Yoga teachers are not exempt from having egos....I'm sure you've noticed.
Like an eel, the ego finds sneaky ways to slip itself into modern spiritual culture — under the carefully crafted guise of humble spirituality.
As Chogyam Trungpa says in his classic book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism: "The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality."
About 12 years ago when I first began teaching yoga, I didn't recognize the ego traps I'd ensnared myself in.
I’d long rejected many of our collective conditioned values:
climbing the corporate ladder, mortgaging a big house, leasing the latest car, and clamoring after the newest shiny object…
...not for me! No, no, I’m wayyy too spiritual, thankyouverymuch.
Luckily, the glimmering path of spiritual pursuits was there beckoning to me.
Meditation, yoga, hikes in nature…which led to buying yoga gear, vegetarianism…
& secretly judging most people FOR NOT BEING AS SPIRITUAL AS ME.
Oh yes, friends, I was quite the Yoga Asshat.
When all this ass-hattery began, around 2008, I’d go to bars with friends (I was 24 and still very immature) and lecture the poor drunken revelers around me about all the amazing new things I’d been learning.
Pro Tip: Don’t try to relay the lessons from your Reiki Master or Tibetan Buddhist classes during Happy Hour. Somehow the wisdom won’t translate when laced in cheap beer foam.
I was genuinely excited about this new path that was opening up to me — the yoga, Reiki, and Buddhist paradigms gave me newfound peace after years of depression and anxiety.
Reiki was, inexplicably, healing my depression and my chronic sinus headaches.
Yoga was helping me move mindfully and breathe in this body I’d spent so much time hating.
It was life changing.
In my zeal, I wanted everyone around me to hear about all these magical new things.
And though I didn’t see it at the time, my ego had gleefully slipped into the role of superior spirituality.
After all, yoga and reiki and veggie burgers ARE SO MUCH MORE NOBLE THAN YOUR GROSS CAPITALISM.
I was in deep, friends.
THE COMMON EGO TRAP
I've also learned, 12 years later, that this stage on the spiritual path is pretty common.
In my experience working with Yoga Teacher Trainees, there's usually a moment for many of them about 6-8 weeks into the program: they've been growing and learning so much, and they're having these mind-blowing experiences in the yoga program, but when they return to their friends and family and co-workers whom just "don't get it" or suddenly aren't "on the same wavelength" anymore, the common impulse is to feel separate and....
...let's be honest here....a wee bit judgy.
It's a common ego trap — not because we're fundamentally flawed or inherently bad or unworthy.
It's a common ego trap simply because that's the nature of ego.
One of the many things I love about Yoga & Buddhist wisdom is that these traditions explain the nature of the ego and the mind, so we can observe these patterns when they arise. This is wildly helpful because it also means you're not alone.
Those ancient sages were clearly plagued by the same sticky feelings of spiritual superiority & inferiority as us mere modern mortals....
...and that's precisely why they developed the tools & technologies (meditation techniques, dharma, pranayama practices, parables and epic poems that relay these lessons, etc) to help us work out our suffering.
I'll say it again: if you've ever felt just touch judgy in your spiritual path ("those poor ignorant others!") you're not alone. And you're not a bad person. You've simply fallen into a very common ego trap.
In Part 2, I'll share how Shadow Integration is key to transcending the Ego Trap, as well as a vulnerable peak into my own shame patterns.