Many are those who, once embarked on a spiritual journey of any kind, end up feeling superior to others, completely negating the sense of inner research. Let’s look at the “symptoms” together.
“Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.”
Vine Deloria, Sioux
Many are those who hear the call to the spiritual path. For some, it arrives at a young age (there are even those who express an evident vocation as children) but most receive it at a mature age. I am not referring exclusively to the religious vocation, indeed, I am speaking precisely of this growing desire for everything that transcends matter, which goes beyond faith, belief and rituals. As it said in The Way of a Pilgrim:
The mysterious sighing of creation, the innate aspiration of every soul toward freedom, that is exactly what interior prayer [or spirituality] is. There is no need to learn it, it is innate in every one of us!
What spirituality means
The way of the Spirit
What exactly spirituality is, is extremely difficult to say. It is not my intention to go into etymological, philological, philosophical or religious discourses. Suffice it to say that the term “spirituality” has to do directly with the Spirit. And here another abyss opens up: what is meant by “Spirit”? Just to avoid theological diatribes, I limit myself saying that Spirit is all that goes beyond matter but that is not opposed to it: the old (and now obsolete) conception of Spirit and matter as opposites does not make sense to exist and is found only in philosophies and/or religions that have a tendency to give more importance to one aspect to the detriment of the other. You can be a spiritual person being an atheist or at least not religious. Spiritual sensitivity does not presuppose the existence of any god.
But then, what is this spirituality? The urge to go beyond the matter, but not only, but also the morality, the social dynamics, nature and humanity itself. The feeling that there is a reality that goes beyond what we see, even though it is not separated from it. Not accepting that existence is limited to our 5 senses, but not even to reason or rationality. The etymology of the word “intelligence” can help us: it comes from the Latin intelligĕre, contraction of the Latin verb legĕre, “to read”, with the adverb intus, “inside”. In other words the art of knowing how to interpret reality, looking into it, scrutinizing the essence of things.
Another etymological interpretation thinks that it is a contraction of legĕre with the preposition ĭnter, “between”. Then scrutinize through the folds of reality. They are two very similar interpretations, which are mutually inclusive but also complement and explain each other. Finally, spirituality is this desire and this ability to see through reality and within it, interpreting its deepest meanings.
The spiritual journey
Given this definition, it is easy to understand that being spiritual is not a done and finite state, a condition that, once reached, allows us to be “arrived“. Spirituality is a journey without end because the folds of reality are never exhausted, the essence of everything participates in that sliver of Infinity that makes it infinite itself. The Spirit is not, therefore, definable, in the sense that one cannot enclose and believe that one has grasped it, understood it. The contemplation of Being leads us to a state of total quiescence, in which every kind of “action”, even if only of thought, is nothing. There is total identification with being. At that moment when we reach being, paradoxically, we cease to exist. Or rather, our limited being ceases to become one with the Whole. This is why the Spirit cannot be grasped: because when we do it we no longer exist.
To explain it with an analogy, in order to make everything a little more understandable, let’s go back to Einstein’s physics. The great scientist has shown that everything is relative to speed, not only space but also time. This decreases with increasing speed. When the latter reaches that of light, time is zero. Obviously, this applies to the subject of speed itself. For example, if I were able to travel at the speed of light, time would not pass for me. If therefore, I began a journey at such speed and my brother instead remained on Earth, and after 10 earth years I returned to him, I would not have aged while for him 10 years would have passed.
The interesting fact is that the moment I accelerate, for example, thanks to a spaceship, up to the speed of light, time slows down for me but I don’t realize it at all. From my point of view, nothing changes: I do my actions as always, they are the ones from outside who see me move very slowly until I stop completely. But for me, a subject shot at the speed of light, don’t notice anything. Basically, I get on the ship, I’m shot at 300,000 km/s and a moment later I’m back on Earth where I meet my brother. 10 years have passed only for everyone else! This is exactly what happens when we merge with the Being, with the Whole, we come into contact with the essence of all things.
The sense of superiority of the “spiritual people”
“Because I am me and you’re not a shit”
All that has been said so far makes us understand how ridiculous it is to feel superior only because we are on a spiritual journey. Considering this, how is it possible to become spiritual snobs? It is actually very easy. Being, in fact, a path that begins to see you beyond the surface of reality, many think they have reached some kind of “power”, awareness, state of consciousness. They have learned, perhaps, to see beyond the first layer of the surface and think they are already half gurus. This makes them look at those who are not travelling on any specific spiritual path (but probably have a more developed spiritual sensitivity) from the top down.
