The key to spiritual maturity is to become less engaged in the ego. But this is easier thought of than done and there are many tools and qualities of the ego that can get in the way.
Ideally, the more we mature and the more we have awareness, the less identified we will be with the ego we have. This is a deeply challenging and enduring journey. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to achieve this without a teacher, a guide. Simply put, without a teacher arrogance can take over and delude one who still has far to go into believing that they have it all worked out and are an example of an evolved, loving, divine being. Unchecked and unchallenged the ego-self is proud, arrogant and has deep feelings of self-importance and entitlement.
So, what do we do with the ego? The answer is not total eradication – an impossible task in a human body. Having awareness or being enlightened does not mean no-ego. It means the freedom from identification with the ego and its qualities of arrogance, pride and entitlement. It is a freedom that allows more humour, more humility, more peace and the spontaneous expression of divine action and divine wisdom. The boon bestowed on the spiritual seeker as they progress is increasing freedom from the hurts and suffering of their ego-identifications, their beliefs, actions and reactions. The teacher is key to this process.
Sometimes, no teacher manifests for one. However, if there is a deep longing in a soul to awaken, (even though not necessarily a conscious one), Divine Nature itself – the hand of God, will be the teacher and will push one and challenge one to grow regardless, but in my experience, usually much more painfully than the insights and possible challenges your teacher and ongoing spiritual work may give you. The teacher and teachings can save you from this extreme suffering, a suffering I personally underwent before I had the grace to meet my teacher. The jolts and deep shocks and traumas through painful losses, painful relationships, extensive or critical illnesses, death or near-death occurrences are just such challenges that can awaken one. One may still of course encounter these with a teacher, but in my understanding, the dangerous and long-term effects of such challenges on the body, mind and soul are lessened by the care, guidance and holding of the teacher and the teachings.
In my own lifetime I have been roared at by my teacher and in experiencing what I felt as unfair humiliation, I was nevertheless propelled into deeper awareness through a combination of my devotion and the strictness and vigilance of my Divine Witnesser and Guide. I came to realise that however difficult, the compassion, the care, the deep love, was always there. Even as I was being brought to account, I had the grace to ultimately recognise the inherent grace underlying every little wake-up call and how these short, sharp, slaps of reality awoke me into more awareness as against the very different early experiences of my spiritual growth and maturity arising through the extensive traumas I underwent, body, mind and soul.
I may have smarted at times from the confrontations of my teacher, but gratefully, I quickly understood how they did not plan to undermine me and that Divine Consciousness and Will was acting through them spontaneously to wake me up. I realised that whatever was happening was exactly what I needed and was ultimately the kindest way for me to grow.
In turn, I have at times spontaneously pricked some of my own student’s egos and been at the other end of their affront, resentment and sometimes anger… and happily their resolution and openings too. The ego never thinks anything is fair when it is pricked and will home in on all measure of defensiveness and at times, attack. The fact is, if there is a feeling of a jab, then there is something ready to burst, something imminently ready to heal and there is the opportunity to be freer… Otherwise, whatever is said or done (within reason) would be like water off a duck’s ego back and not really felt at all.
For any of this kind of divine interaction to work, one must have a certain amount of trust and true respect for the teacher and not just play a game of devotion that is filled with conditional love for as long as it suits. It is the trust and respect that will enable the student to reflect on their reactions and see them as the insightful gifts they are – those of less ego and self-identification. And then there is surrender…
There is so much talk of surrender in spiritual circles, but candidly, surrender is a huge opening in a dharma student and is rarely a one-time event. This renunciation of the ego is more a series of steps of letting go, steps of less self-cherishing and arrogance that lead to an increasing surrender. Intrinsic to this process is acceptance, trust, the awareness that something is greater than oneself and one’s own limited thinking and especially, the letting go of the pride and arrogance to think that one has all the answers and can do no wrong.
Sometimes the ego is too strong, the self-righteousness too all-prevailing and the arrogance too eclipsing for the ego to relax and learn and it will run or back-off in a puff of self-indignation. Teachers feel the sadness of this profoundly, akin to the deepest of bereavements but there is nothing they can do but pray and hope that a deeper awareness can happen and heal the runaway.
Arrogance and Pride are twins and they both judge and demand the high opinion of others, including their teacher. There is little room to learn here…. The cup is already full, filled with opinions of superiority which can only lead to disaster… to downfall. To counteract this, we have to deeply engage in the qualities of humility, unpretentiousness, modesty, respect and increasing small steps of letting go and surrender.
One of my favourite spiritual books is Daughter of Fire, about Irina Tweedie, who at the age of fifty-two, was divinely drawn to her teacher, a Sufi Master and the Sufi path of realisation. Her teacher’s first request of her was to keep a complete diary of her spiritual training including all the difficult parts, the doubts, the agonies and the resistances, (of which there were many). However, despite these, Irina’s tremendous and enlightening perseverance and true grit shone through all the tests given to her by her Master. There is also the account of her every little movement towards surrender, of her longing and finally, the all-consuming love she became part of. I adore this book, because it shows so clearly the challenges of facing the ego, of being stripped of pride, of becoming humbled and humble and of becoming a truly realised, unconditional love-filled human being.
Not everyone can face up to the challenges that Irina faced nor grow from them. But we can embrace every little challenge in our own way, with openness and gratitude. We can choose to understand how that which is given to us by our teacher or Divine Nature is our grace-filled opportunity to grow, to be less egotistic, to be more open, to be more reflective, to be more humble, to be more understanding, to be more accepting and especially to be more humanly divine.
Thank you for reading this. My gratitude to you.