Spiritual growth is important to me, and my sources are eclectic, including New Age, Buddhism, Christianity, a bit of psychology. How does the world work? What are human beings like? Who am I, and how may I flourish? These questions matter to everyone. You might see them as matters of maturity, or the wisdom of middle age, and perhaps I see them as “spiritual” because of accidents of upbringing and personality.
I wanted spiritual growth, and became aware that I wanted it to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions such as anger and fear. Now I know that fleeing my fear or seeking to suppress it is the problem, and I learn to accept and feel the fear. Fighting it only empowers it. My friend Yvonne Spence shared Robert Masters‘ post on this: “Spiritual bypassing” is an attempt to use spirituality to avoid feeling. The spiritual work is difficult: far easier to lie to yourself you have done it already.
Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.
I’ve been there. I am not sure it is entirely delusional, or that my spiritual growth has gone nowhere. I feel wiser than I was, and feel that what I saw as growth was a foundation for where I am now. I imagined that all I needed to do to learn a spiritual lesson was to see that it was necessary, without the work to put it into practice. This may be why I felt all spiritual at weekends away with other seekers, seeming to see much better than when in what we all call “The real world”. But I did see more clearly, and I put the lessons into practice eventually.
Yvonne also found Lissa Rankin. She is a medical doctor whose spiritual growth book is “a journey from the head to the heart and a prescription for finding your life’s purpose.” I found her post repellant, and wanted to work out why. “How to fully feel what hurts without going insane”- what a goal!
So I was repelled, and over the next few hours came up with reasons why that might be so. She is the queen of the cool kids, and advises whom they should no longer admit to their circles- energy vampires, pessimists, and people stuck in their victim story; co-dependents; all who criticize, belittle, shame you, or even attack you for being “needy”; even someone [who] is always meeting your needs but you’re never meeting theirs. Quite a list. “Those who can’t ask for help commit suicide,” she says, and I wonder if this is sweeping condemnation of all suicides. I think it is more complex than that; I wanted to die because I did not feel worthy of life.
Jesus came to mind. “A smouldering wick he will not quench, and a bruised reed he will not break”. I wonder if she has, in moving from head to heart, cast out so many friends. I tend to feel friendships are more complex than that.
Friendships serve a purpose. Possibly Lissa had a great purge of all the energy vampires, etc., and replaced them all with “healthy people”, who appreciate the intimacy that comes with the vulnerability of seeking support. My friends are like me, in the world, with needs, vulnerabilities, strengths and blind spots. All are healthy in a way. Possibly a friendship meets a need in me. I will grow out of co-dependency eventually. Possibly, a friend is the best I can get. Lissa also is clear about the need for good boundaries, yet we spiritual, emotional, intuitive, empathetic types can have difficulty with boundaries. Boundaries and winnowing your friends seems like belt and braces to me. She is assuming my needs are the same as hers.
Her tips jar, too. “Come into right relationship with uncertainty”. Yeah. Wonderful. How? If I don’t know something, there may be ways to find out. “The wisdom to know the difference”- that line of the serenity prayer is too glib. I come to know the difference between what I can change and what I can’t after a lot of trial and error, and may have a period of mourning before finding grudging serenity. Right now, I recognise the importance of being able to bear uncertainty. It is continual practice.
I am sure her book sells well, and her fans love her: “Oh, Lissa…. oh, oh, Sis-Star Lissa….. ” gushes Precious. If only it were so easy as reading her tips, chucking out all the Bad People from your life, and Living Spiritually. It is a tall order. Far easier to lie to yourself that you have done that, that this friend who has annoyed you is an “energy vampire” so a Bad Person, and you are now Spiritual. That is the “spiritual bypassing” Lissa warns of.
Ah. What is touching a nerve in me? Certainly the feeling of being excluded: I can never read about “people to excise from your life” without fearing it means me. There is a lot of good sense here. Pure envy: I want to write spiritual stuff for spiritual people, especially if I can get paid for it. But I want to build community, where all are included.
That’s enough Olga Boznanska portraits, I think. These five knowing, watchful women. They are moving subtly through a hard world, and I wish them well, but do not like them much.