The ego gives us a way to sort through millions of experiences, sensations, ideas, and feelings to make some semblance of it all.
What is that I am feeling? Ah, that is hunger. When I feel this, I should eat. What should I eat? This kind of hunger usually means that I need to eat a salad.
Just in the basic situation of hunger, you were deluged with a lot of information to review and decisions to make. This is the power of the ego to help us make sense of this crazy experience of being human. It’s a filter. When it is used appropriately, it can help us to interpret ourselves and our world well.
But generally speaking, the ego is not used well. It unconsciously makes all kinds of decisions about what to think and feel, and most people are so completely lost in their identification with their ego self that they don’t know these decisions are being made and that they have lost the power to decide differently.
Awakened and Still Full of Ego
A spiritual awakening detonates a small bomb inside our current egos, and there’s a tendency to think that we’ve transcended all ego nonsense because of this. But that’s just not true. Typically almost immediately after clearing out a lot of initial ego junk, we immediately start building a new ego. How can this be done? Because we haven’t fully surrendered. We haven’t realized total spiritual freedom. Awakening was only the beginning.
With the roots and core issues of the ego still mostly in tact, the ego grows back and anoints itself as a spiritual person. Many people play the same types of games only with new packaging. Instead of getting high-paying jobs, fancy cars, fancy clothes, and culturally sexy girlfriends/boyfriends (I say culturally because social standards on beauty and sex appeal are different from culture to culture in addition to being made up), the spiritual ego desires and obtains high-state experiences, connection, soulmates, gurus, spiritual ideas that sound like wisdom, and many more things to re-create a new sense of identity within oneself and within society.
Spiritual Ego Game 1: Fancy Pants Language
Using language to sound spiritual is a super common game the spiritual ego plays, and there’s a whole bunch of new-agey, spiritual-type language that’s sprung up. So the ego has plenty to use. Used inappropriately, spiritual terminology is an empty vessel that is not only meaningless, but also obscures the truth. For example, it’s one thing to say, “We are all one,” but it’s a whole other thing to know this in a full-body, gut-feeling, in-the-marrow-of-your-bones way.
To ensure that your language hasn’t become a means of playing spiritual ego games, be sure that you actually know what you mean. And if others don’t understand what you are talking about, don’t give in to the ego idea that other people aren’t advanced enough, spiritual enough, or conscious enough to understand what you are talking about. That’s another ego game. While other people may not fully understand anything you say because communication is an art and not a science, it’s important that you truly realize the things you share. If you do, it’s easier to explain.
In general, your ego has a lot of tricks. It’s up to you to become wise to them all.
Here’s another ego trick:
Spiritual Ego Game 2: Spiritual Experience Seeking
So you’re all awakened, eh? And now you just want spiritual experiences? Well, what is it that is wanting that? Your spiritual ego. And why do you want this?
Asking questions of your desires can illuminate deeper levels of ego, and you need to get into these deeper levels. Letting go of the ego is almost never a one shot deal. It’s more like peeling an onion. As you peel away, you work your way down to the deeper and more primal human fears and desires we have. When you get to those–like the fear of dying–and truly release them on all levels of you, it would be truly difficult to re-create an unconscious ego.
However, doing this type of inner work is hard. Seeking fun spiritual experiences is much easier. So many people will seek external spiritual validation, spiritual merit badges, spiritual retreats, so-called spiritual substances, and other more fun experiences.
On the other side of the coin, some people get stuck in constantly working on themselves. This is yet another ego game. The spiritual experiences of the spiritual-workaholic are about endlessly working on oneself to eventually “get it” or “get it back” if they think they’ve had a spiritual experience that they think they can have all the time somehow. This ego self gets lost in endless self improvement.
Continued Self-centered Living
Overall, the spiritual ego self is still self-centered, particularly right after an awakening and definitely after most spiritual openings. It’s not focused on the Self–the space of Divinity. It’s focused on the little human self and is motivated by all the usual fears and desires. In general, ego fears and desires operate to do four basic functions:
- Get us what we want
- Keep what we want
- Get rid of what we don’t want
- Avoid what we don’t want
These self-centered motives tend to make people inherently selfish, and the spiritual path, in my opinion, is in part an important step in human evolution to move beyond selfishness.
More than a few spiritual healers and teachers help others from selfishness as a means of affirming a do-gooder type of ego. This ego wants to know that it is helpful or a good person. So an executive director of a non-profit could be completely self-centered in her goals to help low-income women. Does this help others? Most likely. Is this person operating from clarity and her highest good? Unlikely.
