I’ve found it helpful to think of two separate entities who inhabit my body. First, this is an important distinction. You often hear of someone claiming to “have” a soul. The viewpoint inferred by this choice of words begs the question, “If you have a soul, who is having it? The body? The mind?”
To me, it seems more accurate (and more useful) to think about it the other way around. That is, soul is who I am (who we all are) and we now have a body.
Even though I identify my sense of self with soul, there seems to be another “something” inside forever jockeying for position and making its presence known. This is the ego.
What’s the difference? How can you know which one is in charge? What are their characteristics?
Soul is all about peace and contentment. Soul perceives the outer world through the five senses via the mind. Soul perceives the inner world through knowing, feelings, emotions, hunches, nudges, dreams, daydreams, inner sight and inner sound.
“Thinking, understanding, reasoning, willing, call not these Soul! They are its actions, but they are not its essence.” – Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC) – Egyptian king
Ego desperately needs to be right. If it can’t be right, the next best thing is that it needs others to be wrong. Ego is alone and unconnected to others. It is driven to compete with all the others, so that it can be recognized as best. If not best, at least better. The ego’s sense of self is wrapped up in titles, awards and achievements. It must be continuously recognized by others for its accomplishments and special-ness.
Ego needs stuff — the more, the better. It is identified with possessions and the perceived prestige that accompanies them.
“Many could forgo heavy meals, a full wardrobe, a fine house, et cetera; it is the ego they cannot forgo.” – Gandhi (1869-1948)
The ego is engaged in a never-ending striving for more. It is never satisfied, never content, and never at peace. In fact, those things are considered threats to the ego — if you were totally peaceful, why would anyone need an ego? Ego may delude itself into thinking its striving, pushing and shoving is driven by a longing for peace, but the truth is, its striving is driven by the love of striving.
Ego Needs — Soul Is
Peace and contentment is the domain of the soul. Soul doesn’t “need” anything and is perfectly happy just to be. Soul is fulfilled by its attention on the present moment and whatever circumstances come with it. Soul has no longing for things or awards or recognition or outcomes. These are all in the realm of ego. Whatever it takes to remain peaceful, that is the objective of soul.
Soul does not shrink from experience — in fact, it relishes experiences that allow it to grow in awareness. Therefore, soul doesn’t mind possessions — it just remains detached from them with the understanding that they are all temporary.
“The self-controlled soul, who moves amongst sense objects, free from either attachment or repulsion, he wins eternal Peace.” – Bhagavad Gita (c. BC 400)
All possessions are loaners, to be enjoyed in the moment, and easily released when it’s time. Possessions come and possessions go — the sense of being “I am” remains to experience each of them in the moment of now. From the viewpoint of soul, all things are temporary playthings, capable of providing amusement and a richness of experience, but never to be allowed to get in the way of peace and contentment.
Relatively Peaceful Coexistance
I notice both of these viewpoints active within myself on any particular day. Even though I have made the conscious decision to identify with soul, ego elbows its way to the forefront quite often with its petty needs and inconsiderate attitudes.
It doesn’t have to be an on-going, internal war between the two. To function in the world, we seem to need both soul and ego. The problems arise when the ego is allowed to run amuck in an unsupervised manner. When ego is under the watchful eye of soul, a workable balance can be achieved.
“Our ego is our silent partner–too often with a controlling interest.” – Cullen Hightower
Shrinking Ego / Growing Soul Visualization
When I was first learning the benefits of meditation about forty years ago, I often pondered these two seemingly opposite viewpoints that co-existed in my head and heart. I realized that ego could be put under the control of soul and eventually began to enjoy occasional success at deliberately choosing soul as the captain. It’s not easy (ego is a relentless competitor), but with diligence and discipline, an ever-increasing percentage of moments had soul in the driver’s seat.
“To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul. To do this, you need to experience solitude, which most people are afraid of, because in the silence you hear the truth and know the solutions.” – Deepak K. Chopra (b. 1946)
In meditation, I focused my attention on a mental image of soul and ego. In my mind’s eye, I saw each of them as glowing orbs of light roughly equal in size, filling the mental screen. I noticed as I was successful in diminishing the size, power and importance of ego, its orb shrunk and soul had more room to grow into. It seemed so simple . . . as “A” shrinks, “B” is allowed to expand.
It was a helpful image that now, forty years later, I still use. I don’t think of it as an inner battle that will someday be won or lost. Instead, it is a spiritual exercise that reminds me that both soul and ego are necessary to function in the world.
“Meditation is the soul’s perspective glass.” – Owen Felltham (1602?-68)
Since I prefer peace to mayhem and contentment to perpetual, blind striving, my goal is to keep soul in the driver’s seat as often as possible. Instead of an either/or situation, I like the idea of soul and ego peacefully coexisting in a manner that best serves the greater good. Communication between the two is encouraged, so as often as possible, balance is the outcome.
“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” – Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-86)
In my meditations, I still envision the ego shrinking which automatically allows more “room” for soul to grow into. And whenever I notice a strong desire to be “right” or notice a thought of superiority or an urge for needless competition, I try to remember to take the old ego down a notch and allow soul to resume its rightful place in the driver’s seat.
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Integrity Through Self-Reliance
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