If someone does these 14 things, they’re mistaking spiritual ego for enlightenment

A friend of mine came over a few weeks ago, and we had a good catch up. I hadn’t seen them for a while (they/them are their pronouns, btw).

One of the things they told me about was taking part in a series of spiritual retreats.

The group had been warm and supportive. The rural setting had been lovely.

But the teacher? Not so much.

This guru, professing to be ‘enlightened’, was showing all the hallmarks of spiritual ego. And, in fact, professing that was one of them!

Here are the signs they told me about, along with a few others which I’ve seen over the years on the long and winding road of my own spiritual journey.

I had a few blushes here and there pulling these together. None of us are perfect – and thank goodness for that!

Check out Ideapod founder Justin Brown’s video too for the three types of unhealthy spiritual ego that we tend to go through (or even get trapped in) as we evolve.

YouTube video

So, people are mistaking spiritual ego for enlightenment when…

1) They think they know what’s best for others

Or that they have some special insight into them.

Maybe they act like they know you better than you know yourself.

They may even talk to third parties about you or others when you have opened up and shared something deeply painful, or very personal.

And on that note…

2) They won’t be vulnerable

While expecting you to spill your guts to them, be ‘more authentic’ or ‘let go’. 

3) They divide and conquer

There’s nothing spiritual about coming between people, putting them down or sewing the seeds of distrust between them.

If you feel uneasy about someone’s behaviour towards you or others, trust that. Be happy to be proven wrong, yes. But trust that.

4) They criticise other paths and teachers

There’s just no need for this.

Of course, if something is worrying or dangerous, we should take some action to flag it up.

But there’s no need to compare, judge and put down others’ efforts to find a little more peace, joy and love in their lives.

There’s room for all of it in this wonderful journey called life, and anyway, you know the saying – we’re all just walking one another home.

If we’re going towards love, healing and expansion, it doesn’t matter which road we’re taking.

5) They take themselves super-seriously

Having fun and being silly, laughing and playing are natural expressions of our soul and spirit. And our true nature as unconditional love, in my opinion.

This explains why playing a silly game with my partner and kids last week was one of the most sacred experiences of my life! We knocked ping pong balls off paper cups with chopsticks tied onto string round our waists while laughing our heads off. Namaste.

6) They’re snobby and exclusive

And this includes intellectualising about ‘spiritual’ experience. And even (yes, I have seen a lot of this!) intellectualising about the importance of not intellectualising.

I co-host a meditation group online and I love our mantra – shut up and breathe. And hey, you know, maybe I love it a little too much! That spiritual ego will sneak in anywhere…

(Keeping a sense of humour about yourself is important for anyone who identifies as ‘spiritual’ by the way!).

7) They can’t be questioned…

If you actually hear this spoken out loud by a ‘spiritual’ teacher ever, or their followers… get the hell out of Dodge.

And if they can never, ever be wrong (even when it’s obvious they are) then step on the gas.

8) They claim you have to do huge amounts of hard work to ‘get where they are’

Many spiritual teachers re-invent a priesthood that stands between the people and ‘enlightenment’.

Whether that’s about obsessive study of obscure texts, practising complex rituals or jumping through endless hoops.

Of course, it’s worth putting some time and effort into your spiritual path and practise. This will help you simply and gently remember that there’s nowhere to get to and that you are already love, love, love.

9) They claim the ‘true’ path is for a chosen few

There’s no one way to ‘enlightenment’ or even ‘just’ to a fulfilling life full of love, joy and connection with others (which kinda sounds way better anyway…).

Take it from someone who has danced in yurts, chanted round fires, sung in sweat lodges, rebirthed, breath-worked, spent 28 years on the yoga mat (not without breaks!) and made lots of deeply meaningful things out of twigs, leaves and clay.

I’ve taken part in group prayer, rituals, affirmation challenges, meditation retreats, ceremonies… If it’s out there, and it’s legal, I’ve pretty much tried it.

All of it is valuable and enriching and full of soul. Well, most of it!

But… There’s no ‘true path’. Well, if there is, it’s something like live with an open heart, be kind and help others out when you can.

You know, that stuff. The stuff that spiritual masters like Jesus, Buddha and Krishna taught over and over again.

True masters want to honour your humanity and adore your divinity, whereas when people are in spiritual ego…

10) They want to rescue you, save you or fix you

Which implies there’s something wrong with you.

Which there isn’t.

You’re a beautiful, flawed human being on your own unique journey.

Of course, if someone offers their skills, experience or time to share with you what’s worked well for them on their journey, that’s wonderful – and it has a completely different energy from ‘fixing’.

11) They believe there’s something wrong with you

They may not actually tell you this – but don’t worry, they’ll be thinking it so loudly you’ll feel it, whether you’re even vaguely psychic or not.

If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable in someone’s energy or presence, trust that. Even if you learn a little later on that it was you projecting, or ‘your stuff’. That’s fine, and all part of our growth.

But trust yourself and your feelings at the time that you feel them.

12) They’re completely rigid about their practices

Of course, it’s important for us to take our commitments seriously, whatever they are, and whether they’re ‘spiritual’ or not.

But if someone simply cannot not do their three-hour spiritual practise every day, whatever the circumstances, this may be about spiritual ego.

Spiritual ego can sometimes mistake the training ground for the action zone. However, the yoga mat or the meditation cushion are not actually where it’s at.

Some of the reasons spiritual practises exist are to give us a sense of flow and flexibility in life. To foster self-care and self-kindness in us.

They also give us a solid foundation from which to be of service to others.

My feeling is that everyday life is where spiritual practice actually happens – breath by breath, moment by moment, smile by smile, and act of service by act of service.

13) Their actions don’t match their words or self-image

So, yeah, if someone is telling you how compassionate they are, while rushing past people in need of a few kind words, some spare change or a smile… maybe it’s time to look at their actions rather than their words.

If you’re cringing at yourself at this point – rest assured I was too! I’ll never forget the time I went to a beautiful kirtan devotional chanting event… then rushed past a young man sobbing on a busy London bridge on my way home.

The workshop was beautiful, yes. But my choice to walk by someone in need taught me a lot more about myself, life, love and spirituality.

Go easy on yourself, though! We’re human and it’s okay that we don’t always step up in the moment.

14) They have to be the star of the show

Here’s an example of the opposite of this. I once went to an evening event with Kyle Gray, the well-known Hay House author, angel expert and kundalini yogi.

Kyle stood at the door, welcomed us and took tickets along with the other ushers. He greeted everyone with a word, a smile or a joke.

Conclusion

We all have an ego, of course, and thank goodness! We need all kinds of aspects of our ego to make it possible for us to live life.

It’s when that ego gets in the driving seat without us noticing that things get tricky. And when that ego thinks it’s got spirituality nailed – well, that’s even trickier.

Luckily, life comes along and knocks us all down a peg or two when we need it!

So, now you’ve read the signs of spiritual ego, you may have realised there’s a little of the dodgy guru in someone close to you, or dare I say it – in you!

If so, I prescribe a lot of fun, humour, silliness, humility and a few acts of service to your fellow humans to straighten things out (and no, you can’t put them on Instagram afterwards!).

And what about my friend? Well, the good news is that they found the courage to leave that spiritual group.

They then had calls from several other members who’d left too, inspired by their brave action!

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