Is there a way to prevent spiritual narcissism? In itself it is nice that gurus embrace the importance of calming the ego - even though they often drive around in a Rolls Royce themselves. But can we really do that in practice? Only if we are aware of how incredibly difficult that is. The way spiritual training is now being marketed to the public is a serious obstacle. Yoga and mindfulness are big business, and the purported benefits of mindfulness meditation have also fueled a multi-billion dollar industry. Yoga is even the most popular exercise for body and mind in the West.
Many of these programs advertise a long list of promises, including the reduction of stress and anxiety, greater self-confidence, greater creativity and focus, better performance, greater success, healthier eating habits, and even increased happiness.
If you use spirituality to distract yourself from your dissatisfaction with your life, it will never lead to a calmer ego. Healthy transcendence involves confronting yourself with reality as it really is, without further ado, with resignation and loving-kindness. And therefore does not aim to rise above humanity. It is about being a harmonious part of the whole. That means that you do everything you can to become the best version of yourself, so that you can contribute to a better world.
It's okay to enjoy all those beautiful people in intricate yoga poses on Instagram. But it is good to remember that this has nothing to do with the primary goal of yoga. We especially grow mentally and physically from spiritual training if we don't use it to increase our self-esteem or to belong. Spiritual growth only occurs when we try again and again to observe and understand our behavior and thoughts. So that we can intervene immediately if our ingenious ego threatens to take over again. Maybe it's time for yoga studios and meditation and mindfulness centers to be a little more relaxed about all the extrinsic benefits they promise ("better health," "more concentration," "better sex," "success at work"). Instead, spiritual training can help us see that it is primarily our ego that is rearing its head again. That awareness in itself is enough to benefit us for an enlightened lifetime.
This is an edited version from Psychology Magazine of an article previously published in Scientific American. Scientific American.
To be continued.