There are many ego traps that I could go over here, and some I will not talk about because I talk about them quite frequently in other blogs. The spiritual path is about becoming whole – about expressing compassion and love for ourselves (and every aspect of ourselves). Our darkness is not “bad” and does not need to be turned into “light”, we do not need to set up rules for fear or anger to make them more palatable to ourselves or provide the illusion that we are in control of them, and without truly engaging with the primal aspects of ourselves, and aligning with their power and wisdom, we cannot come into our full capacity and power as human beings.
The spiritual path requires a certain amount of discipline and education, and I do think that one of the greatest ego traps is playing into the mentality that this sort of thing is not needed, thus fueling the outer societal thoughts about how spiritual sorts are ignorant or delusional. It is rare that people are willing to engage in the sort of discipline and move beyond the easy or one-step fix-it popularized spirituality that is ultimately illusory and perpetuates cultural myths about spirituality and the direct spiritual path being “inferior” or even laughable to a society still steeped in materialism, thus creating an outer split between material and spiritual “consciousness”, but I will end my soapboxing (about this at least) and move on with the rest of the list.
I do realize that these are difficult questions to ask of oneself, but the sort of restrictions and blockages that are carried within (and the sort of “traps” they create) can be realized and moved through, allowing movement towards more freedom and wholeness on the spiritual path overall. The question, of course, is if we are willing and ready to sit with difficult questions and realizations and openly and honestly ask ourselves such things… and be willing to hear, openly and honestly, the answers.
Ego Trap #4: Not taking Personal Responsibility for Ourselves
As long as any part of us is fractured, or separated from itself, we will find such aspects in the outer world. In an unawakened state, we blindly and chaotically react to the world around us, living from the wounds and beliefs created from those wounds.
The spiritual path is really one of radical responsibility, one in which we become more adult. When we are wounded or traumatized, a part of us becomes frozen in that state. We may have had many experiences like this (as well as trauma that was passed down to us from varying sources), and most people are in a childlike state, living from their wounds and constantly re-creating their wounds in the outer world in an effort to heal them.
While the spiritual path is one of deep questioning (which at times is uncomfortable), temporary chaos, dissolution of ideas and the destabilization that happens as a result of coming into a state of greater wholeness… as a whole, the spiritual path should make one more “adult”, more centered, grounded, and with less baggage. If this is not happening, it is something to question.
If we are willing to take any sort of responsibility for ourselves, we can begin to realize that we constantly project our wounds onto others. What we see in others is a reflection of what is unhealed within us. Our reactions to others are rarely coming from a current, adult state– they are coming from engaging in a scenario, or with an emotion, that is “looped”– that part of ourselves, unhealed, that is frozen in time.
So there are some questions here that can be asked to move past this:
- What do I see in this person that is a reflection of myself?
- What am I projecting onto this situation or person?
- What age is this response from? (when reacting to a situation or person… as in, is it your current, adult self, or might it be a surly teenager, a know-it-all twenty-something, an abused child)
- Am I finding an outlet for my internal emotions and pain in the external world?
For that last question there is a realization that when we have a stockpile of anger within, we will always find things (or people) to fixate that anger on. Same with anxiety, or fear, or grief. If we believe that the world, or the people in it, are always out to victimize us, we will create that scenario again and again until we heal whatever is within us that caused that belief to be created. We can find external ways in which to validate and externalize our emotions into the physical world. If we sit with our emotions long enough, we can understand that our inner pain is always looking for an outlet, and we can always find someone or something to make us angry, cause us to grieve or despair, someone to recreate our issues with our mother, or father. The question of what am I really angry (fearful, anxious) about always comes into play here… because chances are that it is not your current, adult self that is feeling this way.
I will say as an aside that this world is chaotic, and noisy, and filled with wounded people who do wounded things. It is wonderful to feel emotions, to get angry at your boss, or to feel grief at others looking to simply take and wound in their pain and separation. We should feel emotions that are from the present moment, and allow ourselves to deeply feel them and use them appropriately. But there is a question of if what we are feeling is current and appropriate for the situation. This distinction can only be had if we are willing to take personal responsibility and assess how we may be projecting our inner wounds onto others, and the world. There is also the question of whether you are using your anger as a creative, vital, flowing “get stuff done” sort of force of action (as it can be in its healed state) or if you are simply shoving it down or stockpiling it for later because you do not wish to feel it, or do not have the skills to feel it (or the compassion and/or wholeness toward the emotion to recognize it as a valuable source of wisdom).
Ego Trap #5: Not recognizing the Persecutor- Selfishness and Lack of Heart
When we are in pain, it is nearly impossible to see outside of ourselves. It is important in times of personal chaos to focus on the Self. But for many the spiritual path may be a way to be the eternal victim– always seeing the world and the people in it as looking to take, victimize, or harm us.
Because we have experienced harm in the past, we have closed our hearts in our need to protect ourselves. The difficulty with this is that with a closed heart, we cannot empathize with others. We cannot look beyond our own fleeting and often insignificant needs, our own trauma, our own beliefs. The great irony here is that we have closed ourselves off so we cannot be hurt again, but in doing so, we hurt or are not available to others.
On the spiritual path it is incredibly important to reconcile and heal all of those hurts– all of the pain, difficulty, and integration of the parts of ourselves that have separated, frozen in time, and are “looping” again and again. But it takes a soul of great courage to reconcile the sort of selfishness that causes for one to take, to not give, and to move beyond the mindset of the Self being the protagonist, or the center of the Universe, on the spiritual path.
The end result of a spiritual path is always one of giving. It is about moving beyond those wounded pieces and then about seeing how you can be of service to others. The spiritual path is not about you, basically. It is about you moving beyond your “I”, your ego, to the point that you can be an adult, mature presence of strength, wisdom, and stillness in a world that could really use those sorts of people.
Realizing that we have been selfish, self-centered, and do not consider others is a difficult thing to awaken to. But it is a huge ego trap for people, and realizing how we interact with people, what we ask from others, and if it comes from a place of “taking”, or a place of reciprocity is the first step. Do we express gratitude when others offer themselves to us? In our pain and self-interest, we naturally assume that the world and people in it are going to simply offer themselves to us. When we expand beyond our own selfishness, we realize not only that we can take personal responsibility for ourselves, but that what we may be asking of others and of the Earth may not be of right relationship.
Moving beyond “right relationship” and basic reciprocity (considering what we offer to someone or something vs. what we take) is the ability to be in a heart-centered place. This does not mean lack of boundaries, or thinking everyone is the “same” with equal value… it means that you can, with compassion, realize that someone is lashing out at you because they are not in a place to take personal responsibility for their pain, and you can decide to not engage in recreating their “loop” or trauma, and can also express compassion towards the parts of yourself that may have at one time resembled or resonated with such pain.
Ego Trap #6: Seeking Bliss and Highs– Spiritual Escapism
Some of the most amazing experiences can be had on the spiritual path– the sort of bliss and expansion that contact with divinity can create is addictive. The moments of bliss can help for those going through difficult spiritual experiences to have a proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” and see them through some incredibly rough patches on the spiritual path.
There are also those who seek out drugs, spiritual vacations, attend endless retreats, or create imaginary worlds for themselves in which they are a goddess, god, or demi-god in order to move away from their daily lives, and to escape the pain and difficulty of being human.
If we are seeking spirituality because we are unhappy about our lives, the solution is to use spirituality, or to work with a spiritual path, to heal that. Our spiritual existence is not separate from our physical existence, and if we are disassociated, disembodied, unhappy, or constantly seeking the next high on the spiritual path, that indicates that something within needs to be healed.
Ego Trap #7: Not Reconciling Race, Class, and Privilege
We tend to not want to look at how we may have had privilege in our lives, about how what country we live in, what race or culture we are from, or what class of society we are in affords certain privileges.
We tend to largely surround ourselves with people with the same backgrounds, the same race, class, and ideas as ourselves. We also tend to read things that we agree with (and the same shows and books over and over again, just with different names on the cover) to shelter ourselves from new ideas, contrasting ideas, or the reality of our sheltering.
