In this 5-part series of Soul Sessions, we explore different spiritual traditions and how they are used in personal development and coaching. In this episode, we discuss Spiritual Materialism or mixing spiritual principles with abundance and financial success as taught in books like "Think and Grow Rich" and the misconceptions about wealth and spirituality.
We will discuss:
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Spiritual Materialism in Coaching Part 1
Debra Maldonado, Robert Maldonado
Welcome to Soul Sessions with Creative Mind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of Creative Mind. Join us each week for an inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian psychology, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, everyone, welcome to Soul Sessions with Creative Mind and Debra and Dr. Rob Maldonado. So today is a new series, we just finished a series on coaching— the psychologies of coaching, the different models of personal growth, different psychological models, and now we're moving into the spiritual models of coaching and spirituality in coaching and personal development.
Robert Maldonado 00:56
Yeah, we can think of it as what are the different schools of thought, in spirituality that have influenced coaching? Because we know a lot of coaches bring spirituality into their work. So we want to examine some of those ideas that have been prevalent in modern coaching.
Debra Maldonado 01:21
Yes. So today is about spiritual materialism. And it's really about how the ego hijacks our spiritual life. And like you said before we were talking about this topic, you said that we don't even realize that the ego— what it's doing, it's so insidious that it tricks us and we think we're doing the spiritual things. And it's really the ego misdirecting us in a way. And so this idea of spiritual materialism was first brought to the public in a broad way by Trungpa Chögyam.
Robert Maldonado 02:09
Easy for you to say.
Debra Maldonado 02:11
He was actually Pema Chödrön’s guru. He founded Naropa University in Boulder and was a very interesting person who kind of went off the rails a little bit. Like, dabbled in sexuality. He wasn't a typical monk. There's definitely controversial.
Robert Maldonado 02:32
Yeah, this sort of controversial, but definitely a spiritual teach. And I think his message was precisely that, that you have to deal with yourself as a material being, and that you're not going to be perfect, and you're not going to automatically just because you have this higher knowledge be a perfect spiritual person, that you're gonna have to go through the mud in a sense and work it out.
Debra Maldonado 03:06
And he was basically, you know, exploring and doing a lot of interesting things, but very, very powerful book he wrote on spiritual materialism. And he came up with the term — and many of you might have heard it — called spiritual bypassing, which is the ego using spiritual—
Robert Maldonado 03:22
I think the book, the title of the book is Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. And there he mentioned spiritual bypassing.
Debra Maldonado 03:31
A lot of people talk about it. So let me read a quote from him. “No matter what the practice or teaching, ego loves to wait in ambush to appropriate spirituality for its own survival and gain.” Let's read that again. “No matter what the practice or teaching— so this is any practice or teaching —the ego loves to wait in ambush to appropriate spirituality for its own survival and gain.” What does that mean, Dr. Rob?
Robert Maldonado 04:07
So that means the ego is going to play out in what we learn and practice in our spiritual paths. And that if we're not careful, we're not aware of this mechanism, we're going to end up creating the persona of a spiritual person, but not necessarily really applying the transformative elements of that spiritual practice. And not really going through the transformation, simply appearing to be doing the work.
Debra Maldonado 04:46
I'm gonna go to my meditation workshop. I'm going to meditate every day, I'm going to visualize and explore my dreams but the ego will use even the most beautiful spiritual practices for its own gain. So let's talk about the ego because a lot of people use that term a lot. The ego is not bad, and we don't want to get rid of the ego because it has good functions. So one of the functions that it does is it helps us with impulse control. It means that we're not out there, you know, running naked and doing terrible things to ourselves, to other people, that kind of moral code and society. And so we do need that. Not that we're tempted but I mean, if we didn't have that— we are tempted. But if we didn't have that we would be like children, out without any impulse control in the world. So it's almost like the ego helps us with that faculty when we're growing up and sitting in school and being nice. And don't pull Susie's hair and don't spit at people or run around naked as a little kid. You start to know the rules of society. So it helps us with those. And then naturally, we have impulses sexually and emotionally, we want to exhibit anger or a lot of different emotions, sadness and tears, and the ego helps us to manage that. So we don't lose it.
Robert Maldonado 06:20
Another big function of the ego is reality testing.
Debra Maldonado 06:24
Tell me about that. What is reality testing?
Robert Maldonado 06:29
Well, I mean, if you think of how people get locked up in the insane asylum, right, when they lock you up and throw away the key, it's essentially that you no longer have the ability to distinguish what's real or what's out there, and what is coming from your own thoughts, right, what you're imagining, what your delusions are about. And that situation, of course, is the extreme. But there is a spectrum, that begins from when we are stressed out, we can lose a little bit of that reality testing ability, right, we start to project, we start to think people are out to get me or—
Debra Maldonado 07:19
Or get paranoid, or also the critical thinking goes out the window, we catastrophize about what's happening.
