Like the economy and telecommunications, spirituality is beset by globalization. And just like the products and services we purchase, many of them manufactured in, or originating in distant regions of the world, our beliefs as to a spiritual life are also consumed, as low-cost products, often associated with fashion.

From pop superstars at meditation retreats, to tattoos based on fragments of sacred scripts from India and Japan, the search for Western spirituality has areas of light and areas of darkness. Our impatience with, and hunger to consume spirituality don’t lead us onto a dead-end road, but they often turn us into tourists. We enter a silent retreat one week, and the next week, we look for the ancestral medicines from people of the Amazon on some website.

Everyone has the right to pursue their own spiritual flowering by any path they consider appropriate. But there are many beliefs which, if not addressed in all their seriousness (and within the extended set of social practices of the peoples with whom such beliefs originate), then they are separated from their roots, and constitute but adornments for Western consumption.

One such concept is the ego. Behavioral and psychoanalytic psychological trends have described the ego as a psychic instance in which a person recognizes him or herself, without any necessarily negative connotation. But in Eastern spirituality, the ego often appears as an “enemy,” and one which must be destroyed, or as something illusory which we need to oppose.

This can generate an important cognitive dissonance. In other words, it generates a confusion: the paradoxical position that, to advance on a spiritual path, we need to destroy some part of ourselves. Such confusion often results from a superficial approach to spiritual notions. Neither is the entire ego negative, nor does it need to be destroyed, but neither should the ego be celebrated on its own.

Like the trap of the ego, Christian concepts like “original sin” put the subject into an apparent paradox from which it’s difficult to escape. According to church dogma, Adam and Eve were expelled from earthly Paradise, and “marked” such that they’d not forget the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge. This “fault” is then transmitted to their offspring, and therefore, the whole humanity is sinful in the Christian point of view. The problem with such dogma is that it places the subject in a situation of a priori culpability; a fault which can’t be fully dispelled if you want to remain part of such a community, the one to which your family probably belongs, for example.

A scholar of ancient religions and mythologist, Joseph Campbell, once wrote: “How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick.” This strategy is much more productive, because it’s not about getting rid of something inherently “bad” about yourself, but about knowing yourself and learning that the ego, too, has a function within the spiritual life.

Regardless of the spiritual paths that you find, remember that it’s important to know thoroughly “what” is presented to you. No spiritual solution is “magic,” in the sense that none will be instantaneous. Such paths exist precisely to be taken one step at a time. The voracity with which we in the West consume and appropriate them leaves aside the fact that each road has its own detours and shortcuts, and its own particularities. Each will require a lifetime of work and discipline to travel.

 

 

 

Image: Public domain

Like the economy and telecommunications, spirituality is beset by globalization. And just like the products and services we purchase, many of them manufactured in, or originating in distant regions of the world, our beliefs as to a spiritual life are also consumed, as low-cost products, often associated with fashion.

From pop superstars at meditation retreats, to tattoos based on fragments of sacred scripts from India and Japan, the search for Western spirituality has areas of light and areas of darkness. Our impatience with, and hunger to consume spirituality don’t lead us onto a dead-end road, but they often turn us into tourists. We enter a silent retreat one week, and the next week, we look for the ancestral medicines from people of the Amazon on some website.

Everyone has the right to pursue their own spiritual flowering by any path they consider appropriate. But there are many beliefs which, if not addressed in all their seriousness (and within the extended set of social practices of the peoples with whom such beliefs originate), then they are separated from their roots, and constitute but adornments for Western consumption.

One such concept is the ego. Behavioral and psychoanalytic psychological trends have described the ego as a psychic instance in which a person recognizes him or herself, without any necessarily negative connotation. But in Eastern spirituality, the ego often appears as an “enemy,” and one which must be destroyed, or as something illusory which we need to oppose.

This can generate an important cognitive dissonance. In other words, it generates a confusion: the paradoxical position that, to advance on a spiritual path, we need to destroy some part of ourselves. Such confusion often results from a superficial approach to spiritual notions. Neither is the entire ego negative, nor does it need to be destroyed, but neither should the ego be celebrated on its own.

Like the trap of the ego, Christian concepts like “original sin” put the subject into an apparent paradox from which it’s difficult to escape. According to church dogma, Adam and Eve were expelled from earthly Paradise, and “marked” such that they’d not forget the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge. This “fault” is then transmitted to their offspring, and therefore, the whole humanity is sinful in the Christian point of view. The problem with such dogma is that it places the subject in a situation of a priori culpability; a fault which can’t be fully dispelled if you want to remain part of such a community, the one to which your family probably belongs, for example.

A scholar of ancient religions and mythologist, Joseph Campbell, once wrote: “How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick.” This strategy is much more productive, because it’s not about getting rid of something inherently “bad” about yourself, but about knowing yourself and learning that the ego, too, has a function within the spiritual life.

Regardless of the spiritual paths that you find, remember that it’s important to know thoroughly “what” is presented to you. No spiritual solution is “magic,” in the sense that none will be instantaneous. Such paths exist precisely to be taken one step at a time. The voracity with which we in the West consume and appropriate them leaves aside the fact that each road has its own detours and shortcuts, and its own particularities. Each will require a lifetime of work and discipline to travel.

 

 

 

Image: Public domain