Beware the Spiritual Ego

Becky Stiller Photography, nature picture, ego, spiritual awakening
Ego gives us a way to sort through millions of experiences, sensations, ideas, and feelings to make some semblance of it all.

What is that I am feeling? Ah, that is hunger. When I feel this, I should eat. What should I eat? This kind of hunger usually means that I need to eat a salad.

Just in that very basic situation, you were deluged with a lot of information to review and decisions to make. This is the power of the ego to help us make sense of this crazy experience of being human. It's a filter. When it is used appropriately, it can help us to interpret ourselves and our world well. But generally speaking, the ego is not used well, and most people are completely lost in their identification with their ego self.

Awakened and Still Full of Ego

A spiritual awakening will tend to detonate a small bomb inside our current egos, and there's a tendency to think that we've transcended all ego nonsense because of this. But that's just not true. Typically almost immediately after clearing out a lot of initial ego junk, we immediately start building a new ego. How can this be done? Because we haven't fully surrendered. We haven't realized total spiritual freedom. Awakening was only the beginning.

With the roots and core issues of the ego still mostly in tact, the ego grows back and anoints itself as a spiritual person. Many people keep playing the same types of games only with new packaging. Instead of getting high-paying jobs, fancy cars, fancy clothes, and culturally sexy girlfriends/boyfriends (I say culturally because social standards on beauty and sex appeal are different from culture to culture in addition to being made up), the spiritual ego desires and obtains high-state experiences, connection, soulmates, gurus, spiritual ideas that sound like wisdom, and many more things to re-create a sense of identity within oneself and within society.

How the Ego Protects Its Many Stories (And Why This Is a Big Problem)

Spiritual Ego Game 1: Fancy Pants Language

Using language to sound spiritual is a super common game the spiritual ego plays, and there's a whole bunch of new-agey, spiritual-type language that's sprung up. So it's got plenty to use. Used too much, spiritual terminology becomes another empty vessel that ends up being meaningless. I hear people using a lot of these "spiritual" words, and it often oozes falseness. Perhaps you've experienced this yourself. It's just a new ego trying to hide itself behind new words. Certainly, sometimes, people are speaking these things as a form of practice. It's common to not fully understand something that we talk about, but in discussing it, a deeper knowing can emerge. For example, it's one thing to say, "We are all one," but it's a whole other thing to know this in a full-body, gut-feeling, in-the-marrow-of-your-bones way.

We Are All One: The Law of Interconnection

However, if we use "spiritual" words to obscure issues, then we're back in the more basic games of the ego. In general, the ego operates to do four basic functions:

  1. Get us what we want
  2. Keep what we want
  3. Get rid of what we don't want
  4. Avoid what we don't want

To ensure that your language hasn't become a means of playing out spiritual ego games, be sure that others understand what you mean (and also be sure that you understand what you mean if you don't feel like you're practicing as I've described). Don't give in to the ego idea that other people aren't advanced enough, spiritual enough, or conscious enough to understand what you are talking about. That's another ego game. In general, your ego has a lot of tricks. It's up to you to become wise to them all.

Spiritual Ego Game 2: Spiritual Experience Seeking

So you're all awakened, eh? And now you just want spiritual experiences? Well, what is it that is wanting that? Your spiritual ego. And why do you want this?

Asking questions of your desires can illuminate a lot about the deeper levels of ego, and you need to get into these deeper levels. Letting go of the ego is almost never a one shot deal. It's more like peeling an onion. As you peel away, you work your way down to the deeper and more primal human fears and desires we have. When you get to those--like the fear of dying--and truly release them on all levels of you, it would be truly difficult to re-create an unconscious ego.

However, doing this type of inner work is hard. Seeking fun spiritual experiences is much easier. So many people will seek external spiritual validation, spiritual merit badges, spiritual retreats, and other more fun experiences. On the other side of the coin, some people will get stuck in constantly working on themselves. This is yet another ego game. The spiritual experiences of the spiritual-workaholic are about endlessly working on oneself to eventually "get it" or "get it back" if they think they've had a spiritual experience that they think they can have all the time somehow. This ego self gets lost in endless improvement.

6 Types of Spiritual-workaholics

Continued Self-centered Living

Overall, the spiritual ego self is still self-centered. It's not focused on the Self--the space of Divinity. It's focused on the little human self and is motivated by all the usual fears and desires. That self-centeredness doesn't just make people inherently selfish in the sense of only caring for themselves. That part is definitely in there. But more than a few people care about helping others as a means of affirming a do-gooder type of ego. This ego wants to know that it is helpful or a good person. So an executive director of a non-profit could be completely self-centered in her goals to help low-income women. Does this help others? Most likely. Is this person operating from clarity and her highest good? Unlikely.

Understanding Selfless Service, Selfishness, and Self-lostness

One of the aspects of becoming more conscious and moving towards spiritual freedom is a loss of this self-centered understanding. Interconnection and union with all of life is more deeply realized. That process of realization strips away more ego issues and broadens a person away from their initial self-centered understanding of themselves and life. The universe stops revolving around the individual from the perspective of the ego, and that can make things more triggering to the remaining elements of the ego. There is so much more than just you, and yet you are one with it all too.

