The ego and the soul

God endows human beings with two things: “perversion and piety” [1]. The (worldly) ego and the (heavenly) soul.

The ego desires indulgence. Its command is to consume more with the mask of self-expression. For the ego, there is no such thing as ‘too much’ because ‘more’ is always better—faster, newer, bigger, smaller, thinner. The ego speaks with the illusion that one can be a master through the possession of things or oppression of others. While in fact, the fulfillment of ego makes oneself the slave of everything and the master of nothing. The ego hides the moment its call is followed, refusing to be responsible by saying that “I am just urging you to do this and that. Isn’t that you who decides?”

The soul likes perfection. Hence one could find endless energy in the perfection of craft—it is the soul that one is feeding. The soul also likes to be ready. That is why there is excitement when one is prepared for something. The soul likes to be perfected. And the soul gets perfected when it comes closer to God’s quality. To love, to care, to share, to create, to maintain, to sustain. Perfecting the soul means accepting that one is under God’s command and only to Him one must dedicate everything. Only then, one is freed from any form of enslavement. The ego is bounded by the shackle of “what’s in it in return.” But the soul knows that any return is only from God; hence it seeks no return and endeavors for contribution.

The ego speaks loudly. It speaks through advertisements in hyperbole and excess. It capitalizes on one’s endless desire of wanting. For it is the fuel of ego’s illusion for infinite possession. But the self speaks in silent. It doesn’t shout nor yell. Its message is heard only in stillness when any other sound is silenced. Its signal is beamed through the realization that enough is more than enough. One does not need to move a toe for the ego to come, but one needs to make a step for the soul to approach.

The ego is dependent on the worldly idea of time and space. It always worries about the time: What if the plan doesn’t work? What if this happens? What if that happens? How long will the journey take? When will I become someone? I can only be happy when I am … . It also worries about space: If only I have a bigger room; if only I live somewhere else; if only I am here or there; I can only be satisfied once I am somewhere. But the soul is independent, indifferent, freed from the notions of time and space. It knows that time and space are His creation and, hence, its subjugation to Him makes oneself the master of time and space. Anything that occurs in the world is a moment and place for the soul’s continuous perfection. For what it constantly does is to examine the state of the heart in any point of time and space: Am I taking another ‘god’ as God? Do I really submit myself to Him? How pure is my faith to Him?

Perfecting the soul means making it ready. And to make the soul ready is to restrain the ego’s control over oneself. That is why traditional religious practices such as in Java, Indonesia, there is something called as “laku prihatin” (literally means “the practice of restraining”) where one is intentionally deprived from any worldly things to temper the soul. In our modern era of self-expression, the idea of restraining becomes more as a joke rather than a way of life. In freedom of expression, one merely gets freedom from one thing to be a prisoner of another thing.

Prosperous is he who purifies it (the soul); Lost is he who stifles it (the soul).[2]

[1] Qur’an 91:8 [2] Qur’an 91:9–10