Spiritual Ideas – Ego – Mental Health – There is a need to address this subject with care. People are quick to defend their beliefs. Take care when reading this article; there is no reference to a religion other than clarification. Many people find it difficult to separate the meaning of the words’ spiritual and faith’. Accepted, there are spiritual aspects of theology; there is no reference to this aspect of belief in this piece.
For clarity: the suggestion is religion encompasses belief in decrees or rules. Most religions originate from distinct family, cultural and community-based ideas. The ideas are centred on sacred texts and traditions. Of course, this is a limited explanation of the meaning of the word, although sufficient for the premise.
The word spiritual is associated with the attainment of a higher degree of awareness. One could think about the word as following a path of enlightenment. Indeed it is this writers opinion the quest for spiritual knowledge has no boundary. To accept one writer or guru’s opinion as final closes the mind. Spiritual practice is (to my mind) expansive and asks me to seeks many avenues.
A centred approach to spiritual peace seems to begin with a desire to clarify life purpose. For many, this becomes a hurdle because they associate life purpose with life achievement. Indeed, many confuse the physical and material aspects of their existence with success. In a world where material accumulation and qualification are deemed as gauges of success, this confusion is easy to comprehend.
I offer the suggestion we do not need to ‘succeed’ on any material level to be spiritually minded. Some feel that letting go of the ‘ego’ is a sign of attainment of part of the spiritual journey. Is it possible to refute this idea that letting go of ego is paramount to spiritual attainments? And is letting go of the ego beneficial for every human?
What is Ego?
On a basic level of understanding: ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem and importance. The fundamental question is to ask after considering this interpretation could be: ‘do we wish for people to relinquish their importance?’ I have listened to many who talk about this idea (the idea of being free of the ego). And if carefully assessed, most seem to have expansive ‘egos’!
And where does this idea end? You either work hard to remove ego, or you learn to understand what the ‘ego’ is and how it affects reasoning. Consider this example of the problems associated with this idea: Pride and ego are bound together. A mother is proud of her child’s degree. She talks to everyone who’ll listen about her child’s success. Is the mother being egotistical or just proud? Where is the boundary or are ego and pride bound?If one is attempting to remove the ego, then pride should also be considered in the equation. In truth, the child’s achievement is her own: A counter could be the mother has contributed to the degree. And yet, we can look at families where one child is successful and the other is outright failure. Does the mother take credit for an addicted child?
In psychology, the ego is interpreted as a part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. Here ego is considered as a ‘gate-keeper’. As explanation: a person with a high degree of self-worth and success could be without ‘airs and graces’. In this instance the ego is restricting boastfulness. This is opposite to the previously expressed idea of relinquishing ego.
Some philosophers offer the suggestion’ ego’ is an identity people hide behind. And yet: A seed for philosophical debate is discovered here: Telling someone he’s egotistical translates as: “I deserve more than you think I do.”. The sentence is formulated to be an expansive seed of thought. Incidentally, there is no fixed answer to the debate, and it is an excellent way to exercise ‘critical thinking’.
What has the introduction to do with mental health issues? Well, if we review the list of needs of someone suffering from mental health problems, we see an interesting relationship between, self-worth and their needs.
Those in Discord Ask for:
To be treated with dignity and respect.
Feel safe and secure.
Feel they belong, trusted and valued.
Be able to express their feelings.
Permission to connect or understand with their spiritual being.
Relinquishing ego may not conducive to experiencing any or all of list of needs. Consider the idea that people within depression may already have a low opinion of themselves. Therefore the ego should be understood and encouraged. Believing that to be ‘egoless’ is a route to spiritual attainment could well be opposition to mental wellbeing. And as many with mental illness seek spiritual guidance, the concept of relinquishing ‘ego’ could be restrictive to wellbeing.
During metal illness, there is a feeling of vacancy. Indeed when considering the list of patients needs, this confirms this is a primary symptom. So how could seeking spiritual wellbeing help with mental difficulty?
To my mind, spirituality guides us on how connected we are to people and our world. And this connection is made during mediations. During meditation I ask what am I doing to connect to people? Can I learn to accept the opinions and beliefs of other people may not be my own? Can I learn to assess how I act reasonably? Do I understand I have a part to play in the lives of those I work with? The questions need no specific answers, only thought and meditation.
Consider that far from relinquishing ego, the opposite will help with depression and other mental issues: will be difficult or near impossible for many spiritual people. However, learning to understand we all have a part to play in our world or close personal environment means we have to have an identity.
This identity is easy to comprehend and realise: It is one of integrity and honesty. It is one of willingness to find ways to return to health. It is taking responsibility and accepting the life journey no matter how difficult it can be at times. I am not implying we have to achieve these significant life assets fully. My suggestion is ‘attempting’ to use the precepts and meditating on the aspects of allowing them part of our life is a way to face reality.
