What is this Ego which creates the illusion of separateness? Ego is multi-faceted, which makes it tricky to define. Eckart Tolle defines the Ego simply as an identification with the mind. I agree, but also I think this is just one aspect of the Ego. The identification with thought and with the mind is indeed the root of suffering. The mind always exists in the past, and can only predict future events based on past experiences. Identification with the mind keeps you stuck in loops, in cycles of self-destruction, in circular thinking. Releasing your identification with the mind is key in the process of enlightenment. The essential self (also referred to as the ‘higher self’), is the part of you that sees life from the highest perspective, is connected to the unified whole essence of creation, can see the biggest picture and knows without needing the mind. This is what one should be identified with, not the mind. The mind should just be a tool, for the role of the mind should be exclusively to receive information from this essential self. Instead most of us have put the mind in the driver’s seat and thus we repeat the past over and over because that is all the mind can do. The essential self only exists in the now moment, not in the past or future. What you call your ‘intuition’ is a direct link to this essential self. When you have had moments of just ‘knowing’ something, without interference from the logical mind, at that moment you are connecting with your essential self and bypassing the logical mind. The key is to do this more often than not, to be connected to that knowing which is beyond the realm of mind and does not need the past to make decisions in the now. Everything we associate with clairvoyance stems from being in this state, and all humans are capable of it.
Thus, ego is in one sense this identification with the mind. This is why the quickest way to enlightenment is to stop thinking. When you stop thought, your pure, essential self can be expressed. Most of us think that we are our thoughts. We subscribe to the philosophy “I think, therefore I am.” This is not the case. Thought is what gets in the way of who you are. Thought is what creates the illusion in the first place. Thought creates the idea of “you” which is separate from “me” and separate from the rest of the universe. When you get outside of thought, you are the universe. Thus, Tolle is not wrong, however there is another aspect to Ego which should also be acknowledged. Ego is also that which allows you to perceive yourself as a separate being. Without ego, we would be one unified wholeness, as we were in the beginning. For some, that is the goal. But there is a way in which the wholeness also longs for separateness, since it is only in being separate that we can share in love. It is only in separateness that we can experience the divine lover / beloved relationship. This is Ego’s gift. This is the aspect of Ego which can be maintained even when identification with mind is gone and connection with the essential self is achieved. As long as you are in a human body, you can never fully let go of this aspect of the Ego, except perhaps in moments, but this does not mean that enlightenment cannot be obtained, it is just the opposite. You can be fully aware of your essential self and how it is connected to the unified whole, and yet maintain a separate identity which allows you to continue to be human and to share in love. This is a beautiful state of being. As my Sufi teacher Alim Thompson once explained to me, the goal is not to get rid of the Ego, the goal is to tame the ego. I began to think of the ego as a horse. It can be a bucking bronco, completely in control of you and tossing you around in life. This is the scenario of being totally identified with the mind and unaware of your essential self. The goal is to take the bucking bronco and turn it into a well trained thoroughbred, one which willingly follows your direction out of love and respect for you. Riding such a thoroughbred through life will be exhilarating and fun.
Here is a video from Bashar lays out the role of the essential, or higher, self more clearly than anything else I’ve come across: