The word "ego" is a Latin word literally meaning "I". Therefore, in the simplest, purest denotation of the word, "ego" means the individual self. The prime indicator of an individual self on the Earth is the body, which is a composite, animated form of matter that is easily distinguishable from empty space or other objects in the surrounding environment. Every single individual is totally unique, just like their fingerprints, though there are a plethora of shared commonalities between all individuals.
When "spiritual awakening" occurs in an individual, the person begins to directly perceive that their "self" is composed of more (and in some sense, less) than their individual, Earth body. They begin to understand that every single person is connected, by a matter of degrees, and that all persons are manifesting from a unified source, commonly called God, or in AYP, pure bliss consciousness. This perception does not have to include an "out of body" experience, but can be more like looking in a mirror and seeing one's universal self reflected everywhere.
What's important to note is that the ego, like the body, has many functions, and those include functions within the mind. And what is the mind anyway? The mind is the inner machine and creative platform that helps the individual navigate the entirety of existence as an ego. One of the prime abilities of the mind is communication, which involves learning language and thereby discerning the qualities of diversity that are ever-present in life.
To communicate requires two voices: an internal voice, and an external voice. The internal voice occurs within the mind, whereas the external voice occurs when the mouth speaks and creates audible vibrations that travel through the air. The internal voice precedes the external voice in order of manifestation, or sequence. For instance, when a baby utters their first external word, it is only because they have first received and learned the language on the inside. Once the internal mind processes the information, then it can be expressed outwardly.
With the passage of time and conditioning, the internal and external voices of the ego can be occurring in different modes, either separately or simultaneously. There is a bandwidth, so to speak, that creates continuity, fluidity, and cohesiveness between the two. In a spontaneous conversation, the internal and external voices can be so closely glued together, that they can seem to be speaking as one. But in reality, the internal voice will still be preceding the external voice, if only for an indiscernible nano-second.
So, the ego voice inside the mind is only one function, or attribute, of the mind. There are many other attributes of the mind that don't use words or verbal language, but instead use shapes, colors, images, emotions, feelings, concepts, and so much more.
The tricky part is that the inner awareness of an individual, which is fundamentally silent at its core, can get overly glued to the inner voice of the ego, and in doing so, forget that the inner voice is merely an extension of the silence, occurring in tandem with the mind. Then the mind overly identifies with the ego voice, and loses track of the inner silence which is its foundation. Just like any structure, a solid foundation is absolutely necessary, and for the mind, that foundation is silent stillness.
For someone that has been overly glued to the inner voice, when they experience some detachment, or distance, from the voice, it can be a great relief. Sometimes the detachment is so dramatically relieving that the mind quickly identifies the ego voice as the culprit. This is a crucial mistake, and happens with spiritual aspirants and teachers worldwide. In reality, neither the ego nor the mind can be blamed. If there is anyone or anything to blame, it is the silent witness. That's right, God has been playing a trick on Himself, Herself, and Itself all along, and that is the whole interplay in a nutshell.
What further complicates the problem of blaming the inner ego voice or the discerning mind is by using language to reinforce the punitive attitude. Here's how that pitfall happens. The "ego" begins to take on a new context other than simply meaning a separate individual. The "ego" now gets cast and spun as meaning an individual that is negative and malevolently superior (or inferior) to others. The "ego" takes on meanings that should instead be linguistically reserved for personality characteristics, like arrogance, pride, and so on. Similarly, "the mind" gets insanely narrowed down to only one of its multitudinous functions, and that singular function is mistakenly referred to as "the mind", when in reality, it is only a small fragment of the mind.
Imagine there is a basketball team called The Frost. The Frost have 20 active players on their roster. Out of that 20, there is one particular player who is especially vicious and notorious in the way he treats people. Inside, he has a dominant, wicked voice running in his mind, and outside, his spoken words are equally cruel. However, he scores lots of points and helps win games. One day, in his arrogance, he proclaims: "I am The Frost!" What he means is that he is the winning force behind the team, and so he greedily swallows the entire identity of the team with a twist of words. Sure enough, a journalist picks up on the gimmick and starts writing stories about "The Frost" as a player, and readers get confused between who is the team, and who is the individual. Alas, the power of language creates confusion and delusion.
And that is precisely the game that certain spiritual teachers play when they paint the ego or mind as enemies. They mistake the ultimate source of inner decision-making, and they inaccurately prosecute the two vastly, versatile vehicles of the ego and the mind. And why do they do this? To draw attention to themselves! That is the irony. (Irony is when something opposite of what is intended occurs. So, if the publicized intention is to downplay the individual, and the result is that the individual gets highlighted and amplified in the process, then that is irony.) They're using a linguistic sleight-of-hand to be clever and proclaim victory over the ego and mind—all because they happened to fall into a small pocket of detachment inside. What a joke!
There is no intrinsic problem with ego, or with "I, me, and mine". There is only a problem with the misuse and distortion of language. In reality, possessiveness is what becomes transformed and elevated in the process of spiritual awakening. When someone can say, with some level of sincerity: "All people on Earth are MY brothers and sisters; All people are MY fathers and mothers; All people are MY sons and daughters; All of life itself is ME..." then the egoic mind is properly expanding and coming into full maturity. The egoic mind is the instrument of enlightenment. There is none other. It has been designed this way, from the beginning.
To love another person is to love their ego of individuality. To blossom like a flower in full bloom is to enrich the ego's uniqueness, even as it merges with the continuum of the whole.
If the anti-ego attitude was taken to its culmination, the only logical outcome would be suicide. For if your individual self, or your inner ego voice, or the mind, are the enemies, then it would make sense to kill them. But, that is the essence of insanity, and that is not in the direction of emulating and embodying eternal life.
Therefore, celebrate the ego, and recognize the power of language in doing so.