The unconscious ego is really good at protecting its stories...really good. It finds so many ways to justify and defend every idea and action the person wants to keep around. On the other side, the ego will mitigate, denigrate, and avoid any and every idea or experience that challenges how the person wants to view him/herself, others, and life. This puts the individual into tunnel vision about life, and that blocks from view many events, ideas, and situations that fall outside what the ego is willing to accept.
One of the ego's favorite ways to protect its story is to justify something as having had to happen. If something happens--particularly if it doesn't go well for the person--then the ego says, "Well, this had to happen." This fatalistic justification neatly avoids looking within to how a person may have co-created a situation. It avoids looking at the beliefs that underpinned the actions the person took that lead to whatever happened. It also avoids looking at any fears and insecurities the person may have. It's a protection racket that tends to be a masterful form of self-imposed ignorance and denial.
But if you're really walking the spiritual path, then you cannot allow one ounce of intentional ignorance. There is so much unconscious ignorance--ignorance that we don't even know about--that we need to get out that we can have no part of with avoiding anything. So, this aspiration to truly know ourselves leads us to looking for these ego defense mechanisms so that we don't stay trapped in delusion.
Know Yourself and Your Ego Defenses
One key aspect of the spiritual path is that it leads people to answering this simple question:
"Who am I?"
One key trait of the ego is that it attempts to keep you safe. Those two forces very often conflicting because sometimes--actually a lot of the time--who the ego wants to be and who you actually are are different.
By and large, the ego's interests in keeping you safe will lead you to identify with different traits, people, and situations that appear to be safe. Anything that might question that identification can be seen as potentially unsafe, and because of that, the ego finds ways to stop any further inquiry.
As I said earlier, it likes to come up with blanket statements and generalizations to justify its existence such as: "This had to happen."
It also says:
"This is who I am."
"That's how it goes."
It will even try to use spiritual truths to aid its quest in self-preservation. Sometimes, people will say, "Nothing ultimately matters." But when someone says it like this, it stops being a spiritual truth; it's now a justification for something. Perhaps, it's a justification to keep doing whatever it is the ego already is doing. The ego thinks this is very clever, but it is actually very stupid. And it is easy to see through this. The more you learn to look through these defenses, you'll realize how truly stupid and ignorant they are. Realizing these things, however, is part of cultivating your true intelligence.
Yet More Ego Defenses
The ego has more than a few defenses, and when things on the spiritual path get serious, it'll find ways to threaten you. Ego threats are actually a good sign. They're a sign that you're moving outside your comfort zone and that you are exposing something that does not want to be exposed. The closer you get to some powerful truth or realization, the more the unconscious ego will scream and object. It may say things like:
"I can't do this!"
"This is too overwhelming!"
"I'm going to lose everything!"
"I'm going to die!!!"
You may have noticed the exclamation marks here. That's just how dramatic the ego is. Drama is a way to distract you and to frighten you into submission. The last exclamation about dying is particularly amusing because unless you have had a near death experience, you don't actually know what it's like to die. So you see, the ego is just trying to control you, and you have to be stronger than the worst of these defenses.
The Problems With the Ego Protection Racket
The problems with these justifications, threats, and other ego defenses should be clear, but if it is not, then let me emphasize that they keep you trapped. They keep you trapped in your identity. They keep you trapped struggling to find safety in a world that is inherently unsafe. Ironically enough, many of these ego defenses also make you feel unsafe. So regardless of if you are under any actual physical threat or not--and we often aren't in physical danger--the ego make it seem like you are. The more you allow yourself to be frightened by the ego, the more you will do any and everything it tells you--the more you will do anything other people tell you. That is a disempowered state, and it leads you to being susceptible to manipulation by others, including false spiritual teachers.
Ultimately, the irony is that the ego makes you feel bad when there is rarely any reason to feel that way, and it is all in an attempt to keep you from bad feelings like not feeling safe. So the person protecting your windows from getting broken is the one breaking your windows. Clearly, this protection racket is not serving you. It's time to give it up.
