The Problem Of Being Spiritual
How seeking comes in the way of finding
Imagine you were looking for something.
Something of great value. You looked in different places. You spoke to different people. You read many books. Hoping you will find what you are looking for in some place, person or thing.
But what if, what you are looking for is You.
Then your very act of looking will keep you from finding what you are looking for.
Ever since I can remember I had the quest to know the deeper meaning of life. “Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life?” This quest took me to different ashrams, Gurus, books and practices. Each spiritual path had their own philosophy, even though the overarching theme was to be loving, kind, honest and giving. I believed if I meditated enough, treated others with love and kindness, I would evolve and become eligible for the grand prize of spirituality. Enlightenment.
This is the template followed by most spiritually inclined people.
Based on my experience, I have seen there are a number of problems in this model of spiritual evolution.
1. Projection — “I am evolving!”
The essence of life is in this moment. If our attention is not in the Here & Now, we miss our True Self as the expression of life. When we believe in spiritual evolution our mind is hoping to create or find a better version of ourself in the future. And with that desire for a future goal, the present moment becomes a means to an end. Not an end in itself.
We meditate, chant, do yoga with the hope that it will purify us. We act kind and loving in the hope others notice our patience and tolerance. Essentially we do things with an outcome in mind. Whatever be the goal — evolution, enlightenment or samadhi — it is all in the future. We miss the essence.
A Better Approach
Drop the goal of becoming a better person. Let go of the idea of enlightenment. Relinquish spiritual ambition. Do daily tasks and routines mindfully. Being in the present moment is both the practice and the goal. It is okay to have work related goals that give direction to our mental-emotional energy. Do not get attached to these goals, believing that the pot of happiness lies at the occurrence of certain future event.
Happiness lies in our ability to be Present each moment of our life. Even if that moment is uncomfortable do not escape or avoid it.
Being with what is, is being with life.
2. Suppression — “I should not!”
Spirituality tells us we must be loving, kind and practice self-restraint. As a result I have often seen people, including me in the past, suppress anger, sexual desire and even the need for love. The mind projects an image of how a spiritual person should be and then tries to act in that manner. This creates a split in the psyche.
What I am feeling now. Versus. What I should be feeling now.
Trying to cultivate certain feelings and emotions, and suppressing others is the breeding ground for hypocrisy and inauthenticity. I am not advocating giving full expression to anger, lust or greed either. But when we try to behave in an idealistic manner, without acknowledging our current needs, feelings and emotions, all that we have suppressed is bound to explode someday.
It did, for me.
A Better Approach
Be real. Be authentic. Be expressive. Which means notice what you are feeling. Acknowledge what you are feeling. And express what you are feeling. Whatever be the feeling — anger, lust, greed, lethargy, envy — get in touch with the sensation.
All feelings at the end of the day are just sensations.
Notice the sensation without forming any judgments about it or yourself. You can write your thoughts related to that feeling in a journal or share about it to someone who has the ability to listen. “What am I feeling? What triggered it? Why am I feeling this way? Is this a recurring pattern? What do I feel like doing?” Do your daily tasks, while watching the sensation. After sometime the sensation may pass. If it comes back repeat the cycle of self-observation and expression.
If you are unable to watch the sensation and it hijacks you into an angry reaction, sexual indulgence or sensory pleasure, do not judge or beat yourself up for it. Imagine you were riding a bicycle and you fell down. Dust your clothes, pick yourself up and start riding the bicycle again. The more you judge yourself, feel guilty, have regret, greater is the misery you create for yourself. The mind thrives on self-judgment.
Acceptance is the antidote.
3. Delusion — “I am selfless!”
This is one the biggest problems with us spiritual seekers. We do not know what to do with our needs. Every human being has the need to be respected, loved, valued, appreciated and to be treated fairly. Often spiritually inclined people push these needs under the carpet of selflessness. They tend to prioritise the needs of others before their own needs, allow disrespect in the name of letting go and give of themselves, even in relationships that do not give anything back in return.
On the other hand they may exploit others in the name of God, institution or a larger cause. All the while believing they are acting for a higher purpose and not for their own interest.
This is the ego of egolessness.
When we do not acknowledge our needs, or that our actions are driven to fulfil our needs, we suffer from delusion. We may believe we are superior, and see others as selfish or egoistic. We may become preachy, thinking we know what is best for others. Or we may, in the name of selfless service, fail to take a stand for our well-being. The delusion of selflessness tends to make us either a villain or a victim.
A Better Approach
Say it aloud “I am human. I have needs. It is normal to have needs. It is normal to fulfil my needs. It does not make me selfish. It makes me human.”
Just as the body has the need to eat and have shelter to survive, the mind has the need to feel inspired, loved and respected. In order to fulfil these needs we seek work that engages us, relate to people who respect us and belong to a community where we feel loved and valued for who we are.
If there is discomfort in relating to someone, it is better to voice our discomfort rather than gloss over it using some spiritual philosophy of ‘letting go’ or ‘being positive’. If there is disrespect, it is better to draw boundaries rather than keep giving others the benefit of doubt.
It is natural to have expectations of others. To expect not to have expectations is foolish and futile. It is better to communicate and manage expectations, rather than simmer with disappointment in the name of spirituality.
Simplicity Over Spirituality
All that I have mentioned above are insights gained from the pain and suffering of personal experience. These are lessons learnt the hard way. It is unlikely you will undergo a complete self-transformation after reading this blog post. But it is possible this may sensitise you to certain beliefs and notions, that come in your way of living a simple uncomplicated life.
More than spirituality, I feel there is a greater possibility of being happy through simplicity.