Most people, including me, get confused on the subject of what the ego is and how it manifests. We think it’s restricted to the “bad” things we do.

Like what? Like blowing up at your kids when they fight with each other or dance on your last available nerve. Or those with weight issues getting thrown into a mini-depression when someone suggests they opt for the mixed berries rather than the chocolate mousse for dessert.

Yes, those are examples of the ego rearing its susceptible head. But the ego’s reach is far broader than most of us think.

The “I, me, mine” ego

Mickey Singer has an apt, pithy description of the ego. He says it’s the voice in the head constantly spitting out thoughts of “I, I, I, me, me, me, mine, mine, mine…” Sound familiar to any of you? It does to me.

One area where almost all of us do this is in conversation. Whether talking with an acquaintance, friend, spouse, your mom or your kid, most of us drift away at some point from listening to them to focusing on what WE are going to say in response.

Who’s going to pick up your kid at practice

The negative version would be an argument with your spouse where she lists the reasons you should pick up junior from soccer practice. You check out at the outset, knowing that whatever she says and for however long she says it, you’re going to say the same thing: “I pay our bills. I’m exhausted from a long day at work. You pick him up.”

But the ego worms its way into positive situations, too. You ever been chatting with a friend who’s struggling and something like this plays out?

Friend: “I find that I get so wound up at work that I can’t even concentrate. It’s just this low level of anxiety that plagues me throughout the day.”

You hear that and immediate get the “I” thought of,

I know exactly what I want to tell him. When he first feels that swarm of thoughts invading his head, he needs to catch it right then. Stop. Close his eyes and then take five deep, long, slow breaths. Also, be sure to exercise before work. Those endorphins take us a long way.”

Right after your friend says what he says, you check out. All you can think about is what you’re going to say when he stops talking. And you might even get annoyed with him, this friend who is suffering to some degree, because he won’t shut up and let you shower him with your brilliant ideas!

Most of us have done it. I know I have.

Try this practice

So here’s the practice. Next time you’re in a conversation and you find yourself tuning out because you know what you’re going to say next, first, just become aware of it. Say to yourself, “Bob just told me X and I’m going to respond with Y when he stops.”

This in itself is hugely important. As I’ve quoted many times before, my favorite Eckhart Tolle teaching is:

Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

Once you’re aware, take one or two deep breaths to re-center yourself in the moment.

Park your suggestions

Then see if you can redirect one hundred percent of your attention to your friend and what he’s saying. Park whatever brilliant suggestion you have on your mind’s sidewalk.

And then…simply listen. With no thoughts. No agenda. Just total presence.

This gets to a central point of this piece. It’s something that ALL of my favorite teachers have emphasized. I’m talking Ram Dass, Mickey Singer, Eckhart Tolle, Yogananda, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh. The whole lot of them.

It’s this:

The greatest gift we can give somebody is our presence.

Put another way, it means giving our full attention. There’s great strength and power in our presence.

Not that our advice isn’t valuable, too. But it pales in comparison to simply offering presence.

Truth be told, our presence is what most people want. They want to be seen. And heard.

Because our consciousness is the best salve the universe has to offer.

The takeaway

So give this a try. When in a conversation, be aware when you get all excited knowing what you’re going to say next, then stop.

Breathe. Park your thoughts. Tune in.