Bad Bargains and the Spiritual Ego
In doing inner work, you're going to discover how much commitment to your ego you have. You'll give up a few things as you do your inner spiritual work, and then the ego will try a new tactic to protect its story.
The ego will start bargaining.
It'll say, "We've given up enough." It'll say, "Okay, I can give up those things, but not that one thing." It'll keep trying to protect things and start by letting you give up the things to which you're least attached. But if you accept any of these bargains, it generally leads to feeling like you are caught between two worlds.
The ego will also try to stick around by making superficial changes. It'll become a spiritual ego. It'll put on all sorts of spiritual clothes and ideas to dress itself up, and then it'll say, "Ta da! We're spiritual. We've figured it all out." Then it'll hope you'll stop your inner investigation. But you have to be smarter than this fraud. Don't settle for part way on your spiritual path. Go all the way.
Giving up the Ego Again and Again and Again
The more sincere and dedicated you are, the sooner you'll notice when the ego comes up again. It'll start to have an inner funk to it. Your inner nose will start to smell that something is off, and then the hunt begins.
Because if that hunt doesn't begin, you're settling for a new cage. You're in a new trap, feeling caught between worlds, or worse. Soon, you'll be back to justifying, mitigating, avoiding, defending, and using every other kind of ego protection scheme that you can imagine. But even then, if you learn to notice these things, you can turn it around. You can always go within again any time you get caught in an old ego trap again. In so doing, another layer of ego can drop away as you move into deeper states of peace and love.
The Many Levels of Ego
You did it! You let go of something that had plagued you for years. You feel like you've come a long way, and you feel like so much ego crap that has kept you tied up in unhealthy patterns is gone. But no sooner than this release comes does a new perspective and deeper perception arise that thrusts the next level of ego crap right in your face. To the unskillful, this is demoralizing, and there is a sense that you have failed somehow. But quite the contrary, if you can see new levels of ego, this is because you have successfully let go of some old blockages that kept you blind and bound to this old way of thinking and interacting with life.
Yet, I can tell that many of you need a little extra encouragement on this point. Early on the spiritual path, many of you will have heard how you can just drop everything. The ego can be completely let go, and these are all true things. HOWEVER...it tends to be much more prevalent that we human beings drop things in pieces and in levels. The whole 24-story building doesn't get blown up overnight. We tend to throw some sofas and an armoire out the window first just to see if we can do it before we get anywhere near taking out a wall much less one of the 24 floors.
So in this vein of thinking, the many levels of ego we come to face in ourselves; the continued need for patience, humility and dedication; and the fact that we are growing every time we run into a new level we had not seen before.
The Ego Dies and Then Arises Again
As I define ego (and I'm sure that there are countless other definitions), it is simply a lens. It's an important filter to determine what of the 10 billion stimuli and information we have thrown at us every day to use and what to discard. Seriously consider just all the physical sensations you might have during a day. How many of those do you actually remember?
The ego is our homegrown filter to parse through all this stuff and figure out how to live. It's not bad. It's just unexamined and full of a host of absorbed assumptions from family, friends, and society at large. And this mish-mash of stuff operates with the audacity to think that we can know what to do all the time or whatever it has been trained to think of itself and life. This means we don't really know why we make the decisions we make. The foundational assumptions we live on are often flat out wrong, and so we have to start digging into how we think, why we're trying to get the things we're trying to get, who we think we are, and so forth to figure out some of this stuff. If we're really lucky, we have a big break from this egoic patterning. This can be in a spiritual opening or a lasting spiritual awakening. Then suddenly, we unequivocally know that there is a different way to think, feel, and interact with life. If we don't have something like that, the path tends to be longer and slower because most people don't believe that their ego is really that big of a problem.
In truth, our egoic thinking is our base programming, and because this is where we go when we don't know what to do, even after something that feels so dramatic that we'd call it ego death, the foundational thinking remains. And the ego arises once again in a new form.
