At birth we are pure spirit in a tiny body. We come so very fresh from the Eternal Embrace of Love that with a gentle smile one can wonder where we left our wings. And we can also wonder what has become of our spiritual identity, why awareness of our eternal spirit has faded into the background of life experiences, and how our environment has shaped our natural spiritual presence.
In the reality known as ” the human condition” this world of fearful ignorance begins early to define us, to tell us who we are, what we must think and feel, how we must act. Distracted from our real self, we learn to forget and before too long we begin to imagine who we are. Based on misinformation we unknowingly assume a false identity. We create an image of ourselves and this invention, known as the ego, becomes more and more real to us as ongoing experiences re-enforce its presence. The ego becomes “me”, and this “me” feels like a real person that must be protected. So we find ourselves developing ways to serve our needs.
You can see that building a plan of action based on misinformation will always lead to problematic outcomes, yet it continues to happen. This is where psychology comes into the picture. Our psychology is an internal process of self-concern driven by the defensive needs and postures of the ego. From this core definition, the discipline of Psychology established its exploration of human behavior.
The ego’s structure of interpretation is here to stay. Evolved out of the primitive instinct for self-preservation, it is an updated version of fight or flight, an evolved biological mechanism used for modern survival. Instinct designed for self-protection, once a reflexive, even automatic response mechanism that must have been used by primitive humans, has evolved into complex emotional and mental processes. We now possess a sophisticated structure of interpretation so self-involved that its strategies have morphed us beyond protection into pain and suffering. Finding ourselves trapped in the convincing logic that fear is a necessary attitude, arguing that without fear our imagined self would surely die, we are always concerned about our position in life, and we keep self-serving strategies and plans in motion. What to do?
The most we can hope for is a healthy well balanced ego that can be held in check. Good psychological therapy explores the origins of emotional pain, working to free the individual from his own ignorance, providing tools to change the direction of that particular life. The goal here is to awaken a healthy self-image. There are many degrees of physical and emotional wounding that cause a range of mental and emotional disorders, all are expressions of spiritual suffering. In our troubled part of the world more and more people seek assistance for their mental and emotional pain, however severe pathology often goes untreated or cannot be reversed.
Frequently the spiritually and psychologically unaware person cannot identify his distress, may not even recognize his own defense system, believes that attitudes, prideful adaptations, fears, desires, needs and reactions are the expression of the true identity. “That is who I am” you will hear. No, that is not who you are. It is understandable that one might believe this, but we are not this self-involved, psychological configuration. That façade hides our true, natural being. Self-ignorance deprives us of true happiness, often causes intense mental suffering and detracts the process of spiritual formation.
Saints and mystics and all others who embark on a committed spiritual journey become painfully aware of this psychological reality. Left to its own devices the ego will run our life in order to fulfill its needs and it will compromise our spiritual capacity for growing spiritual awareness. Its influence must be recognized and controlled. All who are dedicated to the inner journey learn how this construct is a hindrance.
But look at the challenge here. Disregarding the pressing issue of survival is difficult — it goes against what we have learned to believe — yet when we look beyond our psychological fears, strength flows out of our spiritual positioning, guiding and informing the path of Wisdom. The process of spiritual formation is one of growing awareness of our true Self, of our inner Wisdom. Our tightly braided relationship between psychology and spirituality must be understood and disciplined since the level of spiritual advancement is dependent upon the degree of psychological insight. Striving to develop our full human potential, we must always remember that the lifelong process of building spiritual insight will be involved with the ego’s self-serving structure of interpretation.
About the Author
Mary K DeLurgio, MFT
Trusting the emerging process of inner wisdom and its schedule for insight and inspiration was a 25 year project completed now as Our Journey to the Sky – A Guide to the process of Spiritual Formation. During this extended period, Mary K DeLurgio led hundreds of personal journal keeping, self exploration workshops and classes.