Egos big and small

I heard a woman on CNN describe Barack Obama as the most popular living person in history. He is the biggest, most phenomenal, most admired person in the world today, making big Hollywood stars, politicians and other world leaders seem like starlets and B players.

When I watch the new US president, I can’t help but be both astonished and awed by his calm and quiet centeredness in the middle of the maelstrom he has inherited — the economic quagmire, the war in the Middle East and the craziness of US politics. Surely, he has to have an ego — somewhere inside — that is enjoying all the attention and adulation that he is being thrown at him. You can also throw in the power that he has at his disposal. That has to affect any man somehow. To start with, even before he became president, he had to have the burning ambition to get to where he is today. Yet, he handles all the events swirling around him with admirable serenity.

Ego is a tricky thing. In my life, I have always had the problem of where to place my ego in my spiritual quest, or any quest for that matter. In a lot of spiritual circles, ego is a bad thing because it is the source of all desire and want. It is the ego that prevents one from seeing other beings and makes a person focus only on himself. It promotes self-centeredness, something religious teachers and spiritual books warn us against.

We have also seen played out in public the famous, gigantic egos belonging to actors, world leaders, athletes and other famous people. At times, they are harmlessly pathetic; at others, detrimental and toxic to large chunks of mankind. Think of Mugabe, Hitler, Milosevic and George Bush — people whose actions, based on the dictates of their delusional egos, negatively impacted the world.

In the smaller arena of our daily lives, we have seen ourselves trapped by our own egos, such as when we refuse to forgive or to concede that we are wrong. Who has not been tricked by the ego?

At the same time, I have seriously asked myself what life would be like not have an ego. Is it even possible? I think not. I dare say that one couldn’t live without an ego. It is important to have some ego. A small, functional ego makes a person aware of his own boundaries and even his own personhood. It helps one define who he is, from his own self-image to what he is capable of. If only for this, an average-sized ego can’t be as bad as we are told it is.

But ego gets a bad rap because it is the source of desire, and a large ego has large desires. Who hasn’t felt a burning desire for someone, or something in their lives? What is one to do when one has a desire that is so intense and insistent? Everyone, from titans and moguls, the shakers and movers of the world, to ordinary human beings, have desires so compelling they will do everything to achieve satisfaction. People in love or in great lust, or extremely angry and insecure people must suffer the same thing, too.

There are two roads open to those who must deal with burning desire. One is to dilute, or even kill all desire through meditation and rigorous spiritual and religious practice. In this case, one must alter one’s life so that all sensual thrills and material desires are renounced. The body and all its needs must be denied as one chooses the ascetic life.

The other road is to go the path of meditation and have a spiritual life (since it’s good for you), but with the aim of managing the intensity of one’s desire instead of renouncing it altogether. This, to me, is reasonable because, after all, to want is human.

Ken Wilber suggests that instead of merely denouncing and renouncing the ego, one must transcend it. How? Think of ego as one’s personality. Our personality, at any given time, with all its wants, needs, quirks and charms, is the individualized expression of the sum total of the time, space and milieu where God put us. That is what egos are — personalities — and they are shaped by all the factors I mentioned above. And then there is “being” — that which we are a part of that is timeless and eternal and transcends all earthly things. Being resides in the realm of spirit.

Simply put, to transcend ego is to use it in the service of spirit.

For example, saints, yogis, sages, gurus, great figures from different religions — these paragons of the spiritual paths were by all accounts very intense people. Jesus, Gautama Buddha, Mohammad — all expressed their intensity in different ways. Think of Jesus overturning tables and angrily driving away the merchants from the temple.

Intensity, not a timidity or a passive character, must have transformed these great figures into the powerful forces that they became, which changed the course of mankind forever. When they expressed their charismatic personalities, the world listened, prostrated itself and awakened to the radiance of spirit.

But did they have egos? Most certainly! Their big personalities were an expression of their egos. And that is what they used to accomplish their life’s work. But contrasted with the way, say, Hitler was used by his own ego, these leaders commandeered their egos to serve something bigger, and that is the vision and task of the total liberation of mankind. Their desire to show us the radiance of God was so great that they literally risked all, life included, to share it with us.

