I am in the over 50 crowd now and thoroughly enjoying the time I can spend exploring my spirituality and your insights compliment my everyday life. One of the biggest parts of my life is my beautiful Granddaughter. I have the time now as Gramma and not Mommy to watch in wonder as she explores life and develops her own ideas. It occurred to me the other day as I watched her have a temper tantrum that we have an opportunity to remove the ego from her thinking and teach her to be free and present. She is only three and already asks questions like “Are you mad at me?” which drives me crazy. So I guess I’m asking,
when and how do we learn the ego? And what can we do differently as we
guide our children to a healthy life?
What a beautiful question. Thank you for asking it. And I’m pleased to hear you’re finding the blog useful in your personal development. It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it—to stop being our ego-selves long enough to actually notice other people being their ego-selves? That’s what you’ve done with your granddaughter—you’re no longer an ego watching an ego. In those cases you have no awareness that you even are an ego. But you now know how to assume an out-of-ego perspective so now you can see hers too, because it’s built the very same way as yours—from thoughts we tell ourselves that we believe.
This will be a tricky question to answer in anything less than a book. Here goes:
The ego is largely a construct of language. When we morphed grunts into nouns or verbs we had no idea our creativity would lead us to create a language so complex that even the people who use it don’t have a very good grasp of it. How many people could give a really good definition of the word while or how many know that discrete and discreet are two different words? We have complex concepts made of words—things like borders and nations and money and laws and the economy and justice and fairness.
None of those things actually exist but we all act like they do. And the little thought-monkey that climbs around on those word-based concept-frameworks is your ego. And you have a different ego for every framework. And you get really really uncomfortable when your frameworks merge because there’s this weird sensation inside you because you can’t be different people for different people all at the same time. That’s why people are so nervous at their weddings. It’s a convergence of their many selves. They have to be the wild drinking buddy to their friends all while being impressive to the new relatives all while trying to look good for the cameras, and be organized enough to make sure the event is going well and—oh yeah, there’s that romantic part you don’t want to forget. Egos are busy. The Ego lives in many worlds and each is constructed of many words.
I’m definitely up for minimizing the amount of ego a child builds. This can be done by modelling caring cooperative supportive behaviour both toward and around the child. If they feel loved and see others sharing love, then that will be their understanding of what it is to live. It is also important that children have a proper understanding about how reality works and how people routinely get lost in ego anyways. So as soon as they’re able we want to ensure that the child understands that thoughts are where their feelings come from, not other people or events. This prevents them from ever experiencing psychological bullying because they simply won’t choose to replay the insults in their own consciousness because they both know better and it feels better not to (which is very reinforcing).
We should also model humility. So when we do get caught up in ego, we should draw attention to it, apologize for anything we did that was unloving and then forgive ourselves so that the child can see that they too are allowed to be human. We don’t need them or ourselves to be perfect to belong. Everyone belongs by birth. So their efforts to deal with their egos shouldn’t be for us, they should be for themselves. It should be a selfish act to take control over your own ego. It should be because you want to feel more joy. All the more important that the child gets modelled joy. Oh how many parents forget to model the simple enjoyment of life. Most often they are instead, understandably modelling obligation and work.
The child will learn language and get lost in ego. That’s essentially inevitable. But don’t worry about that too much because if there can be no sense of being found if there’s also not a sense of being lost. If there is no ego, there is no not-ego, for without the contrast you couldn’t even know you were Being. So don’t lament your granddaughter developing an ego to some degree. It makes the world dramatic. And it gives us something to do. And if we do that thing in just the right way, then life is wonderful no matter what happens.
So first we don’t even know there’s an is. And then we turn into an am, where we have preferences and dislikes. And then we’re a me and we have ownership and rights. And finally we’re an I with dreams and plans. I is when we finally have enough perspective to recognize there was an is and an am and a me and that you are currently being an I. And when we see how ephemeral all of these identities are we feel lost, because lost is where we should be after travelling through is, am and me and I.
This is the point where we start to realize that we didn’t have a childhood. That’s when we realize our past is flexible. That it is changeable. That we can alter our view of things that happened and we can see that mean people were actually being protective, or angry people were actually depressed. And we realize that we weren’t what we thought we were either, and we realize even what we are today is in a state of flux, so that even makes the current us rather nebulous as well. So if it’s all up for grabs, why worry? It’s as Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”
Make sure the little girl learns over time how to quiet her own thoughts, how to take conscious control over what she’s thinking whenever possible (which is really often), and then let her Be. Model joy and wonder and connection and that’s what she’ll head toward. The rest is just a drama. What character she writes for herself is less important than her awareness that it is only a character. She can think any egos thoughts she chooses, we just want to make sure that she doesn’t confuse the thoughts with the thinker.
And on what you should specifically do to help her not form an overabundance of ego? That’s easy: you should model living without ego rather than living with one, as much as possible. And I’m sure you’re already doing a better job at that than you realize. 😉
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.