Can Ego be Spiritual?

We like to mix with like-minded people, so at times I get drawn to meditation and prayer groups. I wonder what really motivates people to come. Is it a substitute for going to church, or are they simply trying it out.

I was chatting with a woman, Rachel, about the good vibes at a prayer group we just attended.

discussing ego psychology

As we walked back to our cars, we discovered our mutual interest in spiritual psychology. She was curious that I was interested in ego. She asked me:

“Can ego be spiritual?”

I was about to reply ‘no, the idea itself is an oxymoron’ and start a mini-sermon about how un-spiritual the ego is, the source of separation and misery, blah blah blah.

When I got a mental flashback to my time with the Gnostic Movement, attending lectures and group meditation sessions. The approach to ego back then was to ‘annihilate’ or ‘disintegrate’ the ego. They used the expression you need to ‘die to yourself’, as if ego should be strung up like a chicken to be gutted.

I remember one session when we practiced mantras. I saw one of the Gnostic teachers look like he was suffering some inner turmoil. His face looked flushed and tense, and he didn’t look happy at all. I was dying to ask him, ‘what’s wrong’ but felt that would be too personal.

He was probably trying hard to look like nothing was bothering him at all. It’s normal to assume that spiritual leaders, teachers or gurus have it all together and you don’t want to embarrass them by implying they are just like the rest of us.

But it bothered me that he looked this way. He was one of the best Gnostic teachers and very versed with ego training. So what could have unsettled him, I don’t know. All I knew then, was that all suffering comes from ego.

Still, I didn’t want to take the stance that I knew all about ego, so I answered Rachel:

“It depends on how you define ego. What do you think it is?”

She replied:

“Well, ego is me, my personality, what I like and don’t like. I don’t get this idea that ego is all bad.”

I said:
“Okay, is your ego the voice inside your head, your inner dialogue?”

She said: “Of course it is.”

I said to her, “What if you want to stop that inner dialogue at any time, can you do it?”

“Yes, but not for very long.”

I said to her that if ego was all there was to her, then being able to stop mental chatter and thoughts dropping in, should be fairly straight-forward, like saying to yourself, ‘I want ‘time out’, like five minutes of total silence.

We pondered this, and fell silent. Then I said:

“I sure would like to have silence in my mind for as long as I want it.”

“So would I”, she laughed.

I felt like a kitten ready to pounce on the toy mouse so I said:

“If ego was spiritual, then there would be no issue with going silent inside your mind for as long as you like, right?”

“I suppose…..”, she trailed off. I could see she was mulching my idea in her mind.

I said to Rachel that ego was like the surface of yourself. It likes to keep your mind chattering so you stay thinking of the past or the future, always on the look out for what others think and how you are being treated by others.

I came to a conclusion that it’s not whether ego can or can’t be spiritual. I believe it’s afraid to be spiritual and that denying ego, results in the inner turmoil that the Gnostic teacher was experiencing. It’s like trying to cut off an arm or a leg, you can’t do it.

I came to this conclusion because the Gnostic teacher was, intentionally, very spiritual. Intent is everything, as we know. Yet it was obvious a part of him was not aligned with his spiritual self. This was the reason for his quiet suffering.

That’s why I believe in ego taming, training or better still, ego alchemy. Practically, this means changing the nature of ego to be less demanding, to train it to take the passenger seat in life, and let the invincible fearless you, the soul, eclipse ego.

Ego doesn’t have to do anything to be spiritual, except let go, and stop clinging for dear life.

The Author


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