Is it really possible for humans to be without ego for prolonged periods of time?

Answer to Quora question: "Is it really possible for humans to be without ego for prolonged periods of time?"

I think it depends. The forceful I/Me/Mine impulse, and the self-identification that accompanies it, seem to be an important part of our psychosocial development. Before we develop ego, we are like a raw, vulnerable nerve, without boundaries or an ability to fulfill basic needs. Ego helps us establish that initial sense of "self," and energizes our will and ability to nourish that self in fundamental ways. If this natural course of ego-development can occur amid loving relationships, and without interruption from trauma or abuse, then we also tend to have a natural opportunity to relax our ego as we mature. Over time, the strong identification with a self-protective, self-assertive ego will begin to attenuate on its own, and we can allow ourselves to identify with a larger and larger circumference of being where the I/Me/Mine is less important. In fact, in the normal course of growing up, we may experience periods where "egoless" function spontaneously unfolds as the result of empathy, compassion and charitable concern for others. Again, though, this seems more probable if we haven't experienced trauma or abuse.

Regarding spiritual training, there is an interesting irony: without ego's promptings, it seems unlikely than many people would pursue a persisting attenuation of ego - or appreciate it as a component of spiritual practice. So ego can continue to play a role even after egoless experiences. In other words, it is still ego that encourages thoughts like "hey, being ego-free seems pretty helpful in this path I've chosen...I think I should keep trying to let my ego go!" So, over time, there can be a constant dance of ego-inspiration with refinement of egoless being. In addition, even after prolonged periods that seem to be ego-free, ego can still assert itself in times of stress, distress, confusion or existential need. In terms of survival, ego seems to be an important and unconsciously reflexive component of our interior toolkit. Sure, ego can be sidestepped, ignored, relinquished or diffused through all sorts of processes, but in nearly everyone ("enlightened" or not) ego can reassert itself under specific conditions.

Along those lines, I think if you look at how various spiritual traditions encourage an attenuation and deemphasis of ego, one of the striking consistencies is the removal of certain triggers from our environment. Encouraging celibacy and sexual self-control, for example, or focusing personal practices on charitable actions and relinquishment of material attachments, or committing to strict interior and exterior disciplines and the guidance of a mentor, or revising and controlling dietary habits, or even conformance to religious groupthink or dogma - all of these things are intended to break down ego's grasp on our psyche. And I think this highlights an important principle: it is possible to create an environment and habits that helps us relinquish our egoic impulses and maintain that freedom over time.

So all of these things seem to contribute to our ability to "be without ego." Our personal experiences, our freedom from trauma and crisis, our capacity for empathy and compassion, the characteristics of our immediate environment, our relationships, our training and discipline, our cultural habits - our entire "support system" if you will - all of these can influence our likelihood and ability to sustain ego-free being. In fact I suspect it is these other factors, rather than immersion in peak spiritual experiences or psychological detachment from ego, that are key for most people.

My 2 cents.


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