Navigating the Basic Spiritual Predicament

Those of us who are committed to a spiritual path face a constant predicament. We feel the urge to grow but we resist the change growth requires.

This tension is not evidence of a character flaw. It is a natural aspect baked into the path because the vehicle we use for spiritual growth is afraid to go through it.

When you think about it, the human journey is unfair. We are interconnected beings, sparks from the same flame, dropped into a world that tries to convince us we are separate and alone. Spirit and matter, higher self and ego self, melded together, trying to make it work at both levels.

No wonder Dante called it a Divine Comedy.  

Our ego self is oriented toward separation. It spends its day trying to maximize our gains and protect us from losses. It sees a world of scarcity and hoards as much as it can. Our higher self is oriented toward connection. It is the source of our generosity, compassion, and the urge to unite with the Universal.  

Spiritual growth does not mean using Spirit to escape the ego. The task of the human project is to advance the work of Spirit through the material plane using the higher self to guide the ego self. That is how we bring Spirit into form, the thing we humans are uniquely designed to do.

But that means pulling the ego self through the very stuff that it abhors.  

Our ego does not understand our interconnection, and it fears what it does not understand. We have to bring compassion to the fears of the ego self. When we engage in spiritual practice that drops our defenses, the ego self feels vulnerable. When we are generous, the ego self is afraid there may not be enough left for us. When we experience discomfort, loss, or grief, the ego wants to retreat immediately to shield us from feeling pain.

The ego self doesn’t understand that opening to pain is what heals, that intimacy requires vulnerability, or that certainty is impossible in a world that is inherently ambiguous. And because the ego self is an integral part of us, it is we who feel the fears and the tension between wanting to grow and wanting to stay safe.

Because life is dynamic, the tension of this basic spiritual predicament is never fully resolved. But we can navigate it so that we are always growing and preparing ourselves for the next level of challenge. Part of that navigation is the gentle way we bring the ego self along.

One thing that can help is to have a conversation with ego:

  • Sit quietly, settle into a calm state, and take a few slow breaths to relax.

  • Invite your ego self to sit with you and have a conversation. Ask her what she wants. Ask what she is afraid of.  

  • Drop into a listening space for the two of you and see what comes up. Attend to what is behind the words and thoughts, the energetic quality of the ego.

  • Acknowledge the ego. Tell her you appreciate how hard she is working to serve you.  

  • Reassure her by explaining that you are aware of the dangers she is warning you about and that you are both strong enough to handle them. Tell her that higher self is in charge and will make good decisions for us all.

  • Thank her. Give her a hug (we all need more hugs). See how she responds.  

The world of form is an incredibly rich playground that brings us countless choice points every day, opportunities to wound or heal each other. And we humans have done both at a colossal scale. The fears we feel as our ego selves are legitimate. But the spiritual path is not up and out of this world, but through.  

This is where we do the work – to see, touch, feel, and ultimately transform the whole spectrum of human experience.

Photo by Greg Willson on Unsplash

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