Tag Archives: new age

Spiritual Teachers and Discernment

“This blog post will change your life!” Actually, the truth is, it won’t, and there are good reasons to be skeptical of anyone using this phrase a little too often with a little too much enthusiasm, in my humble opinion. besides the fact that people reading this are probably alive and reading these words are adding to your life experience, (in a positive way, I hope,) most experiences are not life-altering. Some experiences, especially spiritual experiences, genuinely do transform you. In changing your inner world, your behavior, your relationships, even sometimes the way you hold yourself in the world will change.

I have personally had many such experiences, and none of them came prepackaged with the claim, “This will change your life!” There were no claims about outcome, only compassionate suggestions. There was no anecdote to uncertainty, only direction based on a plethora of past experiences. As a spiritual friend said recently, there is a reason people in the spirit world are called spirit guides. They don’t live your life for you, (by for instance, telling you how an experience will effect you or how you will feel afterward) and thank goodness they don’t! If things were different, life would be quite boring, disempowering, and distancing and you’d learn a lot about dominance and control and very little about authenticity and freedom.

The thing is, not everyone in this world has a healthy sense of compassion, unconditional love, personal responsibility, or honesty. Everyone knows that. But this statement is true, sometimes even more so, of self-identified spiritual teachers.

Two months ago I signed up on a mailing list to receive access to free telephone calls with various well-known spiritual teachers whom I had never heard of, because I was very curious about others’ experiences and approaches to their spirituality and the theme for the series of calls was waking up, something I am more than passionate about. It was a mixed bag. There were many genuinely spiritual people interviewed on those calls. There were also cooky cutter new agers and blatant scam artists. The host of the program seemed, in my opinion, to have a discernment problem of her own, and every call she hosted, she claimed, would “change your life!” The claim became statistically unsustainable after, say, call number 5, and yet she continues to make it.

For Aristotle, true excellence was synonymous with practical wisdom–sound rationality and emotional balance— and it was notoriously hard to achieve. Some scholars of ancient Greek philosophy surmise that to this date there has not been a single human being who has achieved this ideal. All this to say that, whatever excellence is, it ought not be a quality such that everyone and their adopted cat possess it. Such is true of the property of being life-changing, I think. It cannot be given to every experience, lest the concept lose its meaning entirely.

In any case, life transformation, as well as excellence, often were both sadly absent in this realm of inquiry.

First, there was a call with a spiritual practitioner who manufactures a filter which produces “structured water.” Skeptical already, I went to his website, only to find that the filter specifications explicitly state the apparatus does not take toxins out of the water. It simply “purifies” them with spiritual intentions. The rest of this filter’s enormous, and yes, “life changing!” benefits are scientifically proven facts about water itself. I was appalled by this person’s willingness to call himself spiritual while making a cash cow off of his dishonesty and people’s ignorance, both scientific and spiritual. (I was not surprised however, given the power of human egotism.) Here is a site discussing the scam:

People who don’t realize hydration has huge positive effects on the body whether or not it is “structured” but who have, for instance, heard accurately that water is contaminated by fracking could potentially be one set of scam victims. Structured water systems don’t prevent or reduce, let alone eliminate, contaminants in water.

People who want to evolve spiritually but still believe the authority to empower them lies outside themselves could be the second set of victims, and there will probably be overlap. Here’s the secret people: you are the one who empowers yourself, you are the author of your own life (not the same as the creator of reality) and you and everything else is interconnected. You can infuse as many intentions into water as often as you like, because ultimately you and the water are inseparable. If you need proof, your body is 75% water. You can infuse intentions in the water existing already within you, and get the same results as if you placed them in a glass of water and drank it. Water isn’t just outside you, it is you.

In general, you have all you ever would need within yourself to arrive at the threshold of your belonging, because that threshold has always been at the center of you. You can structure water for free. You can also skip the step of structuring water and become who you have always been and already are, from the inside out.

Several other people featured on the mailing list sold products that, though might have some nominal benefits, are wholly unnecessary to spiritual development. In the end, many spiritual tools are developed to help people focus and get into a state to access what is already within them. Tools aren’t bad in and of themselves. You don’t need a fork to eat pasta, but it’s sure helpful! However, if someone is trying to make you dependent on a product for enlightenment, run.

