MARRIAGE: BONFIRE OF THE EGO

All major religions agree on one thing: the ego, the small self that wants everything its own way, is the biggest impediment to spiritual growth. However, marriage provides one of the best vehicles for spiritual growth, because it is all about getting your ego out of the way.  

    Our culture is very ego-based and individualistic – it is all about me and my fulfilment. But when you are married, you are no longer a single individual, you are part of something bigger than either of your egos, that is, the marriage.

    God meant for marriage to be glorious, but often it is a disaster – two egos in a power struggle over who is going to win. The ego wants everything its way, but when you are married you must negotiate everything with your spouse. The ego cannot have total control.

    Marriage experts agree there are four stages to marriage: romance, disillusionment, misery, and true, seasoned love. There are nine things that help eliminate the painful parts.

    First, wake up to the law of unity and karma. Unity means the two of you are one, and karma means what goes around comes around. Karma is a universal spiritual law found in all the great religions. Jesus said that what you give, you receive. In marriage if the two become one, whatever you do to your spouse you do to yourself. If you sow good or evil, it will come back to you. So be good to your spouse. Paul wrote that “The man who loves his wife loves himself (Ephesians 5:28).

    Secondly, marital happiness mainly lies in you, in how you choose to think about your spouse, not in your partner doing what your ego wants. Your ego will always try to make your spouse into its own personal slave. Focus on your partner’s positive not negative points.

    A third key is to accept and love your partner as they are, not as your ego wants them to be, and not as a clone of the things on your list of the ideal spouse. This list is an ego-list.

    Fourth, realize that love is a decision not a feeling. Feelings come and go and make an unstable base for marriage. Seasoned love is choosing to love your partner when you don’t feel the love. This requires maturity and work, and the ego prefers immaturity and hates work.

    Fifth, listening non-defensively is a key to communication and conflict resolution. The ego thrives on not listening, emotional drama, and blaming the other person for the problem.

    Commitment is a sixth key. The ego always wants to run away when things get hard, but disillusionment and misery are normal stages couples go through. Commitment is what gets you through misery to seasoned love. Mind you, you have to make a careful discernment here. If there is severe or prolonged verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse or neglect, this is not God’s will. God probably wants you to get out.

    Humility is a seventh key. To accept you are not perfect and humbly listen to your spouse’s complaints takes a lot of self-discipline. Humility gets rid of the defensiveness, anger, self-righteousness, mind-games, blaming, judging, self-pity, and victimhood the ego loves.

    Prayer is an eighth essential. Marriage can be extremely challenging. It always helps to call upon the wisdom, power, strength, and love of God to handle times of misery.

    A ninth and final key is to realize the purpose of marriage is not sexual or financial fulfilment, but rather to grow spiritually together. According to scripture, you are both made in God’s image. So, the closest you get to God in the flesh is your marriage partner. The way you treat your spouse is the way you treat God.

    Your marriage can be part of your spiritual practice, that is, an opportunity to grow in unconditional love, humility, acceptance, listening, commitment, gratitude, unity, and prayer.

    Marriage may take you through hell, but if you keep getting your ego out of the way you will eventually get through crucifixion to resurrection, to heaven, and to true love.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com  

 

 

EVER-ADAPTING CHRISTIANITY

In the triad of world/flesh/devil

it is almost always the sins of the “flesh”

that are attacked by churches –

birth control/adultery/abortion/pornography

and seldom do sermons preach about the sins of the “world” –

the lust for wealth and prestige that the ego loves.

 

But the difference between the True Self

and the False Self is the difference between

“True Centering” (on God) and “Ego Centering” (on Self).

 

In fact, the True Self can include the False Self

because the way we become whole as humans

is by embracing every aspect of our existence –

our weakness/failures/mistakes

by humility/not taking ourselves too seriously –

we grow by wholeness not by absolute moral purity

which we never reach anyway.

 

Still, we consign to the unconscious

all fantasy, all psychic associations connected with

words/numbers/stones/plants/animals –

but for primitives all these things had numinous power.

 

Friedrich Nietzsche dismissed all primitives

and fancied himself to be a Rational Existentialist –

one who has the courage to stare into the abyss of non-being

and discover complete loneliness, complete aloneness

if God is dead.

 

There have been many Rational Christian responses

that have deconstructed the “death of God” movement

and people like Marcus Borg and Bishop John Shelby Spong

have also helped us deconstruct Bibical Fundamentalism

and there are many Postmodern Christian thinkers

like Brian McLaren with his book A Generous Orthodoxy

and others have developed The Postmodern Bible

and The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology.

 

As usual, Christianity has adapted to/learned from/gone beyond

whatever the world/the devil/the ego throws at us –

we always include and then transcend

all attempts to deconstruct the Truth.

