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Inverted ego

by Andy Puddicombe

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Dear Andy,

I had a question concerning meditation and how I could use it to like myself a bit more. Unfortunately, I don’t really like who I am, even though looking at the facts I’m actually a great guy. But I just can’t seem to accept who I am, to see what a great person I am. I feel this is blocking me in my life and my meditation. 

Thanks for your time and answer, it’s greatly appreciated!

.  .  . 

Many thanks for getting in touch and for the kind words about Headspace. It’s always great to know when it’s making a positive difference.

In answer to your question, yeah, this is, sadly, extremely common. In the tradition I trained in this was described as an ‘inverted ego’. In the West, we tend to think of the ego as something quite negative. But in meditation, it is talked about more from a technical point of view, so useful to keep that in mind when reading.

So the ego fulfills many functions, but one of those is to give us a sense of identity. That story of who we are, what we are, and why we are, that plays over and over in the mind, that’s the ego. By keeping this story alive, we feel a stronger sense of identity. Funnily enough, the ego doesn’t differentiate too much as to whether we tell ourselves we are amazing or terrible, as long as the identity is strong.

When someone is full of self-aggrandizing pride or arrogance, we tend to say they are an ego-maniac. In contrast, when someone is full of self-doubt, anxiety and self-loathing, in meditation, we tend to say they have an inverted ego. It’s a scale of course and we are all somewhere on that scale. But it’s important to recognize that ego is ego and whether we tell ourselves we are the best person in the world or the worst person in the world, it still the same ego. It is an attempt to differentiate ourselves from others, to make our own story unique and therefore our sense of identity stronger.

When we sit in awareness, we are free from ego.

The interesting thing is that the ego is limited to the thinking part of our mind. When we sit in awareness, we are free from ego. This is what it means to transcend thinking, to go beyond our usual everyday thought. Some would even say this is the sole purpose of meditation, to let go of thinking, to sit in awareness, to be free from the storyline, the baggage from our past and our projections on the future. But this requires practice, of course, and is more of a process than a result as such.

But when we do this, when we drop the storyline, we start to experience a deeper feeling which is nothing short of humanity itself. It is inherently and unconditionally loving, towards ourselves and others. It recognizes the so-called good bits and bad bits without judgment, embracing everything with happiness. We cannot argue with it because it is not an idea, but rather a new reality. Needless to say, this is far more powerful and life-changing than any attempt to talk our way out of the current storyline.

But during that process we need to be careful not to get caught up in the storyline too much, to judge ourselves when we do (because we will, inevitably, very often), or indeed to judge the content of the story itself. It is simply thinking. In the moment we realize we have got caught up in it, we see it, we acknowledge it, we return to whatever we are doing in the moment and continue to be present with awareness. When we do this, life is no longer as complicated as it seems and we discover a new freedom which is in no way constrained by difficult or self-critical thinking.

Warm wishes,


Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.

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