Spiritual ego is real.
I know from my personal journey that it can be a dangerous trap—a sure path to the dark side.
If we consider for a moment that for any one thing to exist, so must its opposite, we are forced to admit that even the “lightest” things in the world must have a shadow side. This is also true for spirituality.
I do not wish to define what spirituality is or is not, or what it should look like for anyone else. We are the only ones who can access where we are at any given moment. Only we have the insight into why we do what we do. Look within and see where these may have shown up in your life.
Above all, remember that I write from my own experience. These have shown up at one time or another for me—there is no judgment here.
1. Using spirituality as a justification for our failure to take action in life, or as a way to avoid taking responsibility for actions.
I have caught myself using this excuse when I was paralyzed with fear. It’s easy to twist spiritual beliefs and mantras into a justification for being irresponsible, lazy, fearful, or flaky. We hear things like, “All happens in divine time,” or “It is what it is, trust the Universe,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”
While these ideas have their place in practice, they can be easily misused. Spiritual growth is about stepping outside of our limited bubble of self, and part of that manifests as being reliable and accountable—sacrificing in order to show up for others. Using a “go with the flow” spiritual persona to hide your inability to commit to anything does more harm than good.
Beware of the trap of putting others in the box of “they are where they are” as a means to dismiss something they may be pointing out about your behavior. True spiritual growth comes when we take responsibility for our sh*tty behavior or honest mistakes, and then take steps to make it right.
If we are living at the expense of others because we believe it’s not spiritual to work a job that doesn’t align with our spiritual path, we are fooling ourselves into thinking we are evolving. This is a refusal to take responsibility.
2. Avoid or suppress anger or other negative emotions due to the belief that they aren’t “spiritual.”
The number of times someone has said to me, “Aren’t you a yogi? Don’t you meditate all the time? Why are you angry?” drives me crazy. This false perception is harmful to us all. The practice of yoga and meditation allows us to be more in touch with our emotions, it doesn’t turn us into robots who have no feelings or human responses.
I feel my anger more now that my practice is disciplined. The difference is that I don’t act like an angry jerk just because I feel it. Suppression is never good, but is especially counterproductive to spiritual growth.
3. Refusal to acknowledge the negative in an attempt to remain “spiritual.”
Everything has an opposite and dark side. Positivity can’t exist without negativity. We cannot have one end of a spectrum without the other. One of the most harmful things we can do is tell people to be positive when they feel as though the walls are caving in on them.
This is a grey area because, while the power of positive thinking is a real thing, we must be careful not to use it to avoid facing the negative things that make us uncomfortable. If we are in a constant positivity bubble this is a sure sign we are spiritually deluded and not growing outside of our comfort zone.
We can acknowledge the negative aspects of life—pain, suffering, struggle, chaos—without becoming negative. We can process and talk about these things with a positive outlook. If we need to yell, scream, cry, or meltdown, we should do it!
Telling ourselves, or another, to look on the bright side to avoid talking about something that makes us uncomfortable is far from spiritual practice. This is the human existence. It’s meant to be messy.
4. Taking part in practices, events, lifestyle changes, as a way to feel superior to other people.
I laugh at this because it has a special place in my heart and it’s prevalent in the world. I have a massive ego and it was dominant through my 20s when I started doing yoga. I used to see myself as superior because I was into yoga. I was totally missing the point of it.
I wasn’t practicing to intentionally feel superior, but I came to see that I could use it as a means to feel superior about myself inwardly. I didn’t know any better at the time and my ego had me stuck in the perpetual “better than, less than” comparison dance. I didn’t know how to be equal.
If we find ourselves telling people what we practice as a means to keep ourselves in the loop of ego, it’s best we keep quiet and practice humility instead. It never hurts to assess why we are doing something. If ego is present we can admit it. The lessons will come if we remain open to them.
5. Refusal to embrace or acknowledge the shadow self.
Our shadows will always exist. No amount of spirituality is going to erase this part of us. All we can do is work to integrate it and grow toward being someone who is not a prisoner to those less than favorable aspects of ourselves. Refusal to acknowledge the shadow creates a disconnect and a cognitive dissonance that results in excessively high standards and little ability for self-forgiveness.
It’s practically impossible to live through the experience of adult life without making errors. We will all make major mistakes. It’s inevitable. It’s okay. Forgive yourself. All we can do is learn from our errors and strive to do better in the future. That’s where we really grow.
My reason for writing this article is not to offend or point fingers. Rather, it is aimed at inspiring awareness and dialogue about these tendencies we share, so we can laugh at our silliness, and free ourselves from the trap of spiritual ego.
Humility is a sign of spiritual growth. Let’s stop taking ourselves so seriously.