Common Sense, Myths, and Ghost Stores of the Spiritual Ego
15 years ago I was enamored with this personal development process. I had discovered a whole new world. I felt alive, happy, and excited about my new adventure. There were fears and false beliefs that I had acquired over my life and I didn’t even know they were there. I had been dragging them around like a dark cloud over me for years. I had been unconscious of how they hung on me with worries of success and what others thought of me. Now I was discovering them and attacking them with excitement and a new sense of freedom as each one fell.
I felt alive, I looked at the world different, and I was happier. I was excited and wanted to share this new discovery with my friends. I thought everyone would want to get on board with this process of finding their fears and getting rid of them.
I remember coming back from an Intensive Spiritual Retreat and meeting a friend for dinner. She asked how my trip was and I proceeded to pour out all my excitement. After about 3 minutes of non-stop talking I noticed she was leaning back away from me as far as she could. The look on her face was split between concerns that I joined a cult, and fear that she might catch something. I realized I needed to soften my presentation.
I continued inviting people to workshops and lectures but with a gentler approach. I talked in an indirect way about how happy we could be, and how we needed to change these fear based beliefs to do it. People I talked to continued to be uninterested. I went from believing that everybody would do this work to thinking hardly anybody will do this work. I began to wonder, why such resistance to being happy?
I reflected on my own process and realized the turning point for me was that I was painfully unhappy. I had become disillusioned in my career, and around the same time had a high drama relationship that ended. If it was just the relationship that had crashed I probably could have buried my emotions in my work. If it was a career that had run aground, I probably could have found comfort in my relationship. Fortunately for me, both crashed at the same time and I ended up unable to deny how unhappy I was. Out of a lack of alternatives I needed to do something about the illusions in my mind.
I finally understood why people wouldn’t jump head first into this self awareness process. It was emotionally uncomfortable. The process actually involved looking inward at our fears, emotional reactions, and self judgments. We were doing what some people call shadow work, where we look at the unpleasant emotions we feel. Facing that critical voice in our head can be a bit scary. People would tend to avoid that loud abusive voice in their head criticizing them, or the uncomfortable fears they felt. Over time I realized that I couldn’t push them past this resistance, nor did I want to.
How I Overcame Some Of My Resistance
The word I had for what we were doing was “spiritual.” The word we used to refer to our selves was “warrior.” We used the word warrior because we were in a kind of war. We were fighting to be free of the fears, self judgments, and the tyranny of those voices in our head and false beliefs that controlled our attention. We were fighting against all the patterns of unhappiness that we created in our mind and our relationships.
As a person’s self importance will do, I began to think of myself and my other spiritual warriors as doing something special. We were forging into emotionally uncomfortable places others were unwilling to go. I started to create beliefs that I (we) were more courageous, or fearless, or wiser than others. I built up a belief system that people who do this type of introspection and belief changing work are more conscious and evolved than the majority of people in the world. Perhaps I even considered that we were somehow raising the consciousness of the rest of humanity. The smaller the number of people who entered into this field of challenging their fears and endeavoring to be happy I interpreted as evidence for how special we were, particularly how special I was. All pretty self important stuff.
Early on in my personal process of change I listened and read Joseph Campbell’s work on the Mythological Journey of the Hero. My mind used it to feed my self importance. Yes I was doing something of “mythological” proportions. I was following the path the masters before me took. I was doing what the Buddha did facing all the illusions. My journey inward to an authentic self was the type of journey written about and read for generations to come. Mythological,,,, that’s what it was.
It’s interesting how the stories about our selves change over time. Was I really engaged in anything that grandiose? I don’t think of it that way anymore. I was certainly living myths, and the story I had of myself at that time was another myth. All the self importance I had built up around being a spiritual warrior and the special kind of courage it exemplified was another kind of myth I lived by. They were just stories I had in my mind about myself and other people. It was a much better story than the victim ones it replaced, but still not the truth.
What of the fears I challenged and the tyranny of the voices in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough and all the things I “should” do to be “good enough”? Then weren’t they mythological too. By that I mean they weren’t real. They didn’t have the properties of physical matter. I was challenging fears based in stories and beliefs in my mind. They weren’t even written on paper, that’s how “not real” they were.
One of the fears I had was of what others thought of me. I was afraid of the opinion or thoughts that might be in another person’s head. I was living my life and behaving as if I would be hurt, or feel better emotionally depending on anther person’s thoughts. I tried very hard to impress people and prove myself worthy in their eyes so they wouldn’t have judgmental or negative thoughts in their mind. I was imagining one kind of story in their head and trying to make a different one exist in their head. I didn’t have the awareness to realize that all of these assumptions were taking place in my imagination. I was still in my own imagination when my mind was thinking about what they were thinking.
Later I would realize that if I didn’t have the power to control the voices and opinions in my own head, then I probably didn’t have the power to change the thoughts that went on in someone else’s head
I began to look at these stories, opinions, judgments, and negative thoughts in my fearful imagination that had me scrambling, and that I felt so courageous to challenge? They weren’t real. They were myths. They were stuff that only existed in my imagination. They didn’t exist as anything tangible.
Where is a thought? Can an opinion hurt me? Can someone actually take an opinion and hit me over the head with it? Can they do any harm to me physically? No. Probably the most solid judgment or criticism that I could receive would be if someone said it out loud to me. And is it real then? Is there anything more landing on me than the vibration of their words through the air? How hard is the vibration of air landing on my skin? A leaf falling on me from a tree weighs more heavily than the air of someone’s opinion.
