Secrets of Self-Esteem #4: Death of the Ego

Every Sunday I lead a hike for several hours through trails near our home in Los Altos Hills. Members of my weekly psychotherapy training group at Stanford attend these hikes. Afterwards, we have a brunch, so the total experience is about four hours.

During the hikes we do personal work, since the therapists who attend struggle with all the same problems as everyone else. The idea is along the lines of the Biblical verse, “Physician, heal thyself.” If we, as therapists, have gotten in touch with our own suffering and self doubt, and transcended it, we will have far more to bring to our work with patients. On the hikes we also practice therapy techniques, and sometimes consult on difficult cases. The hikes are always great fun, and often magic occurs, with tears, laughter, learning, and growth.

After each hike, I try to send a “hiking report” to members of our training group, as well as those who hiked, summarizing a few of the highlights. On our most recent Sunday hike, we did personal work with several hikers that focused on the theme of the death of the ego. There are many different types of “ego death,” and this has to do with giving up something we want desperately, something we feel we need in order to have a happy and fulfilled life. It might be wealth, or success / great achievement, or perfection, or love, or a certain kind of career, or even something like having a child of your own.

But sometimes we cannot have that thing, for one reason or another. Then we may begin to think of ourselves as second rate, or only average, or whatever. Is it possible to let go of that “need” to be special, or to have or do something special, and still find happiness and joy in life?

If you would like to read my hiking report from Sunday’s hike, along with several responses from people in our group, please click here. After you read the report, feel free to fill out the ultra-short survey below to let me know how much you liked it. That way I’ll find out if more postings like this might be of interest to people.

There’s always a great deal for me to write about, so don’t worry if you don’t like the posting, or if you find it boring. Feel free to comment. I will survive and benefit from your feedback!


David Burns,  MD