I have spent a big part of my adult life being a part of spiritual and self-help communities. They have given me more than one can imagine. But today isn’t a day to discuss that. Today I feel like writing about one particular malady that infects more or less every self-help organisation.
Jennifer Hoffman, a wonderful energy healer whom I l follow, chooses to term it as ‘Spiritual Shaming’ and defines it thus:
Spiritual shaming is a form of manipulation which implies that your spiritual connection, talents, and abilities are in question if you do not use them in the way someone thinks you should or expects you to, or when your beliefs cannot be contained within their definition of spirituality.
I have been spiritually shamed on a variety of occasions. That’s because I have a multi-dimensional take on life. To me, spirituality is all about silence, non-judgement and love but my definitions of these terms are much more encompassing than the typical definitions.
Typically, silence (or equanimity or stillness) is supposed to mean a nectar-like peace and non-reactivity. It is. So far so good. My contention is that it is not just that, it is much more than that. I choose to quote here the often-repeated statement from the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience but we are spiritual beings having a human experience’. The question to ask is ‘What’s the human experience all about?’
To me, its about what the Indian culture calls the Navarasas. Navarasas are nine primary essences of life spanning the entire emotional spectrum, one of them being Raudra Ras – the emotion of anger. Human experience is rich because of the possibility of anger. Anger just like peace offers a host of advantages. It helps you protect your boundaries, display your commitment and manage people. Tibetan tradition has an entire wing of wrathful gods. All our Rishis were masters of Raudra Ras, who didn’t stop themselves from pronouncing a curse on somebody who violates their boundaries. Thereby a narrow definiton of spirituality has no place for anger but a wide definition obviously has.
A true spiritualist will appreciate an angry person as much as he does a peaceful person. To him, anger is as important a quality as peace is. A spiritual shamer is a spiritualist who makes an angry person feel bad about himself or herself. He subtly or openly advises him to come back to peace. To me, such advice itself is judgement and violence. Letting an angry person explore, live and harness his anger is an art that he finds difficult to understand or master. A spiritual shamer also sees his own sacred anger in poor light.
The next and inter-related one is that of judgement. Nobody judges as much as a not-yet-ripe spiritual student does. His knowledge has become his enemy. I am guilty of this crime too. Having gained so much knowledge, I know the right from the wrong in every instant. At least, I pronounce something as more right than something else. In the process, I tend to become a self- appointed judge of myself and people, if not overtly but surely covertly. However, my saving grace is that I am quick to retreat from this stance, within a matter of moments.
But I have seen far worse cases in self-help communities. I know of people who have already declared where the other stands on the vibrational spectrum on any given moment and judged him away to glory. Such people don’t understand that the other person’s honest expression and authentically being himself or herself is far higher than the highest emotion on the vibrational spectrum.
Last on my list is a shamer’s case for love. To me, being loving and doing loving things are two different things. Taking somebody to task, punishing a wrong-doer or holding somebody accountable is often seen as an act of hatred by a half-baked spiritualist. It is not. All these acts could come from a space of love. And even if they do not come from a space of love, yet they are required a well-functioning society.
A lop-sided spiritualist believes in the model of floaty-soft spirituality which can only contain all pleasurable emotions. It doesn’t make room for any sort of emotionality or sentimentality. This to me is a half-baked approach. A person who insists on experiencing only the positive range of emotions would find himself short of the wherewithal to lead people at home or work. Because a true leader is a master of all the colours, not just the positive ones. A shamer tends to label others who are employing their leadership skills, taking tough calls and doing seemingly unloveable things as not inclusive and not spiritual enough. This can confuse the well-meaning and driven leader too if he has been a spiritual shopper himself but doesn’t yet know what full-spectrum spirituality is all about.
From what I have shared its easy to spot a spiritual shamer from his narrow defintions of peace and love and from his own keenness to subtly judge others based on his yardstick of spiritual or self-help concepts. Stay away from such shammers (unfortunately a shamer wouldn’t even approve of this caveat of mine because his or her current definition of spirituality doesn’t make room for countering boundary violations lest it will eat into what he defines as unconditional love). Either ways, stay away from such shamers but yes do hold a lot of hope and compassion for them.