In our new series on mindset, we are discussing the conscious mind and how it organizes and interprets our experiences in life.
Watch the next Soul Session in this series on our YouTube Channel.
What is Ego? Friend or Foe
Debra Maldonado, Robert Maldonado
Debra Maldonado 00:02
Welcome! Another episode of Soul Sessions. How are you today, Rob?
Robert Maldonado 00:06
Very well, thank you. And today we're starting a new series, so it's really exciting. We finished up our series on spiritual influences in coaching. And now we're going to switch gears into the mindset.
Debra Maldonado 00:21
We went deep into archetypes, and we went to talk about spirituality. And so now we're taking it up a notch. Not that it's less important, but it's a quite overlooked part of personal development — what's happening on a conscious level. For me, when I discovered I had a subconscious, I was like “Wow, I didn't know I had the subconscious. Let me work on it. Let me work on what's going on underneath?” But then I forgot “Oh, wait, there's this conscious part of our mind that we don't want to forget about it.” And I think a lot of people spend a lot of time working on their past and cleaning up the past and personal development. And they forget that this moment and the conscious experience is basically all we really have, and we have to really understand how to manage it. So that's what we're gonna talk about today. This series is about the conscious experience.
Robert Maldonado 01:17
Conscious mindset. And I would say it's both overdeveloped and underdeveloped. Because if you notice throughout school, it's very left brain. The emphasis is on reading, writing arithmetic, which are all left brain functions. The creativity is kind of put on the back burner. But if you notice, they’re teaching you certain approach to working with those skills. They're not really teaching you how to manage your mind and how to think about thinking.
Debra Maldonado 02:01
They teach you how to memorize basically. So memorizing things.
Robert Maldonado 02:05
In that sense, it's overemphasized in the academic field, on the left side of the brain, but it's under-emphasized in the personal aspect of it — how do you work with your mind at a personal level?
Debra Maldonado 02:24
And I know that you can have great breakthroughs in your life, you can understand your patterns, you can understand who you are, you can have spiritual, amazing transcendental experiences. But then you still have to deal with this thing called your mind on a conscious level. I always call it an instrument that basically no one taught us how to play. We just basically are on the default operating system that this instrument gave us based on all the input that we received in our personal life. And then also the environment around us tells us who to be, how to be. And basically we don't even think about it, we think that's just the way things are, that's the way I should be, that’s how I should make decisions. And we basically set it and forget it until we start doing personal growth. And then we think “Well, it's in the past.” But even then we forget that now when we move forward, how do we consciously start creating? Okay, we're having a better experience, maybe feeling more confident in ourselves, but then how do we use this mind, this tool, this beautiful instrument to have a more fulfilling life?
Robert Maldonado 03:38
So here are some of the questions we're going to attempt to answer. What is the ego? What is the difference between ego and the mind in general? How does the ego create these realities and unrealities for us? And then maybe talk a little bit about the cognitive biases that we fall into often we're not even aware of.
Debra Maldonado 04:12
And then we'll talk about individuation and how do we individuate and have a conscious experience that's beyond the ego? So let's start with the ego. Let's define it, what is the ego, Dr. Rob?
Robert Maldonado 04:26
This is more of a functional definition for the coaching work. If we go back to Freud, his idea was that this I — if you literally translated what he meant by ego, it's the I. So this I that we have arises in the mind as a kind of facsimile for the self, it gives us sense of self that there's this individual entity here experiencing the world. And that sense of it is very powerful.
Debra Maldonado 05:14
And Jung talked about that it is the seed of our evolution in our life, that we have this desire, or the self has this desire for an individual experience. So we want to have an individual experience. But first, in order to have that, we have to develop the I to basically survive. When we go into individuation, we'll talk about what happens after that, but it's kind of a natural and necessary stage of our life. And so we don't want to think of the ego as this bad, terrible thing that happened to us.