Robert Maldonado 07:29
In other words, our thoughts then fill the world with our own perceptions, and we think “No, it's coming from the world, it's not me.” And the ego functions to kind of get us back to “Get a grip, man. It's okay, you're okay, you're safe.”
Debra Maldonado 07:53
So we feel that when we lose our temper, or, you know, we're ruminating, and then the ego, that kind of noise in that narrative, is trying to basically strategize your next step. And so that's that reality testing. Like, it's not so bad. And I don't know, maybe we can do this or we can do that. So it's more like bringing us back to groundedness. So we're not out of— flailing around, freaking out.
Robert Maldonado 08:22
One of my professors used to say “If you want to see personality disorders in action, just come around exam time.” When people are under stress, you start to see that kind of faltering of the reality testing abilities.
Debra Maldonado 08:40
Well, we see that too with what happened with the pandemic, people started coming up with all these theories about this terrible secret plan to take over the world. And so the ego is kind of taking over in that way?
Robert Maldonado 08:56
No, it's a contrary. The ego is losing its grip on reality. And therefore, the unconscious imagination starts projecting more. And you start to kind of see or experience that paranoia, that fear, but you think it's coming from the outside, not from your own mind. So the ego here is the good guy in that it's helping us keep it together. So it's definitely a good function to have. So we have impulse control, reality testing, and then emotional regulation. Meaning a good strong ego allows us to kind of assess the situation and determine what level of emotional response can I put forth without upsetting to go over the top.
Debra Maldonado 10:00
So for example, you're at work and your boss is a jerk — we have all had them — that do something rude to us. The ego will keep an impulse control. We're not hitting them or hurting them or, you know, losing our minds at work. We go, okay.
Robert Maldonado 10:18
No, well, emotional regulation would be more of how much emotion can I show in this situation.
Debra Maldonado 10:25
So you get maybe a little frustrated, but you're not like over the top? And then judgment?
Robert Maldonado 10:35
Yeah, definitely judgment. That right or wrong.
Debra Maldonado 10:39
Splitting things in good or bad, right or wrong.
Robert Maldonado 10:42
Debra Maldonado 10:42
Pleasant or unpleasant.
Robert Maldonado 10:44
Right. Now, here we see in the function of the ego that we need that obviously to get along in the office or at school or social media. We need that judgment. So the ego is not bad. It's not about getting rid of the ego. But it’s — as we'll talk about later — it's understanding its nature. And we see that we need a pretty good strong ego to do spiritual work. But in spiritual materialism, these elements work against us. If we don't understand their nature and their function, then these elements, these very elements that we need to survive, then work against our spiritual path.
Debra Maldonado 11:35
So the survival instinct, it wraps itself around a spiritual practice.
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Debra Maldonado 12:32
So defense functions, defensive functions, we know a lot of them. Do we want to talk about those yet or do you want to—
Robert Maldonado 12:38
Let's go back to object relations. So that's another ego function. So object relations, it sounds weird because they use the word object. But really what they mean is relationships with other people.
Debra Maldonado 12:51
Because we see other people as objects, and we see ourselves, our ego, as an object as well. It's an object, I’m an object in the world, and there's another object, you know, interacting, we're interacting with other objects in the world, and with money, and with other material things in the world.
Robert Maldonado 13:13
So ego helps us kind of keep in our head the chess game that we're playing with each other. Where am I in relationship to what they said and my emotional reaction to them last time we met. So it helps us navigate the social situations very much like a chess game that we have to keep in mind. What was the last move that I made with this person in relationship to each other.
Debra Maldonado 13:48
So for example, it's like the hand on the fire, when you're a kid, you don't know what's hot until you actually touch it. And then you learn in your condition to say “I don't want to do that anymore.” So we actually get conditioned with the objects of people in the world, people that have authority or people for romantic relationships, we tend to project onto them that same pattern, the ego helps us navigate those thought processes, it helps us with our coming up with stories about the world and meaning.
Robert Maldonado 14:22
Problem solving, meaning we can think through things, we can run the movie forward and backwards, like what would happen if I do this, we run it through in our head and we say “Oh, I don't want those consequences, I’m not willing to risk those results.” And so it helps us make those choices. So, there again, ego function, really important.
Debra Maldonado 14:50
Robert Maldonado 14:52
So synthesis means it puts it all together for us. So when you experience your everyday life, you don't experience it as a fragmented piece, like this piece over here, and this piece over there. You experience it as a whole. So the things that happen at work, at the office or on your calls on zoom are kind of seamlessly synthesized into whole of your day.
Debra Maldonado 15:25
Even your life, it kind of synthesizes your whole life, like you identify, yourself as an object, the little girl, the teenager, all relationships, and my parents, and it's kind of that continuity. So we’re not waking up with amnesia and saying “Who am I?” every day, we have that kind of synthesis of everything, kind of I am the object that everything synthesizes around.
Robert Maldonado 15:52
Yes, and it makes it appear, even though it's might not be that way, but it makes it appear as if “Yeah, there is that continuity of my thoughts, my life, my experiences.”
