A spiritual leader

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.

olga-boznanska-portrait-of-a-woman

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.

10 thoughts on “A spiritual leader

    • The Elders seems a wonderful group.

      Why would anyone pursue a spiritual path? I seek understanding, especially of myself, and effectiveness; Seeing myself as a good person was part of it; escaping unpleasant emotions; some might seek meaning in life, and perhaps comfort is a reasonable goal.

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  1. I love this post! “I want to build community where all are included.” <– meeeee tooooo.
    But, I acknowledge that I have plenty of shortcomings. Spiritual bypassing. Huh. I hadn’t heard that before, but it makes sense. I saw a little of myself there, but then thought about a time – recently – when I got really annoyed at a friend of mine and let her know. I don’t usually do that: I usually suppress my feelings and/or work them out in other ways. But, then I questioned why I got so angry. Was meditation not helping me? Actually, it was: I was acutely aware of my feelings and I could take those feelings, digest them, and use them to learn. 🙂 So I try, anyways.
    Thanks for this!

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    • Meditation should not stop you getting angry, but make it clearer what you are angry about. Suppressing my anger, I was just angry all the time: I did not know what my feelings were, then I found my feelings, and found they were rage and terror. We all try. We all do our best. We learn. We get better.

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  2. Wow, you got so much from those 2 posts, and I love the way you’ve articulated what rankled with you about Lissa Rankin. Even though I liked her article, I actually can understand all of that, and the idea that’s quite common in “spiritual” circles of “cutting negative people out” has never sat well with me.
    Yet somehow it wasn’t the main thing I picked up from her post. I guess when I read it I was feeling overwhelmed, partly because of 2 recent deaths in my extended family, partly because of a tendency to almost absorb other people’s problems, or at least to feel guilty and think I “should” be helping them. So what I took from it was the idea that perhaps I needed to get clearer about what my needs were and be stronger about meeting them instead of allowing myself to get side-tracked into trying to meet other people’s needs.
    This was also partly what resonated for me in Robert Masters’s post – in the part you’ve quoted, it was “overly tolerant compassion” that made me wonder was I trying to feel good about myself by cultivating a compassionate image – and from there the idea of boundaries began to see useful.
    I was also interested that her comments about boundaries rankled with you, because the whole concept of boundaries has often rankled with me, though possibly for different reasons. Many parenting books and parents are obsessed with boundaries, as if all you need to do as a parent is set clear boundaries and then everything will be fine. I even once heard a psychiatrist say on radio that children need consistency more than anything and if a parent is going to drunk, he should be drunk every night. That struck me as one of the stupidest things I’d ever heard. For me, parenting – and life – is more fluid than that, and flexibility is more important than consistency. (I was delighted years ago do read a Gandhi quote that said the same!)

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    • Attempting to be consistent before you are inerrant entrenches error.

      I do need boundaries, and pushing them and exploring them is the most fun. I take on others’ problems sometimes, it can be a sign of porous boundaries, and empathetic souls need to be awake to the risk.

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        • Thank you. It’s an old thought, honed down after being expressed several times. Quakers instruct ourselves to come to worship “with heart and mind prepared”, and that phrase had its forebears: “Preparation of heart”; “the mind crowded with thoughts on outward things”. We see, we think, we express Truth. It is a vocation.

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