Watch Out For The 5 Ego Traps That Hurt Your Meditation Progress
They’re subtle and dangerous
Mindfulness, meditation, and other eastern practices have spread throughout the world like wildfire.
As I’ve talked about it before, the purpose of the spiritual path is to transcend the ego. At least for those who are using meditation in a broader context, and not just for its productivity benefits.
Still, however you’re using it, there’s one hurdle that leads to people falling off the horse — the ego.
The ego is a fascinating aspect of our identity. It can everything for its own ends. Even spirituality and meditation.
Look at it from another angle. Most people who take on meditation are interested in “self-improvement.” If you dissect that word, the “self” being referred to here is the ego. It’s a hidden oxymoron indeed.
You don’t want to improve the ‘self’. You want to transcend it — to the point where it no longer determines your decisions and reactions in this world.
Chogyam Trungpa, the author of Spiritual Materialism, says just that. He tells us how even the most spiritual ones can fall into the pools of egoism.
With that in mind, here are five ego traps you should look out for in meditation.
It’s one of those traps that are easy to understand in theory but hard to spot in reality.
The ego believes we have a fixed, separate identity different from other people (or even objects). However, that’s not true. Our environment, relationships, and processes are making the ego do everything. The ego itself is just a projection of the soul.
Believing in a separate self can be harmful in many ways.
One of the most obvious ones is feeling that you’re better than others just because you’re a ‘meditator’. This is often the case with people who judge others for not meditating.
In reality, however, it’s just feeding your ego and making you feel bigger than you already are.
The opposite side of this coin is believing other enlightened masters to be perfect and you being a lesser being. This is exactly how the ego works — it solidifies your identity and starts to compare.
The ideal state of being is to live without such judgments and comparisons. To stay aware and not let the mind stick to anything — a certain identity or an object.
The key realization here is, as I said above, that the ego is an illusion. It’s a soul identified with the body. There’s no “I” doing everything.
One might be tempted to think this is philosophy, but you don’t need much meditation experience to experience a glimpse of this reality for yourself.
The only reason it is difficult to accept is that the mind comes in between. It challenges this concept to maintain its free will and separate identity.
There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. But the contradiction lies a little deeper than the mere conflict between the desire for security and the fact of change. If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness that makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I,” but it is just the feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid. — Alan Watts
When you think you’ve finally got to a meditative state or a philosophy that can solve all your worries, you’ve fallen into the arrival trap.
You think you’re finally there where you wanted to be all this time. In reality, you’ve gone astray. In this ever-changing world, impermanence is the answer.
It’s similar to being locked up in one identity as the previous point talks about. Once you think you’ve got the answer, you’ve not found the truth.
As the Tao Te Ching says,
“The truth that can be named is not the real truth.”
The Centralization Trap
Most meditation techniques teach you to focus on one object like the breath, a mantra, a candle flame, and so on.
Implicit in these teachings is the belief that the observer (you) and the object being observed are different.
At first, this belief is fine. We’re taught to be detached, to be the silent observer, and to let things (thoughts) come and go.
But there’s a higher reality for one who’s willing to grasp it. That’s to understand that there is no separation between your witnessing awareness and what you’re observing.
Samadhi or enlightenment means to become one with all that is. Once you achieve that state, it’s not about you observing something else. Because you realize that you are that which you’re observing.
That’s when you lose your ‘self’. But until you reach that point, the self is always there.
Instead of holding on to this observer mentality, the ultimate goal of meditation is to disperse yourself into everything.
The enlightened master realizes that everything from sounds to appearances is just that — there’s not separate person seeing or hearing them.
Have you ever wondered how mindfulness and meditation make people more compassionate? Because the more they practice, the more they realize they’re one with everyone else.
Nothing can hurt them because there’s no separate self to get hurt. And they don’t hurt anyone because they’re hurting themselves. This is the deepest kind of empathy you will find.
Photo by Josh Garner on Unsplash
Making Spirituality Transactional
This trap is my favorite one because I’ve finally understood how I’ve been falling prey to this.
You’ve fallen into this trap if you’re always thinking about what you can get from your meditation. One example is meditating only to be enlightened one day.
We have to realize that gaining and resisting are also forms of attachment and aversion. Instead, the right attitude as taught by Buddha and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is to remain nonattached and let things come when they do.
There are many priests (at least I’ve seen many) who read the scriptures and learn the mantras but know nothing else. But even more so, they’re so proud of their knowledge that they don’t understand how much they’ve fallen in their own egos.
It’s the ego’s job to always try to gain something from everything we do. This will not lead to peace and without peace, how is happiness possible?
Many people think that spiritual principles would give them life-long happiness regardless of what’s happening around them.
But that’s just another ego trap. It’s one of the biggest games that the ego plays. It makes you believe that you need to be happy all the time. That pursuing happiness is a perfectly natural and legitimate goal in life.
Why is this not a desired attitude? Because by wanting to be happy all the time, we are going against reality.
“Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.” — Chogyam Trungpa
The desire to be happy comes in the way of acceptance of what is.
When you want to be happy, you’re still working from the ego. You’re still caught up in the whirlpools of likes and dislikes.
The goal of life is not happiness, but bliss. And that bliss comes through acceptance. It comes from knowing that in this world of duality, there will be ups and downs.
Our job is to ride the waves with non-attachment and acceptance. Not resist.
The truth is pain and suffering is a natural part of life. The more you deny them the more they will persist. Thus, the saying “what you resist persists.”
The root of all suffering is the denial of the present moment. To wish for things to be anything else except what they are.
It’s a difficult mindset to cultivate. But it pays to know that your desire for perfect happiness is just another trap by your ego. It’s yet another trick the ego plays to make you think you can protect yourself from your circumstances.
The ego traps I talked about are quite subtle and hard to get away from.
The other day, someone asked me, “How was your morning meditation?”
“It was good,” I said.
“What do you mean by ‘good’? There’s no good or bad, it’s about accepting what is.”
Well, I meant that I felt good after the meditation, but you can see how he was right.
Deep down, I was still clinging to that expectation of happiness in my practice.
This is exactly what we have to watch out for.
How? By more meditation and introspection. If there was an easier way, everyone would be enlightened.
But there’s not.
Struggling to meditate? Get your free 5 Day email course — Meditation 101: How to Start Meditating