Content and Structure of the Ego
Note: Eckhart Tolle uses the term “ego” and “sense of self” or the “I” synonymously.
The egoic mind is completely conditioned by the past. Its conditioning is twofold: It consists of content and structure.
In the case of a child who cries in deep suffering because his toy has been taken away, the toy represents content. It is interchangeable with any other content, any other toy or object. The content you identify with is conditioned by your environment, your upbringing, and surrounding culture. Whether the child is rich or poor, whether the toy is a piece of wood shaped like an animal or a sophisticated electronic gadget makes no difference as far as the suffering caused by its loss is concerned. The reason why such acute suffering occurs is concealed in the word “my,” and it is structural. The unconscious compulsion to enhance one’s identity through association with an object is built into the very structure of the egoic mind.
One of the most basic mind structures through which the ego comes into existence is identification. Thee word “identification” is derived from the Latin word idem, meaning “same” and facere, which means “to make.” So when I identify with something, I “make it the same.” The same as what? The same as I. I endow it with a sense of self, and so it becomes part of my “identity.” One of the most basic levels of identification is with things: My toy later becomes my car, my house, my clothes, and so on. I try to find myself in things but never quite make it and end up losing myself in them. That is the fate of the ego.
from A New Earth; Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose