Ego is a pseudo–reality born of fear, constructed of fear, nurtured by fear. Ego also creates fear, thus perpetuating itself. But ego does not, in any true sense of the word, exist. Consider this: when we are born, we have no concept of self and other. Hard as it is to fathom now, we cannot at that time conceive of any otherness; we are part of our mothers, everyone else, and the entire world. But the time comes when our mother is not there when we require comfort or reassurance, and our primitive awareness recognizes on some level that Mother must be separate from us, or she would surely always be present. This is healthy enough, the beginning of individuation, but then we go that human step further and layer fear on top of this realization. As our consciousness develops, we begin to fear that she may never return, that we will always be abandoned here, alone. We begin to look further afield and find ample evidence that we are essentially alone and naked in this world. We begin to invent story lines which reinforce the idea that we are an entity of ourselves, separated from all others.
But we are not separate, and never can be. We are intertwined in very literal and inescapable ways. We constantly interchange cells, fluids, nutrients, and our very breath with every other being on the planet and in the universe. Far from being a solid mass, we are an ever–shifting amalgam of all which has come before and all which is yet to come; we are constantly in a state of creation and decay.
If there were not nitrogen–fixing organisms in the soil around the roots of certain plants, we would never have evolved, or at least not in this form, since this is the only way that nitrogen can get into our diets in a usable form. We would also die without honeybees (and they are indeed being decimated by pollution, climate change, competitors, and pesticides). We would die without earthworms. We would be overrun with decaying organic matter if it weren't for ants. We could not breathe without inhaling insects with every breath if spiders ceased to exist. Yet we persist in our insistence of our separateness, even in the face of the knowledge that it is the arrogance of our aloneness that leads to war, environmental degradation, starvation, torture, rampant preventable disease, and the aching loneliness of modernity.
Which is not to say we should void all sense of self, but when ego takes the form of essential separateness, it simply doesn't work. We live our lives within a specific proposition: if all our ego needs are satisfied, we will be forever happy. But ego needs take the form of addictions; they can never be fully satisfied. Living within this proposition we will always be unhappy. We seek happiness and use ego as the tool, but everything that makes us happy dissolves as soon as we touch it. We run, run, run from that which frightens us, makes us uncomfortable, shakes our small world. We view with contempt (and alarm) those states of mind we categorize as negative. But no state of being is worthy of our contempt. The faster we run, the deeper we sink. Because safety cannot be achieved by these means, we perversely insist that it must be achievable by these means. This only perpetuates our suffering; no other outcome is possible. Why settle for temporary satisfaction when it is freedom we crave?
Consider, too, those we most admire. While we live our lives as if material gain could possibly bring us happiness, those we hold closest to our hearts have, rather, held the well–being of others as their highest aspiration: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha. Somewhere deep within us these self-sacrificing beings resonate with our desire to be a part of the great whole, to return to the knowledge of ourselves as part of a writhing mass, rather than discrete and lonely voyagers. Why? Because that way lays salvation, joy, nirvana, peace, grace, freedom.... These are not several attributes, but many names for one state of being.
Here is the truth of it: as infants we were essentially correct, there is no separation between the rest of the world and ourselves. The mistake we made way back there in infancy is to believe that our immediate material needs must be satisfied for this essential integration of all beings to be true. We seek concrete evidence for that which can only be experienced. Thus, it is natural and normal for us to believe in the illusion of ego for a time. But what we must strive for as we grow in understanding is a return to the awareness of our essential interdependence, but to do so informed with wisdom, wisdom which can only be gained through the experience of living in this world with an intact ego. The time comes when we must grow outward, opening to a broader sense of ourselves. We must abandon that which does not and cannot bring us joy, not only for the sake of our own well-being, but for the sweet salvation of our precious world, sinking into irreversible decrepitude (physical, moral, ethical, spiritual), sinking faster, further, every day.