Debra Maldonado 16:06
And that the ego is actually solid. You know, it's actually—
Robert Maldonado 16:10
Well, that's the ego function. So the ego is creating its own reality in a sense, its own sense of itself. That's why in Eastern philosophy they call that the ego maker, or the I-maker, which is I am the one that is experiencing all these things. But in spiritual practices the whole idea is that you're not the I. You're not that I. And so that's where some of the material spiritualism— spiritual materialism plays in.
Debra Maldonado 16:48
Because we identify when we're doing spiritual work, we're identifying with the I as we do the spiritual. Like, I am spiritual, I am good, I am this. So the whole goal of what Jung would say individuation is, is to realize you're not the I, individuate from that conditioning, but not get rid of the ego, but understand its nature so that we can see who we really are. But there's defenses, the ego has to stop that from happening, and those defenses will play out. The ego will use our spiritual knowledge and our spiritual techniques and meditations as defenses from actually individuating.
Robert Maldonado 17:34
Yes, so let's think about that. So why would the ego need these powerful defense mechanisms? Now, from the point of view of clinical psychology, because Freud, and Jung, and Adler, and all those guys were interested in helping people with mental health problems, their perception was very skewed towards people with mental health problems, not the ordinary person, not the person that is stable and well adjusted. So in our coaching model, we try to look at these defense mechanisms as normal, right? Because we all have them. So everybody has them, and everybody uses them. And we see that the ego is protecting these functions, this reality testing function, this impulse control function, this emotional regulation. So the defenses are merely there to keep these functions in place.
Debra Maldonado 18:36
I would say the synthesis is the most powerful function that the ego is protecting. Because anyone who's gone through individuation and faced their shadow, they go through this process of “Who am I?”. This synthesis kind of loosens up. And it really is a little bit of a confusion at first because you don't know everything you thought you were isn't you. So it's like breaking that kind of spell that you're under. I think I'm this person, I think I have this limitation, I think I'm separate from everyone. I think I'm all the things that we identify as us. And it kind of breaks that synthesis, wouldn’t you say? And so Anna Freud came up with the ego defenses with her dad, and I love to know these because we don't even realize that we're using those. And the ego will use those defenses and wrap them around a pretty little spiritual lesson. Like my favorite one is “everything happens for a reason”. Everything happens for a reason. And so the universe has a plan, or God has a plan. And then we don't really question anything, and the ego’s like “Okay, where are we? We went through that hurdle. We don't have to look at that.” And so it's that kind of denial in a way, suppression, rationalization. Another one is the humor. I know for me, our family, very funny. We use the humor a lot to deflect or to tease. So we say the opposite of how we feel. So I don't know how we do this with humor but with spirituality, I don't know, how would you say that shows up?
Robert Maldonado 20:23
Well, in general, humans use joking as a defense mechanism to express something uncomfortable and anxiety, something like that. So it happens in many different ways. There's a guy on YouTube that does these funny New Age videos. That's kind of humorous defusing of the anxiety he might have around being a real spiritual leader or a person.
Debra Maldonado 20:56
Yeah, it's almost shameful to be spiritual, so I'm gonna make fun of it.
Robert Maldonado 21:00
Yes. But the defense mechanisms, and if they're absolutely normal, and a good, let's say, a good sign of a healthy ego, in doing spiritual practices we want to see them as beneficial, not as something to get rid of or not a sign of pathology, which is usually the mistake people make. They think “Because my mind is using a defense mechanism, that means there's a drama or something’s wrong.”
Debra Maldonado 21:34
I'm wounded, it’s my brokenness. It's actually like you said, a sign of a healthy mind. And the healthy mind will have defenses. And the stronger the defense, the more powerful— like I always say, the more defensive you get, you're really on the edge of transformation. But if you're a coach and you have clients, if your client is highly defensive, it almost is that you have to work around that to loosen them up. And they are inhibiting their own growth by becoming too much of an extreme, where they're shutting down and pushing things away. I think the main defense that a lot of people, especially spiritual, and for me and my spiritual work, was taking responsibility, that it's not my fault, it must be some past life that did this to me. Or it's not my fault, that person is negative and I'm good. And so not taking any responsibility. Or what I saw was the opposite too is that overblaming yourself, I'm so bad, and I need to be spiritual, and I'm terrible person, and that harsh blaming as well. And so we fall into those traps, that kind of blaming as well can keep the ego going, “Let's make her feel like, you know, wallow in this for a while.” And it feels like, why would it do that to make you feel better, but the ego knows that it's a distraction, and it'll keep you from doing the work that you need to do. So it really is about redirecting you from that individuation. And it comes in forms that don't feel comfortable sometimes. But it's saying this is better than you individuating.
Robert Maldonado 23:24
Right. So if we couch it in the context of, in general, all spiritual practices are leading us towards transcending our ego. Not getting rid of it, not destroying it, like some people say, they want to obliterate the ego or kill it or something like that.