Robert Maldonado 05:52
I think most people think the opposite. They think "They love me. I'm great. It's all about me.” Again, there's nothing wrong with that. We're supposed to do that in the beginning. You mentioned Jung, for example, his idea was that we need a strong ego in the first half of life, to face the challenges, to feel like “me against the world”, “I can take it on, I can do this.”
Debra Maldonado 06:29
We have to have a sense of personal power in order to prepare us for the spiritual growth that we need. You can't really enter the unconscious of the spiritual realms with a weak ego, because then you're basically falling into some traps, but we'll talk about it. So the ego’s purpose is really two things. It's to help us survive. So we have this sense of I — “I am this body, so we better not die, because I am this body.” So it's that desire to live, desire to eat, desire to maybe even procreate, for enjoyment, to move away from pain toward pleasure, to have basically that survival instinct in us to carry on and have this I survive. The second one is to fit in with society. So the survival and then the fitting in, which in itself, when you look at it from a deep place, is another survival mechanism. But it's higher than just protecting the physical body. It's more like we're protecting the concept of the identity versus the physicality of it, the concept of our personality, of our morality, who we are as a person.
Robert Maldonado 07:49
I think we are definitely relational beings in that sense. We want to survive physically, of course, that's our animal nature. But then the social nature is more “Am I relating to others in a meaningful way?”
Debra Maldonado 08:09
And do I feel that we have the desire for connection and shared experiences, we don't want to be alone. We have that ego like “I am an object, and you're an object, and we need to hang out together. I'm in the world, and so I need these things to survive and to feel happy”, and all those things. So if you think about it, that's a good thing the ego can do, it's not harmful, it's very helpful to have a part of our psyche that's helping us with that. Now, what's the difference between the ego and the mind? Because a lot of people confuse those two. So from a Jungian perspective, what would you say?
Robert Maldonado 08:56
Jung was very much influenced by Eastern philosophy. Here's where it gets, like one of my students said, very trippy. It gets trippy because once we start to investigate, is there really a sense of I in the mind, we can't really seem to find it. It seems to arise from the general mind, meaning the things that we're perceiving, our brain is processing, all that information, and constructing this qualia, or this experience of life. And out of that experience, there seems to arise this I.
Debra Maldonado 09:52
Basically we believe we're the ones experiencing. Someone has to be experiencing this.
Robert Maldonado 10:03
It's almost implied if I'm seeing an object there must be a me seeing the object, like a separate entity perceiving something.
Debra Maldonado 10:13
So in a physical body, we see — they call it the theory of mind. I assume that you see what I see. But I also know that you're looking this way. You see something, and I'm looking that way, I see something different. So we have this concept of your I is different than my I.
Robert Maldonado 10:33
It's very much a perceptual phenomenon that the way we perceive the world gives rise to the sense of I automatically.
Debra Maldonado 10:42
Because we have a body. If we have a body, we have an I.
Robert Maldonado 10:45
There must be somebody perceiving the world, or seeing what I'm seeing. And that sense of I feels very solid to people. We never question it, because it's simply self-evident that I'm the one that's perceiving. I'm the one that’s seeing these objects. And I'm the one that was here yesterday and the day before, meaning all our past history feels very solid to us — I know it was definitely there, and it happened this way. But once we start to investigate it, to tear it apart and really examine it, it starts to fall apart very quickly. Because nobody else can see our past history except us.
Debra Maldonado 11:37
And we cannot even see it, sometimes we forget.
Robert Maldonado 11:41
And it's only an idea. It's a memory, it's a concept.
Debra Maldonado 11:45
So it's an event. Then we make meaning of it, attributing to our personality, our person, and then that arises the I like “This happened to me, and this is how I saw it and how I experienced it.”
Robert Maldonado 11:59
Yes. So not only that, not only is the experience not that solid, or as solid as it feels, but the I itself is not as solid as it feels. Because if you notice, sometimes we have a very strong sense of self. And other times, we don’t. It fluctuates, it changes depending on the mood, depending on the environment, depending on so many factors, that sense of I is not consistent.
Debra Maldonado 12:34
It's consistent that we identify with it. But it's like you said, some days you wake up and you feel good. Other days, you wake up and you're bad. And whatever the stimulus is in your life, if something good happens, you attribute it that I'm good or bad or someone's mad at you, then all of a sudden, you had a great day, and then it ruins your day, and you have to deal with it. So it’s fun to have an ego.
Robert Maldonado 13:01
Jung says that what happens by not questioning it, by not examining it, we start to simply assume that we are this ego and the persona. You mentioned that fitting into society, that's the part that helps us fit in, that we present ourselves as this personality that is accepted by others.
Debra Maldonado 13:28
So let's talk about how it stores memory from the past. It creates this I, it does it in a defensive way. So when we have an experience, the ego finds a way “How do I protect myself from this experience? How do I defend myself in this environment?” Sometimes the defenses are lower if you feel safer. Other times it's higher. What a lot of people talk about is if something bad happened to them, they had an event in their past, they think that they're somehow weakened in a way. This idea that I had a trauma or something bad happened to me — I’m a weaker person or there’s something very weak and vulnerable about me. Actually what the ego does is it creates a defense. So what we're really dealing with is this powerful, strong part of ourselves that's defending. One of the things that I was talking to our coaching students the other day and they did research on the people that have Cesarean. They used to think that a woman couldn't have a childbirth after they've had a Cesarean because they thought that spot where the trauma was, where the wound was, where it was harmed and it could break open, but actually what they discovered is that's where the strongest part is. So when we think “All these terrible things happened to me”, your ego was there to actually help you stay safe. So it really is this strong sense of defensiveness.Of course, those defenses are reacting to that situation. Then it carries over and just thinks that every situation is the same. So it’s then that it turns into a defensiveness, but it's not, in essence, bad. What it's doing, it just needs to be updated.
Robert Maldonado 15:33
I think a lot of people mistake the ego defenses for trauma or brokenness. But in reality, it's a sign of a healthy mind. Whatever you experienced, your mind created a strong defense against it, it’s simply outdated now, you don't need it anymore but it's still operating. If you don't examine your mind, if you don't examine or question “What is this persona ego that I'm playing out?”, it simply holds on to past experiences and says “The world could show up in the same way. You have to be ready for it.” That's why people repeat these patterns, because their mind has prepared them for it from past experiences.
Debra Maldonado 16:27
We'll talk about cognitive bias, but that's really what happens, we end up seeing what we fear if we're defended against it. Let me ask you this question, the difference between the ego and the mind. Maybe I should change the question to “thinking”. Is it all ego? Are all our thoughts ego? Or there's ego thoughts and there's higher thoughts?
Robert Maldonado 16:52
That's a good question because it gets to really the heart of it. If the ego is not this solid thing that's in our mind, what it is is a function, very much like an app. It's an application that the mind uses to give us that sense of self. But the mind in general is not the whole of ego, or the ego’s not the whole of mind.
Debra Maldonado 17:17
So you can actually watch your thoughts without saying “That's me.” So the thinking itself is neutral. And if the ego’s believing that it is the thought, that's where we go off the rails, because we believe “I'm thinking I'm not good enough, so it's true. So I need to change that to ‘I am good enough’.” But you're really still just reprogramming the ego, you're not really transcending the ego. That's the interesting part. So let me ask you this. Is there another level of thinking outside the ego? What would you call it?
Robert Maldonado 17:57
That higher level is often called intellect. The intellect is the ability to discern without having the ego be in the middle of it. The ego is extra. There is that objectivity to it, that we're removing the sense of I and just observing from a neutral point of view.
Debra Maldonado 18:26
When we understand the nature of our mind, the key is really understanding this nature, instead of trying to change the thought. If we understand that from an a higher intellect that witnessed part of ourselves that we’re not disconnected, but non-attached part of watching the thoughts. That's why meditation is so powerful. That's why a lot of Eastern philosophies talk about meditation, not visualization, but just sitting with your mind, you start to realize “Wait a minute, this story I'm all caught up in is not really real.” And you can really start pulling yourself out of that. It's almost like a transfer in the ego in this trance of “This is right.” And you can get confused and worried and concerned over things that are not really real.
