Ego is not an anatomical structure. It’s not something that you will see on an X-ray. Ego is an informational structure. That’s what the term ego actually means: it is a Latinized translation of “das Ich,” which is German for “the I.” “The I” is “the information” that you have about you.
The ego-based view of the self is as unstable as a table on three legs. There are three issues with ego we need to examine, and they all start with the letter I. “The I” (ego) balances on identification with impermanent information. Let’s take a closer look.
Ego is Information. Ego is a collection of self-descriptions, just a bunch of words written down on the mirror of your consciousness. Let’s say I point at the moon with my index finger. Is my finger the moon that I am pointing at? Of course not. Now ponder this: are you the information that you have about you or are you that which this information is about? Are you a self-description or that which you are describing?
Ego is Identification with the External. Identification is a process of pointing at something external, at something outside of you, and equating yourself with that. We’ve already touched on that earlier in the chapter. Identifying yourself with what you are not is absurd. Identifying yourself with something that you are not is like pointing one finger at yourself and the other finger at something else and then claiming that you are pointing at the same thing. The idea that you = this or that you = that is like shooting two arrows in two opposite directions and claiming that they are going to hit the same target.
Ego is Impermanence of Form. Self-esteem, self-worth, self-view are various ego forms, various forms of information that we have about ourselves. Ego is information about our form, not about our essence. Forms change. “How” you are at any given point isn’t fixed—it’s in constant flux. When we identify with how we are, we are identifying with the fleeting, with the impermanent, with the transient. States of mind, states of mood, modes of being are but ever-changing forms of you. The role you play, what somebody thinks about you, the thought you have about yourself, the number on your bathroom scale—all this is but information about you. When we identify with how we are, we identify with the transient. There is no permanence in that. This kind of identity is writing on the surface of the water. No matter how factual your self-description is, it dissolves just as it is being written.
Adapted from Lotus Effect (Pavel Somov, 2010)