Many people recoil at hearing ‘god’ or ‘spirituality’ because these simple words arouse a negative or oppressive idea of some form of religion or philosophy that was impressed upon them when they were younger. The truth is ‘god’ and ‘spirituality’ are broad terms that are not linked specifically to any one particular religion. In fact, spirituality has more to do with self-development and empowerment than being shamed, controlled or manipulated by some ethereal leader or group of religionists preaching one ideology.
A popular saying states that, ‘religion is for people who are scared of going to hell, and spirituality is for people who have already been there.’
We don’t just become ‘spiritual,’ however, by simply lighting candles and incense and zoning out to soothing music or attending the odd yoga class. Spiritual development requires effort and sustained discipline to continually—and sometimes ruthlessly—look at ourselves, and a willingness (followed by action) to change.
If you are able to recognize that you have an ego—and almost all of us can (almost)—then it stands to reason that the part of you that recognizes you have an ego is not your ego and therefore something separate. Perhaps this is your higher self? Your spirit?
This is a deep subject to talk about, but not a concept that’s entirely unreasonable or difficult to grasp.
If something ‘bad’ happens in our lives like failing at something, or getting embarrassed, or making a mistake, and it doesn’t kill us or hurt us physically, then what actually gets hurt? Our ego. Our ego is the idea/mask/image of ourselves we have created and curated to protect ourselves and place us somewhere safe and acceptable in the eyes and minds of our fellows.
So, if we are scared of taking a chance and following a dream, or trying something new, or hitting on someone simply because we don’t want to fail or come across as amateur or awkward etc, and the end result isn’t actually physically hurting us, it means it’s only our ego keeping us back.
Therefore, if we don’t act on our passions or our attractions, we are feeding and empowering our egos and not nourishing our authentic selves.
Inspired means ‘in spirit.’ When we are inspired to do something—meaning when our real self (spirit) desires something—and then we stop because of our ego’s fear of being bruised, then we are stifling our spirit and true desires and causing a lack of fulfillment in ourselves. Instead, we settle for the temporary comfort of not stinging our ego.
A lack of fulfillment drives us—often unknowingly—to seek out validation and satiation from physical sources and behaviours that can become destructive and habitual (addiction.)
Lacking fulfillment can also cause us to resent and judge and envy those who we see that are actually fulfilling their passions and dreams.
The ego is powerfully deceptive and can dominate our lives without us even realizing it. Driven by fear, self-delusion and unfulfilled desires, we eventually run ourselves blindly into a wall and are abruptly forced to look at ourselves and see how the way we’ve been living is no longer working. This is why people tend to turn toward spirituality or religion during the most difficult times in their lives; no pill, drink, person or food will satiate what’s missing inside us anymore. Almost always the catalyst to asking the deeper questions of life is a self-imposed crisis or catastrophe, or a deep loneliness or despair resulting from unmet needs.
This is also why many people start to show up at yoga classes, retreats, therapy and twelve step meetings in attempts to find deeper meaning in their lives and a better way of living. Without knowing it, and therefore still often condemning the religious and spiritual, these people are in fact seeking spirituality themselves.
A quick acknowledgement of the fact that we have an ego just like everyone else, however, isn’t enough to bring us the fulfillment and happiness we seek. This is why, in general, the first step in recovery from any problem is admission of the problem itself, followed by a concerted effort to uncover and discard or heal the root issue.
We also don’t always have to be beaten to the point of surrender to turn toward a happier way of living. We can reach for it voluntarily when we simply recognize that we are not as happy as we think might be possible.
We can search our minds for the areas in our lives where we are stuck, frustrated and unfulfilled. We can thoroughly scan our being and hone in on what it is we want. Then we can dig through the layers of egoistic fears to get as close as we can to the source fear that is preventing us from action toward our desire.
Meditation, specifically mindfulness, is a very useful tool within this process because the practice of bringing our awareness into the present moment repeatedly allows our mind to cease worrying about the future or ruminating on the past. Mindfulness can help us to more clearly identify what we are feeling in the moment and what needs to change.
When we recognize our root problem(s) and see it for what it is, and that it can’t possibly kill us or physically hurt us, we can verbally share it with someone we trust, then discard it and take a leap of faith in the direction of fulfillment.
Chances are we can’t immediately and fully discard our fears, but their identification and the sharing of them reduces their power, allowing us to take chances in life despite having them. We can repeat this time and time again, creating a habit of striving for true fulfillment, and we can begin to live a more inspired (in spirit) life.
Humility is an essential ingredient in spiritual growth. People often confuse this word with ‘humiliation,’ which has an entirely different meaning, or they think to have humility means to have no self-esteem. Possessing humility simply means that we have a more modest and reasonable self-appraisal, and that we are operating from a humble foundation rather than approaching life from a place of grandiosity and selfishness.
Likewise, to live with humility can also mean living from a place of authenticity and truth, despite what our fears and beliefs may be.
Even atheists can be spiritual. Atheism is the disbelief in god or gods, which says nothing to a disbelief of ego versus higher-self. A lot of people—even ‘atheists’—believe in and live by spiritual principles. Many of these also claim awareness of a power bigger themselves, which some say is the essence of spirituality.
So be it higher-self, spirit or power greater than ourselves, when we dig deep and identify areas where our ego is damaging us or blocking us and we instead begin to operate from a place of humility and facing our fears, we start to recognize and nourish that part of us which is not our ego.
In this way, we awaken and strengthen our spirit and begin the journey of living a more meaningful and fulfilling life.