A Guide to the Dark Side

“True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of himself.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Yoda called it the Dark Side. Gandhi called it the Brute. Tolkien personified it in the Ring. It is referred to as the Evil Whisperer. Aristotle and Plato wrote exhaustively on it. Religious texts are filled with references to it. Great men have fallen because of it. Battles have been driven and fought by it.

It is the Ego.

“The ego … the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust…. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.” ~ Shoghi Effendi

  • What is the Ego?

Ego is the insistent self. It is the impulse within that runs counter to our true self which is made for goodness. The Ego is the need to control. The need to be approved. The need to judge. The need to be right. It is the ultimate prison of self.

  • The Ego’s favourite food.

To keep the Ego alive – complain often. Ridicule and belittle and watch the Ego double in size and strength in no time. The ego is boosted especially by judgements. It is nourished by a sense of superiority. It is fueled by back-biting and enjoys a delicious session of gossip.

  • The Ego has a bottomless pit.

Beware! There are no regular feeding hours for this little pet. If you decide to keep the Ego healthy and strong, just give in to its incessant cravings. The ego has an insatiable need for instant gratification. It will seek to soothe and comfort itself in whatever ways necessary.

  • The Ego’s nature is to compete.

Competition and comparison are two favourite pastimes of the Ego. It feels constantly threatened and views every person as a potential challenge. Every situation is a battleground for personal combat and survival. The need to prove is very high.

  • The Ego yearns for recognition and significance.

Quick fixes include Approval, Attention and Applause. Common tactics used to keep the unconscious person enslaved is the relentless drive for success, praise, wealth, possessions and relationships.

  • The Ego is addicted to conflict.

To blame, accuse, pick a fight, defend, justify generates power for the Ego. It lives from crisis to crisis. Life becomes the unfolding of a soap-opera and the star of the show is the Ego. It is addicted to taking offence.

  • The Ego is vulnerable and insecure.

A sure sign of a thriving Ego is constantly worrying about what others think. How others see you becomes how you see yourself. Guaranteed results include anxiety, insecurity and a sense of incompleteness.

  • The Ego lives in the past and the future.

Each time you feel unhappy, depressed, uneasy or just an underlying anxiety, you can always trace it back to your ego dredging up an event from the past or projecting into the future. The Ego is the one who keeps pressing the replay button on videos and records from the past. Each time you settle down and watch unquestioningly the painful events, the Ego is blissfully fed.

  • The Ego breeds in the dust of self-pity.

It not only finds life in feeling superior but also breeds from the feeling of being victimised. Feeling small and diminished gives the egoic mind a sense of purpose, satisfaction and identification.

  • The Ego thrives on exclusivity.

It is the brainchild behind the Me against Them mentality. From the playground to the highest levels of the corporate world, the Ego loves to form cliques to exclude others. Religious, racial, political, social and national bigotry are the clearest examples of the ego hard at work.

  • The Ego is the master of disguise.

To survive, the Ego takes on many faces. It loves to identify with a role. It can hide behind the several aliases – the good guy, the victim, the intellectual, the life of the party, the parent. Like a chameleon, it finds its sense of identity from titles, labels and positions.

The ploys of the Ego are many. The faces it takes on are equally numerous. The voice of the Ego is sometimes so subtle and convincing, it can sometimes be hard to discern and distinguish from the voice of the conscience. Our natural impulse on its own is not the Ego. It is Ego when it seeks to master you.

The really great news is that the Ego is NOT the real you. You are not your emotions. You are not your past. You are not your thoughts.

“When you observe the ego in yourself, you are beginning to go beyond it. Don’t take the ego too seriously. When you detect egoic behaviour in yourself, smile. At times you may even laugh. How could humanity have been taken in by this for so long? Above all, know that the ego isn’t personal. It isn’t who you are.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

I do not claim to have mastered or grasped the full measure of the ego’s traits and inner workings. That would be a work of a lifetime. But what I share here comes from my own experiences from having observed the ego at work. It has been an eye-opener to be sure. I hope you find the following suggestions useful to your own journey in understanding the ego. And may it serve to help awaken us to our true selves.

  • The first step towards taming the ego is to become conscious.

Wake up. Be aware. Be mindful. Be self-aware. To master the ego, we need to be aware of its whisperings. The ego can go undetected for years in an unconscious person. In an unexamined life. Left unchecked the ego subdues the real self.

  • The pure light of conscience.

The ego cannot stand in the presence of the purest light of conscience. Conscience is the sacred awareness of all that is true, pure and good. When the light of conscience enters the  recesses of our hearts, we will immediately be able to detect where we have gone wrong. It guides us to our true station.

  •  Living in the present moment.

The ego lives through the constant stream of compulsive thoughts and chatter that take possession of the mind. The problem is when we start to believe this unceasing voice in the mind and sculpt our lives to the whims and fancies of the egoic mind. When we are able to stare deeply and live consciously in the present moment, the egoic mind loses its grip over us.

  • Non-reaction to the ego.

This is the most effective way of not only going beyond the ego in yourself but also in others. By not engaging and falling into the trap of reacting to the ego, we can bring some form of sanity to the world.

  • Observe silence.

It is quite impossible to practise self-introspection or cultivate change if we do not first be a silent observer of life and ourselves. Guarding our speech is a key step towards taming the ego. In silence will the deep motives and intentions of our hearts be made known.

  • Go beyond the self.

Finally, I believe that the road towards the perfecting of our character is to live beyond our own petty concerns and trivial pursuits. Self-mastery is self-forgetfulness. I believe all self-introspection leads us beyond ourselves and ultimately towards the sacredness and preservation of all life.

And this I believe is what happens when we transcend the dark side within.

“Every imperfect soul is self-centred and thinketh only of his own good. But as his thoughts expand a little he will begin to think of the welfare and comfort of his family. If his ideas still more widen, his concern will be the felicity of his fellow citizens; and if still they widen, he will be thinking of the glory of his land and of his race. But when ideas and views reach the utmost degree of expansion and attain the stage of perfection, then will he be interested in the exaltation of humankind. He will then be the well-wisher of all men and the seeker of the weal and prosperity of all lands.

This is indicative of perfection.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Báhá

Recommended reading:

Bahá’u’lláh’s Teachings on Spiritual Reality

A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle