This is Part 1 of a two-part blog. Part 2 can be found here.
To begin, I will say that my definition of the word “ego” is simply that it is our identity– the thought of who we are and what the world is like (so, perhaps more based in Eriksonian thought than Freudian if we were to talk Psych 101). We formulate this idea based off of the wounds that we carry. These are either emotions and trauma that have shaped us (been handed down to us), or that we have developed over the course of our lives here.
Basically, our ego is our mind, our “I”. It is not something that needs to be “killed”, maimed, or treated like a second-class citizen. We need an identity, and our differences make us beautiful. What we are made up of– all of those forces coming together to shape us, what we have been individually through, as well as our culture, traditions, and personality– mean that we are a unique spark that can bring a lot to the world.
Finding that spark, realizing that spark, and moving beyond the wounding that created the framework for current identity (and beliefs about yourself or the world being a certain way) is really the issue. If we can move beyond the mind, beyond the ego, it really isn’t a process of “death”, but a process of expansion. The spiritual awakening process as a whole is really about moving beyond the idea of “I” as the center of the Universe (and that “I” being your current, physical expression of Self), beginning to see others as an extension of self, and moving past the sort of falsehood of Self that has been created out of a tapestry of wounds.
This seeing of others as an extension of you is not in a narcissistic way (as in, you do not control others and you have not created them), but a realization that what you notice and are reactive to about other people… the sort of projections that you put on them… how you have “cast” them in your play (cycling through your wounds again and again seeking closure) are unreconciled issues within yourself.
Our minds do view this as “death”, because to move beyond our current conditioning– who and what we consider ourselves (and by that, the world) to be is a sort of “death”. Our minds like control. They like rules and procedures and black and white thinking. There is comfort in the known, and we do a lot of things to hold ourselves back from releasing patterns that may prop up a significant portion of our worldview, and to protect ourselves from noticing the inherent falseness of our beliefs and constructs. I discuss some of the most common ways that we can fall into “ego traps” below.
Ego Trap #1: Creation of Further Rules on the Spiritual Path
I am sure many of you have seen long, admonishing lists about what “high vibration” people do and act like. They don’t watch violent movies, or listen to heavy metal. They don’t eat meat, think bad thoughts, get angry, get emotional, they treat everyone the same (don’t judge or think one person may differ than another– a total misunderstanding of oneness– and more on this later), and other things I am sure I am forgetting.
There are further rules and one-on-one meanings created for everything about what cancer “means” spiritually to what a color orb means to how emotions “must” be taken care of, to how spiritual situations “must” be approached. I could go on, but you all likely see the point here.
This is a “trap” because although plenty of people on the spiritual path may choose to abstain from alcohol, or eat differently, or not watch certain movies (insert rule here) the spiritual path is a freeing process.
Rules are a creation of the mind. They are created out of fear. In many of the situations like the ones I listed above, they are created by minds who have been wounded by separation and feelings of emptiness… which creates a pattern in which people must constantly create the idea that they are superior to one another and prove that sort of superiority.
While certainly people understand social constraints and the sort of created rules created by communal minds (and wounds) and act appropriately, the need for such rules and constraints lifts when you go beyond the need for the sort of fear, control, and woundedness that require rules to separate and constrict (rather than free and expand).
Ego Trap #2: Belief that you are Further than you are on the Spiritual Path
If we believe that we are at the end of our journeys, that we are “beyond” things (the whole wounded “superior” thing again) we don’t have to do any more work. We don’t have to learn, or question, or “die” any more… we do not have to move beyond who we currently are and what we currently believe the world to be. We stop questioning, and accept ourselves and the world as is (complete with whatever unhealed material/wounds that have constructed such things still present).
This is such a common ego trap, and can easily lead to “ego awakening”, wherein the person simply stops themselves on their path (you can read more about ego awakenings in my Spiritual Awakening Guide book)
I continually hear from people who say things like:
- “I don’t need to look within to see why I am reactive to that person, I have been doing work on myself for a few years now!”
- ” This is how things are (the “truth”)”- said rigidly to others while announcing the rules of #1 ego trap
- ” I am (enlightened, kundalini, super special shaman, an empath) and that means…”
- ” I am a hereditary witch/shaman/spiritual something which means that I have so much power.”
- ” I don’t have a shadow/anything to work on/I don’t have an ego because I am beyond that”
- ” I don’t judge/have any biases”
There are more that I could list, and some of these are paraphrasing (of course) after hearing them pretty much on a daily basis over the last ten years. I will talk about labels in the next section, but the spiritual path is about constant unfolding. This means that if you are reactive to a situation, you always question inwardly what is going on. That you realize that there is always further to go. That no matter what you know, you could know more, you could surrender more, you could understand more.
Additionally, if you need to prove something to the external world, it is well worth looking internally to see if there is anything unhealed there. There is a great Margaret Thatcher quote: “Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t” and that sentiment applies. We hold such wounds around power, around knowledge, and if we internally are at peace with such things, we no longer need to perpetuate into the world (or prove) that we are worthwhile, or have power. We simply embody it.
Because modern spiritual aspirants rarely have a physical teacher, or one that is willing to reign in their egos a bit, there are quite a lot of people who believe that they are at the end of their path when they are at the beginning. There are quite a few people that create their entire spiritual path based off of wounding, and the needs of unhealed parts of themselves. There are also those who believe they are “enlightened” or beyond things so they don’t have to take personal responsibility for themselves, or are creating a mask for others. I occasionally have to offend people when they want to take my advanced courses when they have not learned any fundamentals yet. The fact that those courses wouldn’t be understood or safe for them (or that I am looking out for them and being compassionate in saying “no” to that course at that time for them) is disregarded by those who really need to believe that they are a specific way due to wounding.
