There’s this thing in embodied spiritual practice that the sufis call “ego training.” It has parallels in other traditions and there’s probably a term for it in each one. The Sufis see it as seven stages, but it doesn’t matter whether you see seven or three. Stages there are, and they are linked with the permanent expansions of awareness that arise as one traverses a path of spiritual development.
Here’s the essence:
It’s like our being is a three-legged stool. One leg is our spiritual realization, the breadth/depth of our direct awareness of how Reality works on all the planes. Another leg is how that realization is used to reshape our janky personality to align with the soul’s purpose in existence, and the third leg is how we express all that in our human life of vocation, relationship, and the ‘external” stuff.
The legs on the stool are ideally about the same length, so that it doesn’t wobble. The ego is not destroyed or even transcended. It’s trained the way one trains a horse or a dog, according to its potentials and according to its limitations. Then it becomes a vehicle in the world for your spiritual realization, instead of being a source of unnecessary pain to yourself and others.
A lot of us entered the spiritual path because we’re trying to get off the planet before we’re fully incarnate ON it. So we try to skip the ego training and many of us just end up limiting our realization because there isn’t the proper support from the other two legs, and we wobble.
Ego training is difficult. It’s slow. It’s painful. Nobody really wants to do it. It rubs our noses in the same contractions, limitations, incongruities and ignobilities that we’re trying to escape through practice.
But it’s also where the rubber meets the road, where we make our realization real. It’s the real test but it’s also the tempering of our steel.
And it’s the difficult stuff you are faced with in your life that is a precious — and no doubt cosmically-choreographed — opportunity to become more authentic and to go deeper.
Psychotherapy, especially body-centric approaches, and disciplines like Non-Violent Communication (or even Landmark Education, though I have a low opinion of it), are invaluable supports in ego training. If your therapist has some understanding of how the soul’s deep impulses surface in distorted form as neurosis, so much the better, but we can make those connections ourselves if we truly engage the Path in the way it asks of us.