The Wallpapering of the Prison Cell Walls
Some of my readers have heard me use the idea of wallpapering prison cell walls. Quite simply, we put up wallpaper on the prison cell when we change external things in our lives without understanding the extent of the limitations and restrictions we believe in. These inner limitations create our walls around what we believe is possible, how we believe, and what we are even willing to perceive. It doesn't matter if aliens exist or not, but to create a belief that says they don't is creating a limitation. We do this all the time with a whole variety of things. If you are actually seeing ghosts or floating lights in your room, then having a belief that says those things don't exist is ridiculous. But this type of thinking happens all the time.
After an ego (or part of it) melts away, we tend to not be able to handle the spaciousness we've been given. We prefer the prison cell walls because at least we know where our limitations are. And we're usually still really committed to certain ideas. Ideas might include having a romantic partner and raising a family. We don't really know why we have those ideas. We accept them so blindly that we don't even want to look at them. As such, someone can have a breakthrough and see how unhealthy past relationships were, but then they go charging forward to find a "spiritual" partner now. This person may soon be wrapped up in a spiritual tradition, wear the clothes, say the "right words, have certain practices, but all the old core ego issues are still in tact. This is essentially the creation of the spiritual ego, and it's one of the biggest traps of the spiritual path.
The Continued Downward Dive
Sometimes a few simple questions can keep up the intensity on the ego. Questions can be things like:
Why do I want this? Who am I? Where am I trying to go?
If you are sincere, you can really illuminate a lot of hidden agendas inside of you. You can peel away mental, emotional, physiological, instinctual, and psychic levels to the ego that you had absolutely no idea existed. For instance, let's take the relationship example.
Q. Why do you want a relationship? Potential Answer. Because it'll make me happy. Q. How will it make me happy? A. Because I won't be alone. Q. Why are you afraid of being alone?
Already it may suddenly become difficult to answer the next question. The fear of being alone is a big one, so let's see if I can take it a part for you.
A. I don't like how being alone feels. (emotional layer) Q. What does it feel like? A. It feels scary. (emotional layer again) Q. Why is it scary? A. Because it feels like I am not safe (survival layer--instinctual/animal ego awareness). Q. How are you not safe?
At this point, some of the absurdity of the fear is being exposed. It's easy to start laughing or to get really frustrated. Sometimes the ego will lock down because we are so committed to our pain and our stories. We would rather shutdown then be exposed to the truth that part of the search for a relationship is a running away from a feeling of fear and an attempt to address a biological survival issue. Upon further examination, both tend to be completely unfounded. In wholeness, if you are like this fictitious person but no longer have this fear or that biological agenda, you will orient towards relationships in a new or entirely different way.
Emotional Layers and Instinctual Layers of Ego
I think there's enough out there about the mental layers of the ego. There are lots of ideas and illusions, and we believe in them. That gives them their power. I want to honor the emotional and instinctual layers of the ego today. In these more basic and primal layers, thinking doesn't cut it. Feeling and sensing these layers is how we have to engage with them because that is how they function. I often encourage my students to breathe because it so naturally addresses these deeper layers. The breath helps us to relax and counter physiological tension and the release all kinds of hormones into our bodies that make our reactions seem predetermined. Keep in mind that the instinctual layer of us was necessary through evolution. As a less evolved creature in millennia long past, our ancestors had no way of rationally determining if they should have children or if they should run away from the tyrannosaurus rex.. The instinctual ego was critical to survive. But we obviously have the ability to reason now, yet the legacy of evolution remains. We need to honor this by acknowledging its existence and that it underpins just about 99% of that 24-floor ego building.
But perhaps I'm getting too far ahead. I would simply challenge you to investigate your ego assumptions and see how many of them end up back at the basic instinct to survive or procreate (which are two of the most basic programs we operate on).