THE PURPOSE OF ALL THINGS

The only purpose of God in creating the universe

was that it be a communion of souls in love.

Christ is the center/goal/perfection/paradigm of communion

so the meaning of Christ extends to

all people/all civilizations/all planets/all universes.

 

The only purpose of all spiritual practice

is to help you become an awakened human being –

a loving/contemplative sage full of God here and now –

which is the true nature of who you already are anyway –

so the end of the journey is its beginning.

 

Discovering your True Self can be a great relief –

you no longer have to protect/project/promote

an ideal self-image – your False Self.

Your True Self was always there and always will be

so you can relax and be yourself – flaws and all.

 

Awareness that life is flawed is the beginning of wisdom

and the beginning of anxiety is when a flawed being

becomes aware of its future non-being.

 

Today, the “Way of the Cross” involves

becoming aware of our flaws/limitations/sins

abandoning perfectionism/pursuing wholeness/

dying to our ego and finding our True Self

which may be exquisitely painful

but it focuses on growth not transient happiness.

 

Today we are blessed with tools like the Enneagram

which helps us understand

the depths of our darkness

and paradoxically allows us to grasp

the heights of our True Self

the divine image and likeness of God within

which longs to go without

and join others in forming

a communion of souls in love.

THINKING OF OTHERS

The First Axial Period was about individual consciousness

whereas the Second Axial Period, which we have just entered

is about global consciousness.

 

Western philosophy reached its lowest point, its nadir

with Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.”

We know now that we are more than rationality

and thinking is the primary place we hide

from the humiliating collapse into naked ‘being.’

More accurate would be: “I think therefore I am not.”

 

We need both self/other/subjective/objective thinking:

First Person ‘I’ is about the Beauty of self-expression

Second Person ‘You’ is about Goodness in relation to others

Third Person ‘It’ is about objective Truth.

Beauty/Goodness/Truth – this is all we need.

 

Since all is a seamless whole

you can give up your isolation, be naked

and enter into union with all that is.

Thus, you go

from separation to oneness

from selfishness to love

from ego to God.

 

When things are delightful

think of others

and pray that delight for them.

When things are hard

think of others

in similar suffering

and let your heart feel compassion

as you pray for them.

 

And practice contemplative eating:

when you eat

contemplate the 40,000 children who die everyday

for lack of food

feel compassion

and think what you can do for them.

SCIENCE AND THE TRUE SELF

The rise of science in the Renaissance and Enlightenment

freed people from religious authority. Science replaced God –

there was no need for the “God hypothesis”

to explain how things worked.

 

Today, theology and our everyday minds

continue to be challenged by a universe

in which every second millions of tons of matter

convert to light-energy, black holes

empty space bristles with dark matter and dark energy

about which we know nothing.

 

Meanwhile, Christianity back then and today

held that its Lord and Master, Jesus the Christ

is the focal point/key/goal of all human history

and even the history of the universe.

 

In early Christianity, mystical experience

was at the center of all theology –

prayer/theology/catechesis were all one.

But today people want spiritual experience

divorced from religion seen as dogma

because Christianity, challenged by science

focused on doctrine not on experience.

 

Unfortunately, Christianity throughout its history

has been far more interested in the Moral Self

as the measure of everything, and so has lost

the Absolute Measure of the True Self.

The False Self, the Ego, is happy

that believers in God usually deny

we all are already God’s beloved children

which gives the Ego nothing to strive for

and feel superior about

and so, even though God calls all of us

our Egos allow very few to be chosen.

 

A focus on the Moral Self means that

abnormal guilt has become a normal part of life –

fear of what others think drives us

we always want to be seen as pure – the good girl/boy

which is appropriate for childhood

but adults need to integrate their Shadow and stand against

their internalized shoulds/should nots as the voice of God

otherwise the True Self has no voice in our scientific age.

BEING EXALTED IN GOD’S EYES

Suffering and humility are what exalt a person most in the eyes of God.

Being willing to do whatever God wants, even if it involves our suffering, is a sure sign of someone who is completely surrendered to God’s will: “Thy will be done, not my will be done.” This takes absolute trust on our part, and God showers those who trust God with many blessings in the long run. Nothing pleases God more than trust. God works all things to the good for those who love and trust God.

Humility likewise pleases God. God can only really work with people who have moved beyond their ego. As Wayne Dyer used to say “E.G.O. = Edging God Out.” And as scripture says “Those who exalt themselves will be brought low. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

brucetallman.com, btallman@rogers.com

Why Be Religious?

It has become fashionable in the past two decades to be “spiritual but not religious.” There are many reasons for this, probably the biggest one being the clergy sex scandals, particularly in the Catholic church. Perhaps another big reason is that our society values busyness more and more, and Sunday is no longer a day off so people can now work 24/7.