Robert Maldonado 19:16
And here's where a lot of people resist, but it's not so much that we're saying that your experiences are not real, but we're simply questioning “Are they an absolute reality? Are they in absolute reality in the sense that you're perceiving something that is real to everyone and to every time and every situation?” And the answer is simply no. What you're are perceiving is an interpretation that your mind is making.
Debra Maldonado 19:48
Then you're believing what you think. Then you're caught up. I want to share a story. When we moved to New York, I was in Denver, you were doing your psychology stuff, and I was doing my hypnotherapy. We weren't working together back then. You got a job in a medical center up in Westchester, and we moved. I said “Oh, great, I'm gonna start my own online business now, because I'm moving from that office to online.” It was the transition, I had to basically start over. I remember being a little stressed those first few months — am I going to be able to make it, trying to get new clients, almost like starting over. I remember thinking “I need to meditate, I need to meditate before I go to my computer and start my marketing activities.” So I would sit there and I'd be just not wanting to sit there, I did not want to be with myself, not want to be with my mind, I just wanted to do. I think a lot of people do that. They don't want to listen to their mind, so they busy themselves. They distract themselves. But I forced myself, I sat there, and it was just so uncomfortable. It was all this anxiety. Then all of a sudden I had this thought. I think this is the intelligence, and it said “Remember when you were so worried about if you were going to find a partner, and that worked out.” I was like “Oh!” Your mind is always going to find something to worry about. Then I realized the nature of what I was working with, this fear that I was feeding and paying attention to and getting absorbed in, was basically something that the mind just does. To understand, that’s what the mind does. It's always strategizing and worrying. Now it doesn't mean that you don't care, and are just like “Just don't care about making money and be successful.” But you don't want to have that clouded, distorted thinking, influencing your activities and your behavior and what you’re, what is possible. If you're thinking in fear, you can't be effective that way. As soon as I realized that, it was like overnight, everything shifted, the clients started showing up, and everything started to flow. But the mind became like a dam that blocked all the great, wonderful possibilities that were coming in. And if you don't know how to work with your mind, doesn’t matter how many positive meditation tapes you listen to. Would you say that was my wisdom, this kind of divine intellect coming through, saying “Wait a minute, stop.” That wisdom that is already in there, just allowing it to arise?
Robert Maldonado 22:32
Yes. Here the way it breaks down. We're saying we're not the ego. We have an ego, but it's mainly a function of the mind. Now the next question is, are we the mind? And are we our individual mind, the one that is perceiving, thinking, discerning? And the answer is no, we're not the mind either. We have a mind just like we have a body. But our individual mind is not who we truly are. We are the one that is observing the mind.
Debra Maldonado 23:14
So it was the observer that was noticing where my mind was going and saying “Wow, that isn't that interesting.” Like a third party coming in and saying “Hey, you know, I noticed that thing is off here.”
Robert Maldonado 23:29
Yes. That pure awareness is what is called consciousness, that pure awareness of observing our own mind. That's who we really are. And so when we listen to it, or when we experience that, then we are in that wisdom state of mind.
Debra Maldonado 23:50
The pure awareness purifies your cognitive experience. For me, it was like sitting with this rumbling, and just being with it and not pushing it away made this other part of my mind arise. We always tell our clients to sit with the feeling, sit with this stress, and they're like “What? I want to get rid of it, I want to put it in a ball and send it away.” But by wrestling with it, it's almost like a friction that happens that the pure awareness starts, when you just sit with it. The pure awareness is a natural arising from it.
Robert Maldonado 24:26
Yes, because what it allows you to do is to observe any emotion, any thought without being caught up in it, meaning that the pure awareness is untainted by the emotion or by the thought, even though it's able to observe it very clearly, very distinctly, and even experience it. The mind is experiencing the emotion, but because we understand the true nature of that emotion or thought we're free from it. We're not caught up in it.