But the spiritual ego--like any unconscious ego--generally doesn't trust what I've just said. It will say that that is not safe somehow, and it will continue to manipulate you.

The Ego Keeps at its Games

With the ego not dissolving all at once, it comes back at different times depending on how deeply attached to an issue someone is. Many people have blissful experiences, and some of those can span years! Then they hit an ego issue that they can't release, and they're pulled back down into the grit and grime of unresolved ego issues. To get back to an experience of bliss, the ego will try whatever tricks it can, which almost never include acceptance and surrender to the attachment and to different experiences.

You must understand that the ego DOES NOT want to accept all of life as it is. It does not want to accept all experiences you can have. There are truly abysmal experiences and sensations that can arise for a human being. Who wants to surrender to the feeling of terror?

Almost no one.

Hence, why it is so easy for people to choose to create a spiritual ego in attempts to insulate themselves from feelings like terror.

Trapped in Spiritual Ego

The spiritual ego is a trap and an end to the spiritual path to freedom. It doesn't mean a person can't lead a happy life. It's just a life within a certain set of confines. They may be less confining and unconscious than before, but they're still a part of the prison. It's like someone getting out of the prison cell then decides that this is good enough. They can wander around the cell block. To ground this in an example, think of this as someone realizing money doesn't make them happy. They lead a simpler life, but they still hold onto desires for romance, social validation, and many other forms of emotional safety. Sure, they're not so lost in the quest for financial safety, but they're still in a trap.

That trap comes with certain rules, however. So this person is trying to do all kinds of other things now to get what he wants from those unresolved desires. He's got tons of ideas about what social validation looks like and how to get it. He has tons of behaviors regarding how he can act and how he can't act. In general, any time you think you need to be a certain way, you're falling away from the truth. The purity of spiritual freedom puts no demands on who you should be or how to act. Initially, it's scary to be that free of ego because you may find that you can't tell what you'll want or who'll you be from one day to the next. In many ways our ego controls us with that fear of the unknown.

The Fear of the Unknown

Yet, by resting in that spaciousness we find out that we can act, and we can feel and sense the most truthful way of acting when it is needed as well as knowing when action is not needed. That only comes with letting go of the spiritual ego further, and while a person can do that at any time, it's typically more pain and suffering that will force people to go deeper than just about anything else.

Continuing Inward and Discerning Ego

Initially, a lot of people have trouble identifying their ego from deeper intuitive guidance. But with continued inner work, things become clearer. You get wiser to the ego's fears and desires, and they become more and more obvious. However, this does require work.

Without work, people will stay in their habitual ego patterns. Even most strong spiritual awakenings only wash away some of the ego. After a time, more focus and dedication is required from the awakened individual. The truth needs room to grow, and there are a lot of nasty roots, thorns, trash, and rocks that require our attention. This can seem like an endless process, but that, too, is the ego again. It's giving you a reason to quit. It doesn't know how the process goes because the ego has never been free. It's like a prison inmate who was born in prison telling you why you won't like freedom and that it is too hard to get to. When these thoughts come up, investigate them. They are not your thoughts. They're just more parts of the ego program.

The Importance of Regular One-on-one Sessions

In doing this investigation, more will get realized, and it becomes harder to create a new spiritual ego because you're stripping away the foundation from which it can be built.

The Ego Is Just a Tool

Ultimately, the truly conscious ego understands that the ego is just a tool. It understands that the ego is temporary and meant to be used in service to spirit. Like a tool, it can be brought out of the shed for a little while for a specific purpose (like the hunger example at the beginning of this post). After that, it can be retired and put away, and it's not such a big deal to do so.

Furthermore, there are deeper elements within us that can think and act based on impulses that aren't derived from fear or desire as the ego's ways of acting are. Coming into greater understanding and realization of those impulses is deeply freeing. It then can combine with a conscious ego to create, act, and live in multitude of beautiful ways.

Today's picture comes from Becky Stiller. You can see more of her beautiful photography on this Flickr link.

For more help on figuring out the different tricks of the ego, please watch this video. Give it a thumbs up if you enjoy it too. Thanks!

Post updated 6/25/2018


  1. This is a poignant and potent topic, and so necessary for all of us on a path of awakening to be reminded of the way our ego clings on desperately to the garments of spirituality. Not to judge self, just to gently and lovingly notice. Giving ourselves permission to be spontaneous and organic in our responsiveness in every moment, and an ever more embodied wisdom, a deep knowing beyond word or concept.

  2. I’m impressed, I must say. Really raelry do I encounter a weblog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the difficulty is one thing that not enough individuals are speaking intelligently about. I am very completely happy that I stumbled throughout this in my search for something relating to this.

  3. 100%! There's so much so-called spiritual BS out there, especially on social media like Instagram.. it's like narcissism+spiritual words = passing for actual spirituality.

    1. Do your best to watch/observe the spiritual BS from a space of awareness. Most of it doesn't require any action, and there is no need to be upset by it. If you are upset, that's your ego, and that's where you have work to do.


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