Debra Maldonado 23:49
Robert Maldonado 23:50
Yeah, we don't really want to do that. Because again, all these functions that it's doing for us are really useful and necessary. But in, let's say, in walking a spiritual path, if the aim is to transcend the ego — but you don't understand that the ego has all these functions and defense mechanisms that are going to resist — that’s when people fall into the trap of spiritual materialism. Because like the Buddhist teacher said, the ego is always waiting and observing and watching. And then it will use whatever you're bringing into your life and hijack it for its own purposes, again, to keep itself in powers actually.
Debra Maldonado 24:53
And so if it can sneakily use spiritual terms, it makes you believe you're actually doing something and growing and becoming more spiritual. But it's almost like undercover that you don't even know that it's doing, that it could use those terms. And so I think a lot of people think, well, if I have a desire for spiritual enlightenment to transcend the ego, to have this other level of experience, that pure will is all we need. We have this conscious desire, but we don't realize that the ego has a whole other agenda. And that is to keep you in this ego, the synthesis of itself. And so it's threatened by the spiritual work, so it'll use it in a way. Well, you know how people are, they'll use your own words to manipulate you, you've seen this happen in relationships, they'll use what you teach. I can't think of an example, but someone who, you know, the friend knows you're into something, and they'll be like “Well, is that very Buddhist of you?” You know, they'll use your— whether you're studying for that. So I have to ask you a question. You also talk about sublimation. Can you explain that a little bit?
Robert Maldonado 26:09
We were talking about denial, and rationalization, and projection, all those defense mechanisms will work against us if we don't understand them, and we don't know how to work with them. Sublimation is one of the key elements in that spiritual bypassing, where we want to become spiritual, but we haven't dealt with the ego in the proper way, then the ego just hijacks it and takes it for its own. And we think we're acting spiritual, you're being spiritual, but it's really just at the surface level. So sublimation is a very sophisticated defense mechanism that the ego has. So it goes like this. Dancing is considered a sublimation activity of the sexual desire. So as human beings we have this sexual attraction towards each other, towards the opposite sex—
Debra Maldonado 27:20
Or same sex.
Robert Maldonado 27:21
Yes, whatever the preference is. But we don't go around just expressing that socially, because it's considered socially inappropriate, there has to be rules of engagement and proper ways of addressing it. So Freud figured out that we do that by finding socially acceptable ways of doing it, of expressing that need to be close to each other through dancing. So there you see sublimation in action, that by dancing, oh, we get to meet each other, scratching that that sexual desire itch. But we're doing it in a socially acceptable way. And he says, that's how the ego works essentially.
Debra Maldonado 28:17
So can you give an example of that for spirituality, for spiritual work?
Robert Maldonado 28:21
In spiritual work, because the aim of a real spiritual discipline is to transcend the ego — the ego is aware of that and it's observing you. So it's going to find a way to channel that into a socially acceptable behavior that will essentially lead back to keeping you in the same place, meaning keeping you in ego.
Debra Maldonado 28:50
So kind of developing a spiritual persona?
Robert Maldonado 28:53
Developing a spiritual persona, or doing something but not really doing the internal work involved in it.
Debra Maldonado 29:02
So let me just ask this question. So would it be— this has just come into my mind, so feel free to disagree with me. But isn't forgiveness sort of a sublimation of a spiritual? Like, I'm angry at you, but I'm gonna forgive you. And it's almost like a way to deal with that anger. Like, it's a way for me to say I'm angry at you, you wronged me, but in a very light, spiritual, loving way. That’s why I don't think forgiveness is really transformational. I mean, it may be a good first step, but it's not really freeing you because you're really just still saying the other person did you wrong and you're just still hanging on to, I forgive you, like, I'm the bigger person, you hurt me, but I'm gonna forgive you. And so the ego can do that. And you might not think that you're doing it, you might think this is the most spiritual thing, and I'm letting it go. But the ego’s kind of like “Oh, she's still hooked in, she's still making that dual assumption that they did me wrong, and I'm right.”
Robert Maldonado 30:12
Yes, something like that, because you see that real spiritual disciplines require dedication, focus, sacrifice, discipline. And the ego is going to resist that. Why? Remember, the primary objective is to transcend the ego. So the ego wants to keep you safe, its primary function is to keep you safe and in your comfort zone. So it's going to try to find a way to lead you back to ego functions.
Debra Maldonado 30:51
So for example, you always talk about people that dig shallow holes, and they're looking for a spiritual solution. But when things start getting uncomfortable, they're like “I don't really like Buddhism anymore. I think I'm gonna try yoga”, or “We're gonna do this practice, or maybe I'm going to do the law of attraction, and I'm just going to do something else.” Because when it's ready to hit something serious, it's almost uncomfortable, and I don't want to do it anymore.
Robert Maldonado 31:17
That's right. And this is where it goes back to that lesson that Trungpa Chögyam was saying that anybody that undergoes a spiritual practice is going to have to face these things.
