What is Spiritual Arrogance?
I know – the scary, sensitive, defense-producing sound of the word arrogance (especially when it’s aimed at us.) Add ‘spiritual’ in front of it, and many of us are defending the truth of who we are at all cost, down to the very core of our being.
Except – we’re not. We’re defending our perception that someone else can’t see us clearly. That someone thinks we might not be who we really are. Worse, that they think we’re full of shit or (gasp!) that we don’t know what we’re talking about. We’re not defending our spirit (all of our higher selves are badasses and way past that shit.) Let’s be real – we’re defending our insecurity.
Arrogance, as an aspect of the defense system we call as a unit “ego”, is a particularly hard one to see from the inside out. It’s effectively a blind spot, a veil over the eyes – we the one suffering from blinding arrogance truly doesn’t believe they are arrogant – they just believe they are right (and this is not a judgement – this is me speaking from personal experience!)
If you’re not familiar, the way the spiritual community uses the blanket term “ego” (and there is not clear consensus as to the exact definition of it either, FYI) is somewhere between A) a natural mechanism so that we can perceive ourselves as separate beings in order to learn and re-unify, B) nature’s survival mechanism to keep us alive, creating natural defense mechanisms that we mis-appropriate because we’re too smart for our own good, activating at not only actual threats of danger, but perceived ones as well – and C) the general defense system that protects us from our own fears, wounds and insecurities (activated by “triggers”, or grown so large into a full-blown belief system that sits as a filter in front of our eyes.)
Ayahuasca and My Own Ego Work
I’ll speak for myself on this one, as one of the most effective ways to get into real talk and reduce stigma is by opening up. I’ve not been shy about my ego process during my five year Ayahuasca shamanic apprenticeship in Peru (for more about Ayahuasca, click HERE), nor the five years I’ve continued the spiritual development work since.
I ended up in Peru on some crazy Universe shit – with intuition after intuition yelling at me so loudly that I almost had no choice. By the time I landed in the Amazon and was en route to the large center I started at, I was clear this was my path and I knew I would apprentice. The Western shaman I worked with and some of the apprentices kind of laughed at me for such a bold assertion before I’d even had the ceremony experience (they weren’t wrong to do that either – reading about the Medicine and being in ceremony are two very different things, as most of you know!) Yet here I was, following some wild Flow and in Ceremony.
The draw to the place I started was no accident either, for several reasons. Off the top, the shaman I would later work with for the long haul was there, and that’s how we’d connect. It was also a boot camp style approach (which I didn’t know at the time) but a loving ass-whooping was exactly what my ego needed at the time to believe it was really working (it’s since evolved since then, thank God!) Also, I needed to learn a little bit about the ego by learning what not to do.
Acquiring Wisdom and Reducing Ego Defenses are NOT Mutually Exclusive
I won’t go into too much detail as to not launch an unnecessary shit-show, but I very quickly learned an important lesson. For whatever reason, my body and spiritual development process had set me up naturally to work on ego (for this I’m so grateful!) Basically, I had to knock down ego walls or belief systems filters (either from the top down or even more effective, from the bottom up by healing the wound or fear underneath it that the defense is protecting.)
Each time I made headway, what was left in its place was just my spirit with clarity. In that clear space (which appeared to the outside as “wisdom” – which is a loaded word in itself) I could just see things more easily. Learn things. Strengthen my intuition and energy reads. But with every corresponding step, I also was made to still be on high alert for my ego’s blindspots (especially since I had tendency towards arrogance coupled with the rescuer archetype, with the occasional people-pleaser, victim and martyr mentality that would show up in my moments of insecurity.)
I realized that this was not a given for everyone. It is 100% possible for someone to have ridiculous, mind-blowing levels of wisdom alongside of an ego that is so savvy, it’s easy to miss. I missed it. I didn’t want it to be the case. Then once I saw it, I realized that I was on that same track. If I didn’t work on my ego fiercely and immediately, I’d end up in the running for #1 Cult Leader (that’s an exaggeration, but if spiritual egos are left unattended to…)
Avoiding the #1 Cult Leader Award
So basically, the Medicine made me work on it. “Made me” – that’s not fair. My higher self and spiritual intention on actually doing good with my Medicine path overrode the strength of my ego, guiding me to take care of business as quickly as possible – given the gravity of what I was trying to accomplish in this lifetime. The arrogant ego was in the way, period. And the only way out is through.
Thank God I had the language for all of this before I got into the Medicine (studying intensive spiritual development training under Iyanla Vanzant at Inner Visions.) I had concepts and mental constructs for all this that I wasn’t ready to face before, and while the arrogance was blinding, I could see just enough to navigate me through via the Medicine and my intuition.
