Spiritual Ego: some personal reflections

”Most peoples’ social personalities are pretty obnoxious but give them a taste of awakening and they become really obnoxious.” Quote ascribed to Adida

I know this one in myself and I often see it in others.

I know what it is to have had a realization, and walk around feeling like I know something many others are not privy to. And to feel that I have something to teach them by my very presence.

I know what it is to feel that it is my duty to insinuate the teachings and learnings I have had into every conversation I have where it is even vaguely relevant, as an offering to the other.

I know what it is to use what I have been given by grace to big myself up, and prop up a fragile ego.

Recently I was with a dear old friend who I hadn’t seen for a long time and she said to me, in passing, ‘I have always loved you, but it is a relief to be with you now that your God complex has relaxed’. This made me laugh and I knew exactly what she was talking about. It also made me wince with a familiar “was it really that obvious?”, when something which I thought was hidden (even to myself), transpired to be written in neon on my forehead for everyone around me.
I can tell you it is a relief.

Nothing to live up to. I am now – as I always was – just another human being with all my gifts and neuroses. I have stuff to say and it is alive in me to say it, but it doesn’t mean it has to be anything special. Phew. I don’t have to justify my imperfections, and I don’t need to insult you with the presumption that I know more than you about anything. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

I was sitting on the train yesterday and I got chatting to Joan, a 70 year old woman on her way to her sisters’ funeral in Chesterfield where she used to live before moving to Devon. We chatted for 2 hours and I loved every minute of our conversation; we laughed quite a bit and she told me a lot about her life, and I told her some about my own. I felt stimulated, enlivened and grateful for the insights she gave me from her very different life.
She had two sons, who she told me she had never liked, and who’s company she still doesn’t enjoy. She has (she worked out by counting on her fingers) 8 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild. She also has 3 shitsu dogs ‘two of whom are a nightmare, but one is a sweetheart’. She has a second husband who will get her everything she wants (‘as long as I am not too over the top’). She worked for 8 years in the Black and Decker factory in Sheffield which was one of the happiest times of her life. It was such a great team, she told me. There was the store manager, the production manager, the steel cutters, those who tempered the steel; there were those who dealt with putting the carbide tips on, those in charge of the grinding machines; the blade polishers, the packers… at least 6 of them for each job… and all of this to create the circular saws. She told me that the team had been very close and then the factory closed down and she lost touch with every one of them. But recently they had all found each other again through Facebook and now they are about to meet. They have hired a pub, seeing as she was going back for the funeral, and her return is an excuse to meet. Since she left and moved to Torquay she has worked re-filling and cleaning vending machines for 5 years, and more recently as an employee in Morrisons’ baking department which she said was glorious because there were no pressures on her whatsoever.

Afterwards, as I was reflecting on our conversation, I was struck by the fact that once upon a time I might have somehow imagined my job was to insert some kind of pearls into the conversation to open her mind from my greater wisdom. Or I might have pitied her for her lack of possibilities in life and felt guilty for my life which to my mind seemed richer or more full of potential and somehow felt that I owed her something. I might have imagined that this meeting was edifying for her, rather than letting in how much it was enriching and educating me. But I realized with a lot of gratitude that now I just felt free to enjoy our rich human contact, to feel the love, humor and mutual interest as our very different worlds met.

It feels so much easier and lighter than the spiritual arrogance I was carrying around with me like a weight around my neck without even realizing it. It has taken years for that aspect in me to start to relax.

I think it began very early on in my life and was compounded at school in Italy. There I was, this tall, blond, quirky English girl from a bohemian, artistic, middle-class family amongst short, dark-haired Italian village children most of whose parents had lived off the land for generations and had never travelled further than Siena, the nearest city 20 Km away. I was bullied a fair bit, and it was a good survival tactic to show that I was undaunted, unafraid, untouchable and to think I was more open minded, freer and actually better than them. This really helped me cover over the fact that I was longing for friends, and often felt isolated, frightened, out of place, and in many ways inadequate.
It was a good adaptation. It served me well then and when I went to boarding school in England, it made me feel invulnerable which was really cool. It served me going to a massive red brick college in West London where students were often attacked or raped in the long corridors and I felt like a country bumpkin without a clue but held my head high. It served me going through University, and also when I went through my half sisters’ suicide and took on as my job to take care of my shattered family. It served me well as I stepped into the 5 Rhythms world and then trained to teach and began to give my gift in the world. And that ‘I can handle anything’, attitude got strengthened by the wonderful transformations and realizations which began occurring for me as I walked the path I walked with my spiritual teacher, and shared the teachings as the years went by.

But there is a lot to let go of when we have a successful ego adaptation. It is hard to let go of a self image which is pumped up and self satisfied. There is a long way to fall, and what is at the bottom of that fall does not appear to be very attractive. Putting myself again and again in a context of both receiving and giving teachings, the veneer started wearing thin. As I began to slide down the slippery pole of my own egoic construction I began to feel an inadequacy I had spent my life defending against. It was frightening and humiliating to admit that I couldn’t hold it together any more. I fell into a sense of depletion, lostness and aloneness which I had avoided forever. I felt hopeless, impotent and despairing.

I began reaching out in new ways. I reconnected with my mother who was suddenly there for me in a way which I had thought was impossible. I began to drop my know-it-all big sister thing with my younger brothers, and actually met them as I was, seeing them as they were. There was another kind of intimacy happening and it felt good, healthy and normal though unfamiliar. I became more vulnerable and more real in all my relationships. And slowly I started to feel a different kind of confidence, one which was coming from a deeper ground and wasn’t based so much on how I was being received, how I came across, or how much I could help people, but on an underlying trust in life itself. I began to feel normal. And I hadn’t realized until then how much I had been playing a part before that.

I remember my teacher saying to me 19 years ago – “one thing I can tell you for certain about awakening – it won’t look anything like you imagine”. I remember hearing that and nodding my head wisely and thinking that I had it all figured out. That if I ‘woke up’, I would become a kind of perfected angelic figure who people would be blown away by and I would be able to save the world in the most effective way as I had always wanted to do.

I am finding out from the inside about what awakening means. It isn’t anything like I imagined. It is very ordinary. It is humbling and often embarrassing. And at times it is literally mind blowing. But more about that another time.

Author: fannybehrens1

See more about me by visiting my website www.beingmoved.com

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