It is usually an initial phase of the journey (from which not everyone passes, thank God) but there are people who wallow in feeling superior. Perhaps before embarking on this path they were misfits, people who could not integrate into society, with relationship difficulties and unable to concentrate on goals. By dint of skidding here and there they ended up in the first meditation course they found by reading a flyer attached to a garbage bin. In this course, they learned that they are special beings, misunderstood, profound and that society is disgusting and does nothing but ruin people. They felt deeply touched, they believed to be the chosen ones and they have started to frequent these elusive groups (so greedy of adepts they welcome every Tom, Dick and Harry), beginning to look at the neighbour from the top down.
We are all suffering from spiritual pride
What I described above is a deliberately extreme (but unfortunately very real) picture. In my experience, I have understood that meditation and related groups are catalysts for people with serious pathological problems. They attract them like honey with bees. The worst thing is that those who lead these groups don’t care at all to direct these people to those who could really help them, like a good analyst, for example. Obviously, there are not only these types of individuals that frequent those environments, but there are also many other “normal” ones. I say this in order not to scare anyone!
In any case, it is not just these people who fall into the trap of pride: we are all victims. Maybe at different levels, but it’s hard to be totally immune. This process is devious and subtle because it insinuates itself into the desire to do good, to make light triumph, which is a noble desire but if it results in fundamentalism and imposition, it is no different from any dictatorial regime.
The imposed good ceases to be good, at the very moment in which we want to impose it.
Unfortunately, there are those who believe that fighting brutally to eliminate poverty (I give a random example) is more just and noble than fighting to take possession of a nation’s oil. But in both cases, violence is used with the presence of deaths. And until proven otherwise, armed revolutions have never led to the hoped results, in most cases, it was a simple reversal of power, from one restricted group to another.
The same goes for small personal battles: we firmly believe, for example, that everyone should meditate, or that nobody should eat meat, or that people should always be kind, and we use every means, without scruples, to realise our “dream”, not caring if we trample the sensibilities of others. I remember of a spiritual guide who treated very badly the people who followed him, coincidentally all women, because he had the idea that he was simply in the hands of Providence and that if he treated badly someone was what Providence wanted for her, to make her grow! I have seen people totally annulled in the conviction of denying their ego and following the will of God in the name of the bond of spiritual obedience. I am sorry, but it is not what is meant by the spiritual journey!
Maintaining contact with the earth
Humility, always and in any case
I will be honest: to me, the word humility has always pissed me off. Especially since I have often heard it in the mouth of religious men and women (ecclesiastical or not) with the intention of demolishing the already fragile psyche of the boys and girls who unfortunately attended the catechism. Humility, for them, is synonymous with submission: to God, to parents, to teachers, to the hierarchy, to the system in general. If we actually analyze the word, we note that the Latin root humilis comes from humus, or rather that it is proper to the earth. The humble person is the one who maintains contact with the earth, with reality, who keeps his feet on the ground. Remembering his own roots, he will not be deceived by the Pindaric flights of the mind, often driven by unresolved unconscious wounds.
A sign of wisdom is to recognize that on this journey, even after 40 years of travel, I know exactly as before: nothing. It is an endless journey, full of discoveries, continuous surprises and news. No one can truly call himself a master (although, unfortunately, we meet them everywhere). Also because the path is absolutely individual and nobody can tell you how you should go.
Excellent techniques to maintain this contact with the Great Mother are all those activities that involve the use of the body: dancing, doing/receiving massages, walking in nature, making love, singing, playing an instrument, painting, drawing, play sports, doing manual work of any kind in general. Just to name a few.
Self-irony will save the world
The tendency of those who walk along spiritual paths is to take everything, and themselves, too seriously. The extreme of taking oneself seriously has led eminent monks, gurus to kill in the name of truth, a dogma. Hence the famous saying:
No man with a sense of humour ever founded a religion.
Robert Green Ingersoll
Lightness, irony and why not even healthy sarcasm are fundamental ingredients to resize things, even ourselves. According to one of the Hindu spiritual concepts, the universe is only a līlā or a game. Like all games, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, on the contrary, the goal is just to have fun! When we realize that we have become rigid, serious, susceptible, let’s have a good laugh about how much we took it too seriously! If we do not waste even half of our ascetic practices but we find ourselves judging those who indulge in the pleasures of life, let’s get off our high horse teasing ourselves in front of the mirror, mimicking our seriousness. Perhaps we would realize how far our pride had brought us from the Truth.
I conclude by recommending a truly enlightening reading, to which I will soon dedicate a special article: Narcissus and Goldmund, by Hermann Hesse.