The No Ego Retreat
08 Sep 2010

I WAS AMUSED when I saw the Autumn 2010 issue of Living Consciously, Brandon Bays' newsletter. Right on the front, one of the article headlines reads:

"The No Ego Retreat has brought me a new life"

Me? If the writer feels that the retreat brought "him" anything then maybe he should ask for his money back!

It is so easy in the New Age to confuse personal-growth with spirituality. The two seem to go together but are actually poles apart. Personal growth is just that, it is about growth of the person. In personal growth we make lists of things we want, and then use our focus and a positive attitude to get what we want. And that process can make us very light and happy. Creating our reality can be a an addictive drug that allows us to revel in our own happiness and abundance.

Thankfully, the FDA has recently approved a depressant drug for the annoyingly cheerful.

Joking aside, I will say right off that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being cheerful, loving and happy. I would rather be around individuals who had done work on themselves and who were bringing conscious awareness into all parts of their lives and expectations, then to be around those who have not. Personal growth is about taking responsibility for our internal and external states, so that we are able to control our energy and focus in order to bring ourselves and our communities happiness.

Spirituality is something entirely different, although if you read most New Age teachers these days, you would not think so. Most teachers seem to tag on spirituality to personal-growth, like the icing on the cake. But the problem with doing that is that you end up with just a semblance of what spirituality actually is. We love to think of spirituality as love and light… but it is actually not these qualities per se. We love to think of spirituality as peace and happiness… but again, it is not these qualities at all. If we think spirituality is any of these states, then we have a fairy tale version of spirituality.

Now there is nothing wrong with fairy tales. Nothing at all. They are bring us comfort and wonder, and they engage us in a compelling fantasy.

But sooner or later we have to face up to the fact that spirituality is a process of letting go of all the qualities that we think we are. Everything. And that includes love, and light, and peace, and happiness. All of it has to go on the bonfire of awareness. That is not to say that in burning what we think we are we don't end up loving, light-filled, peaceful and happy. Many do. But these qualities are incidental to the spiritual process, not its focus.

The actual focus of spiritual awakening is the process of letting go of identification with all things, all thoughts, all emotions, all feelings, all memories — good and bad.

It is a frightening process — there is nothing comforting about it. It is not soft and fluffy. Nothing is soft and fluffy about facing our own annihilation. And that annihilation is the annihilation of all the qualities we think we are. All those good qualities that we think makes us special, makes us spiritual, makes us kind, makes us loving. All of it has to go. (The same, of course, applies to the bad qualities that we identify with.)

If you have ever faced a real shock in your life — maybe a partner died or maybe you lost everything or maybe failed at your life's dream or contracted a terminal disease — the type of shock that just leaves you silent inside… the shock that tears down everything you think you know about yourself, that destroys you in an instant… that is the closest thing to explain to most people what spiritual awakening is like. It is a shock that stuns your internal dialogue into silence; there is nothing else to say or think or do.

From this perspective, spirituality is very different from personal-growth. It can never be the icing on the cake because when it is authentic spirituality it is an icing so caustic that it will burn the cake away. Most of us tend to go through a personal growth phase; but that phase will ALWAYS eventually leave us dissatisfied so that we look for something deeper. What tends to happen is that we hop from one personal-growth guru to another; from one system of healing and wholeness to another; from one book to another; from one weekend workshop to another; from one meditation technique to another; trying desperately to find everlasting satisfaction. Most people in the New Age movement spend their entire lives in this dance from one new system to the next. Some even become the New Age gurus themselves in the belief that if they somehow teach the stuff, if they surround themselves with validating students and followers, then they will avoid this deep dissatisfaction. But nobody escapes it.

Those courageous enough to look deeply at this dissatisfaction soon realize that what we are looking for is not another philosophy; not another belief system; not another ability or power; not another workshop or holy book; not another meditation technique; not another tantric practice; not another mantra or prayer; not another shaman's brew. What we are looking for is the dissolution of self. Yes, the very thing we fear the most is the very thing we crave, deep inside.

The spiritual process is a death process; and out of it something is born but something we don't know what. What is born is not a new self, is not an enlightened being. What is born is simple awareness that is no longer hidden behind layers of fabricated self; an awareness that has no orientation; an awareness that is relative to nothing.