Emotional Layers and Trauma
Another aspect of the emotional layer of the ego can be any prolonged or sudden traumas we've experienced. In some respects, most human beings are walking around in a low state of trauma because we hold onto so many upsetting events. Just because someone insulted you for wearing a red sweater in high school doesn't mean you should hold onto a grudge against this person in your 40's. But people do this, which means that we are traumatizing ourselves for decades over the event. This builds up a whole heap of upset emotions, which is what a lot of you going through spontaneous awakenings are feeling. You are finally paying the bills that have been piling up emotionally, and that typically means feeling all of it to release it.
On the level of sudden traumas and abuses, there is the residual pain that wasn't processed during the traumatic event. There is the built up pain of needing to heal but potentially not knowing how to do it. Then there are all the levels of additional trauma that can be created to avoid this pain. This can include alcoholism and using drugs for a victim of severe physical abuse as a child. The emotional layers grow more and more, and when someone with this background comes to true healing, the enormity of feeling and pain can be quite overwhelming. It can be healed, however. It is just one step at a time, one breath at a time. But as I've been writing to you today, I can only encourage you to respect the many floors in this 24-hour high rise. It doesn't have to take tons of time to heal, but it often will. And that's okay.
Discovering Subtle Levels of Ego
Some psychics think that leaving the body means leaving the ego. Wrong. Now, you've stepped into new levels of subtle ego. On the spiritual plane of existence, there are many levels of subtly until you truly unite with oneness, and then everything dissolves away. Perception dissolves away because there is no longer a perceiver and an object to perceive. The two are one. So if there is perception, there is usually some level of a perceiver operating with some amount of ego to interpret what is before you whether its another spirit or plane of existence or what not.
In our more daily lives, we start to notice how we perceive ourselves, how we sense our energy, how we pick up on other people's energies, and a whole lot more. It can be quite surprising and confusing for those of you who didn't know you could do this. As you become more comfortable and let go of fear, new layers of perception become accessible to you. You may start to understand how you energetically push away some people and call in others. It is the start of a very profound appreciation for how interconnected we all are and how we are constantly co-creating our reality with everyone and everything around us.
The Tower of Ego Continues to Crumble
One of the beautiful things to watch is when an ego tower starts to crumble on its own. For most of you, you have to get into your spiritual work enough to focus your energy to do this. It's still quite rare for people to awaken and have this process ignite seemingly on its own. Once someone's inner work really ignites, things naturally start to crumble. One layer collapses into the next, and awareness expands. You see how limited you were, and you are not satisfied with the next set of limitations. You still love and accept yourself as you are, but you know a trap when you see one. You know what a prison is even if you are out of the initial cell.
Thus begins a wonderful (but often deeply unsettling) process of ego demolition. It can go all the way to the foundation, and at which point, life truly begins anew. You can be whoever you want to be, but you probably won't care. Whatever grows up in this vast spaciousness of love and freedom will be fine with you. Things will grow in perhaps a very new way, but also in a very true way. It's very true because it true to you and what feels most enlivening to you in life. In this way, we can then live from an enlightened ego that uses our human abilities to reason and perceive in ways that serve truth and bring more love to ourselves and to the whole world.
The Return of the Ego
I want to start out by re-emphasizing that we'll always have an ego so long as we're in a human body. It is not an inherently bad thing. I define the ego as a lens to process immense amounts of physical, emotional, energetic, and mental information. That lens helps us to decide what is useful and what is not. An itch at the bottom of my foot can be ignored. A sharp stabbing pain means that I should see what I stepped on.
However, there are many unconscious layers of the ego, and that's what we're after. We want to root out all the parts of ourselves that we don't know about. These are social rules, old karma, past life junk, personal beliefs, family patterning, and so much more. At the beginning of someone's spiritual journey, all of this is invisible. Ironically, it's also hidden in plain sight, and as you become more conscious, these seemingly hidden issues become hugely apparent. But this type of sloughing off goes in layers too. So we rub off one layer of old skin only to find another layer of issues underneath it. It can seem endless (it's not). And we do need to be dedicated to uproot all of the issues so that we are aware of them. Otherwise, these dirty old roots will grow up a new unconscious ego, which often acts like it is somehow newer and better. But in truth, it's still playing out the same old hidden issues and agendas.
