Based on self-observation, self-understanding involves grasping the deeper reasons for your habit patterns. Ultimately, self-understanding is the realization that all your thoughts and behaviors revolve around the ego, an artificial psychological pole. Your ego allows you to identify yourself in a very specific way. For example:
"I'm Frank, a 35-year-old, Caucasian male and a United States citizen. I'm 5 foot 11 inches tall, have an athletic build, weigh 165 pounds, and have blue eyes and brown hair. I'm married, have two children, and am an electronic engineer who likes to go parachuting. I'm a capitalist, reasonably ambitious, but not very religious."
These ego-identifications are useful in your daily life — as long as they don't cause you to feel separated from your spiritual core or to create barriers to other people.
You have to be very careful not to take the ego habit too seriously; the ego is nothing more than a way of quickly identifying yourself both verbally and psychologically. It's not your true nature, the spirit or Self. Most importantly, it's not an actual entity in its own right but merely something you habitually do. The ego is based on the process of self-contraction (atma-samkoca, pronounced aht-mah sahm-koh-chah). The symbol for the ego is a clenched fist. Yoga shows you how to release that fist and engage life from the viewpoint of the spirit or Self, which is in harmonious relationship with everyone and everything.
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