*Originally published in 2011, then updated in 2014 and 2019
Not claiming to be the guru of ego work (lol that would be ironic!) So if any piece of this does not resonate, apply, or you just totally disagree, don’t use it. I’m not claiming to have a universal truth here – use it if it helps, leave it if it don’t. This is what has worked for me so far…
It’s hard to find much that we purge, restructure, train on, etc that does NOT alert us through the ego somehow. At simplest terms, the only difference between Pure Spirit/Higher Self and “other” would be somehow under the umbrella of ego (at least in Meghan’s experience, perspective is always debatable in life). Ego: the protector of our deepest fears.
We’ve found what seems to make or break the person’s connection, understanding, growth, purging, healing and training for the long term (through the Medicine, or in general) is ego work.
All this stuff seems to have infinite levels of depth, so even if a concept makes sense logically, or feels as if a person has already ‘been there, done that’, the levels of depth keep going. And so do the ego’s infamous blind spots.
Defense Protection System
The way I see it, the ego is there as a defender of our weak, vulnerable, fear spots. Not an enemy, actually an ally at times where it’s the only reason we survived. But after awhile, those belief systems become solid, and route thoughts through the maze of what the deeper, mis-aligned belief is.
In order to get to the spaces that need healing, we need to move the protector walls out of the way (once we’re ready to feel the feelings underneath – which is all emotional purging really is.)
For example, one of my ‘core beliefs’ that I learned about at Inner Visions, was just ‘not good enough’ in general. That became so hardened, that it plagued me through relationships, friendships, and I over-corrected to compensate as a kid, basically developing an arrogant ego.
Mine swung between arrogance and victim/martyr depending on the scenario. ‘Not good enough’ and ‘better than’ still lie on the same judgment plane, one is just a little prettier in our society.
So what do we do? First, we set the intention. I not only want to, but am willing to release levels of the ego in order to discover what it’s protecting and heal it. Check the heart and see if you feel a door open for ‘willing’ – because as much as you may want something, free will wins – so if you pushing up against a closed door it’s pointless.
If you’re not willing, it just means you need more prep time. No judgment. There’s tons of stuff I’m not willing to do right now. Shelf it (but don’t stuff if) let it go for now, and know it will come around again in priority with a newfound motivation.
Don’t want to waste energy on judging yourself for stuff you’re just not ready to do right now. Feeding the ego is counter-intuitive to releasing it. Same reason we have the ‘no beat yourself up’ rule. You wouldn’t yell at a toddler who can’t walk yet, right? Same thing.
Stop judging, if you really want to release this ego. And stop worrying about others judging you (caring about that is still ego.) I know it’s a process, but the quicker the tools and skills get closer to alignment, the quicker everything moves.
Spotting the Ego
Spotting the ego as protective defense system (especially as applied to specific circumstances) is the red flag; the clue that it’s protecting something vulnerable underneath that needs attention.
First step is usually recognizing the pieces of ego we’re ready to see. This is lifelong work, and I’m pretty sure it is never done (I’m not enlightened enough to know).
But so far, it’s amazing how much is in there. It seems to me, that energetically there are layers/levels. Bodies are meant to purge anyway (sweat, poop, illness, crying, etc). Ayahuasca Medicine just accelerates that process so it’s a bit easier to see (condensed).
But this applies to anyone, especially once the intention is set. The intention is like installing guide-walls to flow a river in certain direction. Whether you set it consciously or on a deeper soul level, once that intention gets set, things start happening.
Watch for Triggers
How to recognize ego in the self? Watch for triggers. It’s actually fairly easy to see once you start looking (and do not judge yourself if you see a lot – most people are surprised by how much is there.) You are not your ego. No one is judging you here. Go at it like a scientist – investing how your specific ego works, neutrally.
When one is functioning out of an ego space, it is not their true self. They are behind defense wall.
Yes, there is a certain responsibility in managing the ego appropriately, but the act of separating the true self from the ego is a really good elementary way to help recognize it, in order to make some movement (and I say elementary because I’m sure there’s a level of unity above it – but my understanding level hasn’t gotten there past a logical, ‘booky’ way, so I’m still in the elementary levels of training.)