Be Happy With The Thoughts of Others:
Some time ago I listened to a person talking about me. She said ‘Ian wouldn’t know what spiritual was if it stared him in the face’. She was speaking from a superior knowledge of judgement. And of course she was correct, I will never know for sure what it is ‘to be spiritual’. How could I? There is no definitive interpretation of what is ‘being’ spiritual.
The ideas of any writer will be extolled by those who follow and believe in their words. Although it is worth considering the plans offered have to fit with the ego of the disciple. And when the disciple is taken with the method suggested, they will fight and argue the benefits of the idea with any who suggest it is flawed. Their concept is the only way, the one which makes sense and of course the ego is in play when defending the belief!
In my material world, there is a responsibility to those who put their trust in my ability. This means choices have to be made on an intellectual level, not emotional. And the decisions have to be made from a wholesome and community standpoint. For example, I cannot give preference to a friend and difficult choices affecting other people will be made. Therefore there is a need to be mentally healthy and have confidence in actions. Again the ego’s self-worth and trust have a part to play.
I am sure my inner strength and courage (used every day in my work) is related to my spiritual quest. The last word is a quest, not a belief. I write this article from a twenty-year experience of depression like many people, the convoluted writing of many ‘gurus’ restricted my progress. The ideas of humility, unconditional love and forgiveness and above all relinquishing ego: work on a superficial level. Many years later, the realisation is on a deeper and more intellectual level; there can be no ‘cover-all’ answer.
One person may have high esteem and be boastful and at the same time be generous, understanding and kind. Another may give unconditionally and forgive and live in an abusive relationship with a devil. Not only this, they blame themselves for the abuse and live with depression and unhappiness. One man may be overgenerous because he needs friends and people to care about him. His actions work oppositely; people think him fool. Therefore his feelings of rejection grow. One has a lively and active ego; the other two do not. And if they seek the writings of ‘gurus’ they may well be lead astray when asked to relinquish the ‘ego’.
What would happen if the victim is guided to know some people will support him? And what would happen if he began to spend a few minutes a day thinking about his spiritual relationship to the world?
The spiritual connection is unseen — the spirit of the race, the spirit of the music, the sense of a humans bravery. We know the meaning of the word; it is understood, it is invisible, does not have scientific proof of existence. What if the spiritual quest is seeking the unseen bonding or unification with yourself and nature, the environment, family, friends and all humankind?
Once I understood following the quest of understanding the connection between myself and everything which surrounds me, life changed. I had the strength to make difficult and not always acceptable choices. One day the realisation was my self-control had freed me from days of arguing and fighting with others. A year later, self-esteem and confidence allowed me to ask about the issues of my life. Five years later, my ego enjoyed (and still does today) a real sense of happiness, confidence in the future and peace of mind.
Reviewing a journal: the words reminded of a realisation of the probability a spiritual void was the reason for years of daily drinking, arguing and fighting. There is a reference in my journals to books read. Some are so-called ‘spiritual standards’. All offered promise, all (for me) ultimately flawed and connected by paraphrase or adaptation.
Mentors Do Not Preach – They Guide:
My great fortune was to meet someone who refused to allow me to view my world from another man’s perspective. “You have to know who you are, Ian, not what you think you should become”. He guided me to think about my relationship to all encountered, people, situations, and experiences. For years my life had been unfulfilled and inner lack of confidence, and weak self-esteem were compensated with anger and argument. The reality was I always HAD to be right.
Another lesson was accepting I was part of or the cause of my failures. Later I came to accept my failures were all of my own choices. Once I realised my way of thinking was out of alignment with those who could help me, my life changed. To this day: I close down any relationships which I see as detrimental to my future. There is no concern for personal criticism. I relish and enjoy comments and suggestions which will change my viewpoint — without a healthy ego, bound by self-esteem, confidence and force of will where would I be today? The answer is without happiness with a black dog as a companion.
Understanding of your version of the spiritual quest is paramount. The suggestion offered here is: do not believe there is one knock out answer. Think about your needs and your long term wellbeing and health. There are high mountains of joy to climb and deep valleys of calm to experience. Thinking about self-worth, confidence and self-compassion opens the mind to new possibilities.
Simple Pathways to Wellbeing:
It is all well and good zooming out for the evening with friends and allowing alcohol and anecdote to distort the reality. But be sure the depression will be more profound the following day. As an alternative think about this idea: Time for meditation is everywhere:as you walk city, beach, woods or forest, look at nature and your relationship to the calm of Mother Earth. When feeling down or lost; being at one with nature and working through your relevance to the world is a potent antidote. You will sleep better and add a little to your health bank with this alternative.
A Final Thought:
If someone hurts you remember they are the ones prosecuting their inner-being. Ultimately conscience finds them guilty, and the sentence is a jail which has no bars or doors. It is impossible to escape from thoughts. Make your thoughts and actions kind, powerful and compassionate; the ego will help you if it is guided in the right ways.
See You Soon
A very interesting, typically thought provoking, piece. On the one hand ego, a sense of valuing oneself, and ones own self worth, is important. On the other without other we are nothing.
Wise words Gary. Many thanks indeed.