Debra Maldonado 31:30
And so this isn't about the practice itself, or the teachings itself. It's that the person's ego is hijacking that system.
Robert Maldonado 31:39
That's right. And so you do see not just those people out there, you see all of us — anyone that is foolish enough, or courageous enough to undergo a spiritual discipline will have to face these challenges of working with ego, because everyone has an ego, and everyone has these defense mechanisms in place.
Debra Maldonado 32:06
Before I met you, my very first coach, I was into all this different stuff like energy work, and I was doing hypnotherapy at the time, and doing meditations and retreats and stuff. And when she was teaching me the non-dual idea, and I said “Oh!” We are having this conversation, and she said “Oh yeah, they don't teach you— they only teach you the good news and that popular self-help. They don't teach you this stuff, you really need to face to change.” And it really is that because of the ego — we’re all have egos. And so the ego’ll find a way to infiltrate even the most beautiful practices for its own gain and to mislead you into thinking you're really making progress. And that's why I think a lot of times, we do think we've done a lot of work, but we feel like we haven't really gotten far, because the ego's just rearranging the furniture. It's just making you go through the motions, then hitting that defense, but not going through it, not getting to the other side of it.
Robert Maldonado 33:07
Well, let's talk about some of the ways it plays out and then we can connect it better to the psychology of it. So you have a gift. Maybe you're clairvoyant, maybe you have precognitive dreams, maybe you've experienced a mystical experience in the forest or in a temple and somewhere in your life. And the ego says “Look at what you've done” or “Look what you've experienced, you must be enlightened, you’re special, you don't have to do the hard work, you don't have to do that sacrifice of disciplining your mind and really going through this tough problem.”
Debra Maldonado 33:58
Because you can see things that other people can see. And so we confuse those gifts that we have, what we would call spiritual gifts to we've done our work with the ego, because the person who has that clairvoyance still has an ego. When I was younger, I used to go to psychics all the time. But then I realized “Wait a minute, their ego is filtering through that, whatever they're telling me.” And anyone will tell you that you're not getting a pure interpretation through someone else. And the best person to really hone that skill is with yourself. But also I think that we expect a lot from someone who is clairvoyant. We almost feel like if you have that gift, that you have to act so morally perfect all the time, you know. So it works that way too where you think “I can't be angry, or I can't keep boundaries because I am this, you know, I have this spiritual experience and I'm this gift to the world.” And then people have higher expectations of you, and you can't be human. You can't be selfish, you can't be sexual or whatever it is. And then other people project onto you as well, they think— either you believe you're better, more evolved, or everyone else thinks you are and puts you on a higher pedestal because you can see, you have a talent that I don't have. So it works both ways. And so what we really want to do is we want to give those people a break. And then also, if you are that person, to give yourself a break, and to really work on the human element of yourself, you still have to do your shadow work and all those other things. It's just because you have that gift, just like an artist or a musician has different gifts. It doesn't mean they are fully enlightened, everyone has an ego.
Robert Maldonado 35:56
That's it. The main message is that because we have individual gifts, it doesn't mean we're exempt from the discipline that's required for spiritual work. We're all going to have to do it. The other one is — and this I fell into very early on. When I heard about meditation, I thought “Okay, here's a way to gain this state of mind, where I'll be exempt from all the pain in the world. I'll be peaceful, I'll be in nirvana, I'll be blissful, and I won't have to deal with my spiritual pain.” That is the ego right there leading you on the wrong path, hijacking a spiritual practice to keep you pretty much in that same ego mind of “stay in your comfort zone”, find a way to avoid the difficult work of spiritual practice. And just meditate.
Debra Maldonado 37:03
Well, Ram Das said— was it him that said he spent 26 years meditating on his delusions. And he was just with his ego for 20 years or something. And then he finally realized, what the heck am I doing, you know. We could meditate for 20 years on our ego mind, and it'll just make us believe that we are getting somewhere. And then I used to use it as an escape. So I would go to my little meditation, I put candles and have my little routine. And then I go back into the world. And just be me again, there was no integration of applying that meditation, that meditative practice in my life until I got older. But it was that kind of escape.
Robert Maldonado 37:52
Well, you see people selling meditation and mindfulness as stress reduction. That's a classic example of ego function.
Debra Maldonado 38:02
And it does help with stress, but it can't be the only goal.
Robert Maldonado 38:05
Okay, you're better off sitting by a pool or just sitting on a couch and relaxing, because those things are really meant for relaxation. Meditation was designed to realize the self, very different practice, very different aim and different goal.
Debra Maldonado 38:25
Well, even yoga. A lot of people go to yoga class, and yoga was actually a very intense spiritual tradition. I mean, it was designed that way thousands of years ago, and now it's a workout routine. And you take the last three minutes of the practice to meditate and you think “Oh, I feel better, I meditated today.” And so the ego will be making you believe that you're actually using that work for further evolution, and you're really just using it to stay comfortable.
