Down through the ages, the traditional spiritual message has been that your ego is the problem.
Attachment to the ego is seen as the single greatest barrier to enlightenment. Furthermore, it is seen as an illusion, and therefore something to be put aside and transcended. Because it is not real, there is little point in paying attention to it.
This is all true, but it is only half the truth. It’s the other half of the truth that we will look at here. A great deal is already known about the ego as an illusion and a barrier, so we won’t be covering that ground.
Ego is a necessary step to realization
Here, we will look at the vital understanding that our ego, illusion or not, is actually a needed and necessary stage in our human journey to Spirit, and that honoring and exploring its depths is a valid and effective step to self realization.
A great difficulty with seeing the ego as the problem is that it often leads to a dismissive attitude to much of who we know ourselves to be. Our inner critic tends to take on the spiritual teachings that we hear, and then uses them to beat us up. When we are angry, it criticizes us for our lack of loving kindness. When we feel hate, it tells us we should be able to forgive. When we really desire something, it tells us we should let go of our attachments. When we feel bad about ourselves, it tells us we should love ourselves more. And so on, causing us deep feelings of failure and a huge amounts of pain. We feel as though much of what we are is some terrible mistake.
By embracing the possibility that ego is a step to Spirit, we can let go of all this self-rejection, and work with it with the respect it deserves. If it can lead us to Spirit, then it is actually a very precious part of who we are.
Ego reflects only Spirit
Ego is not a mistake. It is not just a way back, but a faithful reflection of our Spirit, or Essence.
Let’s look at an analogy that will clarify this. When we see a lake reflecting the mountains around it, we can notice two things. We see that the reflection creates a wavering, less vivid picture than the mountains themselves, but that it reflects ONLY those mountains—it does not and cannot reflect anything else. In the same way, our egos can reflect only Essence, even though they do so in a way that is dim, wavering and distorted.
Ultimately there is only the Oneness, and nothing, including our egos, is outside that Oneness.
So our egos are inescapably part of the preciousness of all that is, and also our best attempt to reflect it. When our inner critic beats us up, it’s actually trying to make us more perfect, more like the total perfection of Essence. When we’re angry, we’re actually trying to establish the tremendous strength and vitality of our True Nature. When we feel hatred, we’re trying to find the deep power of the Absolute. When we notice that we are not being loving, we are trying to remember the sweet, soft, infinite, compassionate love of God. And when we feel desire, our desire, when we explore it to its depth, is always for the richness, sweetness, joy and delight of who we really are.
So in living the life of ego, we are all trying to find something infinitely precious, but we don’t know how to go about it because the ego is so deeply unconscious about what it actually is. It can only point us to the things of the ego, to fleeting worldly pleasures. We settle for an ordinary life that has at its heart the restlessness and dissatisfaction of yearning for the Essential life that we deeply desire but do not know how to attain. This is the painful state of much of humanity.
Ego leads us to Spirit
When we finally understand that our ego is a faithful reflection of Essence, then it becomes clear that we do not need to transcend, dismiss, or reject it.
We do not have to abandon ourselves or our lives in the world. In fact, it is almost impossible to do so, because when we have no first hand knowledge of what will replace it, we cannot give up the only self and life we have. Despite the traditional accounts of instant enlightenment, it’s actually beyond the capacity of almost all of us to jump from ego to Essence in one blind leap of faith. If it were more possible, there would be many more enlightened people on the planet.
What’s needed is a much more gradual process where we use ourselves and our lives as a kind of treasure map that will lead us to what is real. Rather then trying to transcend ourselves, we need to look deeply into ourselves. Often, we do not at first understand the clues, but if we are willing to bring curiosity, acceptance and compassion to who we are and what we find, the truth will slowly reveal itself to us.
We find that following this thread of truth eventually leads us to the depths of our ego, and then beyond that to what is most real within us. We pierce the reflection to find the mountain within. In this way, ego becomes a necessary part of the journey to Essence.
Ego is not a mistake, it is simply an incomplete stage of development.
Just as we do not see the crawling of a baby as a mistake, but just a necessary stage on the way to a marathon, we can see the ego as a necessary stage on the way to realization. We can acknowledge its nature, that it is a distorted reflection of the mountain, and that it is also a precious and faithful guide to the real mountain of truth, the Essence that we all desire.
With deep gratitude for my teacher, A.H.Almaas, especially Ch.1, The Pearl Beyond Price.
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