Friday, 3 April 2009

Choose Both!

Many years ago I heard someone ask the Dali Lama at a meeting in London which was better, meditation or psychotherapy and he said with his characteristic simplicity "Therapy good, meditation good, choose both". I work in the fields of therapy and spiritual practice so I agree. But there is one problem. These two fields; psychotherapy and spiritual practice use the same words in different ways which can lead to huge confusion for people working with both and lots of unnecessary disagreements.

The most notoriously difficult word is the word "ego". Many spiritual teachers and texts both ancient and modern do not have a good word to say for the ego. It is the source of all greed, pride, anger, desire; virtually every known evil! They want their practices to destroy the evil ego. In the psychotherapy world we recognise many people with a weak ego and some therapy practices aim to strengthen the ego. The word ego was what was used to translate Freud's' "Ich" into English. Freud just said "I". The ego is our sense of personal identity, needed for our passport and credit card. At a basic level it starts as a necessary identification by the small baby with its body and its skin as a boundary between I and not-I. If you do not have this in life you are in trouble and would probably be labeled psychotic. The ego also mediates between the internal world and the outer world. It is our ego which allows us to plan a meal, buy the ingredients, consult the cook book and cook it. Without a strong enough ego we can't do these things and deal with life and the world. However, the problem, and why the spiritual camp don't like the ego is that we over-identify with it. We have a body, and senses and emotions and thoughts but we are not them as we can witness them from somewhere else. The problem is the small ego, the limited identification which keeps us from expanding into a bigger sense of who we really are. It is good to think of the ego as one end of a bridge and at the other end is the Self, or essence: who we really are. The job of a teacher, therapist or guru it to recognise the small ego, perhaps to strengthen it enough to then lead it over the bridge to the luminous Self. It is not helpful for many people who are attracted in early life to spiritual practice to keep slagging off the ego. They need it. It is like a crutch for someone with a broken leg; necessary but temporary. It may be best to think of, and treat the ego as a the Self-in-hiding. Ultimately, as Mooji said, "We are all stage-names of the Divine!". In the next blog I will write about the other word that causes difficulties, the mind.

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