary and often have little to do with the original Freudian interpretation.

I use the term Ego regularly in my therapy work and writing when attempting to describe how the state of your mind or thinking becomes imbalanced, as it moves away from a more harmonious and authentic state of equilibrium – what I refer to as Wu Wei, and enters an agitated state of inauthentic flux. When you’re ‘in your Ego’ or operating from a place dominated by your Ego rather than your Authentic balanced self, it’s as if your mind has swung into or between two extremes of an energy (this can be the energy of any emotion, thought or belief) rather than remaining closer to the calmer, more harmonious centre of the energy. This is what I call the ‘Emotional Pendulum’ effect, and is what many of my clients suffer from.

So essentially the Ego represents the disrupted energy of your authentic emotions, thoughts or beliefs – it’s not a separate entity or state of being, rather it’s an extreme expression of wholeness and Oneness of the beautiful authentic you.

Tao Tip:

You and your Ego are part of the Universe, not apart from it

This is also why you cannot eliminate your Ego – it’s part of the energy of you and, as quantum physicists are now demonstrating what Taoists have known for thousands of years, you cannot kill energy! Your Ego energy just needs to be skillfully, compassionately, calmly and patiently managed and brought back into its harmonious Wu Wei balance.

The disrupted Ego energy of your authentic mind is also disharmonious with the natural flow of the Tao and all Universal energy. In the same way the energy of your authentic or higher-self has a tremendous positive spiritual vibration attached to it so does the Ego, but of course the energy and vibration emitted is very different and so will resonate and affect you and those around you on a different energetic, spiritual and emotional level.

This is also why, when thinking about or using the term Ego in reference to yourself or others, you should always be very mindful to examine and understand the energetic meaning and translation being received and transmitted (I have written more fully about the power and vibration of words in an earlier blog article).

Tao Tip:

The beginning of all wisdom is to call things by their correct name

Taoists have no direct word or translation of the Ego, other than ‘inferior’ or ‘lesser’ man or ‘inauthentic’, but the Tao Te Ching speaks freely about the paradox of its characteristics, such as:

  • Don’t compensate by being clever, this breeds hypocrisy and sleight of hand!
  • Can you clear our mind of all the dross, without throwing away the Tao?
  • You may amass gold and jade in plenty, but then the more you have, the less you are safe.

These are just three examples highlighting how your thinking and beliefs can swing out of balance and become aligned with the Ego’s confused goals and expectations of avoidance, separation, holding on and protection, rather than focusing on the Tao and the Oneness of the Universe, and on trusting, sincerity, honesty, letting go and abundance.

Taoists will also refer to the Ego as your ‘Human Centred Mind’ or ‘lower vibration’. When you’re aligned with the Tao or Universe and are balanced and authentic this would be taught as your ‘Tao Centred Mind’ or your ‘Authentic Self’.

The Ego is a very important emotional energy that will always be part of your authentic journey and personal transformations. The key is embracing and managing this energy so you can live harmoniously and to your fullest potential – in my next blog post I’ll consider how you can do just that…

Tao Affirmations

‘My Ego is part of the Oneness of me’

‘I choose to love every part of me’

‘I’m learning love my Ego more every day’

‘I am mindful of the energy and vibration of my emotions, thoughts and beliefs’

‘I choose to live in my harmonious Wu Wei’

About the Author

David James Lees is a spirituality and wellness author, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, counsellor, hypnotherapist, NLP Master, and a Member of the British Acupuncture Council. David has a lifelong interest in Taoism, Taoist philosophy and Qigong, and was first taught meditation by Chinese Tibetan Buddhist monks when he was 16 years old, which helped him tackle a profound stutter. After qualifying as a TCM practitioner in the UK, David trained for a number of years as a Qigong instructor with Doctor Shen in London and Master Wan Su Jain in Beijing, and was later ordained as a Taoist Master in the sacred Wudang Mountains in China. Today, David is a trusted advisor and broadcaster on emotional health issues and alternative therapies in the UK. You can follow David on his blog: www.WuWeiWisdom.comFacebookTwitterPinterest and Soundcloud.  For the latest information on David’s therapies, classes, workshops and special events visit Peak House Practice.

