There are two contrasting ways of viewing the ego-self with regard to spirituality, both of which have their value. Here, "ego-self" means the particularized self that is unique, has its own perspective, and serves to set the boundaries which allow a person's energy to be focused on what really matters to them. People who are visionaries or who are called to a pioneering work must have a strong ego to push through the resistance of nay-sayers and to create a new work which by definition is not yet accepted by society.
The first view seeks to allow the ego-self to disappear in wonder at the goodness and beauty of a Presence much vaster than itself. An example of this for me would be the craft of photography, which involves losing myself in awe and wonder at the beauty of Nature. If I do retain a sense of the ego-self, it is in realizing that the beauty of the landscape grasps and holds my unique perception and delight and makes it hers. Here, my own ego-self - that is, my own unique, bounded, one-of-a-kind perspective - becomes the means by which the Divine landscape knows and celebrates itself.
However, defining spirituality in terms of losing the ego-self into union with the Divine also contains a shadow side. We see this aspect when "spiritual" people fixate on an idea of maturity that includes rejecting any self-referencing talk as unspiritual. All but the unavoidable uses of "I," "me" and "mine" are jettisoned in this approach.
A second way of regarding the ego-self is to realize that when the Divine Incarnates in human form, God inhabits our self-referencing tendencies as well, just as our mind, will, emotions and imagination are also similarly inhabited. Here, whenever we communicate from the perspective of the ego-self we thereby enable others to relate to what we are saying, since all of us are gifted with such a self by virtue of being human. In addition - and this is very important - being acutely and introspectively aware of our own unique perspective, together with its associated Enneagram and Myers-Briggs type - as well as our gendered, ethnic, cultural, religious and philosophical perspective - enables others to feel empowered to contextualize whatever we say and to correspondingly value their own often contrasting perspective. It is important that we not conflate our own relative perspective with Absolute Truth, thereby disempowering others who may have a different set of lenses.
It is for this reason that I relish using the self-referencing language of the ego-self. It is important, of course, to realize that my own relative perspective - and that of everyone else - is a kind of "mask" that the Absolute wears in order to play the game of self-discovery! "Empty Space putting on makeup" is the intriguing phrase Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa uses to speak of this.
In this understanding of the value of the ego-self, there is even a place for being playfully arrogant, taking on an "Aren't I hot stuff!" attitude, yet knowing all the while that if someone looks deeply into our soul, they will find No One - no solid self - behind it as its source. This game might even include taking a "sexy" stance - something all of us fantasize about in a partner - as long as we realize that the whole thing is a game that the Divine relishes playing. Here, it is as though each of us is an echo of a word of the Creator, one which resonates with words The Creator never spoke and in a completely different voice. For the Creator continually seeks out the awe and wonder such a game elicits!
The shadow side of this second way is, of course, well known. Here, we forget that we are a part of something much Larger and begin to think that our little ego-self IS that Larger Reality. However, we are OK in practicing this second way as long as we remember that we are part of a divine game and that the ego-self has no ultimate reality in and of itself.
What would the Divine do without the unique perspective and play of our own unique ego-self? Its transformation is, after all, an integral aspect of true spiritual maturity and can be celebrated by us all - the Divine included :)
Photo: Contrasting elements: A log burned in a forest fire and Spring-Beauty flowers, Lory State Park, CO, March 8, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.