Robert Maldonado 39:02
Yeah, we're not pointing fingers. We're saying we've all susceptible to this. We've all done it in one form or another. And again, it's a natural part of a spiritual tradition or practice. Because you're having to deal with this ego.
Debra Maldonado 39:18
And so really, it's not that any of these practices are bad or even if we use them, but the ego uses them. When we realize that, then we can actually make a change. If we don't realize we're using them in that way, they end up becoming a distraction from our growth and from the goal of life to realize the self.
Robert Maldonado 39:40
Another one is chasing these fads or techniques. What's the latest fad? What's the latest technique? What is it that everyone's doing now so I can jump in and be on the bandwagon and feel spiritual. The ego loves to do this type of chasing after the fad. Why? Because it knows, first of all, the fad, the latest technique is not going to require you to do real transformative work. And so the ego says “Yeah, let's go for it.”
Debra Maldonado 40:22
It likes to distract you. And again, like we talked about digging shallow holes, when things get to the edge of something — “Oh, let's look at that shiny object. Let's try that, Mary did this workshop and she manifested a new man. So let's all do that workshop.” And then it becomes this almost— well, we're using it to chase material things. So a lot of times the ego will say “Oh, if you do this, then you can make money, and then you can find a man, and then you can do this.” You know, we taught our work, our marketing, we used to have a program called “Engaged in a Year”, and it fed that ego desire. But then when people got in it, they were like “Oh, this isn't about finding love, it's about finding myself.” We almost had to use that name to get people to even step in, because the ego is so powerful, and it wants to chase those things. So these techniques are really there like the next best thing to get us away from going deep with anything.
Robert Maldonado 41:31
Well, we see this a lot that the emphasis is on the technique, people think the technique is going to give me the breakthrough, the spiritual enlightenment. But techniques are just like prayer, just like meditation, you can use them with this desire of more material wealth and all that stuff, instead of real spiritual enlightenment. So the technique itself is not a spiritual practice, the spiritual practice has to come from a deeper philosophical understanding of how is that technique going to be applied and how is it going to help me on my journey of transformation?
Debra Maldonado 42:14
I remember when I was a hypnotherapist, I would work with people and I felt like I was just fixing symptoms, and I was thinking “Where am I taking these people? Where are they going? I need a system to give them somewhere to go.” It's not just about putting band aids on what's dysfunctional in their life, or their anxiety, or a habit they have. That's why I got into coaching, because I wanted to work with people who wanted to take a journey versus just kind of work on, you know, manifesting and all that stuff. Which is fine, I mean, that's part of the process of becoming powerful in the world is you can create your life, you can think positive and hold your thoughts. And they do create, and consciousness, and all those things. But if you're doing it just for the goodies— and that's what we're gonna get into next, law of attraction.
Robert Maldonado 43:07
Speaking of doing it for the goodies—
Debra Maldonado 43:10
That movie, The Secret, 20 years ago that came out.
Robert Maldonado 43:14
And again, all of us kind of fell into or have fallen into this ideas somewhere along the path to some extent.
Debra Maldonado 43:27
I know for me, that's what I thought. I mean, I wrote “Let Love In” about the law of attraction. And so the thoughts, your thoughts do create your life. But for me, my personal experience was, if I didn't have the things that I wanted to create, I felt like I wasn't as spiritual then, this kind of beating myself up of “I'm not enlightened enough yet, if I was more enlightened I would have more business” or “If I was enlightened enough, I'd have a relationship.” And I just felt like there was something broken in me. And that I needed to figure out how to use these tools, and how to clear my mind, and then it ended up being more of a way to beat myself up about it than actually empowering me. And then every once in a while, something accidental would show up. And I'd be like “Oh, this is great.” And then it was still that attachment. Ego loves to attach itself to the external as a way to give you self-worth and value. So then we end up again, thinking if I manifest things, I must be enlightened and powerful. And I'm attached to this idea that I have this power. And then it's very tempting, the ego gets inflated with that idea.
Robert Maldonado 44:38
Yeah, this is probably the easiest one because ego promises an easy way to do spirituality.
Debra Maldonado 44:48
Yeah, I used to think that if I can manifest being on Oprah, and then I would make million dollars in books, and then everything would be great. And we have to really work hard to build business or hire people or have a business plan. I could just have that overnight success. We all want that. But now 17 years later in business, I realized that every hurdle I faced, if I got a quick fix, quick manifestation, I would have missed out on the growth. And the ego doesn't like that, the ego doesn't want to face itself, it wants everything to be easy. So if you're finding that temptation, that you want it easy, you want that quick fix, you want that overnight success, your ego has hijacked— or even an overnight enlightenment, like Instant Karma. I went overnight, you know, just take a weekend, and then my life is perfect. No, that's not how growth works. It happens in cycles and stages and different levels.
Robert Maldonado 45:51
Yes. And I have to say, in a lot of therapy models, the aim— it really might be implied, meaning they don't tell you this or they might not even know this directly but the aim is to strengthen the ego in a lot of therapy models. And so as far as spirituality goes, they're holding you back in a sense, because they're helping you reinforce and strengthen those ego functions.