In our spiritual seeking, we may not realize that we are enacting history and the same issues of “taking” that colonization created. Without reconciliation that we are participating in the same “loop” that our ancestors did, just in a different way… without reconciling that we are ignoring that such a history or loop exists, we cannot fully move beyond and heal the internal judgment, persecution, and dominant beliefs that have been passed down to us by society, by our family or ancestry, or by world history at large.
All of us, no matter race, religion, spiritual path, class, or caste, have judgment or seek to separate from others in some fashion. Recognizing and being willing to admit our own biases is a difficult thing to ask, but the effects of this are not only personal wholeness, but the realization that our differences make us beautiful. Cheesy sentiment, I realize, but if you consider that the spiritual path is one of relational changes– meaning gradually understanding that your neighbor, your community, the world, the Earth, and the cosmos are all part of you… and being willing to see what judgments, hatred, divisions, persecutions, and unwillingness there is to engage with some of those parts, and that inner hatred, racism (etc) that you have unreconciled within will give way to wholeness (and the ability in the outer world to engage with people that may not look, act, and think exactly like you).
The solution to this is to realize that your mind/ego wants sameness. It doesn’t want to reconcile disparate ideas. So read books by authors totally different than you, read about religions and spiritual paths from people living them, and meet, interact, and most of all listen to the stories, experiences, and pain of others. We have a tendency to dismiss pain that we have not experienced directly, to dismiss the experiences or see them as invalid if they are not the same “truth” as our own. Actively seek to expand and open your mind to people, places, and ideas that you do not agree with, and see if you can feel compassion or understand how others who think, believe, or have experienced differently than you, as it is the key to your own expansion.
Ego Trap #8: Not realizing our own Beauty and Worth
One of the funniest things on the spiritual path is that you get to a certain point that you realize that you are restricting yourself not out of some deep, dark, childhood wounds (or ancestral, etc) but because there is a mechanism within you that doesn’t believe that you can move beyond a certain point on the spiritual path
Who are you to feel power? Who are you to feel joy when others are struggling with so much? Who are you to be great or worthwhile or succeed or awaken? Who are we to feel divinity or oneness or grounded or heart-centered? Who are you to heal? Who are you to have a job that you love, to know what you are here to do? Who are you to know who you are on the deepest levels? Who are you to move beyond the blind pain and reactivity that the world and the people in it engage in? Who are you to be whole?
We struggle so much with healing the parts of ourselves that are broken, frozen, disassociated and afraid. We come up with realities, and like a six year old putting on a super-hero cape, we pretend to be powerful and the “chosen one”. We pretend to be happier than we are, more complete than we are, superior to one another. All of this is a perpetuated outer reality created by inner pain and trauma.
When we come to states that we have not felt before, we feel uncomfortable with the unknown, of treading new territory. Of experiencing what we have not before, and what sort of changes that will create.
We fear our own greatness, what we could be if we really allowed ourselves to heal and become… instead of being a series of masks and illusions covering up our pain. We fear our authentic, powerful selves.
One of our primal wounds is that of separation, and we fear really and truly being connected. Connected to ourselves authentically, connected to divinity.
We fear opening our hearts, because in our woundedness we have closed them and have created protections around them. When that protection is in place, we cannot truly love one another. We are closed off, and are constantly looking at the world as if it were looking to wound us, to take from us. Opening this heart center requires moving beyond our various trauma and pain, but it also requires for us to move beyond the idea that we are worthless. That we deserve to be happy, that we deserve to be connected, that we deserve to be open and embodied and authentic in a world that is filled with people who are not.
The thing is, of course, that if many people are willing to see their own immense worth, without the cages and masks and illusions, that it would create a revolution. One person can be a catalyst, a way to show others how to do the same. And that person could be you.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual healer, teacher, and author of several books aimed at helping people navigate the spiritual awakening process in a pragmatic way. You can find out more in her book, The Spiritual Awakening Guide.