Tag Archives: other people

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.


The Difficulty with Making New Friends

Isolation is a frozen pond,
Achingly glacial blue.
Breaking the surface,
I can’t gloss over what doesn’t serve me anymore.

The future holds people I might come to know and befriend,
But I would have to talk to strangers,
And the past with its doubts shatters me–
Waits to lap up the tears that won’t fall.

What about it? Taking off into the world,
Tramping onto buses,off trains,
Tired, traversing time and uncharted roads,
Just to meet someone who might not love me?

I spend too much time alone in empty spaces,
So I’ll have to reach out, start again,
A falling star, hopefully crash landing into belonging.
Think again, if that at all sounds reassuring.

Despite this, I put myself in your hands,
I will take the steps unknowing,
Going out into the world once more,
I am pulled into the earnest embrace of this year,

Like a moth to a flame.
How it roars and crackles,
And cackles, and cries,
And beckons and flails wildly.

The untamed, unpredictable choice is:
come together or fall apart.
But when it’s my turn to cross that threshold,
I fleetingly wish to be anywhere else.

Flashlight eyes,
Outstretched hands,
A place for me somewhere I can’t imagine,
Shining with love and compassion.

And there’s nothing about the mystery
To suggest anything but uncertainty,
Transformation could be as wondrous as painful,
Colliding into the light we’re drawn to.

Scorched into completion, the same reason
Why we can’t find pollution on the sun,
It all gets burned away,
In a flash, just like that.

It’s been said that we cannot be humble
Without suffering and sorrow,
So silently we provide them hospitality
To guarantee we won’t become full of ourselves.

But surely learning our worth, our strength and our care of it,
Is worth being proud of,
And we will never wake up if we believe
We don’t have it within us to open our eyes

The Stories We Tell _ Inspired by Dr. Seuss’ “The Places You’ll Go”

The stories we tell,
The things that we see,
That we think explain
How things came to be,

When we know quite well
They’re not what they seem.
But this point can wait,
We say, sensibly.

For what would we do
Without stories to tell
Of the sun and the moon
How the sky knows them well?

Or how me and you
Run and dance, hope and cry,
Did our hopes and fears
Put the sun in the sky?

Or do we know worlds
Upon worlds of great truth?
Can we see beyond words?
Exactly what can we do?

What claims that we’re claiming
Can claim to have proof?
Yes, how can we prove
The nature of truth?

You’re off on your way
To learn laws and the like
F equals m*a,
Don’t go faster than light.

The principles work,
Though the stories, they change;
The quarks are the quirks,
Quarks are quirky and strange.

And it doesn’t stop there–
No, the stories go farther,
Here chromosomes pair,
There cells become daughters.

They divide and divide—
Are you satisfied yet?
Your brain cells divide
So you won’t forget–

The stories we tell,
The things that we see,
That we think explain
How things came to be.

But, between you and me,
They’re just stories, that’s all
Just our way of saying
This world’s beautiful,

And acknowledging worlds
That our words can’t contain.
When our stories start shifting,
The world will remain.

And some other teller
Of stories will tell
A story of us,
And tell it quite well.

And their story just might
Be better than ours
At explaining the seasons,
Motions, and mountains,

Living, and dying,
This great world and lying
Outside it the universe,
Galaxies, stars,

And why we must tell
These stories with care
To the people we cherish,
Whose planet we share.