Is there a way how we measure the degree of our inner development? Can it be and should it be “measured” at all? And if not, how do we notice when we go astray?
In our modern world, everything is fitted into the lifestyle of meritocracy, and when that happens with spirituality, we risk placing personal gain over contemplation and wisdom.
During the past years I have observed how spiritual related topics have increasingly been mixed with personal advancement. In this article I want to share my take on the effects of spiritual instrumentalization and its pitfalls.
Every time I travel to China and connect to my roots, I feel grounded and reminded that the dynamics of nature are circular. In Western society, I notice that we tend to treat the inner path like another “effort” to improve on and get better at. And when inner development becomes an outside thing again, it can turn into another form of result-based performance – or worse, a form of escapism.
Though when we start to measure inner growth with performance standards, chasing goals to achieve, we are actually leaving the realm of spirituality. No matter where we are and how far we’ve got on our inner path, there is a road ahead and we will always be “on the way”.
Knowledge and concepts are not helpful if we are not able to integrate them and actually apply them in daily life. So here are seven pitfalls that I ran into and would like to share, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.
1. Wanting to Save the World
When we are fascinated with something new, we usually can’t help sharing and talking about it. When you try to communicate spiritual experiences, however, you might find that few people are open to hearing these stories and that even fewer people have had similar experiences.
Trying to convince others nonetheless, can make one come across like wanting to “save the world” with the new revelation, and many people can find that simply annoying and irritating.
This is a typical beginner’s mistake and it frequently happens when we are excited with something new. Thought it is not a bad thing, when we try to convince others about it, we are usually seeking validation and confirmation of our own experiences.
As these new discoveries develop and mature, we start to incorporate our insights into daily life and lose the urge to persuade or convince others.
2. The Spiritual Ego
When we discover our divine nature and true potential, it is easy to start feeling superior to those who are “still in the matrix” and, unconsciously, this new self-image can create the Spiritual Ego.
You might start to judge people on how spiritual they are and whether they are open to these topics or have had similar experiences. I like this image of the Ego cloaking and hiding itself in spirituality related topics. Although judging others according to own value definitions is a common ego trap, spirituality can provide an extra layer of self-righteousness to this.
Thinking of oneself as being farther, more awake than others or the “chosen one” can all add to this trap, which can be often observed among religious groupings. Evaluating in the sense of observing and distinguishing is very important, but judgement and condescension create more ignorance than mindfulness.
Even if we are right about something, there is no need to force the “truth” down the throat of others. The best way to counteract this is to debunk the spiritual Ego every time we notice it being judgmental or feeling superior. Then, remove its power by saying “Thank you for showing me!”
3. Setting Excessively High Standards that are not Suitable for your Lifestyle
Many people try to adapt to peak states of consciousness and endeavour to live up to very high spiritual standards. We read about Yogis and Tibetan monks and what they are capable of doing. So it is desirable to match their achievements too, right?
Well, not exactly.
Inner development is not about performance, which would get us more out of balance and into depression than anything positive. Unless you have been sitting in a cave meditating for years, or are living in a monastery, you are probably living the same fast paced high-tech civilisation with 24/7 internet access.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t reach for the stars, but just try to couple idealism with realism in a balanced way. We should, therefore, see the integration of spiritual practices as a process which allows us to find a healthy pace and consistency in the context of our current lifestyle.
4. Spiritual Escapism and Explaining Everything with Spirituality
This phase can make you live adrift and sound like New Age BS style. Trying to describe the most trivial everyday stuff in deep spiritual terms simply sounds ridiculous. People might perceive you as floating on a cloud with no grounding and they won’t take you seriously.
I think this little clip says it all : )
5. Neglecting and Devaluing Worldly Things
When we study different world religions, spiritual concepts, meditation techniques and so on, it’s easy to start seeing other things as less meaningful. We might start to unconsciously divide our life into things that are spiritual and those that are unimportant. We can even start to devalue past and present situations or social connections that are not perceived as spiritual enough.
Gratefulness and appreciation, though, is certainly the better companion when reviewing our past and mapping our way forward. Talk is easy, but practicing mindfulness and awareness in daily situations is far more valuable and challenging.
Sometimes even the smallest and most mundane things in daily life can reveal how much awareness and heartiness we have actually developed. Since all of creation can be seen as spiritual, it is often better not to talk about it, but to live up to it, as well as possible.
6. Being a Money Monk
At a certain point of my development I realized that my spiritual life was very abundant but, strangely, a major part of my worldly life reflected just the opposite. After becoming aware of this, I started to recognise that all the spiritual people I knew at that time were struggling financially.
Why is that? Do genuine spirituality and financial abundance not go together?
I first heard of the term “Money Monk” in a workshop with Harv Eker and it perfectly describes this outlook. It is a way of seeing money as something impure or mundane and the feeling of oneself as being “above” it. Or it is simply seeing money as “unimportant”. Well, if you know the teachings from Harv (which, by the way, I strongly recommend if you are having financial issues), you will know that this attitude inevitably leads to financial struggle and being broke.
I know this is a huge topic, but in short:
Money in itself is a powerful tool, though it is nothing more than a tool, just like a knife. It has no built in value of “good or bad”. Because of its power, money has been abused and corrupted, but this does not mean it can’t be used for good – at any time. Negative associations that we have with money are always related to its abuse, greed or negative personal experiences.
So whatever relationship you have with money now, change your perspective the way, so that it is empowering for you and your development.
7. Forgetting that Duality still Exists
Many people experiencing spiritual awakening, realize that everything is connected and therefore claim that “there is no duality, everything is one.” It is true that everything is one, but this doesn’t mean that duality does not exist.
As long as we can perceive relativities, there must be duality and polarity. If there was no duality at all, there would be no manifestations and probably no physical universe. An integral view is to include the manifest side of things and conform paradoxes, where seemingly contradictory concepts coexist simultaneously. One example is the realization that the world we live in is the “illusion” and the “reality” at the same time.
Or as Buddha said, “Things are never what they seem to be, but they are also not different.” So duality is part of Oneness and both are real. It is not “either – or”, but “both at the same time”.
To round it off, I want to leave you with this reminder that I find very helpful for grounding:
“Remember not to lose yourself on the outside, for also spiritual goals are only temptations. Go inside your heart. Everything is there already.”