In any spiritual community the discussion of ego regularly comes up. The common message – whether spoken or unspoken – is that the more spiritual you are, the more egoless you become. I think the exact opposite occurs. In my observation, the more spiritual involvement someone has, the more ego seems to be involved. Maybe this is just the converse elements of the human condition working themselves out, like Yin and Yang or Anima and Animus but spirituality and ego work in opposing ways that seem to fuel each other. This can be for good or bad.
It takes ego to step into a pulpit. It takes ego to get on television with your latest insights, write a book, lead meditation groups, standup at a Spiritualist retreat and do readings, trust in your visualizations and yes (gulp!), to write a blog. It takes a sense of purpose to practice spirituality and the only way we’re able to obtain this purpose is through the management of our ego.
Ego is necessary to the human condition. Ego is how we choose to see ourselves. It’s needed to operate in our world. We need our egos to maintain balance and identity. When we make choices about who we are and what we need and want, we’re making value statements. These values are what form our unique brand of spirituality. David Richo in his book HOW TO BE AN ADULT states:
A psychologically and spiritually conscious person acts from a consistent – though always evolving – sense of values. To value is to esteem the worth of something, to declare that it has meaning for us (pg. 48).
Those on a spiritual journey, no matter what their road looks like, are seeking meaning in their lives. They’re applying their identities to this process and that takes the use of our egos.
No great spiritual leader who lived on this earth was without ego. Jesus certainly had one. So did Gandhi and Buddha. In fact, the whole concept of Buddhism is about managing ego-mind to obtain connection with our inner light. In the modern-day example of a man of spirit who stayed consistent with his values, Nelson Mandala could not have achieved what he did without ego.
It’s what we do or don’t do with ego that’s important. An unhealthy ego, or what Ricco calls neurotic ego, keeps us locked in dark places. It keeps us from working through old hurts, it develops a false sense of Self because we fear going inward, it keeps us looking for the stimulation of addictions because we’ve wandered too far from our spirit, it keeps us in the victim/perpetrator/rescuer mode of abuse. When we work solely from ego, we’re unbalanced. We have no psychological boundaries and cannot honor others’. Just think of spiritual leaders who have used their positions to molest or steal.
When we’re attracted to the “spiritual limelight” because ego wants the hit, we’re not seeking truth we’re seeking an adrenaline rush to keep our false self going. We’re not seeking the light, but choosing to manifest our darker places. As Ricco says:
Psychological and spiritual work – both necessary for full human realization – are meant to proceed both separately and simultaneously as life unfolds. Effective psychotherapy attends to both ego and Self and is the primary form of help in the process of change and transformation.
Psychological work is the linear chronology leading us from problem to solution, from inadequacy to competence, from dysfunction to high level functioning.
Spiritual work is a journey from the compelling attachments of the neurotic ego to Here-and-Now centered Self (pg. 105).
I recently listened to a modern-day self-help leader state that she has managed to work herself out of her ego. Perhaps how she manages her ego is different these days, but it’s exactly her ego that allowed her to perform that interview – and that’s okay. It’s when spiritual leaders and practitioners deny their ego that the temptation to deny their humanity gets out of whack. Then they lapse toward self-aggrandizement and judgment. Talk about the neurotic self!
Like the feminine Yin and the masculine Yang that balance the Self in active and passive energies, so ego and spirituality force us to work that fine tee-totter effect of becoming. The recognition of our very human ego, is what keeps us closer to our spirituality. When we embrace our limitations, then we can find our infinite potency. ~ Namaste~