Spiritual Arrogance Walls and Filters
Spiritual arrogance (which is just regular arrogance applied to spirituality) is a wall, a filter – often a belief system keeping us at arms length from the insecure fear that we really aren’t good enough. If we start to bank our inherent value on what we know, accomplish, or how many followers we have or how many people’s minds we blow today, the stronger the arrogant ego defense wall/filter becomes, and the harder it is to get out from behind it.
As the shaman I work with once said –
When you put up too many walls to protect yourself, no one can hear you when you cry for help.
Like attracts like. Arrogance attracts itself and often pulls it out of people around it. Hence, why the “spiritual debate” ego battle happens so often, especially from behind a computer screen.
The Insecurity Tree
One of the most profound visions I ever received (and one of the only that happened outside of Ceremony, but while in Peru when I was fuming in a trigger from friend who was seriously pissing me off) was what I call the Insecurity Tree.
I saw a baby sapling – so thin, you could push it over with your hand. It was barely rooted in the ground (“insecure” physically). The elements alone had the capacity to do it in. Because of that, it had a huge, thick wall surrounding it like a fortress keeping it safe (representing the ego defense system). Over time, at each new stage, the insecure tree grew. It’s roots strengthened, it’s trunk thickened, and it began to hold balance with steady branches. As it matured, the fortress walls became thinner – gradually – in correlation to the increasing strength of the tree. Eventually, once the tree was at full majesty, the walls crumbled, allowing everyone to finally see the magnificent beauty that was this noble being. The walls were no longer needed, therefore they were out of the way and no longer blocking connection.
All walls, filters and over-corrects slow down our spiritual development flow. The ego work is part of the process, but the more quickly it is recognized within oneself, the faster you can “get your hands around it”, and actually make some headway into healing it back into natural alignment within the body.
Lessons from the Medicine
Once I really began to see it (even a little bit) the Medicine began to teach me. It began to show me how this wasn’t about not looking like an asshole (which arrogance generally does from the perspective of everyone else around). It wasn’t about trying to not look like I was being arrogant, or get people to buy into what I was saying without it being an obvious manipulation. One of the teachings I often got in the Medicine –
Do you want to LOOK LIKE you’re there, or do you want to BE there?
This was an ego check over and over. I hadn’t realized how much my desire for validation and recognition for others still permeated so much of what I was doing. I’m sure it still does to a lesser extent today. This work isn’t about eradicating or battling the ego – it’s about learning to work with it so it doesn’t fight you back.
Start with language to make it more malleable.
This is basically a glorified “fake it til you make it.” I started inserting words into my vocabulary like “in my experience” or “how I tend to see this” rather than “this is how it is.” This basically leaves the door always open a crack to be wrong. And while it felt like just arrogance mitigation work in the beginning, as I started to actually believe it, it became easier.
Over time I realized that no one can possibly know the answers, firmly with 100% conviction, when it comes to spiritual work (or most anything in life for that matter.) No matter how hard one tries to be objective, it is physically impossible to pull the perspective off of the person with eyes on something. I had to leave the door open to be wrong (even on this concept!), because my perspective was missing the vital element of the other person – their relationship to the thing.
It’s not about the thing. It’s about your relationship to the thing.
The Medicine reminds me of this at least weekly to this day. It was imperative that I understood that everything I was learning in Ceremony and life was to be as applied to myself only, as it may or may not for others. Nowadays, I just ask if something resonates while doing coaching or process work, or prompt or assist them in going to the space of higher self or intuition with the space held to access information. I can blog and share as a stimulus to provoke further thought among other individuals, but my words are not supposed to be the end of the line. It’s supposed to further the internal growth, like all seed concepts are.
Which would explain the whole ‘no universal truth’ concept, and why some piece of wisdom I learn can work wonders for me, and may not for someone else.
The Truth Crystal
One of the most profound teachings I got in Ceremony to date was what I call the Truth Crystal. I asked about the nature of “truth”, and was presented with a huge, clear crystal – covered in thousands of tiny facets. From the vantage point in which I stood, I could only see exactly one facet directly in front of me (not at an angle) reflecting back my entire world to me. I could see there were other facets, and could see partial other worlds (but with limited information.) There was an entire other half of the crystal I didn’t even have access to. It’s literally impossible for me to have all the information without using my world reflected back at me as the reference point. There are things that are impossible for me to know, and I had to come to terms with that. It’s the way it’s designed by nature.
Letting go of the “needing to know” aspect is generally tough on a spiritual arrogance, but it’s the way it is, and the quicker I accepted that, the less time I lost fighting to get information that wasn’t meant for me (versus actual in-process flow info that I was missing because I was distracted by the impossible knowledge stuff.) Another note – some of it has to do with energetic readiness and timing. Now I know that things present when everything is aligned, including my own internal space. So it may come later; it may not. It’s all good. Only my ego cares about needing to know everything.
Don’t teach. Share your process.
