Question: Is it possible to have a friendship with the ego? Or a friendship between the false “I” and the real “I”?
Eckhart Tolle: The ego, in the way I use the term, isn’t really the ego if you recognize it. In other words, if the ego is operating in you, you won’t even know it. Then it really is the ego. So, ego implies that you are not aware of it. Those people who have the biggest egos don’t even know what ego is and are not interested in learning about ego, and certainly wouldn’t think of themselves as having a big ego. They simply cannot recognize the ego as the ego.
But the moment you recognize the ego, it’s not really the ego anymore. It can be an old behavior pattern or a thought pattern that can still operate. For example, you may find yourself name-dropping. You know somebody famous and so you say to the person next to you, “Okay, I’ll have to call the Dalai Lama in a minute. He is expecting my call.” And, at that moment, you may realize that’s actually a lie. At that moment, of course, you’ve recognized the ego as wanting to be somebody and to be recognized. And at that moment, you have become present, so it’s not the ego anymore.
The next time, you can actually observe the urge to say it again, or something similar. For example, if your friend says, “Who do you have on your speed dial? I have Oprah on my speed dial.” Now you can pause and you may feel the urge to compete and come up with some other famous name and at that moment, recognize the urge and let go of it.
The moment you recognize an egoic urge or pattern, some element of freedom has come in. The pattern may still operate, but you are no longer completely possessed by it. There’s isn’t complete identification with the pattern anymore. And while I wouldn’t say you can make those patterns into your friend, you can be compassionate with yourself when they still operate. Because they have a momentum behind them, but they are not the ego in the strictest sense of the term, since ego implies complete unconsciousness.
So, the ego in its strictest sense cannot be your friend, nor should it be treated as your enemy. Because if you treat the ego as an enemy, you give it even more power. So ego, is neither your friend nor your enemy. It just is something that has taken you over and makes you unconscious.
One common mistake is to make the ego into an enemy, because the ego comes through the back door when you do that. Another mistake is believing that you can win the battle against the ego; you can’t. As soon as you battle, you’re part of the ego.
So, rather than using the terms “friendly with,” we’re really talking about compassion—compassion for patterns that still occasionally operate in you that you recognize as coming from unconsciousness—but at the same time appearing in the light of presence, which is why you can recognize them.
Instead of beating yourself up for that, which would mean becoming unconscious again, you simply are compassionate and say, “Oh, there it is again. I’m doing it again. Isn’t that funny.” Laughing, by the way, is also a good way of becoming free. When you can laugh at your own patterns and egoic urges, you may be able to catch them after a while when they want to manifest. For example, you find yourself wanting to say something. You need to express your opinion here because ‘these people are completely wrong’, but it’s also a situation where whatever you say will make no difference to the situation at all. It’s just an opinion.
So you can observe the urge of wanting to assert your mental position. And then, there’s the possibility that you can actually be present enough to say to yourself, “Do I have to voice it or can I just drop it? Can I let go of that urge? Let’s see what happens if I do…” Don’t try to suppress it and say to yourself, “Go away!” Not like that. Recognize it and then say, “Okay, I’m going to drop that. I don’t need to say that now to assert my knowledge,” or whatever it is. There’s no decision-making involved right here. Just drop it and see how that feels inside.
When you drop an egoic pattern that you’ve recognized, a strange thing happens. First of all, you may feel diminished, because you have failed to assert yourself from the egoic point of view in that situation. So, at first you feel smaller somehow, diminished—but that’s only the first thing. As you stay with that, you actually feel a deepening. Because the ego always wants to be the mountain. It wants you to stand out, assert, be someone, if only by voicing your opinion.
And on the other hand there is the valley. The ego doesn’t want to be the valley, which is the opposite of the mountain. It’s not surprising that you can compare ancient scriptures, like some of the teachings of Jesus or the Tao Te Ching and others, where they talk about “taking the lower place,” or not wanting to assert yourself by taking the higher place. In other words, to be in touch with true power that is not the power of forms, but the power of the formless essence—or what I sometimes call, “essence identity.”
So at first it seems a little disconcerting when you let go of an egoic need. Then suddenly you feel you’re actually getting in touch with your own true power—and you no longer feel the need to do or say anything to assert yourself. That’s true peace, true aliveness, and it’s wonderful when you sense that. But in the meantime, have compassion with the old patterns that still operate in you; that’s really what is needed. Don’t condemn yourself. You’re doing fine!