Shrinking the ego

Next time someone offends or upsets you, take a page from Eckhart Tolle’s book. The spiritual teacher and author of A New Earth writes in chapter seven about a powerful spiritual practice you can employ when someone criticizes you, blames you for something or calls you a name — and the result, Tolle says, can have a profound effect on your life as a whole.

In A New Earth, Tolle writes about the ego, the external image we have of ourselves. When you feel insulted, your instinct is to protect that ego. But Tolle has another idea. He writes, “Instead of retaliating or defending yourself, do nothing. Allow the self-image to remain diminished and become alert to what that feels like deep inside you.”

Yet, during a discussion with Oprah, even Tolle acknowledges that there’s a time and a place for this practice. “I’m not saying in each case you should do that,” he says. “Experiment with this from time to time, particularly when nothing depends on that situation.”

A perfect example of when to try this exercise is when someone cuts you off in traffic. “It’s totally pointless to retaliate,” Tolle says.

Tolle explains that you must realize that it’s the ego being injured; it’s not you. “When somebody calls you stupid, for example… it injures the ego,” he says. “Deep down, you know that it’s not you. It’s just the ego-image of who I think I am.”

Practically speaking, Tolle suggests responding to criticism by doing nothing for just a few seconds. It will feel uncomfortable at first and make you feel small, but what’s actually shrinking is the ego. Then, a powerful shift occurs. As Tolle writes in his book, “You may sense an inner spaciousness that feels intensely alive. You haven’t been diminished at all. In fact, you have expanded.”

In his conversation with Oprah, Tolle emphasizes how the diminishment of the ego happens each time you employ this spiritual practice. “You don’t resist the diminishment, so it becomes smaller, so to speak. Therefore, something that is deeper than that can suddenly come through,” he says. “It’s a wonderful experiment.”

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