12-Step Sobriety Over Ego

by Rev. Sharon Leman, MLA

April 2008

Rev. Sharon Leman

In contemplating death, it is life that stands out most vividly. Life would have little meaning without an end. Death makes human existence finite. Even if reincarnation occurs, we will never again have a chance to live this specific life.

However, if we let it, ego can deaden the life we have been give. It can create a false life that is lived worrying about things that really do not matter. Ego whispers, “You’re not a very good person. Your life is lacking.” I have wasted precious time by stewing over such self-imposed misperceptions.

Ego is a temptress that can lure any of us into a warped sense of self. In addition, we are surrounded by a culture that is steeped in ego-centric thinking. The belief that the worth of a person is measured by accumulating status, wealth or comfort is supported by our materialistic society.

Recognizing false illusions is the remedy to ending the suffering ego inflicts. Unfortunately, ego is strong. It leads us to believe we will be happier by following its urgings. Not only does ego entice our darker side, it can even intertwine with good intentions. For example, self-care such as adhering to a healthy lifestyle is good. However, even this healthy practice can leave a person feeling self-righteous and morally above others.

Unfortunately, there is nowhere to hide because ego in an integral part of our psyche. Living without awareness gives ego the opportunity to blossom. We are like the alcoholic who knows it would be easier to give into drinking than to abstain.  In fact, ego fits the definition of addiction which is “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming.”

For people working to break their addictions, 12 Step programs have been a saving grace. In these programs, sobriety is achieved by admitting there is a problem, and the way to maintain control over this problem is by spiritual grounding.

In the spirit of the 12 Step program, I have outlined a daily reflection to assist in the sobriety over ego. “12-Step Sobriety Over Ego” follows. These 12 steps spell out the problem and challenge people to take full ownership of their actions to live a life of awareness and sobriety. The format is set up for community contemplation, but the steps are meant for personal, daily review.

12-Step Sobriety Over Ego: A Liturgy
by Rev. Sharon Leman

In community we admit our weaknesses, and in community we seek compassion and support.

As we contemplate the entrapment of ego, may truth be heard. 

(ring bell)

1.  I am addicted to ego and my life has become unmanageable because of it.

May I be freed from my addiction.

“Again and again we cave in to [ego’s] demands with the same sad self-hatred as the alcoholic feels reaching for the drink that he knows is destroying him, or the drug addict groping for the drug that she know after a brief high will only leave her flat and desperate.”  (Sogyal Rinpoche)

2.  Ego entices me to believe I am separate from others and stand apart from the universe.

May I be freed from duality.

“Love and concern for all are not things some of us are born with and others are not. Rather, they are results of what we do with our minds: We can choose to transform our minds so that they embody love, or we can allow them to develop habits and false concepts of separation.”   (Sharon Salzbert )

3.  Ego whispers, “I am the master of my life and I am in control.”  The more ego takes root, the more I suffer.

May I be freed from the fallacy of control.

“Within the framework of the Buddhist Path, reflecting on suffering has tremendous importance because by realizing the nature of suffering, you will develop greater resolve to put an end to the causes of suffering and the unwholesome deeds which lead to suffering. And it will increase your enthusiasm for engaging in the wholesome actions and deeds which lead to happiness and joy.”  (The Dalai Lama)

4.  Even my spiritual practice can become a commodity for ego. Good intention can fall prey to pride and self-righteousness.

May I be freed from spiritual materialism.

“We must give up the fear of appearances. How can we do this?  The only way to cut this pattern of acquisitiveness and control is to guard the naked integrity of our meditation practice. We must have somewhere where manipulation is exposed for what it is.”   (Judith Simmer-Brown)

As we contemplate overcoming ego, may truth be heard. 
(ring bell)

5.  May the “bizarre tyranny” ego inflicts be lifted from my life.

By adhering to the spiritual path, may ego diminish.

“The truth is simple, and the teachings are extremely clear; but I have seen again and again, with great sadness, that as soon as they begin to touch and move us, ego tries to complicate them because it knows it is fundamentally threatened.”  (Sogyal Rinpoche)

6.  May I nourish myself with wisdom and relinquish worldly council.

As I open myself to spiritual teachings, may ego diminish.

“As we listen, [spiritual teachings] will keep on and on reminding us of our hidden wisdom nature.”  (Sogyal Rinpoche)

7.  May spiritual teachings permeate my mind, aligning actions with my true nature.

As understanding deepens through contemplation and reflection, may ego diminish.

“As we contemplate what we’ve heard, it gradually begins to permeate our mindstream and saturate our inner experience of our lives. Everyday events start to mirror and more and more subtly and directly to confirm the truths of the teachings, as contemplation slowly unfolds and enriches what we have begun to understand intellectually and carries that understanding down from our head into our heart.”  (Sogyal Rinpoche)

8.  May meditation be the conduit linking wisdom with my thoughts, words and actions.

Through meditation, may ego diminish.

“In the practice of sitting meditation you relate to your daily life all the time. Meditation practice brings our neuroses to the surface rather than hiding them at the bottom of our minds. It enables us to relate to our lives as something workable.”   (Chogyam Trungpa)

9.  May doubt about my true nature vanish forever from my thoughts.

Let truth be a mystery I embrace; may ego diminish.

“At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.”  (Thich Nhat Hanh)

10.  May I repel false promises of ego and be receptive only to the wisdom of a true master.

Through my devotion to teachings of my master, may ego diminish.

“Of all the buddhas who have ever attained enlightenment, not a single one accomplished this without relying upon a master.”  (Buddha)

11.  May I give unconditionally and lavishly to others.

Through the wisdom of generosity, may ego diminish.

“According to traditional formulation, our giving begins with material gifts and extends to gifts of fearlessness and Dharma. Generosity is the virtue that produces peace, as the sutras say.”  (Judith Simmer-Brown)

12. As a compassionate being, may I act with compassion.

Through acts of compassion, may ego diminsh.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”   (The Dalai Lama)

Embracing our true nature by recognizing the deception of ego,
may all sentient beings grow in wisdom and live in freedom.


Works Cited

1.  Badiner, Allan Hunt, ed., Mindfulness in the Marketplace, Berkeley: Parallax Press, 2002.

2.  Best Spirituality.com, http://www.bestspirituality.com/quotes/.

3.  Dictionary.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/addiction.

4.  Rinpoche, Sogyal, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

5.  The 12 Steps, http://www.12step.org.

6.  Wild Mind Buddhist Meditation, http://www.wildmind.org/.