I once heard this loud and clear in ceremony. It’s a way of mitigating the arrogant ego tendency, but also a way to share the actual process with others on a similar path. It’s easy to wonder how people you read and revere got to the places they got to in order to receive that kind of spiritual information. While I leave room for the wisdom/arrogance double track to always be a possibility, some of them go through the same process I’ve been in, though it’s rare to get to see it along the way (most people are too embarrassed by their egos to share it – and I totally get that too.)
There were times I’d wanted to publish something and I thought I had some internal block or issue – turned out it was the Medicine/Universe sparing me from putting something in print that couldn’t be retracted during the peak of the arrogant ego blind spot phase! Um, thank you! Yeah I’m happy to have gotten a save there.
Heal What’s Underneath – Arrogance vs Clarity/Confidence
Arrogance is different than clarity/confidence. It took me a long time to be able to tell the difference. Arrogance compares. Arrogance is defensive, whether it admits it to oneself or not. Arrogance is usually defending weakened/insecure areas where our trees haven’t finished growing yet. It’s generally obvious to everyone but us, so if you want feedback, just ask the people closest to you who will tell the truth.
Go underneath to what the arrogance is defending (in a safe space to do so.) Find out what the fear is. It usually lands at some false core belief like “not good enough”, “not deserving”, “not worthy”, “not supposed to be here”, “I’m a fraud”, etc. The fear that if we let down the arrogant guard, they’ll all see the truth that we really are fill-in-the-blank false core belief.
But if we were to go into that space, that fear, that wound, that pain – and look at it through the eyes of our higher self/true spirit – shine light and love into like a Care Bear Stare – hold the inner child at whatever age stage that belief developed and love them up while they cry and release – healing can occur. Emotional purging is just releasing and feeling trapped emotions that never had their moment (getting stuffed out of fear.) Love up every part of it – including the arrogance and ego defense system itself. It’s just doing its job to protect you from pain.
Clarity/confidence is the space the true spirit/higher self lives in. It doesn’t care if people see it, agree, disagree, whatever. There are no triggers around it. It sees the larger process and has compassion for everyone at every step of the journey (including us.) Confidence doesn’t compare, nor becomes jealous, as it is happy that others are in that secure space of recognizing clearly its value.
While arrogance is an over-correct, the under-correct is playing small/dumb/not good enough. The healthy, bright, sweet spot is when there are no walls at all (via arrogance or the under-corrects of victim/martyr/etc) and the clear space of true self and spirit breathes freely. Openly. Brightly. Free. Compassionate. Supportive. The real you. Not the arrogant part that thinks it knows, the part of your being, when you cut the shit, that fucking knows. The energy of arrogance and clarity/confidence is like night and day.
Naming Ego Aspects
One technique that I often use with myself and clients is the naming of ego aspects (can be applied to arrogance, insecurity, etc). I have a friend whose energy changes from day to night, immediately on the perceived threat of attack. This is one of the most gentle, heart-centered people I know, but years of being on the receiving end of both mental and physical homophobic attacks forced his defenses into survival mode (for understandable reasons.) But that defense aspect grew its own legs and eventually was on such high alert, it inadvertently found trouble by the nature of its stance, creating more problems for my poor friend. He spent years battling this aspect, which didn’t pan out as a sustainable approach.
Finally, in doing deep process work, he ended up naming the protector archetype (Greg) and now is clear when Greg is on high alert. He knows the difference between his normal self and this defense aspect, and is able to work as a team to avoid losing control and dealing with the consequences. The work underneath is a longer process, but at least this gives him the top-down ability to take back power in his own body, and aligning the aspects in a team so none of them lash out, rebel, or self-sabotage.
Own the Arrogance
There’s nothing that takes away the arrogant ego’s power like de-stigmatizing it. Once we can admit to ourselves that we have an arrogant ego tendency (or whatever other ego aspects we have) it loses power. It becomes okay to talk about. We can catch ourselves and say “oops, that was my ego talking.”
You’d be surprised at how refreshing this is for people to hear, and how it immediately creates a safe space for everyone in vicinity to be safe and not defensive. As scary as it was for me to admit my ego the first time I wrote it in a blog back in 2010 or whenever (it took every bit of might to press ‘publish’) once the self-judgement of just being where you are in the process, and this just being the manner in which your particular ego presents, the trigger dies down. The self-love and clarity goes up.
I hate to break it to everybody (and I’m sure most of you are well aware), but we all have egos, and they all present in their various ways. Arrogance is just an extra-tough one to see from the inside out. The more we have real conversations, real talk, and real connection, the quicker we all move through this collective process and come closer to being “flush” with higher self and life purpose.
Stop Battling. It’s Counter-Intuitive.
