Though many of us may have a love-hate relationship with our ego, it’s necessary to remember that it serves an important spiritual role. In the positive, it gives us a distinct personal identity that helps us fulfill our life purpose, allowing us to share unique soul gifts with the world while working out our karma.
In the negative, the ego fools us into becoming overly identified with our bodies, thoughts and emotions. This attachment tricks us into believing we are fundamentally separate from God, one another and even our own souls, which leads to suffering. Over time, enough profound suffering eventually leads us back to God, completing the cycle.
As the world evolves spiritually, many seekers are awakening from soul darkness and beginning to step slowly away from body-centered ego-consciousness. Instead of identifying as mere physical bodies that are born and die, we begin to see ourselves as spiritual beings having a human experience. Whether through yoga, meditation and prayer or studying with a spiritual teacher, this newfound awareness can be so exciting, awe-inspiring and empowering that it deludes us into thinking that our life lessons are complete and we are free from our egos. At this stage of spiritual development, we intellectually understand that vanity, pride and self-centeredness are death traps for the soul, but haven’t completed enough spiritual lessons yet to avoid falling into them.
Herein lies the slippery slope: the more we learn theoretically about spirituality without applying it to our everyday lives, the more likely we are to become egocentric in our spiritual beliefs. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the spiritual ego can hide behind judgment, religious dogma or a false sense of moral superiority over others. This is harmful, as it deprives us of the impetus to do the deeper spiritual work we need to grow and heal.
Below are some of the most common spiritual ego traps. Read on to see if any of them apply to you:
- Over-intellectualizing spirituality. Though mental energy is helpful when memorizing inspirational quotes and sacred texts, relying on the intellect’s understanding of esoteric spiritual concepts can block deeper experiences of their truth. The essence of true faith and devotion are beyond the scope of ego logic. There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
- Having dogmatic beliefs. Black and white, fundamentalist thinking is one way the ego gets to be “right” and stop growing spiritually. If you find yourself getting into spiritual debates with others, or if you need someone else to “get” the truth about your religion or spiritual beliefs, it’s probably your ego, not your spirit, doing the talking. As Lao Tzu says, “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know.”
- Judging people who are less “spiritually advanced” than you. Do you believe some people are “saved” and “chosen” and others are not? Do you look down on others who are newer on their spiritual path? From Jesus to Buddha, all true saints share a common trait: profound humility in submission to God. If your spiritual beliefs cause you to judge or look down on others you deem less “spiritual,” you may be hiding a deeper sense of uncertainty about your own faith that deserves attention and resolution.
- Wearing a mask of excessive positivity. If you hear yourself using the word “epic” or “amazing” to describe your everyday experiences even when they’re far from stellar, you may be more concerned with what others to think about you than what you’re actually feeling. This is vanity. Even the most spiritual of people have bad days, and having enough courage to be honest with your emotions is a key ingredient for soul liberation.
- Having a “Messiah complex.” Do you think it’s up to you to save the world or others from bad experiences? If so, you may have a Messiah complex, one of the most pernicious forms of spiritual arrogance. Though it’s important to be of service to others, as human beings we are neither omniscient, omnipresent nor omnipotent: only God is. When we surrender to the will of a higher power in our lives, it becomes easier to accept that there is always a master plan unfolding beyond our control and understanding.
While it’s easy to slip into any one of these ego traps, humility, compassion and patience will help you pull yourself out and continue onward with your spiritual schooling. While the soul’s journey may feel long and arduous at times, the destination of spiritual liberation is ultimately assured for all who stay on the path.