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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  • Tamara

    Wow. Thank you. Finally someone who is not talking about death of ego, or killing the ego…. all things which would trigger the ego to want to fight to protect itself. it always irked me, though I think I am very much “in” my ego, how often people in the awakened movement talked of the ego in terms of getting rid of, killing or dying of ego…. But the ego is afraid of death, so WHY would people use terms that would trigger it to try to protect itself? I always suspected it would be far better to talk of changing one’s way of thinking or focus rather than to try to destroy a part of their mind… if I think in terms of changing my perspective/ awareness, in terms of whether or not I am ego-focused or not, My ego doesn’t panic, as I am thinking of changing my way of thinking rather than killing a part or me…. if I think of killing my self or ego, panic and resistance ensues.

    My ego helped in many ways, though I admit I did become too self-focused (am working on changing that), but because of it, I also was resistant to some of the indoctrination and programming that was directed towards me by people who didn’t realize they were continuing that indoctrination (ie teachers, my parents, etc). It was like I was trying to hold onto myself rather than become what everyone else expected/ demanded of me all those years…. and it turned out the elites purposely introduced indoctrination and brainwashing elements into society, so when people talk of the death of ego or self, it triggers my sense of survival… why after all those years of trying to hold onto myself and protect myself from indoctrination/ etc would I then kill myself mentally? I am willing to change my focus, to change my perspective to what I come to understand is healthy and good, but kill/destroy my sense of self/ ego? NO!

    As for the ego in terms of the spiritual, I am still trying to figure out what the actual reality of existence is. it’s all still pretty confusing, with many conflicting points of view/ experiences and it certainly doesn’t help that there is so much conflicting information within the religious/ spiritual sphere… what’s reality, what isn’t, I don’t know yet…

    • Hello Tamare, Thanks for adding to the debate, I would be very interested to hear how your Ego helped in so many ways. I hope the second part of the article answers the rest of your questions.

  • Meter

    On wu wei as applied to this subject (you’ve got me thinking about it!)…

    I often remind myself, “Let yourself happen.” I love this statement of being. So the wu wei of ego would be ‘egoless ego’ (be without trying to be). Perhaps contrasted with self-conscious ego (which tends to paralyze the ego with doubt and shame, preventing it from evolving naturally into new and varied forms).

    The ego becoming aware of itself is no small process! It must get past its fear and shame. When it is able to be aware of itself without attempting to judge and suppress/manipulate itself, then perhaps it can be said to be wu wei ego, egoless ego, being without trying to be?

    As wu wei is traditionally ‘actionless action’ or non-action, and ego is a state of mind, your placing these two together could use a little more exploration, I think. It’s a bit of a leap, but an interesting one. Perhaps you’re thinking of the dysfunctional ego inhibiting actionless action, which indeed it does, but the ego is present for all action, actionless and otherwise – it is that which creates the entire context for action. It is more a question of the state of the ego than its presence.

    I am reminded of the advice: there is nothing you have to be except who you are right now, and nothing you have to do except what you’re doing right now. The moment is complete unto itself, always perfect, and the fear of it being incomplete (the haunting feeling that we are ‘not enough’ or not doing enough, or that we must fix something that is wrong), is the ego not being in a state of wu wei? It is being inhibitively self-conscious.

    Strange concepts to combine!

    You wrote:
    > When you’re ‘in your Ego’ or operating from a place dominated by your Ego rather than your Authentic balanced self, it’s as if your mind has swung into or between two extremes of an energy (this can be the energy of any emotion, thought or belief) rather than remaining closer to the calmer, more harmonious centre of the energy.

    I don’t care for this terminology. You draw a line between “ego” and “authentic self”. Yet all ‘self’ is ego, whether that self is balanced or not, large or small. And there is no ‘authentic’ self in a sense – you’re making it all up as you go. Is a movie authentic? No, it’s an illusion. There is no center to the onion – if you peel yourself, you’ll find a void (The Tao) at the center. Further, one always operates from a place of ego (even in so-called Christ Consciousness, or expansion of ego into the sublime) – ego is the source of the experience of being. Simply put, without ego, without self, you are not (or more accurately, you are, but can’t *experience* yourself as being).