“What Would My Higher Self Do?” Thanks Jesus for this concept. Or whoever came up with WWJD. It’s probably more or less the same thing, except I believe, individually we all have a different system of what ‘integrity’ means, and not a uniform one (not trying to get into a religious debate – I don’t even know what Jesus thinks about that! I’m just speaking from my own perspective and understanding.)
Higher Self or Ego?
This helps me to see if I’m in True Self/Spirit or Ego. Would my True Spirit really be so mad that the waitress got my order wrong? Or that my boss is seemingly a prick and belittles me? Or that my husband cheated on me with my best friend?
I use progressive (fake – by the way) examples for a reason. It’s easy to apply non-judgment when it’s easy, like the first one. No one wants to be that guy who’s an asshole at the restaurant to the waitress. But what about as it gets closer to home? Here is where the ego is usually quite present.
“But don’t I have the right to be angry if somebody did me wrong?” You have the right to feel anything, and should *give space for those feelings to be felt. But if your intention is set at releasing ego, that means pulling judgment off a situation.
How many times have horrible things turned out to be ‘blessings in disguises?’ If you could have seen WHY that thing was happening from the beginning, you may not have labeled it as ‘bad’. “Good, bad, right wrong, better, worse” – all value judgments that are debatable and subjective – meaning they are running through human eyes.
Check the Judgement
Even if they are not meant to, there is always an element of judgment in there. We can’t take the perspective out of our eyes. Even this article could be totally wrong. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s a collection of information based on experience, and this is mine.
Like I said, if it doesn’t feel right, ignore it. No harm done. Claiming to have all the right answers would be coming from my ego. I feel like when my true spirit speaks, she makes more sense anyway.
Feel the Feelings
*That being said, spiritually bypassing feelings in the name of ego work is also the wrong direction. Giving a space to feel whatever we need to (doing our best not to spew it all over others) is an imperative step in this process. Let the bubble out.
Then the space will begin to clear up naturally, and it will be easier to see the situation through Higher Self eyes. This may take several rounds – it takes as long as how many bubbles of stuffed emotions are in there to release.
Recognizing the Pattern
So back to the question – alright, let’s look at this. Second step – pull the anger off the catalyst, and recognize it as something coming out of your own body. “I can’t believe he did this – all guys always screw me over.”
Okay – you see an ‘always’. Pattern. Who is the common denominator in a pattern? Is it possible there is some kind of draw coming from your ego’s belief systems that keeps playing out the same thing over and over, until you actively work through it, purge the pent-up energies, and restructure the beliefs?
Because you know there are other ‘types’ of guys out there, but either they don’t seem to like you or you don’t want them. Hmm…mismatch resonation. The Universe and Medicine absolutely put stuff in my path to help me, giving me an opportunity to manifest the intention I set. Got to trigger it to pull it up to purge it.
Clear Response or Triggered Reaction?
So the difference, to me, is whether you are experiencing a normal emotion from the present, or if it is triggering pent up stuff from the past. Your boyfriend lied to you. Healthy response – irritation, talk through it, work it out. Done. You’re on the same team. Healthy relationship (assuming it wasn’t malicious on his part.)
Purge response – the last three boyfriends’ worth of deceit comes volcanoing onto your boyfriend, who just lied about his having a cigarette because he knew you’d get mad. It turns into a symbol – plucking the chord of the pent-up past.
It’s really not your current boyfriend’s fault you had a history with these other guys. Now, to be fair, there’s a balance here – so don’t swim around in an abusive relationship feeding low-self esteem looking for all your triggers. That’s also ego, just on the victim side. Find the balance, go with your gut, do what you can, and if it doesn’t match, it doesn’t. Walk when needed.
Back to normal, non-abusive relationship scenario – once you recognize that this is your trigger, and not the catalysts fault – then take it down another level. Why am I so mad at men? Because they hurt me. Why does that bother me so much? Because I don’t like to be in pain, or feel alone.
Why, what happens if I am in pain or feel alone? It means I will be stuck like that the rest of my life, and never find love or have a family, and waste my time on earth. Why do I feel that no one would want to stay? Because I’m not good enough. Some better girl will come along and swoop them away (that last one was a real one for me!)
Dig to the Roots
Dig, dig dig, keep going down levels as far as you want to, are willing to, and can handle. But be prepared – because once you get under there, there are often pockets of pent up emotions that will roll out.