So why was I afraid of opinions and judgments from others, or from the voice in my own head? I believed them. Those words and judgments from my inner judge landed heavily because I believed them. I accepted every myth of opinion and judgment as if it were truth. They only landed with emotional impact when I believed them. I was scared of the stories in my head simply because I believed them, not because they were real.
All those opinions, self judgments, and fears of what others thought were like the ghost stories we had when we were kids. Little kids are afraid that a boogey man will come out of the closet or out from under the bed. What makes a child afraid of such imaginary characters? They believe that such things as boogey men are real. The ghost they are afraid of isn’t in the closet or under the bed. It is in their mind, and their mind projects that it is in the closet.
As kids if we leave the light on, and the door cracked we feel a little better. As if somehow that boogey man will be afraid of the light or a cracked door and will stay away.
As an adult I kept my fears locked in the closet of my unconscious. I tried to keep my focus on the door cracked open and a little light. I did it by working extra hard to impress people with how much I knew, what my body looked like, or how clever I was. I focused on those little moments of acceptance and respect from others and lived off that little bit of light. At the same time afraid to look inward at the self doubts I closeted inside.
Yes I had mythological boogey men inside me. I was afraid to disappoint the mythical voices in my head. When I didn’t have any awareness I dreamed up in my imagination failure, rejection, and disappointment a thousand different ways. Only when I took a journey into those seemingly dark places did I notice they were just dreams. Of course to realize they were just figments of my imagination I had to get in where they were and take a close look. I opened the closet of my unconscious beliefs and put my attention on what my thoughts and emotions were doing. I had to control my attention and not look away when there was an impulse of fear or discomfort. I crawled inside the closet of my mind to see what was really there.
What I discovered were myths in my mind masquerading as something real. How ironic I thought. I was convinced that I was some kind of courageous spiritual warrior on a great quest. What I was really facing were dreams,,, conceptual ideas of the mind… and ghosts stories. They were no more real than the figments of imagination a child has about what is under the bed. What I was doing wasn’t very courageous at all when you find out there was nothing there to be afraid of.
Do I think a 10 or 12 year old child who challenges the projected myths of his or her imagination and looks under the bed are courageous? No, not really. They are just doing the common sense thing and waking up from dreams and illusions in their mind and I couldn’t consider myself as this spiritual warrior to be any thing courageous either. I had about as much courage as a 10 year unable to sleep at night finally looking under the bed. After all,, wasn’t I just facing my own ghost stories?
Why do we avoid dealing with our issues and keep putting them off? We avoid it because in our mind we make believe our issues are scarier than they are. Much like the 10 year old who doesn’t look under the bed, we don’t look inward because it is uncomfortable. Instead we just crack the door and leave a small light on somewhere to distract us from our imagination. We hurry about the tasks of our day trying not to notice how our imagination projects illusions and then how we react to them.
The challenge with our own mind is that we are fighting dreams. They aren’t real, but they seem that way when we believe in them.
Over the course of our life we gather up beliefs. For the most part that’s not a problem. Most of our beliefs help us understand the world and how it works so we can function in it. However, some of those beliefs are not going to be true. Some of those beliefs will have unnecessary fears associated with them. These are myths we believe in and cause us unhappy emotions. You could also call them lies.
Because we accept these myths to be truth, they appear real in our mind. We react emotionally to fearful outcomes as if they already happened. We imagine our partner with someone else and we get angry as if they did it. In reality it didn’t happen. It was just in our imagination. With faith in these mythological stories we make them bigger than they are.
Then after imagining these myths we tell ourselves other lies. We tell ourselves that they are hard to change, that we can’t make them go away. We tell ourselves we have to live with them. We tell ourselves we can’t change, it’s just the way we are. More myths about change and ourself built on top of the first set of lies.
Then, for some people, something happens. Usually the pain of living by these myths causes so much suffering that we have no choice. We have to challenge them. We begin a mythological journey. A path of challenging the myths we’ve lived by. We apply some skills, we have some successes, and we celebrate change. We begin to build better lives. We tell ourself we are doing something big. It’s true that we feel happier and are more free, but not everything we think is true.
If you run this route far enough you run the risk of self important lies like I did. You look at yourself, compared to others lack of challenging their beliefs, and you begin to think of yourself as special. It’s a nice lie. It feels good to think of one’s self as better than others. It doesn’t really hurt anyone. In a way it helps give you confidence and faith in your self that you can challenge the bigger fears and false beliefs in your mind. Your new Ego is an ally helping dismantle the myths we live by. In some circles it’s called the Spiritual Ego.
Then, at some point in your journey, the Spiritual Ego becomes one of the few remaining myths you live by. With enough awareness of self, this grandiose image of ourself as a courageous warrior no longer fits. These false beliefs that seemed so big and scary in the beginning aren’t a big deal anymore. Maybe it is because we have been doing the work for a while so it doesn’t feel like a big deal anymore. Maybe it is because we realize that we are only fighting dreams in our imagination. We realize that to face such a challenge doesn’t really take any extraordinary courage at all. It just takes common sense.
So with our most powerful tool, common sense, we realize the spiritual warrior or enlightened being with special consciousness story doesn’t seem to fit anymore. We are left to dissolve that mythological image of a Spiritual Ego. We drop it. With that the spiritual ego dissolves, we become more humble. We become authentic. We begin to experience a new kind of peace and happiness free of the myths in our mind.
These are some of the steps you may face on your Pathway To Happiness.
You will find an outline of practical exercises and practices for identifying and changing your core beliefs in the Self Mastery course. It’s an audio program that you can download and listen to. The first 4 sessions are free.