Debra Maldonado 46:26
Which some people need if they can’t function.
Robert Maldonado 46:29
Yes. But if the person mistakes that as I'm growing spiritually, because I have these insights into my ego functions—
Debra Maldonado 46:40
And more confident and feeling better about myself, and I'm thinking positive, then I must be more spiritual, I have grown and I've enlightened.
Robert Maldonado 46:51
Yes. That’s positive thinking again. One of the first self-help books I read was The Power of Positive Thinking. And I loved it, it was life-changing for me because my mindset was so negative. But if we just stay there, if we stay at that level, that's it again, ego functioning, you know it's that judgment piece.
Debra Maldonado 47:18
Well, I see so many people tell me and I keep having to reinforce this is that the ego has a natural negative bias. And so we're basically working against the tide of this huge force of negativity and critical illness [unclear] of the ego. And a lot of people feel fearful. I know I did, when I was thinking negative, and I'd say “I got to get out of this.” And so we want to escape, we want to fix the mind, you got to be positive, we got to be positive. And then we end up beating ourselves up because we're not as positive as this other person who has the persona of “Everything's great, and I'm wonderful.” Meanwhile, that person is suppressing probably a lot of her pain and anxiety. But we look at other people and we think “Well, everyone else is so positive, there's something wrong with me.” And then we begin to pathologize our own negative thinking and not seeing it as “Oh, that's just the ego.” And the ego’s natural state is to look at things critically and try to fix things. And then we end up also thinking we want to avoid negative people, you know, we want to stay in our positive little bubble. And then what happens is that people don't examine the negative, don’t examine the dark side, the shadow of ourselves, and we want to kind of prop up — which isn't bad. I mean, we do want to hang out with positive people. But then if we're finding that we're judging the people that are negative, we're not really going anywhere. We're just kind of hiding that part of ourselves from ourselves.
Robert Maldonado 48:57
Yes, because if we're not getting rid of the ego, right, we're not trying to destroy it, we're not trying to get rid of it. In spiritual work it's going to come in handy, all these functions are really going to be handy. But we first have to do the hard part, the Shadow Work, the transformational piece, the real discipline of spiritual practice. That way then these functions become useful to us and then they operate on those— like the Buddha says “Your thoughts create your life.” Yes, after you practice your spiritual discipline, not just when you're in ego, because when you're in ego, the ego again will hijack that positive thinking, that affirmation, use affirmations and all this stuff to simply keep you in that comfort ego state.
Debra Maldonado 49:54
And we're not dissing any of those things. It's just we're saying the ego will hijack it and it will use anything you learn, spiritual or not, anything you learn, to keep you stuck, even like money and desires for money and wealth, all those things. The ego will use those things to keep you stuck. I guess the rule of thumb is if you find yourself wanting ease, seeking the lover of ease, things to not be so hard and kind of resisting any conflict in your life, and you want everything to be smooth, and there's that resistance — that’s the ego. The ego’s going “Oh, this is uncomfortable. I don't like this.” And we see this a lot with our programs. Some people will sign up, and then they'll have this kind of “Oh, did I do the right thing?” And that's the ego, it's resisting, going “No, don't go to open that door, because I’m going to change.” And we always tell people that that's a natural function of the ego. And having a strong ego helps you go through the individuation process, because you can't really have individuated from it, if there's not a strong enough opposing force. So think about it. In martial arts, they say the best way to become a master is have a good opponent. And so we want to use it, it's kind of the push and pull that stretches us, that helps us grow and to become who we really are.
Robert Maldonado 51:25
Yeah, that's a good point. If you see it as the ego is a natural part of the psyche, and it has these defense mechanisms for a purpose. They're not just there to keep us stuck in essence, they're there to make sure that we're ready to transcend it. In other words, that we're ready to do the hard work, and that we've done our homework, and that we are serious about this process. And then it lets us through. So it says if you're not ready, these defense mechanisms, they'll stop you, throw you back to ego state, where you can then come back when you're ready in essence.
