Before we try to transcend ego, we should probably be clear about what that is.
Freud defines the ego as the part of our being that finds middle ground between our reckless desire (id) and our moral conscience (super-ego). The ego works with contrast - good and bad, benefits and consequences - constantly comparing one thing to another and establishing patterns that help us make decisions in each new scenario. Without these patterns, we would have no idea how to predict outcomes and choose behaviors.
Also as part of Freud’s work, the ego is seen as the “I,” or the separate being that is myself and not anyone else. If a person has too much interest in themselves or their own benefit, we call them “egotistical,” which is perceived as a bad quality.
When I say ego, I recognize the definitions that have come before, and I include a more contemporary context that acknowledges how our sense of separateness and need for patterns compromises the connection we can have with the Universe. Any human who has a physical body of its own will also have an ego, and that is not to say that all humans are egotistical. The ego is quite useful in helping us navigate through this world. However, those with a pronounced ego will have a much harder time connecting to Divine wisdom.
Regardless of its size, the ego is based on fear - if we had no fear of consequences, we would not fear the future and we would not need the patterns it so diligently seeks out for us. Our individual experiences generate the fear as we find out that not everyone loves us, not everyone accepts us, and not everyone can be counted on.
Gradually, the ego builds a fortress of “issues” to keep us safe. The walls are made of the insecurities, doubts, limiting beliefs, prejudices, protections, and justifications that we use to ward off anything harmful. Obviously, safety is good, but living inside a fortress built from fear prevents any kind of Divine wisdom from reaching you.
In contemporary spirituality, we understand that God is love, and that fear and love cannot be experienced simultaneously. If ego is fear, then it would follow that ego and God cannot be experienced simultaneously….hence we must transcend ego, and its fortress, to enhance our connection with the Universe.
Transcending ego means going far beyond the average standard that our society has established as “good enough.” It is a process of growing through the issues that make up the walls of your fortress until you no longer need them for protection. Eventually, you have the freedom to step outside the walls and see a limitless set of options for your life. This is the epitome of a “road less travelled”, but is well worth the effort if you want to explore your highest path, or contribute to the efforts of collective enlightenment.
So…what is ego? Aside from its other functions, it is a source of protection, separating us from each other and our connection to Divine wisdom. The more fear we overcome, the less protection we need, and the easier it is to engage with our true purpose here in the world.