    Allowing the ego to expand to include all and everything is an interesting ‘self’ to experience, but it is not egoless. Where there is experience, there is self, however sublime. Pure being requires no ego. It can be known, can know itself as pure knowledge, but cannot be experienced. The realm of experience, effect, requires ‘this and not that’, relativity – the ego’s domain. In fact this is the purpose of physical life: for pure being to *experience* itself being, something it cannot do without self, ego. As ego expands beyond the human body into the sublime, this is spirit evolving into ‘heaven’ or bliss. This is the paradox. Spirit creates ego so it can forget who it really is, becoming less than all of it (the magnetism of the lower chakras, the temptation and deliciousness of illusion). This allows it to experience itself as all of it (first this, then that). This ego eventually expands until it is all of God, having the ultimate experience (the magnetism of the upper chakras, the sublime). Then the cycle starts again. This is why ego always seeks to grow larger – it is always trying to have a larger experience of spirit. In this sense, a large ego is desirable (not to be confused with a bloated ego). I like the advice “Think big, play small.”

    Nor is calmness always at the center. Observe nature – sometimes it produces great storms. This is not disharmony. Yet these storms don’t last forever, they pass. Be like nature. Rain when you want to rain, fully and unabashedly, let your winds blow, then let your sunshine return. Trying to stay calm all the time is a sure recipe for explosion. It is in the movement to and fro that we feel alive, and that we move forward in our process.

    > So essentially the Ego represents the disrupted energy of your authentic emotions, thoughts or beliefs – it’s not a separate entity or state of being, rather it’s an extreme expression of wholeness and Oneness of the beautiful authentic you.

    Emotions are physical reflections of thoughts, which are states of mind. (Think of something wonderful or terrible and you’ll feel an emotion moving through your body in response. There is feedback too – an emotion may trigger a thought or mental state, which in turn may trigger more emotion.) Thus emotions (movements of energy within the body) reflect and express physically the ego, the mind self. Speech and action also manifest from these emotions when there is sufficient energy. Thus the ego creates experience – thought, word, and action. In addition, the ego represents a perspective (an angle of view). Thus it is said that perspective creates perception. Change your perspective (your ego, or who you’re being), and your resulting experiences (actions, perceptions) change.

    I think what you’re describing is an ego which has become jammed against the rail (an extreme), unable to move freely to other forms. It’s not the extreme position that is the problem, it’s being stuck there. The authenticity question enters because the ego no longer reflects what the spirit is seeking to be. This is why honesty is vital in managing the ego. What was true for you yesterday, your reason for being, is no longer true today. If the ego doesn’t shift freely with the will, it creates imbalance and frustration. You are not able to be who you want to be, you feel stuck in an ill-fitting state. The ego needs exercise – play/pretending – to free its range of movement. Then you can be what you want, and change your being as desired.

    Your patients are stuck in rain because they’re afraid of allowing themselves to fully rain, not because they need to experience only calm sunshine. People judge their ego when it is being something they have been taught to fear, something ‘bad’. They withdraw their energy from it, suppress it, but this has a reversed effect of pinning it. You can’t change what you deny. The ego is where it is for a purpose. If you allow it to express freely, it is then free to move. Fear paralyzes this. (People are afraid to express what is within them, believing it to be bad.) Thus if a person is sad, for example, it’s good to encourage them to fully express this sadness, rather than telling them “don’t cry”.

    > This is what I call the ‘Emotional Pendulum’ effect, and is what many of my clients suffer from.

    I don’t understand what you mean by this – I guess mood swings? Nor is all suffering to be avoided, as it is often a component of growth. I don’t think it’s the emotional swings that are the problem (the person is moving their ego to gain a greater range of expression). A cycle effect, a pendulum, is the nature of life itself. This swinging tends to make healers uncomfortable, as they don’t feel in control, but may be exactly what the spirit is intending to experience. With each swing, momentum can be added, propelling the ego into new territory.

    Egos also sometimes become rigid in the sense that they are always at one extreme or the other, but fail to experience much of the middle. In this sense, reminding someone to calm himself and experience that state as well can be valuable and healing. But that’s not to say that a state of calmness is more authentic or valid than other states, merely that it too should be included in the range of motion. And indeed, it is a state that people often forget to exercise. Being still, knowing the center for a time, is a kind of exercise. Yet too much of it can be an extreme too – the need to always be calm and never storm.