Debra Maldonado 25:01
It's so simple. We all think we need these magic tricks to get this enlightenment, but it's always right here, that pure awareness. So, say, someone didn't become self-aware, and they think they're the ego, and then they decide to seek spiritual solutions. And they haven't really understood what the ego is, there is a spiritual or some other kind of goal, like success or love. What happens is that we get a inflation of the ego, it inflates, like when we fall in love, when someone falls in love with us, it's almost like the ego feels “I'm so great, I'm in love” or “I have this mystical, spiritual power. Now I'm intuitive.” And then the ego can borrow that to basically attach itself to those things.
Robert Maldonado 26:10
Absolutely. Because if you're acting out of ego, then any kind of power that you accumulate personally, money as power, or financial freedom as power, or relational power, you have a lot of people following you, you’re a leader, you’re a boss or something, that power then inflates the ego. Because you're still identifying as ego. And you're thinking “I'm the one that's doing these great things.” And of course, there is something to that, you’re the one that is enacting those things and playing that role. But it's not the ego. And if you inflate the ego with that power, then it becomes narcissism.
Debra Maldonado 27:02
You become so attached. For me, the narcissism about being spiritual, you think “Well, I'm the spiritual person.” But it's your persona, and it's not really this. Then you're afraid to be mean, or stand up for someone, you can’t be angry in front of people. There's a lot of pressure to be this holy person. You know, when Mother Teresa died, they found her diary. And everyone was so upset that she was questioning, her secret diary was just like “What the heck is going on?” And people were just like “Oh, she's supposed to be this perfect saint.” And that kind of understanding that the human mind is going to be questioning things, and that inflation that we have to be perfect or that the money we make defines us, or the relationship we have defines us, or the spiritual gifts we have define us is an ego and that could lead to trouble. So let's talk a little bit about my favorite topic, which is the cognitive biases. So we understand the ego, we understand that this thinking can be taken from the perspective of the ego, and it can use our thoughts to make us perceive the world in a way. And this is for everybody, how we misinterpret the world. And it's almost like a psychological misperception how the brain and memory and the ego itself processes information.
Robert Maldonado 28:41
Very much so because there's two sides to it. Obviously, if we over-identify with the ego, and we think “I am this role that I'm playing as an individual person, I am the persona”, as Jung would say, then what we experienced as the world we think is distinct from us. It's separate from us. But in reality, it's our own assumptions about what that world means. We're interpreting it. In essence, we're creating the experience through our role that we're playing, through our ego persona.
Debra Maldonado 29:24
So the ego has this identifying with the body, and then the thoughts that the ego is basically taking on helps us cloud reality in a way, so we're not seeing a true reality. We're seeing something through our limited perception. Then it's kind of a loop because we try to identify what we're seeing to ourselves. And we're never really free. We're almost like seeing things with the blinders on. We only see in a certain way of how we've learned to see things, so that's what cognitive bias is.
Robert Maldonado 30:06
Yes, that's where it arises from. Because from the ego’s perspective, it can only interpret the world based on its past experiences.
Debra Maldonado 30:17
I want to go over a couple of them, my favorite cognitive bias. Well, confirmation bias is a big one. That is that you will tend to see things the way that confirms your belief about it. A lot of people talk about changing your belief sets. Why? Because if we don't believe that we're good enough, we're going to see everything out there confirm it for us, and we're going to interpret the world. Mary could say “Why don't you change this paragraph in that document you wrote?" If you have that “I'm not good enough”, it's confirming that you're not good enough. Is that how you would say it?
Robert Maldonado 30:59
Yes, confirmation bias is essentially going into a situation with preconceived ideas and simply having the environment or the situation, the way it plays out, confirm those ideas.
