Ego, a misunderstood friend

Our senses have an intense connection with our affective memory. The taste of guava fruit takes me back to my grandfather’s house, where I spent most of my childhood; bossa nova music reminds me the delightful afternoons of my teenage years; the texture of paper transports me back to the college library in endless studies sessions. The smell of leather reminds me of Loureiro’s workshop, the shoemaker who loved books and wine. Philosophy and red wines were his favourites. I was thinking about those memories when I saw his classic bicycle leaning against the pole in front of the store. I was greeted by my friend with a sincere smile and a strong hug. Always elegant, in dress and attitude, Loureiro had his white hair, still abundant despite his age, combed back, and the happy eyes of a boy. His tailored shirt had the sleeves rolled up to his elbows in order to not hinder his movements while at work. His words, always honest, were firm, but he excelled in fusing a dose of kindness to them so they could be well received. He was a virtuous man, both in the craft of sewing the leather of the shoes he created, and in the art of finding the best place for every idea in the wonderful mosaic of life. I saw that on the counter there was a book by Carl Jung on the ego, with several pages marked. I immediately commented that I had just read another book on the same subject, that I had liked a lot, which, in short, spoke of how the ego, as it is a personal enemy, hurts us so much, makes us suffer and needs to be defeated. Loureiro arched his lips in a slight smile and made room for controversy: “With no doubt, the greatest battle is the one we fight in the dark basements of our being. However, the ego is not the enemy. It is just a misunderstood friend.”

I said he must be joking. Everyone knew about the need to overcome the ego, not to allow it to interfere with our choices, since its influences and desires were the sources of the most severe sufferings. Loureiro tried to explain: “This is a shallow reasoning in understanding and unfair to the ego itself. The tendency not to go deeper into the matter makes us confuse the good simplicity with dangerous simplification. Not understanding the ego is giving up an essential part of being; repressing the ego is the factory of all repressions.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had always heard in many philosophical and religious traditions about the need to “burn” the ego as a way of enlightening oneself, of ascending spiritually. The famous duel of the ego against the soul. Loureiro shook his head and said: “We need to remodel these concepts.” I opened my arms and urged him to start at that moment. The shoemaker gave a delightful laugh. He said the conversation would be good and long. Therefore, it needed to be accompanied by a good cup of coffee. Before long, we were seated opposite each other, with two steaming mugs on the old wooden counter. Loureiro began the explanation with an interesting preface: “More than five hundred years ago, Teresa of Ávila wrote ‘The Interior Castle’. A wonderful and still very current book. Through metaphors, she portrays a person as a castle. In the throne room, the place of great decisions, is the soul. As a sentinel on watch at the gate that serves as a gateway to the world, stands the ego. The master and the guardian. The other rooms of the castle are occupied by ideas and feelings that inhabit a person. The balance, cleanliness and perfect communication between the castle’s rooms portray the harmony of that construction. The ruin of a castle will always be from the inside out. The strength of the sentinel is linked to the power of the king. However, without firm, well-guarded walls, the throne will remain vulnerable.”

I interrupted to say that the text was rich in lyricism and poor in practicality. The shoemaker again disagreed: “On the contrary. It is a reading that helps a lot in terms of personal understanding. As long as I don’t know myself completely, shadows and virtues, ego and soul, I will be far from the states allowed by fullness. I won’t be allowed to experience freedom, love, dignity, peace and happiness to the fullest extent possible.” He took a sip of his coffee and continued: “This much talked about issue of ‘burning’ the ego is to me similar to when people talk about ‘burning’ karma. The reason is simple. Karma is learning; therefore, the wheel only turns when the lessons of that evolutionary cycle are incorporated into the being. Of course, the words are dangerous and the verb may have been used primarily in that sense, but it has been distorted through the ages or by countless idiomatic conversions. No ritual or ceremony will allow the individual to skip his or hers learning stages; no good school will authorize a student to pass to the next grade without absorbing the proper knowledge. To evolve without learning is an absurd idea, a complete nonsense.”

I said that I agreed with the concepts regarding karma, but I remembered that the ego is the house of shadows, our treacherous executioners, motivators of all emotional illnesses. This time Loureiro agreed: Yes, it’s true.” To then disagree once more: “However, do not confuse the ego with the shadows. The ego is also the home where the virtues can dwell. They, the virtues, transit between the soul and the ego, between the throne and the castle watch; provided that the rooms and corridors allow access and communication. Don’t forget that for every shadow there is at least one virtue to illuminate it. The virtues are the ascension states of the shadows; the latter, primarily in the ego, will awaken the first, originally dormant in the soul. Aligning the ego with the soul, in unity of objectives, is the perfect balance of being. The illumination.”

I asked if it wouldn’t be easier to extinguish the ego at once and, consequently, the shadows that inhabit and dominate it. Without the ego we would have all the virtues of the soul. The shoemaker asked me, “And who would pay the bills?” I got surprised. I said I didn’t understand what he means. Loureiro was patient: “It sounds like a joke, but it’s serious. There are no shortcuts. Any idea in this sense is the absurd attempt to ‘skip’ steps. Just now you complained about practicality in speech. Remember that as long as we have our feet on this planet, we will need the ego. A lot. The ego is our root in the earth; the soul is eyes in the stars. The eyes direct the feet. With each step, we walk.”