That Spiritual Ego Thing
I like to differentiate from the true spiritual ego and the spiritual ego which really is just the old ego in new clothes. The true spiritual ego knows that it is just a lens. It can be used and discarded in the service of the divine. The other spiritual ego may say the same thing while attempting to attain its goals and maintain its agendas. For instance, hidden issues around the fear of being alone that have not be resolved will rear up again, and a person in this example will be hard at work looking for their soulmate or twin flame. This person still doesn't know why they need to be in a relationship, but the "idea of the spiritual relationship" has now become the ego's new goal.
There are many other ways the ego likes to grow back. A lot of people think that "eating spiritually" will mean that they never get sick whatever eating spiritually means to them. Here we see a hidden issue with a fear of pain or death. Others will seek out a spiritual purpose to help others, but this very often hides deeper wounding in the the well-meaning helper. It can also hide an issue like lack of self worth, and this type of ego needs to get affirmation, validation, and positive feedback from others somehow. So being a spiritual healer, teacher, counselor, or something else seems like the way to achieve it. There are so many ways that this spiritual ego can rear its head, but as you become more tuned in to its games, you'll get quicker and quicker at seeing its tell-tale fingerprints.
Spiritual Awakening: A Ginormous Ego Weed Wacker
Many of you who had a spiritual awakening may have been momentarily freed of the unconscious ego. It was a lovely place, and generally speaking, the initial bliss phase is an early stage of re-aligning. It tends to feel really good, but also it can be very etheric and not grounded. Being fully awakened in the body is a much different way of being. It allows fun and un-fun moments in life to come and go without the body, heart, or mind being upset by them. Usually, the initial phases can be disturbed, and because they can be disturbed in some way, the next layer of healing is revealed.
For instance, you were floating along magnificently until you began getting calls from creditors about overdue bills. Then that bliss stage ended. You plummeted back down into fear. What happened? It's not the creditors; it's you. An experience triggered undealt with unconsciousness. While you thought you were free of scarcity fears, the spiritual awakening simply had lobbed off a huge chunk of that plant. It didn't uproot the whole thing (It rarely uproots the whole thing; spiritual awakening more typically seems to clear out enough space so that you can start to do your internal weeding). Now an important choice has come; do you engage with the fear that's come up and the creditors hounding you? Or do you try to find an escape or relief from this issue? More often than not, people look for an escape from the issue rather than feeling into the pain. As such, the momentary issue will pass one way or another, and then the issue will go back into remission until the next trigger (such as another call from creditors).
Growing Up From Neglect
Once in remission, the ego's issue is now out of sight. It can go back to working in the shadows and pulling the strings. Your money problems (or relationship problems, health problems, or whatever is present for you) will not be resolved because the issues around them are still inside you. It regularly happens that we try to ride out the storm of our difficult issues. It's a very human thing to do. We're almost never taught to turn into pain with perhaps the exception of athletics. But in that instance, a lot of the pain endured there is detrimental (If the body tells you that you have a bad sprain, continuing to play on it will further damage the sprained area). On the spiritual path, breathing into fear will not damage you. If you get to the root of a scarcity fear, relationship fear, or something else, then you can get free from it. When an issue fully releases, we don't have to deal with it again. In fact, formerly upsetting situations can come and go into our lives without us even realizing it because we are no longer reactive to them.