Debra Maldonado 31:14
So an example of someone who wants to start their own business. In their mind, they're saying “I don't know if I can make it.” So they go out there and things aren't working. And it's like “That's confirming what I expected.” Almost like we see in the world what we expect to see, that would be a way. This is a cool one. There's hundreds of categories of cognitive bias. We couldn't go over all of them. But I thought I'd pull this one out. Frequency illusion. And that is, when you have your mind set on something that is meaningful to you, that causes an impact, then all of a sudden you see it everywhere. So a good example is, I want to buy a new car, and you're researching that car, and then you go on the road, and you see it everywhere. It's the frequency illusion, it creates this. Everyone has that car. It's almost like that emotional connection to a symbol or something in the world. And then we end up seeing it all the way. And then we make it mean something, like it's a sign.
Robert Maldonado 32:34
Yes. And hindsight bias. Do you want to explain that one?
Debra Maldonado 32:42
Hindsight is 2020. So we look back at the past, and we justify how everything happens for a reason. And it's a way our mind keeps us away from— these are all defenses. The mind is keeping us from danger, or keeping us in the same pattern, keeping us not feeling bad about something we did in the past. We say “Well, yeah, I can see.” And then also questioning how, when you look back, you should have made a better decision. Like, I should have thought of that.
Robert Maldonado 33:21
I love this one because this was my mind. Negative bias, which means that if in the morning, nine people say “Hello, how are you? Doing great?” And one person makes an ugly face at you, your mind will tend to focus on that one as “It's a terrible day.” Because this one person didn't say hello or didn't say good morning.
Debra Maldonado 33:49
If you look at your memory, you will remember more things that are negative than positive. So when you go at the end of your day, a lot of things that didn't work out for you, you wrestle with, but you don't really celebrate. The another one that I love is the knowledge bias. Basically if you have higher knowledge, you have an advanced degree, you go home to your family where no one went to college, and you have a hard time talking to them because they don't have the education you have. So it's a bias of you thinking everyone thinks like you or has that experience. I see this too with personal development. You have a direct experience of some spiritual or psychological insight and you're trying to explain it to someone who isn't there yet. That’s knowledge bias. And then the last thing, before we go, is what do we do with the ego? What's the last step? And that's individuation. Why Jung believed in individuation is because the ego in these cognitive biases just keeps us in the same pattern. It really is not who we are. It's a false sense of who we are. And we end up living our whole life in this facade, a very small aspect of our potential.
Robert Maldonado 35:25
The best quote I know about this says “The ego is a great servant but it's a terrible master.” So we don't want to get rid of the ego, we simply want to see it for what it is, that it is a function of the mind, that it is not who we are. And that requires individuation, meaning, it begins with that self-examination “If I’m not this persona that I'm playing for, I'm not the role that I'm playing as an individual, who am I?” We don't want to get rid of the role. We know we have to act in the world. But we want to ask deeper questions as to what is the nature of my awareness.
Debra Maldonado 36:12
I spent so many of my years before I discovered Jung trying to build up my ego, trying to make my ego shinier, better, thinking more positive. You can spend your whole life trying to change the trajectory of your thinking and think positive, and then have a better self-regard. But if you're still identified with the ego, you're not really free, because you're still attached to those ideas, that identity. And the real freedom comes when you really ask yourself, who am I beyond this personality, beyond this body? It's really a spiritual journey that you got one. That's why this wonderful ego conversation has been really enlightening for me. I love talking about the mind and the ego, and how much it influences our life. But it also can give us the freedom to break free and create our own.
Robert Maldonado 37:10
In this series, we're going to be exploring how do we work with this incredible mind we're describing here. How do we get it to do what we want it to do instead of doing its bidding, because essentially, that's what happens if we don't work with our mind. It dictates to us how we're going to be in the world.
Debra Maldonado 37:33
Our attitude creates our perception of what is possible. And if we don't take control of it and drive it, it's going to drive us. So what a great call today. We’ll see you next week for our next episode on the mindset series. Thank you all for joining us. It's been a wonderful afternoon, we'll see you next week.
Robert Maldonado 38:02
Thanks for watching.
Debra Maldonado 38:02