After the deep, challenging stuff (this is often quite a large part of the process) comes the restructure. You’ve now purged a lot of these pent-up emotions, but the belief system that has built up around the fact that you don’t feel ‘good enough’ has got to start moving.
Maybe the Ego is Misinformed
First step again, are you willing to begin to believe that maybe, possibly, you are ‘good enough’ (beautiful enough, smart enough, etc.) Even if it feels fake for awhile, the question is only are you willing to explore the possibility that that old belief system could be wrong?
If you’re not willing, ask yourself – how much do I trust? I say I trust in the Universe, Medicine, Divine, God whatever – well, this would be a good time to apply that. Because I somehow don’t see the Bigger Picture scrutinizing and telling you you’re not good enough, so something is out of alignment.
So once you are willing – there are a couple of ways to go about the replacement structure. I tend to allow it to come back into balance naturally (since the intention is set on true self, it should organically snap back into it’s natural state before it was misaligned.)
Follow the Body’s Draws
But sometimes I also need to follow their lead and take some action steps and strengthen muscles that haven’t been used since the old belief system. So if I notice myself getting a draw towards fashion or something random – I don’t question it.
We’re in restructure, and sometimes weird things will be used in an rebalance or muscle strengthening. Maybe the concept of “fashion” to me, resonates with the girls I never tried to compete with in high school, so I went the other way into ‘hippie world’ to stay safe and unfeminine.
Now that the old belief system is moving out, maybe a draw to ‘fashion’, through the eyes of a changing belief system, may pull up some energies that have been dormant, in order to balance me out. Go with those things (remember, we’re not judging!)
Fashion is not a big symbol for anything, unless you make it so. There will be some habits, “muscle-memory” that one needs to work with as well – old thought patterns and stuff, but when they pop up, just swat them out of the way like a mosquito and keep going. They will die down in time.
Ride the tide as the internal “themes” and “draws” will flow things back into place, and soon, the new “natural-state” belief system will settle, then solidify. After awhile, you’ll forget about what you were purging, because it feels like so long ago once the belief system shifts, that it’s only a faint memory.
Wounds in the Collective Consciousness
The deepest level of all this (that I know of so far, at least) is the collective consciousness. Luco (the shaman) calls it the “Roots” or the “Race”. The way I see it energetically, is this. Ego-filter seems to be around the head. That’s why “heady” people seem to have a harder time with this, if they are not balanced in functioning equally between the head and the heart (I was heady and had no concept of what that meant – but that’s another article.)
More or less, it’s “dropping down” into the heart space to listen, rather that thinking everything through with logic and judgment. In the the heart, chest area, seems to reside the pent-up emotions, which bubble up from the systems within.
The body is trying to purge them out (since they can be toxic) and they bubble up in thought form (note them, but don’t feed them by spinning out on one ego thought), bubble up through the mouth in communication (if you catch it – own it – “sorry, that was my ego talking” is an amazingly effective communication tool, even for non-”spiritual” people, we gotta stop judging “them” as ignorant – another topic for another article.)
It can bubble up through the heart – usually needing a stimulus trigger or catalyst (imagine what it feels like to be lonely…harder than if the Universe gives you a scenario where you actually feel lonely – then you can access the bubble, purge it out, and restructure.)
Under the pent-up stuff, lay the deep belief systems. Then, the roots of the internal – wherever they are located – the collective consciousness. The sum-total of the belief systems within a certain space. There is a collective consciousness within a family unit, a school or workplace, a town, a state, and the big US consciousness, and Western Consciousness (including Canada, England, etc).
These have strong spaces and weak spaces, just like we do individually. For example, there is not a huge space for the concept of looking at the triggers inside, and taking ownership, where the common reaction would be to blame the slow waitress. But for me, my Higher Self is really chill, free, and doesn’t give a shit about stuff that’s not worth giving a shit about.
So if a waitress is slow, or I miss my flight, or someone breaks up with me – while my Higher Self may feel emotions related to the present moment – she gets that in the big picture, it’s all good. And something beautiful just came to conclusion, and something new and beautiful will begin.
Being “appalled” and angry doesn’t make a flight any less delayed, it just detracts from my quality of life (and those around me) in the meantime. My Higher Self does not roll that way.