Another tragic example. The spiritual practitioner who is speaking tonight and who already has my discernment radar flashing red was introduced with the now increasingly meaningless “This will change your life!” guarantee which accompanies every single call, along with the following reason for why I should listen to her (which I will not): “Her popular Twitter feed has over 54,000 followers.” (No, I didn’t make it up!) For anyone philosophically inclined, but even for those who are not, arguments from popularity are fallacious and scream ego trip.

Just to be sure, I went on her website , where, sadly, she offers many blatant self-promoting reasons why people ought to work with her, including the particularly horrifying reason that she is “unique” because she works with the most high-ranking spirits on the other side. Now, this is one of the most blatant fallacies of argument by authority I have ever heard and, again, a huge ego trip. (Not to mention, if someone on the other side actually said something like this to her, she is being lied to.) What spiritual truth could a person possibly impart while fully believing in her superiority? While pointing out why your skills as a stock broker are unique in the business helps you gain customers and successfully compete in your field, the tactic is terribly tacky and telling when it comes to imparting spiritual wisdom.

There is a great and profound responsibility that befalls anyone wanting to spiritually guide others, whether in this world or the next. Those looking for direction (not a prescriptive formula) are, by the very nature of the relationship, making themselves extremely vulnerable. In such a situation, maintaining spiritual equality isn’t the ideal, it is necessary; otherwise one or both of you could get seriously emotionally, spiritually, and in extreme cases physically hurt. This intrinsic spiritual equality is one of the very first things I learned about with my ancient family. Spiritual relationship falls apart without it.

Yes, not all of us have the same skills. That is why there are teachers and learners. But hierarchies of expertise consist of inherently spiritually equal people, period. I would personally avoid anyone who believes otherwise.

I don’t understand how it is possible to be both consciously aware, aware enough to be in the circumstance of walking a spiritual journey with many others, and continue to hold the opinion of yourself that you are unique, and because of your otherworldly connections (who would undoubtedly insist on their equality) besides. I cannot fathom a more hypocritical message, personally. I can only conclude, as seems reasonable and my right in the circumstances, that such people are only pretending to be spiritual for their own personal gain.

I am unfortunately now not just wary of a few practitioners booked for calls through this program, but wary of the person conducting the program as well. What could have been a journey of interesting and insightful discovery has, most of the time, proven to be nothing more than a disappointing marketing campaign. I feel fortunate to have listened to the people whose energy and message resonated with me and to know to look within, rather than out to my culture, or to the popular spiritual culture in which this all takes place, to know when something feels like a scam and honor that feeling. I did not have to learn how to do this with a teacher, and I am not unique, nor special. I am one among many and I am learning and imperfect and very human in all that entails and my authority extends to my journey alone, and really not even that far. And, contrary to the innumerable claims made lately about everything and its lookalike being there to save you and change your life, if you just follow such and so or if you pay for it, I have this to say, which you can take or leave:

I have learned that I am valuable, I am needed, as is every other person here, and our worth is with us from before we were born, and each of us is one among many. We are whole. We are enough just as we are. I believe we don’t follow a spiritual path because something or someone needs to fix us. I follow my path for the joy of it, for growing, and because in changing I become more myself than ever before. I have learned that comparison is conformity, and conformity stifles authenticity. I am here to speak my truth, to finally see I am enough in my eyes, and be completely who I am. Isn’t that all we can ask of ourselves?

So, when someone bombards me with unsupported and incessant claims that “This (whatever it is) is going to save your life!” I remind myself that nothing outside you changes your life. You are alive. To transform our lives, we only have to go full out in living and being all we are.


Ridiculous Animal Totems Deserve Ridiculous Responses Martha Beck,

Martha Beck, http://marthabeck.com/, author of the book “Expecting Adam, A True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic,” is a life and relationships coach, new age practitioner, and mother of a wonderful boy with Down Syndrome.  Today she posted a hillarius newsletter entry on “marginalized and disrespected” animal totems. 


Many people think they have an animal spirit guide, such as the bear, wolf, tiger, snake, deer, even hedgehog or badger.  But have you ever begun a shamanic journey to find your one true totem animal and discovered (perhaps to your horror?) that it was




the roundish flat worm? 


That’s right, Martha Beck’s disenfranchised totem of the day is the round flat worm and I found it ridiculous and funny enough, as much hopefully as she surely intended it to be, to blog it and add a few grubby tidbits of my own.  I’ve put her words in quotes and added my ramblings wherever I found it most inappropriate.  (Please note this is taken from Martha’s newsletter and I am unable to find a direct link to the quotes I cite here.  You can sign up for her newsletter on her website.)