    Anyway thanks for the explorations. I look forward to hearing more of what works for you in this context. (You have created an ego to experience yourself as an ego healer, and this ego’s job is the ego itself – sounds promising.)

    • Hi Meter, Once again thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and views, I enjoyed reading your interpretations and conclusions, I’m sure that others readers will also. I am very pleased that my work “Got you thinking”, this type of interaction can only be good for Taoism. I am always more that happy to expand any of my points or interpretations with you or any other readers who have differing points of view. I hope you enjoy reading the second part to the article as much.

  • Meter

    While I find some of your uses of Taoist philosophy inappropriate and confusing in this context, I agree that the ego is to be mastered and used well, not destroyed. This is analogous to how many religious and pseudo-spiritual people seek to make sexuality ‘wrong’ and view it as ‘lower’, believing they need to suppress it or move away from it. All erroneous.

    Ego is an illusion, a trick one plays on oneself, but a trick with a vital purpose. The ego creates a ‘self’ of the mind, a vehicle named “me”, which is then used to create one’s human experiences. You cannot be human without an ego, because without an ego the mind is undifferentiated from all around it – you are ‘one with everything’, but no longer ‘you’. Further, without a loving, healthy experience of ego (self), you cannot love or experience relationship with anyone or anything else from a human perspective. The ego is laughter and joy experienced.

    You cannot even have a body without some form of ego, because the mind creates the body from its image of ‘self’. I like the ego described as a bucket where you place things which you believe to be ‘I’, and exclude things which you consider ‘other’, thereby creating your identity. The imagination creates the ego as a context, a vehicle it uses to live its dreams.

    As with sexuality (which is also a product of the ego process), a problem appears when the ego becomes an addiction and grows out of balance in importance. If your whole purpose becomes filling the ego bucket to make yourself more, more, more, it is analogous to seeking gross sexual experiences without regard to love and wholeness. A huge ego is no more comfortable or functional than an obese body. Mind what you put in the bucket, and don’t try to hold onto everything you’ve ever put in the bucket (the source of material greed and possessiveness).

    A functional ego is a vehicle which allows your spirit to experience itself as a human. A healthy ego is always changing, evolving. When the ego gets stuck, because you cling to a particular form it had in the past, or because you are unwilling to release something you gained (put in the bucket), then the process is jammed. You have an addiction to ‘self’, a need to be a particular ‘self’, without allowing yourself to grow.

    Like fingernails and hair, ego should be trimmed regularly, pared down to a useful size and extent, washed and combed. As with hair length and style, each person has their own preferences, based on what they are seeking to experience through their ego. Yet some maintenance is vital, especially for grander spiritual-human experiences.

    Another key to using the ego successfully is to let it go at times. With practice and trimming of the ego, one can temporarily release it and move into ‘god consciousness’, or oneness. In this state, there is no experience of ‘self’. It is natural to cycle between ego and oneness – each has its purpose. People view ego as a problem when they have become trapped in an ego which no longer fits them, like an old suit of clothing due for replacement.

    At times, the ego should be allowed to grow very large through the imagination. It is said that the larger your idea about yourself, the larger your experience will be. For example, if you begin to see yourself as being one with God, you begin to have experiences that include the miraculous. Ultimately, the ego grows to mirror the oneness, all of life, giving you such a large experience of self that your experience transcends the human self. Thus like the body, the ego is an integral part of spiritual evolution, not something to be merely discarded or viewed as ‘lower’. Nor are you only to place small thoughts about yourself in the ego – think huge! Thou art God! Just beware of getting addicted to that large ego – next experience yourself as a small child again, for example. Keep changing – this is the flow of life.

    As with sexuality, play with the ego. See what you can create with it, what higher aspects of self you can bring into the world of human experience through it. It is through the ego that all experience is created. As with your body, keep your ego trim, flexible, and exercised. One great way to exercise the ego and keep it supple is to pretend to be what you are not – play! Children do this all the time, but as adults we often become more set in our ways – this is the ego becoming an inflexible addiction, which is experienced as uncomfortable, and is responsible for the body and mind aging.

    When we die, our ego dies with us – both our ego and our body move into an afterlife, leaving their more dense forms behind. These aspects of ourselves do continue – hence the personality trends noted in reincarnation, ghosts, etc. Yet after death one does not cling to the ego or care about the ego’s accomplishments in life. One merely cherishes the highest forms the ego attained in this life, and plants these seeds into the next life. Nothing is wasted or destroyed. Yes, your personality will survive your death.

