The steamy love affair between the ego and the soul

Image: Brooke Cagle

Ego gets a bad rap in spiritual circles (especially on this blog).

This is helpful in a lot of ways for us ego-fueled westerners who are so inundated in egoic living that it’s hard for us to see the forest for the trees. Calling the ego out on the floor is necessary for us to create some healthy distance from it.

But I’m of the belief that trying to escape the ego is futile. Likely even impossible.

Today, I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m going to lighten up on the ego. Because, what is it, really?

Yes, it’s the part of us that sees itself as separate from the divine and everyone else and is primarily run by our lizard brains that are based on fight/flight/please/freeze modalities.

But also, ego is what we get shit done with.

Our ego (or persona/personality — whatever you call it) is what mixes it up with the physical world that we live in.

Without the ego, we wouldn’t shower, style our hair, write that blog post, kiss our honey, buy that pickup, continue on that diet, etc.

It’s all good, though. It is what it is. And it’s kinda fun. You can go to that party and throw on that Beastie Boys vinyl. Because that one is the bomb (or do I sound old saying that). You can yell at the dog, tell off your boss, feel sorry for yourself, and flex in front of the mirror: thanks to the ego.

The ego is an integral part of our human lives. There’s no way around it.

The main problem with the ego is that it doesn’t know what’s important. It doesn’t know what’s valuable or meaningful. It doesn’t know what it should do in the ‘grand scheme of things’. It just wants to f*cking do it. Now.

Problem is that, like I said earlier, us westerners hang out solely in Egoland. We consent to the ego’s whims and let it smack us around and tell us what to do. It’s constantly hungry. Hungry for the next thing to get its fix.

Like a child that has no boundaries, the ego can’t handle itself. It can only eat so much of its own head.

It’s on a perpetual quest for this job, that vice, this app, that hookup, more money, those shoes, and the other relationship because the ego doesn’t know what is ultimately important.

But the soul does…

Now, the soul is an interesting thing (understatement of the year). We can’t speak about the soul in directly definable terms. We can only speak of it in mystical imagery and poetic verse.

So I’ll say this… The soul is your spiritual fingerprint — the one you had before your physical one when you were born. Your soul holds the place you were meant to inhabit in the world.

The soul speaks to us from the gut. We can feel its direction with our Spidey senses. You walk into a room and you can instantly tell if the people there have just been meditating or if a horrible argument has just taken place. Your brain might not be able to describe why you know it, but you do. That is the knowingness of the soul.

The ego and the soul must fall in love…

One of the most worthy challenges in life is getting the ego and the soul to fall in love.

Your soul can ring — it can give you the definite word that, “I have to live (name X location here)” — but the soul can’t get it done all by itself. This is why it’s the perfect match for the ego. Because the ego is like, “Yep. We can do that. I got this. We can move some money around and we’re set. Thanks so much you hot, sexy soul you.”

The soul is enraptured by the ego when you connect the two. The ego is actually happier as well because it isn’t on the hamster wheel of its own desperate search for identity and purpose. With the soul’s help, it’s found it. Finally.

So how do we do this? How do we get the ego and the soul to do the dirty?

It’s a dance. Like dating. It takes some time. Some flirting. Some heartbreak. Some drunk texts at 2am. Maybe a restraining order (I always say, a restraining order can’t stop true love).

But the big thing is noticing and ruthlessly eliminating all the other voices around you that can muddy the connection between the soul and the ego. Voices from parents, siblings, co-workers, friends, advertisers, clergy, etc.

Since we’re speaking of the soul, I’ll bring in a poet to do a much better job than I can to describe this process…

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —

though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do — 
determined to save
the only life you could save.

— Mary Oliver; The Journey

(Might wanna read this one again. Slowly. Go ahead, I’ll wait…)

As soon as you get the soul and the ego together and they start walking hand-in-hand, the peanut gallery will turn the nonsense volume up. To 11.

“Mend my life!” They’ll shout (if not in those words, with that undertone).

But slowly, your voice — your own voice — will emerge clearer and clearer.

You’ll feel your ego and your soul make contact. 
And you’ll have saved your life.

Thanks to Kent Dobson for the inspiration.

Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

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