One of the aspects of becoming more conscious and moving towards spiritual freedom is a loss of this self-centered understanding. Interconnection and union with all of life is more deeply realized. That process of realization strips away more ego issues and broadens a person away from their initial self-centered understanding of themselves and life. The universe stops revolving around the individual from the perspective of the ego, and that can make things more triggering to the remaining elements of the ego. There is so much more than just you, and yet you are one with it all too.
But the spiritual ego–like any unconscious ego–generally doesn’t trust what I’ve just said. It will say that that is not safe somehow, and it will continue to manipulate you.
The Ego Keeps at its Games
With the ego not dissolving all at once, it comes back at different times depending on how deeply attached to an issue someone is. Many people have blissful experiences, and some of those can span years! Then they hit an ego issue that they can’t release, and they’re pulled back down into the grit and grime of unresolved ego issues. To get back to an experience of bliss, the ego will try whatever tricks it can, which almost never include acceptance and surrender to what Is.
You must understand that the ego DOES NOT want to accept all of life as it is. It does not want to accept all experiences you can have. There are truly abysmal experiences and sensations that can arise for a human being. Who wants to surrender to the feeling of terror?
Almost no one.
Hence, why it is so easy for people to choose to create a spiritual ego in attempts to insulate themselves from feelings like terror.
Trapped in Spiritual Ego
The spiritual ego is a trap and an end to the spiritual path to freedom. It doesn’t mean a person can’t lead a happy life. It’s just a life within a certain set of confines. They may be less confining and unconscious than before, but they’re still a part of the prison. It’s like someone getting out of the prison cell then decides that this is good enough. They can wander around the cell block. To ground this in an example, think of this as someone realizing money doesn’t make them happy. They lead a simpler life, but they still hold onto desires for romance, social validation, and many other forms of emotional safety. Sure, they’re not so lost in the quest for financial safety, but they’re still in a trap.
That trap comes with certain rules, however. So this person is doing all kinds of other things to get what he wants from those unresolved desires. He’s got tons of ideas about what social validation looks like and how to get it. He has tons of behaviors regarding how he can act and how he can’t act. In general, any time you think you need to be a certain way, you’re falling away from the truth. The purity of spiritual freedom puts no demands on who you should be or how to act. Initially, it’s scary to be that free of ego because you may find that you can’t tell what you’ll want or who’ll you be from one day to the next. In many ways our ego controls us with that fear of the unknown.
Yet, by resting in that spaciousness we find out that we can act, and we can feel and sense the most truthful way of acting when it is needed as well as knowing when action is not needed. That only comes with letting go of the spiritual ego further, and while a person can do that at any time, it’s typically more pain and suffering that will force people to go deeper than just about anything else.
Inner work on the ego is like untying a knot. We put energy into something that has already had energy put into it. We undo the misalignment, and then the work is done.
Without work, people stay in their habitual ego patterns, most of which they are blind to. Even most strong spiritual awakenings only wash away a very, very small part of the ego, although it tends to feel like a huge part washed away.
Continuing Inward and Discerning Ego
After a time, more focus and dedication is required from the awakened individual. The truth needs room to grow, and there are a lot of nasty roots, thorns, trash, and rocks that require our attention. This can seem like an endless process, but that, too, is the ego again. It’s giving you a reason to quit. It doesn’t know how the process goes because the ego has never been free. It’s like a prison inmate who was born in prison telling you why you won’t like freedom and that it is too hard to get to. When these thoughts come up, investigate them. They are not your thoughts. They’re just more parts of the ego program.
In doing this investigation, more will get realized, and it becomes harder to create a new spiritual ego because you’re stripping away the foundation from which it can be built.
The Ego Is Just a Tool
Ultimately, the truly conscious ego understands that the ego is just a tool. It understands that the ego is temporary and meant to be used in service to spirit. Like a tool, it can be brought out of the shed for a little while for a specific purpose (like the hunger example at the beginning of this post). After that, it can be retired and put away, and it’s not such a big deal to do so.
Furthermore, there are deeper elements within us that can think and act based on impulses that aren’t derived from fear or desire as the ego’s ways of acting are. Coming into greater release of those impulses is deeply freeing allowing a person to live in the most Divinely inspired ways possible.
How to Find Spiritual Freedom For more help on figuring out the different tricks of the ego, please watch this video. Give it a thumbs up if you enjoy it too. Thanks!
Post updated 5/11/2020