One might say that while despots and tyrants do everything for their ego’s gratification, the spiritual figures I mentioned above used it to gift mankind with what the world alone cannot offer — the enduring reality of spirit.

To engage the world with a great desire to improve the lives of people is to have an ego the world will benefit from. And when one’s desires are strong enough, he will be gifted with extraordinary power and strength to accomplish anything. Athletes and great humanitarians have shown this time and again.

Going back to the two roads I mentioned earlier on how to treat the ego, the question I asked myself when I was writing my last book was, Does the spiritual path dictate that I obliterate my ego or should I do the opposite and make it so big that I include everyone in it?

By obliterating my ego, I cut myself off from everything. By expanding it to include everyone, I get to experience a widening of my own ego identity which includes all of humanity. President Barack Obama, the African-American with both a Muslim and Christian background, will hopefully have an ego so big and so healthy that the world will be better for it.

* * *

I am announcing the 44th run of “Tapping the Creative Universe” (TCU), a cutting-edge creativity workshop.

This seminar will run from 7 to 9 p.m., Feb. 16 to 20, concluding on Feb. 23. The venue is 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights. Cost for the workshop is P5,000, inclusive of materials and merienda.

TCU is a workshop that is already six years in the running. It has helped hundreds of students with its transformative, practical concepts that help unleash the creativity and joy of all who attend. If you are in between dreams, goals, careers, loves, lives and need of a jolt, or a nudge to get you out of a rut, this is your chance. It’s a new year. Time to get a new you going!

Warning: If you are looking for an easy workshop where you may or may not attend the sessions, or you do not want to be challenged, this is not for you.

* * *

For the syllabus, questions or reservations, e-mail me at email or call 426-5375 or (0916)8554303. You can also visit for info.

View previous articles of this column.
Article Options

Printer Friendly | Email Article | |

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 years ago

I remember the poem “The Torchbearer” where a man hold the torch up and above, and carried it followed by the multitude of crowd, but when his arm and feet grow sore and stumbled, someone lifted up the torch and wave it high up on the sky and the multitude move on. He realize, that the people followed the torch not the bearer. Same with us, sometimes nalulula tayo and blinded by the adulation and great fame, that we seem to forget that we are just as small as a grain of sand in His eyes.

You’re One of the person I truly admire, Kuya Jim. I’ve listened to the Apo Songs since I was young, and the thought of commenting in your blog and you knowing my name seems impossible for me. But I am grateful for such opportunity, and blessing of knowing you and influencing my life with your thoughts and ideas. You’re a very good writer, and as the banner says, the Best Expat Blogger, but it’s not only your blog that gives more weight on how good a person is, its your simplicity, it’s your being reachable and friendly, despite the fame, and your successes, and being the Jim Paredes of the legendary APO.

Bass Poet
Bass Poet
11 years ago

Hi Sir Jim,

Our ego is like the dragons that either consumes or nurtures us. I agree that we have to transcend our egos and morph into something bigger and wider than us. I believed in dancing with our egos instead suppressing or completely denying it. Self-denial is not the absence of ego but the flourishing of the ego into far away”ago”.. to become to “GO”. I hope you get my weird analogy. As the saying goes one must be a good receiver before becoming a generous giver…discipleship precedes apostleship. Sometimes we are in the limelight, sometime behind our shadows. Servant leadership goes a long way. Ego beyond me.

Bass Poet

mai garcia
mai garcia
11 years ago

Hi, Sir Jim! I feel the same sentiments as you do about Pres. Obama. We like him, don’t we? 🙂

Just wondering what the context of the term ‘ego’ you talked about is. Because in Freudian terms, it’s the ‘id’ which is always after pleasure and worldly things. It’s actually the ego which works around reality, balancing the desires of the id so as to keep the being grounded.

Just a thought. Thank you po. =)

James Thomas
10 years ago

i think that spiritual life is much more important compared to our earthly life.”;.

Shower Radio
10 years ago

of course spiritual life is more important than our physical life on earth~’`

Sweetie Bracelet :
10 years ago

i think that we should always strike a balance between spiritual life and our physical life here on earth-;,

l-methionine benefits
9 years ago

Spiritual life is the best, you learn always learn to treat others with respect and also have a good and clean living..