Spiritual Practice, Ego, and Heart

Reiki HealingEgo is mentioned frequently in spiritual circles and discussions, usually with snide derision, as if it should be permanently blacklisted. As if it’s inherently dirty, shameful, bad…

But if you think about it, ego’s not the problem.

What would we do without ego? How would we function as individuals? What motivation would we have to practice?

What good is ego?

Ego has its purpose. It serves like a skeleton to our psyche, or a tender skin.

Ego delineates and gives backbone to our individuality, yet it’s acutely sensitive to touch. Ego is not inherently bad, but it does have a skewed perspective, remaining convinced against all argument that we are separate and disconnected.

Ego is not entirely wrong. There are ways in which we are separate. But although we sometimes feel disconnected, that’s a feeling, not a truth.

So it’s not ego, but wrong understanding, that is the problem. Wrong understanding: identifying with ego and believing its biased broadcasts.

Making ego your ally

If we’re clever, we make ever-present ego our ally. We use it to be steadier, more responsible, more committed; to strive higher, to serve more fully.

Feeling adventurous? Try accepting that ego will keep doing what ego does. That’s not an error; that’s its job, what ego exists to do.

Then harness ego’s ambition. Let ego’s desire to be the best motivate you to practice, and practice every day. Ego doesn’t take vacations.

Making space for ego

The inner spaciousness that comes with daily spiritual practice helps us stay mindful and compassionate, and keeps ego’s pain and machinations in perspective.

As long as we try to rid ourselves of ego, or pretend it’s not in play, ego sticks like flypaper. The moment we get over the shame of ego and start trusting it to do what it does oh-so-well, we come to a place of peaceful, and useful, coexistence.

It’s not possible to be human and not have ego, but it is possible—through diligent, committed, mindful daily practice over time—to loosen ourselves from the delusion that ego has our best interests at heart.

Ego has no heart.

But we do.


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11 thoughts on “Spiritual Practice, Ego, and Heart”

  1. “It’s not possible to be human and not have ego”.

    Well, I don’t agree. I have met a few (extraordinary) people who didn’t have one, as far as I can tell. But there are many different definitions of “ego”, so we have to be clear what we are talking about when we use that word. I tend to avoid using this word for this reason. There are psychological definitions of ego and spiritual definitions of ego. When I use the word “ego” I am talking about a distorted version of a deeper reality. It’s not a “thing” that is always there. One spiritual teacher used to say “ego is not an entity, it’s an action”. So, if there is complete clarity and no misunderstanding, there is no ego (that’s a little simplified, but it will do). Ego comes about when we wrongly identify ourselves as our bodies, or our possessions, or our status, or our family, etc. This wrongful identification creates a contraction of all our energies. When there is no identification, there is no ego. This doesn’t mean that the mind stops being able to discern, label, compare this with that, etc. The mind is not the ego; it’s just the mind. Not having an “ego” operating in any given moment doesn’t mean that we stop functioning, stop setting boundaries, stop caring for ourselves, stop caring for others, etc. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that reactive emotions stop arising either. It means we are not identified with them, and therefore have no investment in either expressing them or getting rid of them. We see them, understand them, and let them go their way without getting involved. For instance, if anger arises, and you really feel it completely, you see that it is just strength entering the body. If you are identified with a limited condition (body, possessions, status, etc.), then anger can turn into violence to protect what you think your “self” is. Without the identification, there is simply the strength to take appropriate action, if that’s what’s needed in a given situation, or to face a difficult issue from your past, etc.

    And people very often confuse ego with personality. Everybody has a personality — a collection of their sum experience expressed through their body-mind-spirit. Personality is a natural, beautiful expression of the limitless possibilities of creation.

    1. Thank you, Thank you Michael Snow! Your response to this blog by Pamela Miles is filled with logic, enlightenment and love. I am grateful for your insight into the word ego. As Healing Mudras stated in their response to this blog, ego is very important for development as a child. It is important as an adult. We make decisions based on our ego and learn from that how it works for us short and long term. The Spiritual self is connected to the light or do I dare say the God of our understanding. In some spiritual circles EGO means Easing God Out. GOD also means in some spiritual circles Good Orderly Direction. So when I ask my students what is your Good Orderly Direction, do you have one? I then explain to them that is your God. Your access to your interpretation of goodness and peace would be Your God. Reiki practice is a form of accessing this Good Orderly Direction. Prayer is another.The physical ego is necessary for protection. When Reiki practitioners are taught to watch the ego it usually means stay out of the way and let the energy do the work. When we think we are doing the healing work of Reiki that is what is meant about getting the ego in the way. I never thought of the ego as bad, inherently dirty or shameful so I do not know where the research on that statement came from. It’s important to know the difference between self esteem and ego which is decidedly different. Thank you for your insight and thank you Pamela for your opinion which not all may agree with. Ego would tell us that others have to agree with our statements. That is not self esteem that is what others may call scary ego. When people don’t agree with us it is a good test of our self esteem. If we can see another point of view and either grow with it or stay grounded in our own beliefs in a way that is respectful, despite the challenge, that may be a spiritually based ego. Where God is not eased out.

  2. We humans have ego – it is part of our condition. It’s a constant companion, guide and teacher. It can help us grow, change and evolve. Thank you Pamela for the post. I agree, daily practice does help to create space for mindfulness and compassion – especially for ourselves :)

  3. Thanks Pam, your insight is refreshing. I often tell people it’s no wonder ego acts out, someone’s always trying to kill it! Ego is simply the sum total of our experience being human. It knows how to be human and it knows how to survive. The harder you try to kill it the more survival skills it develops and if you don’t pay enough attention to it, it will act up until you do. One of my teachers points out that if you give ego a job to do and recognize the support it gives you, it settles down. A little appreciation goes a long way!


  4. Pam,

    This is a lovely piece. I have been working on building a more regular daily Reiki practice, thanks to your blog. It’s dawning on me that everything nourishing in life is a practice, whether it’s Yoga or Reiki or music or being present in the moment in my worldly life. Enlisting the recalcitrant ego to provide the resolve and discipline to keep practicing is a very helpful frame for me. Thanks!

    Nancy Mosher

  5. The Ego is very important, to shape up the personality. It is a very important step in the growth of children around 7 and 9 years old when they start to learn the basics of socialisation the ego is quite strong and the likes and dislikes then to stain the socialisation process.

    On my blog I wrote an article: Your Ego is not your lover, only an acquaintance. to translate the importance that the go carries to make us walk, think and act, but to warn about the need to spell it with small caps at all time… thanks Pamela to remind us that.

  6. Thanks Pamela for such eloquently expressed wisdom…we love the way you write – your words are powerful yet subtle and your signature lightness and humor that makes us eager to read the next sentence.
    Thanks to Naning and Susie for their insights, too. This is a difficult time for me…and your inspiration means so much.
    My ego is like the “terrible twos” and Reiki is my kind, patient mother teaching me to survive one tantrum at a time…and I trust that one day I’ll actually grow up.
    Really, Reiki is a healing balm and if my heart doesn’t judge my ego maybe I can stop judging it too…
    Sonia Choquette said, in a workshop I once took with her, to think of ego as a little dog…train it to be your faithful compaion and to bark and bite less!

  7. I was contemplating on Ego when I received your e-mail.
    Thank you so much for giving me a broader perspective.
    I agree that daily self Reiki is essential, at least to me.
    It “nourishes” my heart.

  8. Thank you, Pamela! Too often we disconnect from parts of ourselves because of judgement. You help us to use skillful means and deep understanding to always become more integrated. And to remember that our daily practice is the key to being able to live and act from the place where we are fully connected.

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