The ego gets a lot of bad press in spiritual circles. But having a healthy ego is not an obstacle on the spiritual path; rather, it is a necessity.
Granted, it is possible for a person to be ego centered. That is where we get words from like “egotistical” and “egomaniac.” These are the types of individuals who look in the mirror and sing, “How Great Thou Art.”
I cannot think of a person who had a healthier ego than Jesus of Nazareth. Here was a person who knew what he was about. He had strong convictions and was not afraid to voice and act upon those convictions. Jesus was not going to be manipulated by fear or by worrying about what others thought about him. He was a very, very strong person.
Many of the saints were like this as well, from Teresa of Avila to Mother Teresa, strong, realized individuals who could speak the truth to authority. What people like this tell us is that a good, solid ego goes hand in hand with spiritual growth.
How, then, can this truth be reconciled with the need to “die to self”? The very essence of the spiritual path is self-donation, giving oneself away to God. But, before we can give ourselves away, we have to have a self to give away!
It is on this point that a lot of spiritual paths trip up. For example, in some spiritual communities (be they Christian or yogic or whatever), there is considerable emphasis placed upon giving up one’s ego. If the aspirant comes to this fork in the road with a healthy, or even over developed ego, then this challenge is wise, helpful, and essential. But what happens if the spiritual journeyor comes from a dysfunctional family and has been emotionally scarred and wounded? Before that person deals with ego transcendence, it is more appropriate that they work on ego enhancement.
Ego enhancement is the proper role of psychotherapy. The first job in psychotherapy is to help the person develop a healthy sense of ego. Later on, there will be plenty of time to talk about self transcendence. But, first, the person must work on the Little Self, the ego.
What we often have, instead, are men and women who have been launched into spiritual transcendence before they have developed a “home base”. The end result is often individuals who have become “inflated” with an exaggerated sense of self importance. Their ego and “Higher Self” have become conflated. Such individuals are truly dangerous to themselves and others. It is a wonderful thing to let go and surrender into the mystery of God; however, it is just as important to remember ones zip code.
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