One of the five Kleshas or hindrances in Yogic philosophy is Asmita, or egoism. The word Klesha is derived from the sanskrit root Klish which means “to suffer, torment or distress- to cause trouble”. The Kleshas are the Hindrances. They are the five factors that lead us into suffering. (Avidya-Non-seeing, Asmita-Egoism, Raga- Attachment, Dvesha- Aversion, Abhinivesa- Fear of Death)
Yogi Michael Stone calls Asmita the “I” maker; “I am a mother, I am an artist”and our ego identification “stories of self”. We identify with our jobs, our perceived roles in life, mother, wife, breadwinner, teacher, artist, caregiver and though having an ego is not a bad thing- (even Buddha had one I suspect) we pretty much need our ego to organize our mind and navigate through life, but to over identify with and cling to these labels ultimately brings suffering. Life is guaranteed to bring change, and when it does, often times these changes affect our identity. If we are over-attached to these labels, change can place us on pretty shaky ground. We suffer because we believe we have lost an irretrievable part of ourselves when we lose some part of our perceived identity.
Stone relates that“We think of ourselves not as stories wrapped around other stories, but as fixed and somewhat permanent entities… we are constantly overlaying each moment with a story of self, preventing a direct experience of reality, creating a case of mistaken identity! Furthermore, compassion, listening or the ability to take in others is always superseded by the aggressive mechanism of the “I’-maker.”
The Ego generally chooses the easy way out. The ego has such an aversion to pain that options look pretty much the same all the time. ‘Is this gonna hurt? Then I’m outta here!’
If we choose to always cave in to the ego- change never really comes to us. We make choices that lead us down the same paths in life. The flowers or street signs along the way may look a little different on those paths; but when we arrive at the destination- things look (and feel) pretty familiar. We get stuck in a cycle of choices that appear to be the easy way out at the time, yet bring unhappiness at the end of the day.
When I begin to wrestle with my choices, when I begin to suspect that the ego has it out for me… this is happy making. It may feel pretty uncomfortable in those moments of introspection, but the fact that I now have some awareness that the ego is not necessarily the “boss of me”, I open myself to change. In these moments of struggle- “what should I do?” the opportunity to change, open and grow are present.
As I begin to cultivate awareness that I am not my ego- I begin to understand that there is more to me than my “ego identity”, something larger than myself. I can also hold the recognition that my stories and the stories others present to me are not fixed and permanent; our stories can change or even dissolve and I can remain ever flexible at my core. This offers me a more honest experience of what is unfolding in these present moments. Seeing the ego for what it is and what it isn’t cultivates the ability to see clearly what is.