This is the second in a 4-part series which explains, in each part, one of four deceptive distractions to a core purpose of spiritual practice: cultivating, with applied practices, wisdom and a character that is more capable of flourishing. That is, addressing fear, anger, and greed; compassion for all beings and an inner happiness not dependent on external circumstance. Last time we covered the distraction of metaphysical cosmology (link to part 1 here). This time we cover the Ego.
Many of us have encountered egotistical people, but we should not take their example as an opportunity to gloat over how much better we are than to be so egotistical, lest we make the same error. Rather, we should take it as a cautionary example and realize that – just as they are unaware of their own ego – we too are unaware or unmindful of the many shortcomings we most certainly have.
For example, while I write this article with sincere intentions that it be helpful, and that I might learn from reading your reactions to it, can I deny that my human nature underlies this motivation and some subtle backdrop of egotism exists whereby I think my words superior or worthy to be read by others? Perhaps some part of me seeks the praise of others for having written this, despite my conscious intention to discard concern for the praise or blame of others as per Stoic teaching? To my shame, some residual of this egotism almost certainly exists despite my best efforts to be humble.
There are at least a few ways that the ego can be a distraction to spiritual progress. An egotistical teacher or professor of spiritual wisdom can distract others from the path by allowing their personality to become an object of attention rather than the teachings and practices. But our own ego can also be a distraction to our progress. The strong desire for answers to certain questions can lead us to anchor ourselves on particular ideas, becoming attached to them. This can blind us, close us off to further possibilities, and limit our progress.
(Those who choose to become members of the Society have access to our member archives, which includes a more in-depth version of this complete series.)
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
Thanks to B.T. Newberg and Rick Heller for their thoughts and input on both this article and the more in-depth piece in our member archives.