The ego is not something to be ashamed by but aware of. We all have an ego: the aspect of ourselves that deals with self-image, self-esteem and self-importance.
The ego deals with the ‘self’, all of the things we put after the statement ‘I am’.
It’s common to see the ego talked about with negative connotations, and we can see from the definition why this might be. We can over-identify with the ego and become unaware, arrogant and selfish.
However there is another side to the ego that isn’t talked about as much. The ego is an essential part of human life, it develops over the course of our childhood (and further into adulthood) as we figure out our place in the world.
The ego allows us to differentiate between ourselves and others – this can be a positive thing. Knowing who and what we are is how we navigate everyday life. Imagine not knowing what your name was, your nationality, your age, your values and morals. It would be impossible to get through the day.
With that being said, I want to explore the concept of the ‘spiritual ego’. This might sound like a contradiction in terms, and on some level it is, but this is where the ego takes our spiritual awareness, and uses it as just another way to put ourselves above others.
What is the spiritual ego?
I just want to make it clear that when we talk about the ‘spiritual ego’, we are talking about an distortion of spirit, because spirit in itself is a neutral thing that comes with a level of purity. Instead, this is about how we move through spirit, or conceptualize spirit as humans.
We bring our baggage along with us. When we are on the spiritual path our ego doesn’t simply go away, and if we aren’t aware of the ego in the first place our ego can morph and grow as we walk the spiritual path.
If we were already arrogant, apathetic, defensive, angry etc. this will present itself in the way we practice spirituality too.
How the ego can come through our spiritual practices:
- Creating a whole identity out of spirituality
- Judging others for a lack of spiritual practice
- Boasting about our spiritual practices
- Claiming we have access to higher powers or knowledge that others don’t
- Creating a division between our humanity and spirituality
- A lack of awareness around our own ignorance
- Acting, speaking or dressing in a spiritual manner in order to create a good image
Naturally, as practice spirituality or take in spiritual concepts they become distorted on some level. Our level of understanding, experiences and life structure, all impact how we will embody spirit.
As much as we might be spiritual beings in human form, at times we’re going to feel very much like humans going through a spiritual awakening. The spiritual ego is less likely to come through when we give ourselves space to acknowledge and express this human aspect.
Spiritual ego comes through when we are focus less on embodying spirit in our actions and words, and more on creating a superficial image with superficial practices.
Many of us learn spirituality as way of eliminating all human inclinations, ego, desires, so it makes sense that we would try to create some division within ourselves in this way. Instead it’s about embracing however we are feeling, however we are moving throughout the world, even if it doesn’t look or feel spiritual.
If we already judge or view ourselves as less than, it’s very easy for spirituality to become a way to justify and strengthen these ideas.
This process of letting go is a very subtle one.
How does the spiritual ego form?
Spiritual ego much like ego in general is formed as a way to protect ourselves, it comes from a place of good intentions.
This can happen when we don’t have strong community structures outside of our spiritual practices, when we make this our entire personality or identity. But this can also happen as a natural extension of the ego, where everything we turn our attention to can be inverted to suit different needs.
The spiritual ego is a very common experience at the beginning stages of our spiritual journey, but can also be seen at any stage. You suddenly come to this new awareness; this higher awareness if you will, and want to tell everyone about it.
It’s understandable to want to shake people awake when you feel you have access to important information that they do not. You suddenly see the illusion, lies and deceit in the world and want to make everyone aware.
However this is not our place. We can teach people, we can help them, we can plant seeds, but awakening is something that each individual must choose for themselves. No amount of lecturing is going to force someone awake.
The spiritual ego is essentially what happens when we begin to see ourselves as distinctly different, unapproachable or lesser than due to our spiritual awareness. In an effort to protect our spiritual beliefs we create separation from other people.
Spiritual ego often comes about because we do not have a grounded spiritual practice. We don’t know how to ground into the body, protect our energy or face negative experiences and emotions when they do come up.
We take on the spiritual label but throw our human label away (notice that both are labels).
There are two main aspects of the spiritual ego that I’ve identified which tie into each other: a sense of superiority, and a lack of empathy.
Sense of superiority
The first aspect of the spiritual ego (that I’ve identified) is a sense of superiority, specifically the idea that being ‘spiritual’ means you are above other people. The world is not divided into awake and sleeping people, consciousness is not as easy to categorize like that.
