Checking it at the Door
I'm going to take a short break in my flood layers series and hit you with another step (mini-chapter) from the book I'm writing. Due to copyright issues I've been forced to change its tile to "Guided Steps: Simple Strategies for Improving Your Personal and Professional Life." I'm about three quarters of the way in completing the book at present. As always, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on these steps, so feel free to to tell me what you think.
GUIDED STEP 10
Checking Your Ego, Willfulness, and Arrogance
“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing.
Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Many people depend solely on their egos or self-will as the main drivers in their lives.
Actually, the ego and willfulness go hand-in-hand and are often manifested by arrogance in one
form or another. Although each and every one of us is a manifestation of the greater whole of
universal energy, we are not the center of that universe nor are we calling all the shots, despite
what we might think. Yes, we’re the masters of our own destiny but that said, we as individuals
are not the driving force in the universe, pure and simple. “Pride goeth before a fall.” This
biblical quote is succinct and to the point but allow me to modify it a bit. “False pride goeth
before a fall.”
Most people view their egos as their true selves. What forms their distinct personalities, if
you will. However, this is very dangerous ground to tread from a personal development
standpoint because the ego is voracious in its needs and often drives people to extremes of all
sorts in order to seek fulfillment. Herein lies the dichotomy. Our egos are never completely
satisfied and always want more. Want more of what, you ask? Attention, stroking, building up,
control, power, fame, wealth…you name it. For those who can’t control their egos or who are
constantly driven to feed the same, this becomes an endless, vicious cycle because once the ego
is given what it wants it pushes hard for even greater attention and fulfillment. Again, it’s never
satisfied. That fact alone should speak volumes to you about an unchecked ego’s potential to be
detrimental to your self-improvement. That’s why so many Eastern religions and philosophies
are emphatic about removing the ego from the self-realization equation.
Sigmund Freud, the “father” of what would become modern psychology, defined the ego
as that part of human personality that mediated the demands of our primal urges (the “id”) and
our superego (conscience). To perform its job as Freud defined it, the ego operated in both the
conscious and subconscious realms. This is all fine and well from a definition standpoint, but
I’m assuming that the great Doctor Freud believed that the ego remained a balanced mediator in
terms of satisfying our overt needs or subconscious urges. Unfortunately, this is not always the
case. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that most ego-driven people are operating from a
negative internal framework created by many factors, not the least of which relate to the tribal
mentality and/or the way they were raised (or not raised) as children. Issues such as poor self-
esteem or feeling manipulated or out of control as a child can surface later as either self-
victimization or, alternately, as an overblown sense of self-importance (malignant narcissism,
for instance). In the former case, an individual’s ego may be suppressed, ill-defined, and
acquiescent. People like this typically become “door mats” for others and lack the inner strength
or character to stand up for themselves when attacked or manipulated. In the latter case the lives
of supremely ego-driven individuals are dedicated to one cause and one cause only…
compensating for the emptiness they feel deep within. How is that compensation accomplished?
By making their egos all important and all encompassing, trampling on the needs and feelings
of others if necessary, and making their lives all about themselves and no one else.
Willfulness often accompanies the out-of-control ego on its journey through life. Having
a strong will attached to a balanced ego can be a good thing as long as it, like the ego, is held in
check. Willfulness, on the other hand, is characterized by extreme stubbornness and an obstinate
need to have things your own way, time and time again. Many people believe that they can
thrive on sheer will alone and then spend their lives this way, steamrollering their way through
life with little time for introspection or self-realization. I’ve always found a manic component to
this constant exercising of sheer will to accomplish goals. Adolf Hitler, the Nazi dictator and his
counterpart in the Soviet Union at the time, Josef Stalin, were classic examples of willful, ego-
driven, murderous narcissists. It’s no small wonder a famous film made about Hitler and his
“new” Germany in the 1930s was titled, Triumph of the Will. With the ego and the will a little
bit goes a long way. If left unchecked, both can cause irreparable damage to their hosts, as well
as those unfortunates surrounding them.
A healthy ego, on the other hand, is balanced and controlled. Held in check by an
awareness and self-control that reflect maturity, wisdom, and an active inner life. Self-love and
high self-esteem are both necessary ingredients in creating a healthy ego and the reasoned
willpower that goes along with it. But you must remain constantly vigilant to the demands of
your ego and the negative ramifications that can arise from constantly feeding it. Ego and
willfulness are two of the primary inhibitors that prevent otherwise earnest people from
embarking on the path to true knowledge, self-realization, and human growth. Nowadays it’s
not uncommon to hear the phrase, “Check your ego at the door.” Ultimately, this is very good
advice and should be heeded every waking moment of your life. There are no two ways about it.
Give full vent to an unchecked ego and its co-dependent partner willfulness and you’ll live your
life without any real measure of true peace, contentment, or happiness. That path goes nowhere
in the end. Trust me, I know.
Another negative manifestation of untrammeled ego and innate willfulness is arrogance,
whether implied or overt. It’s no surprise that many people in this life have a very over-inflated
view of themselves and their capabilities. In fact, if their ego drive and willfulness are without
boundaries or limits, they can actually become quite delusional in terms of how they think they
are really viewed by others or what they’re truly capable of achieving. It’s my view that in
extreme cases this sort of arrogance can become a mental health issue that probably requires
professional attention…hopefully sooner than later. I’ve seen examples of delusional arrogance
many times in my life and it’s not a pleasant thing to be around. In fact, being around anyone
who continually thinks they’re God’s gift to the world at large is, at the least, very tiresome and
boring and in certain instances, becomes downright disturbing. People that we might classify as
braggarts, blowhards, posturers, loudmouths, and pathological liars are classic examples of ego,
will, and arrogance run amuck. So are certain sociopaths and malignant narcissists. For your
own peace of mind and emotional and psychic balance, you want to remain as far away as
possible from these types of individuals whenever possible. They are vexations to the spirit who
bring little, if any, added value to your inner life.
If you truly seek enlightenment and a better life overall, you must learn to set your ego
and will aside. As the German writer Rainer Maria-Rilke says in his quote at the beginning of
this page, “Make your ego porous.” In other words, allow your ego to be open enough to accept
and receive and to eliminate as well. If that’s hard to comprehend or visualize then view your
ego as a sea sponge that enlarges and becomes fuller when it it’s filled with water while at the
same time becoming sodden and unwieldy. One you give that sponge (your ego) a good twist or
squeeze, however, it becomes lighter and easier to use. It's also much more effective in "soaking up" new ideas and more positive behaviors.
Yes, your ego is a reflection of who you are when it’s held in check. Come to realize that
ego is a necessary function of your existence on this earth and is a gift from the universal source
that created this amazing universe surrounding us. Keep the light shining within and remain on
the path to self-realization, and lastly, remain humble in all things. Humility is a form of
acceptance that takes nothing away from you as a person. Contrary to what many believe, it
doesn’t make you weak or malleable. What humility does do, however, is ensure your ego and
your will are held in check, thereby contributing to your greater good and the good of others.
Being humble also requires that you acknowledge you are not the center of the universe, but an
unique part of the greater whole as reflected in the universal source.
So check your ego at the door. Do that and other doors will open wide for you.
“I keep my ego in check.”
“I am strong but never willful.”
“I practice humility in all I do or say.”
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2016
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org