In the West, we understand the notion of ego as the anchor of our public identity. While it’s not talked about in casual conversation, some psychology terms are part of our regular vocabulary to the degree that most of us have some understanding of the unconscious. No matter how we interpret the unconscious today, it lays the groundwork for a post-modern study of personality and the mind.
Ego isn’t a bad word. Ego is necessary, and having an ego allows us to differentiate ourselves from others. Ego is part of our engagement in place and time. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an oft-cited yoga philosophy document, even point to ego’s role in identity formation, using the word ahamkara(a) as the sense of “I” or one of ego’s three aspects.
The ego is elusive though because humans are complex. The American poet Walt Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself,” “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.).”
The truth is, we are all multitudes and it’s only a question of how conscious we are of this.