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We are Ego + Spirit (thank goodness)

Our "hungry ghost" puppy, Flash Gordon, running wild and free in full-on "alpha" (ego) mode.
Our “hungry ghost” puppy, Flash Gordon, running wild and free in full-on “alpha” (ego) mode.

So I have finally come to the end of Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful book, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.”

Or (though it typically irks me when others say this) maybe I’ve come to the beginning.

When I am drawn to a new mentoring influence, I’ve noticed that one of the siren songs I absolutely cannot resist is the mentor’s ability to marry the mundane (the itsy bitsy small stuff) with the profound (the unknowable, unfathomable, beyond all efforts of the mind to reach it).

Gilbert does this stunningly well in “Big Magic.” In each story I find bits of both combined in ways that make me feel like we all belong here together, doing what we do, being who we are, struggling with what we struggle with and excelling at what we excel at.

It is a lovely gift – especially so soon into the New Year.

Right near the end of the book, there is a chapter called “Hungry Ghosts.” In this chapter, Gilbert addresses the realization that we are more than “just” any one aspect.

For example, we are – or we have – an ego, and we have – or we are – also a soul.

The Hungry Ghost is our ego, which the Buddhists say is, “forever famished, eternally howling with need and greed.”

The howling comes in when the ego gets coddled, perhaps over-fed with the food it likes best, which is success, praise, recognition, reward.

We all have it – this ego presence – that bottomless pit that is so deep and vast and empty that no amount of food can fill it.

But we also have a soul. 

Flash, tuckered out from too many attempts at being the "alpha," snores in his mommy's arms.
Flash, tuckered out from the day’s many “alpha” moments, transforms into a peaceful snoring “beta” in his mommy’s arms.

Putting the ego and the soul together is kind of like putting my folks and our new puppy together. Our puppy will howl and whine and test his limits and try to be alpha.

My folks will calmly issue and re-issue the commands from that place of unconditional patience and love that only a soul can offer.

In time, our puppy calms down, figures out that being the beta pack member isn’t so bad, accepts a treat (or few) and trots off to chew up something else he shouldn’t or take a restful nap.

Our soul, meanwhile, is consumed with wonder that this independent, spirited, creative and oh-so-loving young creature has so quickly and easily made peace with not getting what he wants.

And this is the balance, Gilbert writes, between ego and spirit.

Ego wants more reward….more, more, more.

Spirit wants more wonder….more, more, more.

And since wonder is the reward to end all rewards, in time and with patience the ego can develop a taste for it too, at which point peace may once again reign supreme in our own ongoing creative lives.

Today’s Takeaway: Are you ever tempted to not embark upon a new creative endeavor – no matter how large or small – because of the possibility that you might fail? Or do you ever suffer from the opposite issue – a fear that you might succeed and it might take you too far too fast or simply change your life more than you are ready for it to be changed? What helps you push through these difficult times and move forward? 

We are Ego + Spirit (thank goodness)

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2016). We are Ego + Spirit (thank goodness). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Jan 2016
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