So sometimes you really got to set up an environment and lifestyle conducive to this practice, since often times you may feel on your own. I find for me, I’m often surprised at how open people are once someone actually starts the conversation.
The trick is not to speak from ego, but from true self (My ego was notorious for ‘preachy’ – ughhh still trying not to judge myself for that one! It’s quite an ineffective way of communicating).
True self, which is also, to me, pure heart – usually resonates with itself in another person. They feel it, and can speak to it as well. Use words appropriately – if the person is Christian, just say God instead of Universe. If you’re not sure about their spiritual style, just say Life.
What’s the difference? No one’s trying to be “right” here (no one’s Higher Self, anyway), we’re just trying to communicate, share our experiences and perspectives in order to stimulate forward growth for all of us. Ego work is, to me, the absolute number one common denominator as to what works in growth, no matter what the path.
Learn to Love and Understand the Ego
Full disclosure – this love piece was added from Future Meghan (2018) as it was an imperative piece that I hadn’t learned yet when writing this article initially – but I couldn’t let you leave without the most important part! LOVE.
Loving yourself through the process is the process. My ego’s way of looking at things led me to taking a ‘hard-way’ approach, which may have been the only way I could see it then. If you can learn to be gentle with yourself, the process moves much more smoothly and efficiently (and feels less like an internal battle!) Recognizing that the ego is nothing more than a defense system designed to protect you from your pain, and it’s simply doing its job.
It’s not a villain. Love the ego and learn about it from that perspective, while you heal what’s underneath it, and it will no longer be needed to defend. For more on self-love, check out Matt Kahn’s work here (hours of free YouTube video to support this process.)
One of the most powerful visions I received on the ego was outside of ceremony (rare for me), while sitting in a hammock in Peru, fuming as I was super triggered by a friend of mine. What I saw was a tiny tree – a sapling, barely rooted in the ground (by nature “insecure”). Surrounding it was a massive circular wall around it, protecting it from the elements while it grew.
At each phase of the little tree’s growth, it became stronger, wider, taller, more well-rooted, with thicker bark to protect it. Corresponding to that growth, the walls thinned in parallel. Once the tree grew into it’s full maturation, the walls came down completely, allowing everyone to finally see what was the beauty and grandeur of this majestic tree.
Back to 2011 Meghan…
Find the “Hypertrigger”. This is the person at work, in your family, in your friend circle, that their being just annoys you. The Hypertrigger. Generally, they have become a symbol for something else you don’t like (I can’t stand “people who…”) Whatever. But they, too, have a glowing little heart inside that you could, IF you were willing, connect to on some level, which would probably melt the hard walls you feel in defense whenever they come in the room.
These are tough, but they are very clear barometers to progress in ego work, since over time, if you are willing to see their heart, the anger will come up less often and less intensely, until it’s gone. My Higher Self loves everyone, and is not phased by where other people are in their growth process, and does not claim to know which of us is father “ahead”.
So when I can’t quite get there, I know it’s an ego release opportunity (and I’m not done with this either – I still have a couple Hypertriggers I have to make a willingness choice with).
Sometimes while emotionally purging, you may feel a rush or flood of old emotions coming out, at times almost unmanageble. Remember, this whole thing is guided by a bigger Source (even the Inner Self if you don’t like the spiritual terminology.)
Stay in communication through the whole thing, and pay attention to which parts are more challenging for you than others. Try to allow the emotions to purge in a safe space, not all over the catalyst.
Do your best. You may not be able to do it every time, but the more open communication you have, the better. It is not the catalyst’s responsibility to be your emotional-purge-vomit receptacle. I learned this the hard way, luckily with a friend who loves me enough help me through it.
Management is part of strengthening the new muscles in line with the new belief system, happening simultaneously with the purging of the old.
If this all sounds abstract – it is, until it’s not. This kind of ego work is not done in the Meditation Room (though reflecting on the process is helpful). This is physical world training.
Applying spiritual principles to the rest of life. They are not two separate worlds. You are spiritual at home, at work, even at the McDonald’s or at a bar. Yes, I’m sorry, but in my opinion, you can not take the “being” out of “spiritual being.” It is what it is.
Compartmentalizing it into another category is missing the entire Universe(ity) of knowledge, training and healing right in front of us. Every day.
