The words spirituality and spiritual practice has many different meanings to different people, but to me it seems that all authentic spirituality, whether it is Buddhist, Christian or any other tradition, ultimately aims at self-transcendence, that is going beyond the experience of just being a separate self, or as the author and philosopher Alan Watts phrased it: going beyond the sense of being just a skin-encapsulated ego. That is why all the different spiritual traditions emphasize the need to cultivate love, compassion and serving others.
However, the ego, or the sense of being a separate self, asserts itself in many subtle ways, and it requires great alertness and mindfulness not to be overtaken by it. If we are not aware of the ways of the ego, we will never be able to truly transcend the sense of separate self, no matter how spiritual we feel we are. We may have many so-called spiritual experiences, but if we are not very alert and careful, they may actually end up reinforcing our sense of being special, separate, or more spiritual than others. We may start clinging to certain meditative states or experiences, and may believe that we are very good meditators, or close to enlightenment. However, the moment we begin to see and recognize these patterns, it is actually quite funny. We can have a good laugh at ourselves and our habitual tendencies.
It is not very helpful to judge the “little I” or to allow oneself to be intimidated by it. We can of course try to behave in a spiritually correct way, try to be very modest, humble and create a facade of egolessness, but that is just another subtle trick of the ego. To me it seems more helpful to just observe the ways of the “little I” without taking it so seriously, with a sense of humor and perhaps even a little compassion. And then to just go about one’s daily life in a natural and openhearted way, not trying to be spiritual, but just being oneself. As the German Christian mystic from the middle ages, Meister Eckehart once said: The more we are ourselves, the less self there is in us.
Photo of laughing ladies by Ludi.
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