But sadly, this is not often the case. As such, the issue remains, and the ego begins rebuilding its defenses. If money is the issue, the ego starts to work on finding ways to get more money again and to never have to deal with the uncertainty of not having enough. Any paths in this person's life that look like they might lead towards igniting this issue will get ignored or avoided. As such, the person is creating a new set of walls in his or her life. They also may not be new at all. They may just be a wall that gets redecorated with Ganesha posters and abundance affirmations. (Ganesha is a deity from the Hindu tradition who removes obstacles; ironically, in this case the person is trying to remove obstacles to material abundance, but is actually making more obstacles.) Their karma will very likely repeat, and at some point (hopefully), this person will see that a pattern is reoccurring so that they can finally uncover the deeper issue.
Breaking Through the New Games
Breaking through the new games can almost be worse than the old ones. Usually, a person who has already let go of a lot of their old ego identity (the busy stockbroker living in New York City) at least has some idea of what this like. But now that they're an organic farmer in an intentional living community, they may also feel even more committed to the new identity. They don't want to let it go because they think this is the "right" or "spiritual" thing to do even though the same types of patterns are repeating. Sure the faces are different, but this person is still having the same types of issues as before. That's the nature of our issues and karma. We can re-decorate our lives, but the underlying structures remain until addressed.
So sometimes I am talking to people about throwing out all the new wallpaper and inner furniture. I don't care what your astral connections are or how you can chant mantras for four hours a days. I want you to come into this here and now. There is nowhere to run to. If you think your latest spiritual beliefs will keep you safe, think again. A belief is a human mental contrivance, and the universe doesn't pay very much attention to those. There's a rawness to life that we cannot avoid, but the unconscious ego does so again and again. It will create a thousand new beliefs and practices to avoid deeper issues, but if you truly want to be free, you have to keep delving deeper each time fear, anticipation, expectation, anger, sadness, guilt, and shame come up. Even the so-called positive emotions must be watched for attachment and jealousy that may want to latch onto bliss and joy. There are so many games being played on the level of the mind, and remember that this is just the mind. There are deeper issues in the heart, the animal body (which is the level of consciousness our bodies operate at), and in the subtle energies. Most of those will get ignored until we've really dealt with a lot of surface-level ego issues (even though it may seem deep, the further you go on the path, the more you'll see how superficial they really are).
There's Always Another Chance
The great thing about the ego and your karma is that they'll keep on giving you more chances to work on them. They're not going anywhere. They're in you. And outside of divine intervention (which I don't recommend anyone wait for), we have to actively face these things. But fortunately, as you get to notice their tell-tale signs, you'll get better and better at identifying them and engaging with them. "Ah-ha. I'm feeling fear. Why am I feeling that? Oh, here is some regret. What is being regretted? What feels like it's been lost?" It doesn't necessarily get more fun to work through issues, and some of the deep-seated issues rooted in the animal body (which is foundational to the mental ego) feel like someone is doing a full extraction of eight of your teeth without anesthesia. But these moments of discomfort pass. They always pass.
Resting in a True Spiritual Ego
Resting in a true spiritual ego as I've described earlier is no big deal. It's no big deal because you're nobody. Nobody doesn't need to be somebody, but s/he can be anybody depending on the demands of the current moment. It's an incredibly flexible place to live your life, and it's what the old unconscious ego has been avoiding. It thought you needed rules, obligations, desires, and attachments to live a full, meaningful, and safe life. But you don't. Those rules, assumptions, et al have kept you caged and trapped until some of you felt like you would scream and go out of your mind. But now you are going sane. Going sane takes you back through all the insanity you've been living in, and it shows you the truth of it. When you get scared and decide that the old insanity is actually true, you go back to the cage. Life returns to the old "seemingly" safe patterns--even though for some of you those patterns are quite miserable. You get to stay there as long as you like. That's what the return of the ego is. It's a return to the cage. It's a return to the prison cell until you get the smell of fresh air again and something wakes further in your spirit. And then it's time to get the sledgehammer again and break through, break out, and break back into your true life.
Beware the Spiritual Ego
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.
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.
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:
Get us what we want
Keep what we want
Get rid of what we don't want
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.