The ego is nothing more than a self-aware organism’s experience of itself. That’s it. It isn’t a “thing” and it isn’t really synonymous with anything that can be called a thing –certainly not your organism itself, unless you are constantly aware that you are growing hair and pumping blood and doing billions of other activities.
Your ego doesn’t exist in my experience, and vice versa. Connect a few more non-existences together and you’ll get the gist.
It is literally whatever you think you are in response to what you think you’re not, aka your environment. It isn’t even accurate, therefore, to call the ego “malleable” because there is nothing to shape. It is Silly Putty without the putty.
If you jumped back in fear because you momentarily mistook a garden hose for a big snake, your ego experienced a big snake. That’s how far removed the ego experience can be from physical reality.
If the organism can be likened to an activity of the universe in the way that a wave is an activity of the ocean, then the ego is what the ocean thinks it is in the particular place and time that it is waving. Likewise, your ego experience is real, but it isn’t “yours.” You got it on loan from the universe, and you pay it forward simply by returning it to its rightful owner in death, either before or at the moment your organism disorganizes.
This is why ego attachment is problematic for human beings –not because there is something wrong or evil about the ego. Ego experience is inevitable to an organism capable of self-awareness; the attachment is the problem, because you are binding that experience to something that simply is not there. It is merely the experience of experiencing! And if you identify solely with your subjective experience and not also its objective environment, you divorce yourself from the boundless abundance of Nature, which is the bridge between subject and object. Essentially, by claiming to be your ego and nothing more, you tripped over a hose in the Garden of Eden, and next thing you know you started talking to a snake.