KELLER WRITES IN THE FREEDOM OF SELF-FORGETFULNESS:
I THINK THE IMAGE SUGGESTS FOUR THINGS about the natural condition of the ego: that it is empty, painful, busy and fragile...
First there is emptiness at the centre of the human ego. And secondly, it is also painful. A distended and overinflated ego is painful. Have you ever thought about the fact that you do not notice your body until there is something wrong with it? When we are walking around, we are not usually thinking how fantastic our toes are feeling. Or how brilliantly our elbows are working today. We would only think like that if there had previously been something wrong with them. That is because the parts of our body only draw attention to themselves if there is something wrong with them.
The ego often hurts. That is because it has something incredibly wrong with it. Something unbelievably wrong with it. It is always drawing attention to itself---it does so every single day. It is always making us think about how we look and how we are treated. People sometimes say their feelings are hurt. But our feelings can't be hurt! It is the ego that hurts---my sense of self, my identity Our feelings are fine! It is my ego that hurts.
Walking around does not hurt my toes unless there is already wrong with them. My ego would not hurt unless there was something terribly wrong with it. Think about it. It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves.
That is because there is something wrong with my ego. There is something wrong with my identity. There is something wrong with my sense of self. It is never happy. It is always drawing attention to itself.
So. first of all, it is empty. Secondly, because it is like a bloated stomach that is distended, it is also painful. And thirdly, the ego is incredibly busy---in other words, it is always drawing attention to itself. It is incredibly busy trying to fill the emptiness. And it is incredibly busy doing two things in particular---comparing and boasting. You can see them both in the passage.