The ego is essentially a separate sense of self. It is comprised of anything you identify yourself with. To be able to comprehend of yourself as a unique thing within a system, you have to perceive yourself and then define yourself as different to other things within the system. You cannot conceptualize of what you are unless you conceptualize of what you are not. An easier way of understanding this is to say that you cannot conceptualize of yourself as “Joe” until you are aware that you are not “Nancy”. This means the ego only exists in a state of comparison. It cannot exist without comparison. This process of individualization benefits us in certain ways. But there is a price to it as well… Separation. When we conceive of ourselves as a separate self, we are immediately not a part of anything we define as “other”. This is the true origin of loneliness.
Your mind will naturally spend its time comparing. All of our minds do this. We tend to think of comparison thinking only in terms of classic painful comparison thinking such as “He has more money than me” or “I am prettier than her”. But comparison thinking goes FAR beyond this. It extends to things such as “I am a person and that is a dog”. “I am a girl and that is a boy”. The ego will not sop doing this all day every day because if it does, it will die. The ego exists only in comparison to something it sees as “other”. This means upon coming in to this life, we come intact with a mechanism that is designed to separate us from other things in the world instead of unite us with things in the world. The ego leads us only towards things that it identifies with and pushes against things it does not identify with.
What happens when we have this sense of identity that exists only because of comparison and so many of the things that we compare ourselves to around us, we see as “not us” or “different to us”? Belonging goes right out the window. And in this case, the ego has nothing to identify with other than not belonging in and of itself. Not belonging becomes part of our identity.
Our society puts a lot of energy into the idea that we need to embrace differences and that differences are good. The idea that differences are good is one that can be substantiated. But the opposite view can be substantiated as well. To notice something is different to us causes us to perceive a separation between that thing and us. The feeling of separation and of being alone causes more or less suffering for us, depending on the level of trauma we experienced around connection with others. Because of this, for some of us, differences cause extreme pain. If we struggle with belonging, any differences in other people cause us extreme pain because they immediately cause us to feel isolated. We re-live the trauma of aloneness and abandonment and not belonging when we encounter difference. Our ego self is therefore re-traumatizing us through comparison, which it does all day every day. So instead of trying to be ok with differences, we need to consciously do the opposite.
The reason that falling in love feels so good is that when we fall in love, we take the other person as ourself. The ego essentially dissolves in love. If we watch our mind when we fall in love, it is spending its time comparing itself to the other person and finding similarities between ourselves and them. Because of this, we feel belonging. We do not feel separate from them. A relationship only becomes painful when the mind goes back to comparing itself to the other person and finding differences instead of similarities. We lose our experience of oneness. We stop feeling that same all encompassing sense of belonging. We start feeling separate and isolated again. Many relationship experts call this healthy. They call this the autonomy phase of relationships. I am not convinced it is so healthy. From my perspective, this is when the ego begins to hijack the relationship.
But essentially, your ability to feel belonging and oneness and unity is dependent upon your capacity to perceive similarities. You must beware that to take on this practice, is to take on the practice of challenging the ego. It will take effort at first. But it is the antidote to the feeling of not belonging. And here it is:
Notice that without even trying, your mind is scanning your reality for differences all day every day. This takes no effort. It is a subconscious process. Consciously switch your focus from noticing the differences to looking for and acknowledging the similarities between yourself and things and also between things and other things. If you really want to dissolve the ego, all you need do is to drop comparing. But that is easier said than done and you will be working against your ego to do it. So I suggest using your ego to your advantage instead. Use it as the comparison tool that it is to seek and find similarities.
Pretend to be a scientist that is intensely engaged in a project. Find as many similarities as you can with everything in existence. For example, find similarities between yourself and inanimate objects; find similarities between yourself and your friends. Find similarities between one animal and another. Find similarities between yourself and your food. Find similarities between one person and another person. Find similarities between yourself and the things and people that you feel different from. When you feel ready, find the similarities between yourself and the people you hate the most… The people you feel you do not belong with. Pay attention to the way you feel. Notice that you start to feel like you belong. Notice that the resistance melts away and notice how life begins to feel connected and ‘right’. Live life with the mantra “How am I the same as X?”
There is no limit to what you can look for similarities with. Get way outside the box and get as creative as you can with this. If you feel called to, make this your sole spiritual practice for a time. To feel separate is to suffer. The ego thinks this is survival, but we really must ask ourselves if the survival of a sense of self is worth the suffering that comes with it. If not, our practice must be consciously looking for similarities instead of allowing the ego to continue with the subconscious process of seeking out differences.