As people who consider ourselves spiritual there is a tendency to define ourselves in contrast to others. To an extent this is understandable, using labels is part of the human experience and finding groups that we resonate with is important.
However, most of the time we cannot tell someone’s level of consciousness just by looking at them or even observing their behaviors. Not everyone is going to fit into a specific spiritual archetype we have in mind, and many others can be highly aware without ever needing to go down a defined spiritual path.
Some of the most aware people I know don’t consider themselves spiritual. But they are the strangers, the parents and the teachers who go about their day lifting people up and spreading awareness in their own ways.
We might believe we are better than others because we possess certain knowledge they do not. We might believe we are better than those who don’t meditate, do yoga or pray. We might believe we are better than those we don’t perceive as conscious.
Lack of empathy
The second key aspect of the spiritual ego is a lack of empathy. It’s a me or them mentality.
We might shame those who are struggling for their ‘low vibration’, see ourselves above the world’s problems or feel disdain having to interact with ‘unspiritual’ people on a daily basis.
This lack of empathy often manifests as a lack of responsibility aswell. When someone with a strong spiritual ego wrongs someone, they can easily utilize spiritual concepts and terminology to avoid all responsibility.
Rather than admitting their mistakes, being self-aware or apologizing – everything can be labelled a projection or lack of awareness. Perceiving yourself at a higher level means you are above criticism, wrongdoing or accountability.
The spiritual ego can also manifest more broadly in the form of spiritual bypassing or escapism. This is where we consider the spiritual above the physical, or even that these are two completely separate levels of being.
Facing the spiritual ego
Ego is a tricky thing, it often operates in insidious ways. In writing this article I acknowledge there will always be an aspect of ego coming through – but that is ok. We all have an ego that we carry around with us day to day.
We can’t escape the ego or get rid of the ego, but we can become more aware of the ego and not allow it to rule our lives. On another level, the ego operates as a way to keep us safe. It allows us to know where we begin and another person ends.
The spiritual ego was something I’ve had to confront along the spiritual path…and of course still do. Rather than necessarily bashing the ego, or pointing fingers, facing the spiritual ego and ego at large is coming to peace with how it inevitably manifests along our path.
You can face the spiritual ego with some simple questions:
- In what way does my spiritual practice become egotistical?
- Where does my spirituality separate me from my fellow humans?
- How does the ‘spiritual’ label help or hinder me?
- How do I use my spirituality to bypass mine/other people’s humanity?
If you would like to explore the spiritual ego in more depth, check out my free shadow work guide.
Don’t be afraid to question your spiritual beliefs
This is one of the key steps to facing the spiritual ego.
Identity is something we need as humans, it how we make interacting with other people easy, it can also provide a level of community and protection – which aren’t bad things.
And so, it’s natural for most people on the spiritual path to take on some form of spiritual identity. What’s important is keeping this in mind, and noticing where this identity is getting in the way of seeing things clearly.
When we take on spirituality as a identity too strongly, we naturally become defensive when that thing is questioned or contradicted, because it now becomes an attack against our identity and person.
On our spiritual path we have to be prepared to let go of our beliefs, ideas and concepts time and time again. This doesn’t mean we can’t stand strong in our beliefs or take a solid stance at times, it’s just that we don’t let beliefs (which can change) become everything.
When your spiritual identity or spiritual beliefs are contradicted in some way, notice the aspect of yourself that get triggered and defensive. Observe this aspect of ego, just as you would any other type of ego response – what can you learn? What part of yourself is in defence mode?
Overall, seeing that the spiritual ego is as much a part of our journey here as any other type of ego. It allows us to identify contrast and guides us towards balance.
Ego work isn’t a way to eliminate our ego, but rather to better integrate it as part of our whole. This is also the essence of shadow and inner child work. In coming to integrate the ego, it’s common to find that we feel even more connected to our spirit.
When we no longer feel the need to separate ourselves based on your spirituality, we gain a deeper sense of oneness and connectivity with all.
The ego gets in the way a lot of the time. The ego likes to tell stories and create tension and separation where there isn’t any. Awakening is realizing this, and practising observation rather than judgement when it happens.
All the best!