The Healthy Spiritual Ego

My Camp's Private Waterfall

My Camp’s Private Waterfall


April 1, 2016 3:50 PM

Imagine that you are an American who is fluent in French.

When you’re in America, you speak English, and when you’re in France, you speak French. When you’re in France, you don’t try to force your English on the locals. Why? Because you want to be understood.

But, while in France, do you think of yourself as French? Probably not. You may be speaking French, but you are just an American speaking French.

A healthy spiritual ego is a lot like this. A healthy ego helps us interface with others. It helps us communicate in a language our audience understands.

When you are around spiritual people, you speak Spiritual. When you are around a bunch of men, you speak Man. When you are around a bunch of women, you speak Woman. When you are around your spouse, you speak Spouse. When you are around your co-workers, you speak CoWorker. When you are around your friends, you speak Friend.

With each of these audience members, you speak a different language… you speak their language.

But you are neither Spiritual nor Man nor Woman nor Spouse nor CoWorker nor Friend. The healthy ego speaks these languages, but doesn’t identify with them.

The problem is, the unhealthy ego—the one that has infected practically the entire population—identifies with the languages it is fluent in. It combines them all into a horrible conglomerate: “I am a Spiritual American Married Man with lots of Friends and CoWorkers.” Worse, the unhealthy ego takes this (completely mind-based) conglomerate very personally and seriously.

The unhealthy ego confuses the languages for the Self.

The healthy ego on the other hand, is simply our skill at speaking many languages. The healthy ego is a dynamic, constantly changing interface for communicating and interacting with other people. It isn’t a physical thing (Man) or a story (Spiritual American Married Friend CoWorker), it is a skill (fluent in those languages).

The insight of the healthy-ego-as-fluent-in-languages metaphor, has helped me understand why spiritual teachers “glow.” Spiritual teachers, when teaching, are simply speaking the rare and arcane Spiritual language (which is a very glowing language). For example, the Spiritual word for “Yes” is “Yeeeesssss” (said with a gentle smile and a nod). It usually takes about two seconds to say and consists of two syllables (“Yeeeeee—ssssss”). But don’t think that when the ultra-busy barista asks the spiritual teacher if they want room from cream in their coffee, that said teacher will reply with a Spiritual “Yeeeeee—ssssss.” That doesn’t make any sense! The purpose of the healthy ego is to communicate in a language that your audience understands. When you’re in a hectic coffeeshop line, you speak Hectic Coffeeshop Line with short, clipped responses. “Yes! Room for cream,” the spiritual teacher replies crisply and curtly.

The purpose of the healthy ego is to interface with others, to make yourself understood with your current audience. It’s not a fixed thing, it’s a dynamic activity.

Contrary to spiritual mythology, the spiritual teacher doesn’t speak Spiritual all the time, no more than the married man speaks Spouse all the time. That simply wouldn’t make sense. Why speak French to an American? Why speak Spiritual to someone speaking Hectic Coffeeshop Line?

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8 thoughts on “The Healthy Spiritual Ego

  1. Hi Wayne, I´m happy you bring this topic up! I learned from my sponsor in AA that a healthy ego is a wothwhile thing. Eckhart Tolle, for instance, makes the ego look really bad, something to get rid off. He never (afaik) gives a different perspective: that a healthy ego is vital to live a well-lived life. The enlightened yogi in a cave may be super enlightened but perhaps dysfunctional and couldn´t live his life constructively in a mundane sense. A healthy ego is a right-sized ego as the Dharma of AA taught me.

    • Thanks Sven. Yes, if the spiritual “master” can’t speak any other language BUT Spiritual, then he’s identified with being a spiritual master and has (subtly) fallen back into the ego/identity trap (but this is a work in progress, so keep that in mind).

  2. Hi Wayne. I really like your blog. From time to time I get told I think too much. I’ve been receiving bad feedback at work for about three years and am a bit concerned I’ll get fired, though I have savings. I often contemplate the nature of things.

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