One of the more contentious debates to be heard within the world of modern spirituality is that which surrounds the perceived role and function of the human ego and the part it plays in defining who we are.
Some sources insist that in fact the correct approach to spiritual and psychological development is to completely subsume the ego – to relegate it to the position of inferior cousin and unwelcome outcast.
Other sources go so far as to suggest that a strong, defensive and well-armoured ego is imperative to protecting the inner psyche during times of spiritual work and psychic development.
Very few sources take a middle-ground approach to the question of whether an ego should or should not be determined as playing a role in spirituality – after all, it is argued, what positive function can a part of ourselves which is invariably tied to our innate desire for material gratification play in the eternal quest for Soul development.
Defining the Ego
In his book You Are Not What You Think teacher, workshop leader and psychotherapist David Richo suggests that a healthy ego is the optimum position that we should strive for – one that is conducive towards reaching our goals, building relationships and leading a meaningful life.
In this sense Richo both confronts the ego in a dramatic way for its many intolerances but at the same time praises it for its ability to establish our unique place in life and modern society.
The question that comes to mind is what exactly defines that middle-ground that exists between self-interest and a wider concern for the life and well-being of others. What exactly is a healthy ego and how do we determine the specifics of our evident task of not aligning our self-interest with the needs of our lower selves?
We all have a fairly clearly defined concept of what an ego is and how it performs – where it applies to others!
The skill, of course, is in judging where our own ego-parameters lie. To this end the author suggests that we disentangle the varying key elements to the ego and the way in which we choose to express them in our daily connections to others.
Richo explains how there are many facets to the ego self that either lead up to a weakened and vulnerable ego or an inflamed and narcissistic one.
These relate to concepts such as self-acceptance, self-esteem, self-compassion, and inner criticism.
He argues that the duty of care that we extend to ourselves is a powerful determinant of the way in which might need to over-compensate for our inadequacies – usually by making larger than necessary demands upon our immediate environment.
Thus, strangely enough, the most egotistical people that you tend to meet in life actually tend to be the weakest in character for they use their egos as a form of compensatory armour.
Throughout his book the author refers to the personal ego as a separate entity from ourselves – which, in a sense, us what it is. In this regard it is perhaps a little like Jung’s concept of the Shadow – an aspect of our personality which is an important part of us is but distinctly separate from us at the same time.
In his book Richo explores how the ego part of us formed and developed by external circumstances during our childhood. He also explores the part that it plays in our relationships but most importantly he also offers help and support regarding our personal efforts to tame and befriend our ego.
Honoring Our True Nature
In the concluding chapter to his book Richo explores the archetype of the Self and the role that it plays in connecting to divinity.
In seeking to attain the transcendent state necessary for unfettered connection to the Godhead it becomes necessary to transcend the ego.
This approach us encapsulated by the author when he states that
Our style us not to kill off our ego but to escort it to its true identity. Letting go of an ego attitude is letting go of a mistaken identity.
Our Review of ‘You Are Not What You Think’ by David Richo
We all know individuals in our lives whose heightened ego state creates problems for those that they inter-relate with.
Sometimes such people are narcissistic in temperate and may be even slightly psychopathic in nature; for egotism is surely the scourge of our age.
What society lacks is enough high quality teachers of Richo’s standing and experience who can stem this endless tide of narcissism that pervades every part of our culture and society.
If you are at all confused by the role and operation of the ego, are interested in discovering what makes an egotist tick or how to determine the correct parameters for developing your own ego then I would heartedly recommend this book.
It is clearly and sympathetically written with guidelines and bullet points which make it easy to digest. I found it completely absorbing as a treatise on a powerful, and sometimes destructive, psychological form. Its arguments for nurturing and maintaining a strong ego will resonate deeply and effectively for empaths and psychics who perhaps spend less time than they aught in creating self-protective barriers in their lives.
David Richo’s commentary on the human ego identifies both its strengths and failings in a honest and sympathetic way. The book makes for fascinating and totally-engaging reading and is highly recommended to anyone who is working in the field of modern spirituality and self-development.