The ego battle, within or without, is half the problem. I had a third iteration of a deep belief system emotional purge last week, and in my frustration I asked, “how long am I gonna have to do this for?” Until you stop judging it. My higher self is wise and between the eyes. Try out some Matt Kahn approach here – love everything that presents. Love every aspect. Everything is on the same team. The hard way sucks and takes forever. Love is clear, efficient and a much more fascinating experience. This is coming from a recovering hard-way person – love yourself through this process. For fuck’s sake – it’s hard enough already. Don’t make it worse by beating yourself up in the name of healing. Take responsibility for your shit, do what needs to be done, and grow. No personal abuse to self-punish.
Ayahuasca Medicine and spiritual development work should be bringing you closer to people, not further away. If you’ve got your intent on seeing, it should show you your judgement, arrogance, and other ego aspects that are in the way from real human connection. If you find yourself isolating or feeling like there is no one on “your level” check the arrogance, check your delivery of communication, and make sure you’re reaching out (even if it’s online. There are definitely people there, even if they’re not in your hometown.)
The combination of years of ego work, writing, feeling energy and being a sign language interpreter taught me a lot about the importance of delivery in communication. Pay attention to how your words come out (especially online when the Gregs are on high alert for trolls). Choose words that have their best chance at landing with the particular person you’re talking to. I alternate freely between God/Universe/Life, etc depending on my audience. It’s all the same to me.
Just like an interpreter “walking between two worlds” (yes, that shamanic archetype is in my world lol) language is the bridge between communication of cultures (even if you both use the same language.) Making sure your delivery isn’t coming off arrogant, unintentionally snarky, or just a little mean is really important if you want to avoid triggering someone’s defenses, which you ultimately then have to continue conversing with, or spend time talking them down. Delivery is highly underrated. If you want to create a safe space, start by opening up (read the room – to the appropriate degree) and making sure the person feels they can trust you by boosting them up a little in the beginning. Then they’ll usually relax and just be able to talk openly and non-defensively.
Warning Signs You May be Blinded by Spiritual Arrogance
- Do you often find yourself in the middle of “spiritual debates”, in person or online?
- Do you feel like you have to keep driving your point home if you feel someone doesn’t “get it”?
- Do you “know” your intuitive read on others is right, even if they tell you it doesn’t resonate? Are you not able to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that what they’re saying is the case?
- Do you get defensive when given feedback? Or does feedback just bounce off unless you’ve placed the person its coming from on a pedestal?
- Do you often find yourself in the position to call out others’ egos in the name of integrity (especially from behind a keyboard?)
- If you discovered a piece of wisdom, do you believe it’s yours to own?
- Do you often give unsolicited advice or feedback?
- Do you feel the need to save or rescue people, even when they’re not asking for it? (looks noble – still arrogant)
- Do you have control issues? (more benign-looking, still arrogant that you know what will work best)
- Do these questions make you uneasy or trigger you?
- Do you like being the most experienced “spiritual person” in the room, and hate when others counter your wisdom?
- Do you think the knowledge in your intuition applies to everyone?
- Do people tell you you’re being arrogant or condescending? Are you afraid to ask?
- Do arrogant people extra (trigger level) piss you off? (Ego attracts ego)
- Do you feel the need to comment on superficial, funny comments with an off-topic and inappropriate response that starts with “Well, technically…”
Love Your Process
These are just a few examples, but if your gut is saying to look into it, it’s definitely worth doing, especially if you really have intent on coming into true self and life purpose. Arrogant ego work was the defining aspect that created the most growth for my process, and it gets easier along the way. Mine is not done yet by any stretch, but at least (for the most part) I generally know what’s going on with it (or trust I’ll see it eventually.) Some of these questions may resonate, some may not. You may find spiritual arrogance showing up in more sneaky or savvy ways (like rescuer or control freak.) The point is, take inventory of thy ego defense system.
So if you or someone you know is trapped behind the blinding walls of spiritual arrogance, be easy on them. I know it’s annoying. I’ve annoyed many a friend and stranger during the preachy honeymoon stages of the spiritual, then Ayahuasca spiritual path. Love them through it. It’s a process, and it’s less intentional than you think. Share you’re own ego process with them to get the stimulus rolling safely. And do everything you can to pull the bite of judgement and stigma off of ego work in general. When those of us on this path can speak freely and work together on our collective squishiness that our egos protect, we all move along even more efficiently.
We are enough without all the answers. We are enough without all the accomplishments. We are enough without our “spiritual person” identity. We are enough without the Medicine. We are enough as we are, wherever we our in our process. We are enough – who we are, where we are.
The more quickly we recognize this, the more quickly those fortress walls crumble, and everyone will be able to finally see the magnificent beauty that are our beautiful beings. Feel this for a second. Love yourself through the process.
You have the right to be free of your own unconscious defenses, and let your spirit fly.
Big love ya’ll:)
~ Meghan Shannon Elder @wildspiritualride
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