    Egos have sex too, or mix with other egos. This is why when someone touches your soul, you feel as if they are a part of you. You may exhibit their speech habits and other aspects of personality. The experience of feeling one with a lover is a product of ego transference and combination, where you come to experience life through this mixture of egos, feeling that you are having an experience of oneness with another. In fact that’s what love does – it creates a new ego from the combination, which is then experienced by both parties, and may even incarnate into a new person – a baby.

    Jesus said, “I am the life and the way, follow me” and “I and the father are one”. How big of an ego is that?! How arrogant?! It’s a HUGE ego! He was experiencing his godself. Yet Jesus did not cling to that ego, or lose perspective of himself as ‘just another man like any other’. He didn’t get trapped in superiority (a product of a wounded, small ego, not a large healthy one). He merely used it to create a grand experience in this world, one which he shared with others as a teaching. He dared to be HUGE, and dared you to follow him into that level of ego and experience. (“This and more shall you also do…”)

    Attempts to destroy or tightly control the ego are not healthy. This is basically hating and disowning what you have created in the past, often due to judgment and lack of self-forgiveness, guilt, rather than seeking to heal and elevate yourself to new levels of experience. Have compassion for yourself as you would for a child – give yourself a chance to make mistakes and try again and again – this is the ego perfecting its purpose.

    • Hello Meter, Thank you for you contribution to the Ego debate, my mission is to make Taoism accessible, so I’m sorry that you found some of my words and teaching “inappropriate and confusing”. I would be pleased to address your confusion directly, please Email me with your queries. Your other observations and comments are interesting and offer a thoughtful counter view for readers. Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to write, I hope you find part two of the article as thought provoking.

  • Ego is sometimes equated with the Sanskrit term Ahankara, which means misidentification of Self. So Freud may have coined the word ego, but it is an ancient concept. The ego is an illusion, as it is simply a misidentification of who you truly are. So what positive purpose is there in upholding an illusion of Self? Find out who you truly are, and the illusion falls away.

    • Meter

      > So what positive purpose is there in upholding an illusion of Self? Find out who you truly are, and the illusion falls away.

      I gave my answer for the purpose of the illusion of self in my other comment. “I am…” statements start the engine of creation. Say “I am a fireman”, and you will go into the world, putting out fires, BEING a fireman. “I am a healer” will allow you (and others) to experience yourself as that which heals. Ego creates experience – being. God’s name is often given/translated as “I AM”, a statement of God’s ultimate ego, God’s BEING.

      Yet there is no need to hold onto a particular illusion or ego form, to cling to it or defend it against loss. Always let it go when its ready, and remember again, as you say, ‘who you really are’ (all of it). You are really outside of the illusion, you are God itself, using ego (actually many egos) to create experiences as ‘who you are not ‘(this and not that, a limited expression of being). You can always let go of your ego, because you are always free to recreate it again, any way you like.

      People find statements like “Find out who you truly are, and the illusion falls away” very hard to live up to, because in fact the illusion, the self, always returns again, as it must. It is the cycle between ‘self’ and ‘oneness’ that is valuable. So indeed, let the ego go, but also allow it to return and live again in a new form. You must in any event. You cannot stay in ‘oneness’ forever (you cannot experience oneness without something to contrast it to).

      When we’re feeling down, depressed, small, wounded, this is our spirit attempting to release an ego form. Grief is a natural emotion which allows you to push away from your old self, mourn/express the feeling of loss. Through those tears a yet more sublime self emerges, a new skin to wear. Yet if we avoid the grief, the loss of ego, because we fear the pain and the change, we become stuck in fear and unchangingness. This is the feeling of living someone else’s life, of life having no magic anymore, no passion.

      “To be reborn, let yourself die.” — Tao Te Ching

    • Hi Greg, Many thanks for the information, I had not heard of the Sanskrit term “Ahankara” being the root of the term Ego,I will do some investigations on the subject, I have a patient who studies and teaches Sanskrit, so it would be interesting to find an ancient concept :-). My interpretation of the term Ego is somewhat different to yours, but your contribution to the debate is valued.

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