Pseudo-spirituality and Psychology

Recently, I signed up for an Introduction to Psychology course. Psychology has been of interest to me for a while now. During the past twenty years that I spent working and on a spiritual seeker’s journey, I have met interesting people who became my teachers, bosses, colleagues, and friends.

I think about how they have helped shape me to become the person I am today. What have I learned from all these people who came into my life? Psychology has helped me see them from a different perspective and understand their behaviors and reactions in a different light. In fact, learning psychology has freed me from attaching unnecessary emotional baggage to those past relationships and helped me to face new relationships with an open and non-judgemental mindset.

What I learned from spiritual gurus and bosses at work have many similarities.
One of the most powerful lessons I learned from both groups is that you cannot know more than your boss or spiritual guru. Of course you can, but you should never let them or anyone else know it. The moment the boss feels undermined, you can kiss goodbye to progression. And the moment the spiritual guru feels undermined, he will actively seek to get rid of you from the group. I have also found that the boss is usually less egocentric than the guru. This is my personal experience. Spiritual teachers take the ego to a whole new level! Although, if placed side by side with a boss in a power suit, the guru is a purring kitten next to a roaring lion.

I learned something interesting in Psychology class. It is a story about how Michaelangelo tricked his boss, Soderini. Soderini stood right under the 17-foot tall David and commented that David’s nose was too large. Michaelangelo knew this was because Soderini was standing right under the statue, and his opinion was formed on his ‘perspective’. But David was a masterpiece needing no nose-job. It was a right royal dilemma for Michaelangelo as he had to appease the politician because Soderini held the purse-strings. So Michaelangelo took Soderini up the scaffolding, where there is a better vantage point. With some extra marble dust hidden in his hand, he started to chisel away lightly at the nose without really changing it. The hidden dust flew off his hand, giving the impression that the nose was sculpted away. It made Soderini quite happy – he probably thought he made a significant contribution in critiquing the sculpture! And Michaelangelo, as the pure genius he is, turned his critic into his collaborator.

Now I wish I had a psychology class before I started work, maybe during school. Life could have turned out different. It is rather unfortunate we spend years learning things which has no relevance to the real world. I have made it one of my life goals to reach teenagers to make them aware of what it’s like out in the world. How people think and how to learn and progress in your trade well by making your boss your collaborator. Positive psychology should not be something reserved for college or university. It should be integrated into the regular school curriculum so that children will be wiser in their dealings with colleagues and bosses as they move on from school to work.

Many are looking for some spiritual direction. In my opinion, it is a dangerous business for a young, trusting mind. We have freedom – freedom to think, form our ideas, learn from different sources, keep what works for us, and throw out what doesn’t. But the moment you get together with a spiritual guru, your path is made narrow. Suddenly you find everyone else other than your little group is either an unthinking primate, pitiful simpleton, or on the road to a burning lake of fire forever.

Young people get on the spiritual bandwagon and end up destroying relationships with friends and family. Those who are successful in crawling out of the stifling blanket of religious dogma or the highly sought after ‘I am a spiritual’ label will again experience the freedom that once was.

Without good psychological training, young adults fall prey to many spiritual paths that limit them from becoming their best selves. The dreams of their childhood are easily forgotten in favor of a higher calling. For those who had experienced childhood trauma, may it be abuse or constant violent fighting between parents, they are more prone to ditching ambition and talent in favor of what they see as peaceful spirituality or religion. Human nature is quick to choose not to do than to do something. And pseudo-spirituality paves the path to laziness and a wasted life. However, it allows for a sense of accomplishment when you finally get your own set of followers and teach them the ropes. The constant adoration of the flock boosts the ego. The decision you have made to stay in this path is validated by emotionally fragile people who come for advice, meditation, spiritual discussion, or prayers.

It is a place perceived to be free. But in reality, a bondage that is so strong it keeps one’s thoughts in a particular ideology through the systematic invalidation of all other thought systems – thus ensuring the dumbing down of the followers, which leads them to become isolated from their friends, families, and colleagues.
Sadly, these spirituals push their ideologies in their workplace or at home and lose credibility with their bosses and the trust of their spouses. The consequent lack of progression in career and deteriorating family life, drives them back into the spiritual fold for support and prayer.
Once inside, but now looking from the outside, I cannot help but think what a vicious cycle it is for the mentally and emotionally fragile.

Are you in a toxic spiritual journey? It may be a meditation group, yoga, reiki, church or temple. Look at your guru. Is she in control of your life? Are you free to make important life decisions by yourself? If you are encouraged to discuss these decisions, or ask for prayer or an energy-boost from the community, then you are not truly free, If Í told you so’ is easily communicated when you fail, then you are not truly free. If your personal relationships are closely monitored within the community, then you are not truly free. If you are discouraged to cultivate relationships with people who have opposing views, then you are not truly free. If you have nightmares about leaving the community, you are not truly free. If you believe you are right and everybody else is wrong, you are absolutely not free.

Be spiritual. Belong to a community. But choose to be free. Freedom clears the mind and invites wisdom. Soon you will be self-reliant, truly spiritual, without a clingy need for community, driven to use your talents to serve the world, and have meaningful relationships with people regardless of their spiritual or religious inclinations.

Remember, a guru cannot be a guru without a community. That is his vehicle. Play along at your own peril.

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