Debra Maldonado 52:09
Well, you know, I think one of the biggest things that will change for people, and why we train coaches is that I was spinning for 10 years, digging shallow holes, because I didn't have any accountability. And as soon as I hired my first coach, she made me look at things I didn't know I should look at and see things differently. And it was someone else outside of my own mind. Because the ego is a terrible life coach, I'm telling you, your ego is the most awful life coach in the world. It will tell you “Oh, you don't have to do it right now. And, you know, blame the other person or blame the course she took that it didn't work for you.” And it'll just move on. But to have a really good coach who understands the unconscious, understands the ego, will help you move through it. You need that extra help to get through any type of spiritual tradition. You need someone, a mentor, to help you go through it. If you rely on yourself and your own rationalization, justifications, “it's not the right time”, “maybe next year”, “I don't know”, or “everything's fine”, that kind of minimization, “it's not so bad, you know.” And then what typically happens in personal development and spiritual development is that they only come to us, or to people, or coaches when things get really bad, they wait until they really have to get out. Either they get laid off from a job — why are you looking at me?— they have a breakout, they're going through a divorce, something happens and they just don't know how to cope. And they either have to wait until— almost like their ego’s not serving them anymore. And we don't want to do that, we want to proactively have coaching in our life. And it's not to fix symptoms. Coaching is to take us to the next level in our life. I think the last part of this spiritual path by the pitfalls, is what I see and what I've experienced in my own spiritual journey is this kind of medicalization of spiritual work, like the medicalization of the soul, that it was almost like my soul needed therapy. Like “Oh, your soul had these past parents that were terrible to you.” And it's almost like taking what a therapist would do in your personal life that you are aware of, and then applying it to soul work. Again, like something's broken about the soul, there’s damage, and kind of over-medicalizing the spiritual process. There's something broken about you and you have to fix that before you can become enlightened.
Robert Maldonado 55:05
And Vedic knowledge says exactly the opposite, that the true self, the soul is indestructible, it can't be hurt in any way. And so to think of it as broken or needing kind of attention, having wounds or trauma, it's a total misconception. Again, we can see the ego’s fingerprints all over it.
Debra Maldonado 55:36
And for me, it was like “I have to go— ” I went to one person one time, and she said “Well, you have four lifetimes, you have all these open wounds that I have to fix.” And it was just like “Am I ever going to be whole enough to find love?” And it was very discouraging to feel that. So that's why we wanted to do this whole series on the different spiritual traditions, but I think this is probably the most important, the materialism because if you don't know, it'll feel okay, it'll feel right. And you don't even realize that you're in it. And I know, for me — well, both of us, we've had that experience of being caught up in it.
Robert Maldonado 56:18
I've had a very powerful ego. But again, the ego is a great servant, but a very poor master. If you allow it to run your life, it keeps you in a very limited survival pattern.
Debra Maldonado 56:38
And you believe what it tells you, because you're hearing it in your mind, and you know you're a rational person. So you think, well, my mind is telling me that I shouldn't do this, or I shouldn't do that, or I should hold back, or I shouldn't speak up. And we believe it — or I'm not good enough, or no one's ever going to marry me. You know, all those ideas. Or I'm never going to be successful. We start to believe what we were thinking, because we're our own inner authority. We think this ego has some kind of knowledge. And because it's rational and it comes in coherent thought, we think, well, it makes sense. And the narrative fits our situation. So it matches, like you said, that kind of reality testing. And it's like, well, my mind is saying I'm never going to be successful. Well, if I look at my life, yeah, I'm in debt! No one's buying my services, I'm struggling making my business run. Well, that's reality. And so your ego’s like “check”, and then you believe it. And then you're caught up in that ego thinking,
Robert Maldonado 57:44
Yes, but as a servant the ego then is a tremendous asset to our life. Because then we're able to direct these functions, these incredible functions that it has, in a creative way.
Debra Maldonado 58:00
Because it helps us see, we realize we're not the ego. So when the reality testing says “Well, I'm looking at my dating life, and there's no one showing up. So I must be alone forever.” We can now bring in the higher divine intellect, this higher part of our conscious mind, that looks at the ego and says “Oh, wait, no, that's just the ego.” Then we say, okay, it helps us be more self-aware and self-aware of those thought patterns that we believe are true. And we start to wake ourselves up from the sleepwalking the ego makes us do. But this is such an important thing. And I really feel that the most important thing is that the ego is something that we need to be strong. But also our consciousness needs to be stronger, and our practice, and that's why we need a practice, a regular practice, daily practice, we need a system that's not just a technique. We need a coach or a mentor, a guide to help us through that self enlightenment, or as Jung would call and we teach — individuation, we're individuating from the ego. We’re not getting rid of it but we're saying “Hey, why don't you sit on the side here while I do my work. And thank you for sharing and you can keep regulating my functions, but I'm going to keep moving forward.” It's a partnership and less of a master, and the divine mind becomes the master.
Robert Maldonado 59:32
That's a good way to see it.
Debra Maldonado 59:33
Because we need those functions for a lot of different reasons, to keep alive, and it manages this idea that this body needs to survive, and it's a beautiful thing.
Robert Maldonado 59:46
So next time we're going to be talking about Christian mysticism and how it's played into the coaching models.
Debra Maldonado 59:55
Great. Well, thank you everyone for joining us. It's been an hour. That was a juicy topic. Feel free to watch the replay, and we'll see you next Friday for our next edition of Soul Sessions with Creative Mind.
Robert Maldonado 1:00:11
Thanks for watching.
Debra Maldonado 1:00:12
Take care. Bye.
Thank you for joining us for another episode of Soul Sessions with Creative Mind. Don't forget to subscribe to our podcast so you don't miss any episode. And also join us on Facebook in our live interactive community Jungian life coaching with Creative Mind University. Have a great and wonderful day, and we'll see you next week.