By being religious, I don’t necessarily mean going to church, although that could be part of it. What I mean by “being religious” is “connecting with one of the great world religious traditions.

These traditions are like super-highways of spirituality. They all have people who are recognized as being super-spiritual. Normally they are called saints or mystics. These spiritual super-heroes have developed ways of drawing closer to God that are tried, true and shared down through the centuries with everyone within the tradition.

Also, the scriptures of all these traditions are super-countercultural. They tell you that you are loved not because of how rich or famous or beautiful you are, but just because you are a human being. You are loved without conditions, unlike in the “meritocracy” most of us live in where your worth is constantly being calculated by how much you produce and consume.

Numerous studies by contemporary psychologists have shown that religious people are healthier, live longer, have better relationships, more friends, better marriages, better sex and are more generous than non-religious folks.

Also, these traditions specialize in giving people the big picture when asked the fundamental questions: who are we, where did we come from, how are we to live, and where are we going?

On top of all this, these traditions have engaged in major charitable works throughout the world, founding schools and hospitals for the poor and advocating for their rights.

If you are spiritual but not religious by yourself, you would have to get other people to join you if you were going to get any significant charitable work done. And as soon as you get any group of people together, you run into the same problems religions have always faced regarding who gets to lead the group, how to keep your egos from clashing, etc, etc.

So why not just join one of the major world religions that have tons of lived experience down through the centuries to share with you?

LOVE YOUR TRUE SELF

RECONCILING ANCIENT RELIGION AND MODERN SELF-HELP 

    All world religions would agree with St. Catherine of Sienna who said “Every evil is founded in self-love.” So how do we put ancient religion together with the modern self-help doctrine that you cannot love others if you don’t love yourself?

    When we are born, we are unitive thinkers: we sense our oneness with everything. However, as we develop we learn the word “no” from our parents trying to curtail our behaviour. We start to separate from our parents and others and develop our own identity. We learn we are a boy or girl and a human being not a dog or cat. Later we learn our race, nationality and everything else that separates us from others.

    Developing a sense of identity or ego is natural, healthy, and necessary to function in the world. However, if you think your ego, what separates you from everything, is all you are, it creates individualism, the source of all our problems. The illusion of separation transforms your ego into your false self, and life becomes every one for himself/herself.  

    Separation from others causes all social problems, and separation from nature is the root of all environmental problems. If you are really separate from others and the planet, what happens to them is not your concern. You can misuse them without any consequences. However, what happens to others and nature does impact us.

    I was pondering why, in indigenous paintings, there are fish, bears, and birds inside peoples’ bodies? Suddenly I got it: indigenous people are unitive thinkers – fish, bears, and birds are part of who they are. They and the environment are one.

    This is the solution to our environmental problems: the earth is us and we are the earth. Until we get that, we will continue to abuse the earth we depend on.

    Jesus was also a unitive thinker. He said “God and I are one,” and what we do to the least among us – people who are starving, naked, or homeless – we do to him.

    He also said the second greatest commandment, after loving God, is to love others as yourself. Perhaps he didn’t mean, as contemporary self-help would have it. “love others by first loving yourself,” but rather “love others because they are yourself.”

    God is everywhere and that includes inside you, in your depths. As Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, frequently said “When you meet your deepest self you meet God.” 

    God is not only love, God is peace, goodness, wisdom, forgiveness, patience, and kindness, and so are you. Your true essence, your true self, is all these things. In this sense you and God are one. This is what being the “imago dei,” the image of God, means. You are not God, God is greater than you, but you and God are one in spirit. 

    That is why it is good to love your true self, your soul, the self that is love, peace, and goodness. When you love your true self, you are loving God within you, and since God is in everything, you are loving everything through God. When you love all the virtues of your true self, you are doing exactly what others and the earth need: people who love peace, goodness, and love.

    It is necessary to develop an ego, but it is also necessary to transcend the ego and realize that you have a larger, truer self. It is not healthy or wise to just love your ego, your false, illusory self. Loving just your ego is the root of all evil as St. Catherine said. She was thinking of love of the false self; contemporary self-help is presumably thinking of love of the true self, which is the foundation of all good.

    What we need now is a civilization built on love of the true self, the soul, our best self, our “better angels,” not one based on love of ego, our “worst demons.” This would solve many of our problems.

    As another holy woman, Mechthild of Magdeburg said:

“The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest or happiness in other things. It must lose itself in love. By its very nature it must seek God, who is love.”

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage coach, and religious educator of adults. www.brucetallman.com. For his weekly reflections on spirituality, see “The Big Picture” at https://brucetallmanblog.wordpress.com