To live in the light of a new day and an unimaginable and unpredictable future, you must become fully present to a deeper truth - not a truth from your head, but a truth from your heart; not a truth from your ego, but a truth from the highest source. -Debbie Ford
Dark Night Work
December of 2020 kicked off a Dark Night episode for me. You can read more about it here. A Dark Night of the Soul reminds me of the Phoenix and its destruction and creation cycle. For me, Dark Nights are the destruction of old inner truths/stories/mythologies that I have held to tight of a grip on and a revival of a more aligned world view toward universal truth.
Reflecting on my previous Dark Night events, there was one commonality that spread across each event: my ego investment. My worldview trumped everything and there was no room for me to change. I needed to be and cared too much about being right and validated. I painted myself into a corner of frustration and ignorance.
Putting My Ego in Check
As an INTJ, I have some pretty strong opinions about most real-life topics. I've pretty much looked at the subject from every angle and future-paced it to a rational end. Once I complete my mental assessment, I form strong opinions and lock them in. It is not to say I don't consider other people's views or standpoints, but when I've come to a decision - that decision becomes pretty firm. I generally don't like reiterating previous solutions. There are too many additional things I'm interested in pursuing. Why solve what has already been solved?
This is where my ego continually bites me in the ass. I allow all my mental processes to manifest into an ego investment. It purely becomes an investment about being right. When I'm presented with new data, methodologies, or outcomes, I take it as a personal attack on my foundation. My ego is taking too large of a stake in the outcome that I perceive.
I had to break that. Being "wrong" was actually damaging to my inner world. Being fixated on predicted outcomes created massive expectations that could disrupt my inner peace. I had to do the work of balancing expectations with real life eventualities.
Your ego is your internal narrator. It helps to frame your personal interaction with the world.
Your ego is not always bad. It's very much a part of us - so making it out to be "bad" is making a part of you bad. Believing this about yourself is where shame gains a foothold in you. We all make bad decisions or choices. Actions with negative outcomes can be classified as "bad," but actions don't define a person's worth.
When your ego is reactionary and judgmental, it is not serving you. Fear, jealousy, despair, inferiority, apathy are some of your ego's negative aspects and typically manifest into negative outcomes and interactions with those around you. Negative self-talk coupled with a negative ego is detrimental on your whole being. We have to learn to use our egos for positive purposes and results.
Positive ego characteristics are balanced and measured. You become more responsive and present in your feelings. The story you tell yourself is focused on good vibes, being calm, and taking life in stride.
The stoics often write about controlling what is within your control and not worrying about what you cannot control. The serenity prayer offers similar advice.
Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing. - Epictetus
Focus on What You Control
Ultimately, the less involvement of your ego in your daily life, the better. Your personal storyteller will tell you what you want to hear about who you are and how you feel. I often have to check in with my emotions and name them to deal with them appropriately. To control the ego, you will have to do an internal check-in and determine what story it's trying to tell.
For me, I have to ask myself, "Why am I so invested in this particular outcome?" Or, "Why do I have to prove my perspective to be the right perspective?"
Holding tightly onto ego investments causes you to become rigid in your thinking. It's easy to double down on being right. To defend and explain your crazy nuances to protect your fragileness. Most of us will do anything to protect that internal story that we hold so dear.
You can control your ego, just like you control your emotions. It's strikingly familiar how the techniques that work for one also work for the other. Ego has a way of spinning up and intensifying your emotional response. Keeping it in check balances your emotions.
I hope to never go through another Dark Night of the Soul again. This one was pretty tame, but it's mentally exhausting. Watching a piece of you die away so that something new can take its place sucks.
I'm glad I was able to do some deep work on my ego. I can see the results already, and my quality of outlook has improved. I handle conflict better and rarely feel the need to be "right."
If you want to do some reading on ego, check out Ryan Holliday's book, "The Ego is the Enemy." I highly recommend it as a starter book for understanding how the ego operates and what you can do to keep it in check.