Deceptions of ‘spiritual conquest’

It is a common phenomenon that people with spiritual beliefs try to use any difficult life circumstances for self-improvement and spiritual betterment. Whatever happens in their life – career challenges, disappointment, failures, relationship difficulties, anger, financial problems, loneliness, hurt feelings, etc. – all of these they are eager to use in order to cultivate such worthwhile states of being as non-attachment, forgiveness, appreciation, and unconditional loving.

The theme of “accepting life as it is” is also very popular. Often, if you consider yourself to be spiritual, rebelling against your circumstances and not accepting a particular life situation “as it is” would look “kind of lame” in the eyes of the spiritual community.

Another valued spiritual trait is taking responsibility for everything that happens in one’s life and not blaming anybody else for the way one feels. Rightly, this seems to be the only way one can exercise control over one’s life and make choices that may bring alternative results.

However, I have come to believe that these three spiritual themes – the chase after the “enlightened” states of being, accepting things as they are, and the culture of not blaming – as great as they truly are, when not balanced with common sense and with an acknowledgement of our true human needs, can attract feelings of confusion, pain and disempowerment. It definitely caused a lot of confusion in my own life, and I can often see the same happening to other people – especially to women.

We often tolerate more than they should, stay longer in a relationship than is good for us, and forgive things and actions which should not be taken lightly. My own explanation for such occurrences is that often people who come to spirituality are those who have been hurt before and who are looking for ways to heal their heart and to recover their sense of wholeness. I was one of these people. Since my own wounding has always been around rejection, not being good enough and not being important, the best protection from the pain of these wounds was to adopt different controlling attitudes, such as not committing, leaving relationships first, emotional withdrawal (in other words, being ‘civil’), and choosing romantic partners who still had some ‘growing up’ to do and with whom I could take on a mother’s role. My “acceptance” was, in fact, the fear of being alone with my own “non importance”. My “unconditional love” and “not judging” were to numb my inferiority complex and the fear of rejection. My over-understanding of someone else’s intolerable behaviour was a sure way to be “saintly” in my own and my partner’s eyes. In my romantic attachments, I used to always end up in a position of the stronger, more mature, more balanced, more non-attached one. And all of these were just my ego’s way of protecting me from feeling my own needs, my own brokenness, my own vulnerability, my complete lack of control and my deep fear of not getting what I really wanted. I was often compromising my sense of integrity to avoid pain but, paradoxically, by doing this, I was inviting more and more pain into my life.

I have always been on a spiritual path, even when I did not know it. I have a great respect for people who are courageous enough to delve into their own darkness so they could come out the other side in a more gracious and liberated form. However, I also see how people who embrace spirituality are often trying to overcome their own humanity and everything that comes with it.

There are a few basic messages that we human beings have to receive from those with whom we share our life so we can be happy. These messages are:

I see you

 I regret your pain and suffering

You are loved and you belong with us

I appreciate your contributions and achievements

 You are safe with me and from me

These are our true human needs which we have the right and are allowed to seek a fulfilment of in our relationships. In fact, these are the same as a child’s needs. We also – even if maybe to a lesser degree than children – need to feel affirmed and celebrated in our existence by those who claim to love us. Without it, our spiritual pursuits may become ‘phony’ and lacking in genuine depth. It can, in some subtle ways, become merely decorative and manifest as what John Welwood has called “spiritual bypassing”.

My needs were not fulfilled in my past relationships because I was disconnected from my heart – I was “above” the needs. But all the same, spiritual practices and the desire for self-betterment eventually got me out of the vicious circle I described earlier. It didn’t happen overnight and I wish that there had been someone to tell me the following:

Being human is OK.

Know and respect your values and respect your true needs.

Allow and accept the reality of your own pain and fears.

But never let go of your integrity.

Do the right thing, even if it means you have to let go of what you want (and what we want is usually to be in control, one way or another).

Because keeping your integrity intact will feel better than getting what you want.

Once you had an experience of choosing your integrity over what you want,

you will never come to live any other way…

In my case, there was nobody there to say these words to me. So, I am saying them here for you.

The art of asking

I will open with a statement. Praying to God and asking for something we need, helps. (Here, when I say “God” I mean “some intelligent force that is higher than us and which is inside or/and outside of us”). But to get a prayer ‘right’ is not that easy. The main reason why it’s difficult is because, in order to create a prayer that can be heard, we have to let go of our desire to control things.

I remember a number of years ago, I was praying to God for help. I felt desperate and could not find the way to work things out by myself. I experienced enormous emotional pain from a particular situation in my love relationship: people in that situation didn’t behave in a way, which, I thought, would bring a resolution, a relief, and in a way that would make me feel important. So, I prayed to God for the situation to change, for the people involved to change – for their own good, for their own sense of integrity! But it didn’t help… And then, at some point, I lost any hope. I stopped believing that something can ever change. I just stayed with the pain and I asked God: “Please take my pain away…” And later the same day the pain was gone! I felt free, ‘clean’ and expansive inside. A week later, the situation that was troubling me transformed into the way I wanted it to be…

So, my lesson here was that: if you want answers or help from the higher forces, be completely honest with yourself. Get to the real, as I call it, the ‘first degree’ problem you are having, and submit it to God. Ask for yourself, not for others. God has no objection for you asking things for yourself. God wants you to be happy. Don’t ask “Please, remove this person or a situation from my sight, so I could feel better”. Instead, say: “I am suffering. Please, help me to change my reaction to the situation I am in / to people I am involved with”. See what happens!

Our relentless wish for control is often the cause for our deepest suffering. When your romantic relationship turns to be a pain sometimes, let it go, step out of it for a while. Don’t try to control things. Don’t try to manipulate people into how you want them to be or behave. Don’t ask God to change the circumstances, so you could be happy. Your feelings and reactions are the only things you have the right to control.

For most of my life, I had difficulty accepting the following words:

“If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they are yours: if they don’t they never were” (Richard Bach).

I always had very contradictive feelings inside about this “letting go” thing. I felt ‘in my blood’ that there was a truth in those words. But I also believed that if you love someone, you ‘fight’ for them and you let them know they matter. So, I didn’t know how to marry these two truths. Later on, an understanding came: you don’t have to let go of your love for someone, instead you let go of what your ego wants. And when you do let go of your ego, the person you love will feel very free of you, even when standing very near.