Getting in flow, releasing the need to micromanage and control everything (ego – fear) can allow the Universe to throw amazing things in your path – some fun, some hard (you said you set the intention, right? The ways to get the growth are not always through a Heaven-sent Light package.)
One day after venting for an hour in the Medicine about why I was having to go through some shit…
“Meghan, a seed by itself can’t grow. It needs SHIT (fertilizer) to grow THROUGH.” Basically, if we aren’t challenged, we spin. We don’t grow. We are humans, We are programmed to grow.
Purging helps us grow. Darkness helps us grow. Light helps is grow. It’s all good – but we gotta stop labeling, judging, and bitching about things that we don’t like. It’s not changing anything, and distracting us from potential growth and lessons.
ON THE OTHER SIDE
The word I would use to best describe the other side of an ego purge is relief. I had no idea how much energy I was using up trying to defend my “name”, heart, whatever.
On the other side of each ego-deflate wave (and that is what it feels like energetically – deflation – at least mine, the arrogant kind) I was free and liberated to use that energy for something actually in line with my Life Purpose.
I could breathe, and smile, because I was giving less shits about stupid, ego, judgey stuff that is just a distraction. And big judgments too – are people going to judge me because I’m supposed to be “spiritual” though I smoke cigarettes? And use cuss words? And, Heaven forbid, may not have all the answers that exist in the Universe – and I call myself “spiritual”?
Probably some are going to judge me. But you know what? I would be judged either way. People judge Ayahuasca all the time, not having actual, first hand experience with it. People judge me on Facebook (the latest one I got was – do you ever think about anyone other than yourself? Then later from the same guy – ‘Meghan has it too easy, everything handed to her’.)
Two years ago, I would have been all up in there making sure he knew how fucking hard I’ve worked (see, my ego even snuck in right there to validate! And I’ll leave it as an example:) It would have been at maybe an 80% ego trigger. This time, I’d put it at a 15-20%. It bothered me a little, but ultimately not enough to really care.
What are you gonna do? You’re gonna get judged. I’m definitely gonna get judged – it goes with the territory of posting your shit on the internet.
But I do it anyway, because for every five people that judge me and think I’m full of shit – one person may read something and it may help them in some small (or even big, why not) way. That’s who I do it for. And the more I work on my ego, the less I care, so I can just do my work, share it, and go on with life. Sweet freedom:)
– Set the intention to come into True Spirit and/or Life Purpose (and know that by nature of the intention, get ready for some training, sometimes hardcore training – especially in Medicine world)
– Watch for the things in the way (triggers – judgment, anger, arrogance, control, victim/martyr, etc)
– Consciously make a different choice to avoid them coming up, then release them safely once they do (remember, don’t stuff – let them release, or “blow out” physically with breath)
– Investigate through the heart (vs. analyze with the head) the deeper beliefs underneath. Journaling helps this process, or with a sounding board person
– Spot the deeper belief systems, and be willing to let them realign back into natural state. Re-strengthen the muscles of the new system until they become normal
– Stay open to more levels, more steps, and more “root networks” of various pieces of life that may apply. This stuff often runs very deep
– Some aspects may shift in a “Holy Instant”, others may take years. It is what it is. What, you gonna stop? Embrace the lifestyle and process, it will vastly improve your quality of life. Because I’m pretty sure there are infinite levels. However, relief comes on the other side of each one:)
~ Meghan Shannon Elder (@beyond_meghan)
Ayahuasca Preparation and Integration Specialist at Beyond the Ceremony
Accelerated Spiritual Development Coach at Beyond the Whirlwind
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*NOTES FROM THE FUTURE (2016) – Five years after this post was written, I have to say, the time and energy investment of focusing on ego work has paid off. While I don’t have the expectation of eradicating ego, the whole thing is much easier to navigate, and I find myself just naturally kinder to myself and others.
The one piece I know consciously at the time of this post but had not yet really integrated into my body was the concept of loving myself (and everyone else) through our process. I said it, I knew it was true, but I still had a tendency to battle against my ego and sometimes others’.
In general, the integration/unification of all things seems to be the direction we are headed, and that includes choosing not to ‘battle against’ the ego or the body. Be patient and loving with everyone (including ourselves) and in the moments we can’t, love that too (anyone hear Matt Kahn in my words? Because it’s really rung true for me.) Ease into the experience, and it will be less intense and more efficient:)