Don't Take it Personally... Unless You're Being an A**hole
This is an excerpt from Nick Meador's BS Free Spirituality Manifesto, a 35-page PDF ebook about avoiding cults, narcissists, and abuse of power on the path of personal transformation. Click the image to the right to learn more.
The journey of spiritual development is measured most of all by internal feedback. But as world citizens, we’re also subject to feedback from the collective.
We live in an age when it's harder than ever to avoid comparing ourselves to others. Not only do we have the celebrities of movies and TV flaunting their epic lifestyles. Now even supposedly ordinary people – maybe even our family members or best friends – are posting their triumphs and adventures on social media.
And just as the danger has always been there to measure our own value against what we perceive in others, now we’re also in danger of slipping into a mindset that our social media likes and followers are a metric of our personal worth.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing inspiration and hope with others who are on the path. And regardless of our intention, someone who isn’t owning their responsibility to influence their own experience could project onto us that we’re being arrogant when in fact we’re just living out our highest potential.
Ultimately our journey is measured most accurately by the feedback we get from our own gut, heart, and soul. More than ever, it’s wise to be weary of appearances and personas, of cliques and popularity contests, and of fads and trends.
Again it’s helpful to avoid extremes. For instance, wearing “spiritual” clothes doesn’t convey whether someone is more in tune with the meaning and purpose of their life, or even more in touch with the metaphysical side of the universe. However just because a person is wearing ceremonial garb from another culture doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a charlatan or “plastic shaman.”
At the inception of BS Free Spirituality my “ego” wanted to ridicule people I’ve seen who seem to be faking spiritual accomplishment in order to gain social status. But my “higher self” knows that this is a useless undertaking.
Just as we all have our own personal truth, each of us has a different idea of what is “BS.” This project is just as much about cutting out my own BS as it is about cutting out anyone else’s!
And as I’ve come to realize, any time I’m judging someone in connection to status or recognition, it usually means a part of me feels jealous or left out. Nonviolent Communication founder Marshall B. Rosenberg used to say that this kind of moral judgment (an evaluation of value based on whether or not it aligns with our beliefs) covers up the fact that we feel one or more emotions because we aren’t meeting one or more of our needs.
This is where it helps to distinguish moral judgment from discernment – which I’d define as making evaluations and decisions not based on personal moral values but on whether or not our behavior in relation to the person, place, or thing would meet our needs more or less.
However, all this about measuring our own progress has a caveat. As we go about our lives we also get feedback from other people and from the world, just as we get it from our bodies and even our night dreams.
We all see ourselves as the star of our own movie. This self-centeredness isn’t bad in itself. It’s just that we can never be 100% self-aware. On the path of self-development, there are bound to be moments when other people inspire a painful expansion of our awareness – for instance, if we didn’t realize we were actually causing harm in some way.
Maybe there’s truth in the feedback. Or maybe we’ll decide that we disagree with it. From one perspective, that’s a conversation between us as the universe (or “God” or whatever term has meaning for you).
However, from another perspective, because we all see ourselves as the “good guy” (or girl), there absolutely are cases where people really are causing harm and refuse to acknowledge it. And there are absolutely people in the world of spirituality who fit this description.
Our society uses terms like “narcissist” and “sociopath” to describe people who are completely disconnected from any kind of feedback saying they’re causing harm. Such people are likely to flip it on the accusers and construe some false reality where the accusers are actually the ones causing harm. That’s a nutshell description of gaslighting, where someone’s perception of reality is weakened to the point that they might doubt their own sanity.
Remember, a lot of reality is open to interpretation, and it’s possible for our experience to become political. Even in a yoga class. Or at a kirtan. Or with a self-development group that talks about holding space for all viewpoints and perspectives.
There’s no clean and simple conclusion on this subject. We’re talking about human beings, and humans represent a condensation of the vast infinitude of the whole universe, after all!