We constantly believe that we are further than we are, and it is a rare mind that is willing to look at that as a mask, as a way to actually stop development, rather than something that really speaks to any form of truth.
I rarely respond to people like this (or will simply agree with people) as cutting through too much illusion and ego either results in an act of protection or retaliation from a mind not ready to hear such things (it is a balancing act, basically, finding out how to appropriately respond to people compassionately while not attempting to perpetuate their illusions at the same time), but there are questions here for those willing to ask it of themselves:
- If I were not (insert stage of development, belief in static “truth”, enlightened, powerful, etc.) what would I have to work on?
- If I did have a shadow (emotions, ego, stuff to work on) what would I be working on?
- What would happen if this belief (about myself or the world, or the nature of my development) were an illusion?
Because these beliefs are perpetuated by wounds that can be worked with and healed. It is only a question of if the person is ready and willing to look beyond the mask, beyond the stage of development that they are in, and are willing to hear from themselves (or ideally, another person, as it is difficult to have clarity about ourselves… and these days, unfortunately, many teachers cater to to these illusions rather than move people away from them) what they have to work with and on if the belief wasn’t there.
Ego Trap #3: Labels creating separation and perpetuating illusion and wounding
Labels in the spiritual realm (such as Empath, Medium, Shaman, Starseed, etc) can be quite important in the initial stages of the journey. There is a need for the Self to realize what and who they are– how they individually filter things, how they interact with the world. There is a lot of peace in finding out you are a “highly sensitive person” or realizing that your tendency to pick up emotions like a sponge is called “Empathy” and specifically you are an “emotional” empath.
Realizing labels like this can bring a lot of clarity. It can also bring community, as you can find others online and in person who relate similarly. We still live in a world where only 15- 20 percent of the population is considered in any way, shape, or form “sensitive” (to psychic, the divisions of highly sensitive to highly psychic and what they mean are in my book Managing Psychic Abilities) and being heard by others who have shared your experience, whether it is being an Empath or being a veteran of war, with others who have the direct experience of the same, is really vital in the healing path.
But it can also be a bit of a trap, a convenient way to disguise things that need to be healed. Many times I have heard things like:
- “All men (or women) hate me because I am an Empath”
- “I need to separate myself from the world because I am a (Sensitive/starseed/Shaman etc)”
- “Of course I relate that way, I am highly sensitive!”
- “I am moving to the eighth dimension so I no longer relate to people”
- “I am from a different world/am ET/am insert thoughts here and that is why I feel so separate”
As a spiritual worker I am not here to make light of the wounds that people carry, but even if you are from another world, or are the most highly psychic individual to ever walk the earth, wounds are wounds.
What I mean by this is that if you believe that you cannot get into a relationship, it is easier to believe that it is because you are an “empath” than to look at the wounds within that created such beliefs and to heal them. Whether those wounds are actually from being an empathic individual or not doesn’t really matter. It is a constricting belief that is creating pain and difficulty, and it can be healed (or at least looked at).
Even if you are from another world, or highly psychic and being in this world has created pain, looking at the pain, and the source of that pain, instead of the label, can allow for a lot of healing to occur. It is really a question of whether or not someone is willing to move past a label that they have ascribed behaviors and patterns to as a protective mask… and to look at what lies beneath that mask and do the healing work that would allow for them to thrive as an Empath, or not feel separate as a person on a spiritual path.
As a last note (I will do part two relatively soon of this list) I will say that there is a lot of confusion about being highly sensitive, on a significant spiritual path, or psychic, and the need to separate.
What I will say about this is that primarily this is a wounding mechanism. If you look at people as “lesser” than you, as something to be avoided, or something that is fueled by pain, that is a wound. It would be something to look at as parts of yourself in the outer world. By this I mean that if you look at someone that you are trying to avoid (or even people in general), is there a part of you that resembles this?
By this I mean that we frequently dislike portions of our past selves, and frequently need to reconcile or offer forgiveness for ourselves in the past. Can we offer forgiveness to ourselves in the past for not knowing, for being “unawake”, for being unconscious of their emotions and needs and inner pain?
Can we become conscious of the parts of ourselves that are still angry, chaotic, “unawake”, ignorant, violent, abusive (etc.)… are we willing to shine a proverbial light on the parts of ourselves that are still sleeping?
I will say that it is natural to be more comfortable with solitude on a spiritual path, to separate from the sort of chaos and din of noise that people create… and to see with further and further clarity people creating chaos for themselves again and again. The difficulty is, of course, them trying to cast you into their “play” of chaos, and you having conscious awareness of when you are doing the same to others, and being willing to work on whatever you find, whatever you are reactive to, in the world.
Basically, there is a big difference between separating oneself out of woundedness, and separating oneself because you enjoy solitude. In the latter, you are still part of the whole. When you say “people are like this” you are people. You can interact with anyone with compassion and grace, seeing them simply as they are with no emotional reaction or “hooking” into their projections or wounds. You can see everyone and everything as an aspect of you, and work on the concepts, situations, and people that you find yourself holding separate or being reactive to. You are part of people, you are a part of the Earth, you are part of the Universe, and all that you react to is something unhealed within yourself.
The question is, of course, if you are willing to approach things this way… and to question with willingness to heal and move beyond the barriers and constrictions that you have been given, as well as have erected for yourself.
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 books linked to in this blog.