I have been teaching for a long time now, but I never tire of the freshness of what I am doing. I feel very fortunate to have groups of young people troop through my classes. I suspect that most of them really don’t know what they have signed up to receive in my class. That may be true for most college classes, but I doubt it. I should think if you sign up for a Chemistry or Accounting class, you have a pretty good idea what the content will be. However, when eighteen year-olds sign up for a class called, Contemplative Spirituality, most of them have little clue what that really means.
In fact, I am frequently surprised that students keep signing up for something like this. Generally human nature is not up for taking on the unknown. Most of the time most of us prefer the known. I am grateful for the chance to have so many walk into the room the first day of the semester and, then, hang in there for four months.
When I tell them my focus is “experiential,” I don’t think that really registers. They know what “experience” means, but when you move that word to its cousin, “experiential,” they might be able to guess, but that’s not the same as knowing. What it means is they are in there not only to learn some ideas and concepts, but to learn about life through their experience. What’s more, the learning that I propose will likely fiddle with how they experience life and how they think about life. If I were honest, I should post a sign on the door: “Danger Ahead!”
Of course, it does not mean they inevitably will be hurt. My class is not designed to be a regimen of pain. But sometimes, spiritual growth entails a little discomfort and, sometimes, a little suffering. Frequently, good things come out of some discomfort and a little suffering. Ask a mother who has just given birth to her child. Most new mothers are ecstatic to have their baby, but most of them experienced a little discomfort and, perhaps, some suffering in the birth process.
And so three days a week, twenty-eight students walk through the classroom door. Often they have been asked to read some material. Sometimes I don’t think what they read actually hits them. We can speed read some passages about love, but when you slow down and think about what you read, its weightiness begins to hit you. That was the case with a passage in a book by Gerald May (Will and Spirit) that I had asked them to read.
The passage talked about experiences of having a “wounded ego.” Those are easy words to read as we speed along in the text. But if we stop and think about what we are reading, the words become more daunting. I asked if any of the students had experienced wounded egos? I was not surprised when two or three mustered up the courage to share their stories. It was a poignant moment for them and for all of us who were privileged to hear them.
Our culture encourages us all to have strong egos. In fact, our culture often tilts in the direction of being egocentric. We are led to believe we are the center of the universe---our little universe, anyway. We are taught to get ours while the getting is good. All this sets us up not to be vulnerable, if we can help it. Too often, we confuse our ego with our self. Most spiritualities that I read warn against this confusion. Our true self is not the same thing as our ego. We are more than and deeper than our ego. God does not deal with egos; God deals with our real self.
The students who shared their stories of a wounded ego were able to learn a deep spiritual lesson. Their wounded ego also was a wounded sense of who they thought they were. If I am an athlete, I usually have a good bit of ego vested in being an athlete. If that athletic prowess suffers wounding, I realize I am not who I thought I was. My wounded ego challenges my identity. A wounded ego often forces us to wonder if we are somebody at all?
A wounded ego is usually a humbling experience. The ego is knocked off its lofty perch. But with the humility comes a wonderful opportunity to begin to know who I really am---at my deeper level. It allows me to begin to know my true self. Finally, my true self is the only “real” self.
When the students shared their wounded ego stories, they invited us into their grief and, at some point, what will be their healing and growing as true selves. Their story will have to become our story, too, if we ever are to know truly who we are. As long as we are caught up in ego-agendas, we are not “real” people. For sure, we might look good and be temporarily successful. But we are not real.
Sooner or later, our ego-identity will need to be wounded so that the true self can emerge, grow and blossom. That is the self that God patiently seeks to see. Finally the wounding is good news. However, it seldom seems that way in the beginning. This is all knowledge; be willing to greet the wounding---the good news that you are on the way!