“Lame Animal Totem: The Roundish Flatworm”



“The roundish flatworm is the hypothetical earliest animal ever to have developed bilateral symmetry. Its proper name, “urbilaterian,” is just its way of trying to sound important. Roundish flatworms are profoundly unevolved. They carry the energy of unintentional rudeness, deep insensitivity, and naïve indifference to suffering.”


Really? Or are they just part of the biological evolution of the planet minus anthropomorphic negative connotations?  Methinks thou dost protest too much!  Can you site sources? Please?  Did Darwin ever speak of the deeply insensitive flat worm?


“If the roundish flatworm is your totem, then like your animal, you probably focus most of your time sucking food through muscular mouth parts located directly over your stomach. This is why no one ever asks you out for coffee, or any other activity that might offer you a chance to develop social skills. No worries—you wouldn’t care anyway.”


Come on, quit making fun of how I look.  Just because I look terrifying and have a mouth on my stomach does not mean I lack a conscience.  Weird anatomy doesn’t make one immoral.  Go back to first grade and relearn the bit about we’re all unique and special even if we all don’t look the same, we all want love and acceptance.  I just wanna be loved… nobody likes me guess I’ll go eat worms…oh wait that won’t work. 🙂  Show some tolerance for the stomach-mouth people!  We demand respect, just like our round worm counterparts!


“When the roundish flatworm convulses its way across your path, consider it an invitation to offer only primitive reactions to people around you. Ignore all thought-provoking ideas. Be sexist and politically incorrect. Laugh when people trip. If anyone complains, say, “Hey, I’m bilaterally symmetrical! What more do you want?” The roundish flatworm has been using this line for millions of years, and so far, it’s worked just fine.”


Goes to work and gives it a try: You good for nothing *****************! Oh wait did I make you mad?  But I am bilaterally symmetrical.  Man why didn’t that work on my boss.  Now I got fired. Waaaaaaaahhhhh.


“Periodically in this newsletter and on my FB page, I’ll be sharing the animal totems you wish you knew more about: the marginalized, the disrespected, nay I say, the lame.  You’ll learn the illuminating messages they hold for you. You’re welcome. ~Martha.”


Lame?  That’s totally politically incorrect.  Are you sure you’re not projecting?  Maybe you’re bilaterally symmetrical too.  Wait, you mean I might not be alone?  Yesssss!  Can we be friends?  I won’t care that you also eat through your stomach and will constantly treat me with insensitivity and primitive political incorrectness.  We can act like we’re the ooze on our shoes together!  Please?  Let’s be friends.  I don’t have any friends. Can’t I just worm my way into your life?  Whine, whine… well, in a wormy sort of way.


And I couldn’t resist a little make believe vignette.  What precisely would go through your mind if you learned your totem was the roundish flat worm?  Here’s one possibility.


Dear Universe,

I had a dream last night in which I was given the roundish flat worm totem.  A woman in a long black dress and funny hat, which immediately belied her authority, appeared holding the primitive, rude, and belligerent creature.   Actually, the worm was  too lame to be belligerent:  rather it was noncommittal and sluggish if you ask me.   Anyway, the woman announced that from now on I would identify with the flat worm.  She said this in some foreign language I’d never heard– perhaps Swedish, unless you’re Swedish, in which case the language was probably Turkish.  The pronouncement gave me a creepy crawly — or should I say squidgy– feeling.  Anyway it made me squirm.  I then had a replay of my whole life as if on a movie screen and realized in horror that no one has ever asked me out to coffee or on a date, and I was suddenly ashamed of the way I eat.  I thought everyone ate through their stomach.  Am I the only one? Really, really? No don’t tell me that, don’t, just… don’t!  But wait, if I really had a flat worm totem, I wouldn’t care.  I was so disgusted with myself that I ran to the shrink… I lied, I squidged over to the shrink on my belly.  Wait, that also isn’t how other people get around? Noooooooooo!  Don’t erase my slime trail…er I mean don’t burst my bubble.  Come on, how would you feel if your only merit was being bilaterally symmetrical?  All I could think was… I couldn’t think.  And then I got stepped on.  I’m so glad it was just a dream, but what if this says something about my personality?  I’d better go eat breakfast and take an empathy test, just to be on the safe side.