“Going to the supermarket, preparing a healthy lunch, fulfilling the professional schedule, taking the children to the dentist, practicing physical activity, learning a language are just a few examples of seemingly of little importance everyday things that, without the ego, would be sublimated by the soul. However, it is in these moments that life happens and we can exercise our spirituality. In other words, the soul itself. Do you understand that the soul needs the ego to evolve as well? Of course, the naive option remains to go back to eating only what is available in nature, living in caves like hermits in worship of whatever it is. Just leave spirituality out of it, for this practice would be the antithesis of the sacred. Let’s face it, this is contrary to any idea of ​​evolution, which is always linked to the concept of becoming better people. Interpersonal relationships are the keys to human evolution because of the difficulties they bring and the need for intimate overcoming they impose. We need silence and stillness at the same time that we need people moving by our side. Both moments have their reason to exist. The progress of science is a strict consequence of the spiritual advancement of humanity. Personally and collectively.”

“Ultimately, the ego takes care of survival, while the soul is responsible for transcendence.”

I asked him to better explain the last sentence. Loureiro took another sip of coffee and said: “The ego is the part connected to the world. The soul is the divine face.”

“As the personal side is the one that relates to the world, the ego mirrors our personality. In the ego, the shadows of jealousy, vanity, pride, greed are manifested. The ego also expresses our fears and desires. However, in the ego there are also those virtues that we have already managed to conquer, or they will not be there, such as humbleness, generosity, sincerity, just to name a few examples. Little by little, the virtues occupy the places where the shadows once predominated. We become better people as we perfect our personality through the development of virtues. When the ego becomes beautiful in virtues, it is perfected. These virtues come from the soul. From the soul also comes the wisdom to overcome ignorance and the courage to overcome fear. From the soul comes love to heal all suffering. This path of illuminating the shadows is very personal, each one travels in their own way, at their own time. Solitary and sympathetic, you will never lack the necessary help, but also no one will be able to replace anyone on this journey or play your part. For the universe needs you, me, each one of us. Each one of us is unique; is irreplaceable. Therefore, the soul portrays our individuality.”

“On the one hand, the ego is the soul’s bridge to the world; on the other, the soul is the ego’s road to the sacred.”

The shoemaker paused for a moment and then asked me with the intention of deepening the reasoning to make it truly clear. “But isn’t the sacred hidden in the normal situations of the world?” I just nodded in agreement. He continued: “We need the ego’s will to be more and more in harmony with the soul’s concepts every day. Only the soul can show the ego where the sacred is hidden in the world; only the ego will allow the soul to experience it.”

“Do you realize that it is not about giving up the ego or forgetting the soul? I need the ego to live; I need the soul to be happy. May there be communion between them!”

I didn’t know what to say. New ideas have that effect. We get stunned between surprise and delight. Loureiro noticed and, with his wonderful gift of making simple what for many is complicated, pointed to my cell phone, which was resting on the counter, and said: “Imagine each virtue as a new application that you download to your cell phone. Each application has the function of making your tasks easier, of allowing you to do things that once were impossible, of expanding possibilities that were hitherto unthinkable. At last, to improve your quality of life, isn’t it?” he asked. I nodded once more. Loureiro continued: “It is exactly like that with the virtues. The virtues are the apps; the soul is the creator of the software; the ego is the cell phone. The ego downloads the virtues stored in the soul. With each new application the cell phone gets better. However, the application has no reason to exist and is of no use if it is not installed on the cell phone. On the other hand, the cell phone becomes obsolete if it is not updated with new applications. With the cell phone we interact with the world; with good apps our possibilities expand.” He gave a delightful laugh when he noticed my bewildered) features and wanted to know: “Isn’t that so? Did you understand the importance of the ego for the soul and vice versa?”

“Only as we seek the virtues in the soul and then apply them to the everyday choices of the ego, do we advance on the Path. By replacing the typical shadows of the ego with the virtues existing in the soul, we apply a new pattern of behaviour to life. The perspective changes, the choices change, the pain cools down until it disappears. Everything around changes; we found colours that we didn’t perceive before, hidden beauties in everything and everyone. That’s how we illuminate ourselves. Without ‘burning’ the ego; on the contrary, improving it.”

“Try, just once a day, to replace pride for humbleness; resentment for compassion; vanity for simplicity; lies for sincerity; fear for courage; doubt for faith; the guilt that paralyzes for the responsibility to do different and better next time – there will always be a next time. A wonderful feeling will envelop you and it will be unforgettable. It is the perfume of fullness with typical fragrances of freedom, dignity, peace, happiness and love. Allow your ego to feel, at least once, the power of fullness that your soul offers. He will cry out for repetition. Then repeat. Gradually, the ego will understand that a different life is possible, that better choices are available. In turn, the soul can only experience all the infinite potentialities of love and wisdom that it brings with it through the ego. The ego is the testing ground of the soul.”

He emptied his coffee mug and ended his explanation with a piece of advice: “An ego wrapped in shadows is a fragile guardian that exposes the castle to the smallest attacks from the world. Allow the guardian to strengthen with the master’s luminous abilities. The soul knows the good fight and can transform a mere watchman into an authentic guardian of light. Make the contact closer, improve this communication. Then the castle of our being will become impregnable and pain will no longer be inevitable.”


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