The path of descent involves letting go of our self-image,
our titles, our public image. I think this is one of the many
meanings of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other
gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). What is at stake here is not just
false images of God (which mostly serve our purposes), but also
comfortable images of ourselves. That’s probably what the saints
meant when they said we have to move to the place of faith, to
the place of self-forgetfulness, of nothingness, which ironically is
the place of abundance!
The German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260—c. 1328) said in essence that the spiritual life has more to do with subtraction than with addition. But in the capitalistic West, we keep trying to climb higher up the ladder of spiritual success. Some Buddhists call it spiritual materialism or spiritual consumerism. We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. When we are so full of ourselves, we have no room—and no need—for God or others, or otherness in general.
When C. G. Jung was an old man, one of his students read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and he asked Jung, “What has your pilgrimage really been?” Jung answered: “In my case Pilgrim's Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am.” That’s a free man. We aren’t really free until we’re free from ourselves: our ego, our reputation, our self-image, our need to be right, our need to be successful, our need to have everything under control, even our need to be loved by others—or to think of ourselves as loving.