Hello and welcome back!
Today, let's dive into what I believe to be ACTUAL supportive spirituality, how we can recognize spirituality that's going to help us feel BETTER in this life, and how we can move away from the false promises of transcendence to find actual joy on the path.
Transcendence Based Spirituality NEVER Leads To Actual Peace:
Now, before I carry on, I'm fully aware that not ALL spiritual and self help work is like this. I know that there are some resources that sound a bit like the above, without going all the way - that promise that we can feel BETTER and that we can change our mindsets and patterns in a way that allows us to live happier, healthier lives without making the big bold claims that we can be fully transcended. I’m aware that many out there are coming to realize that there are no bad parts of self, and that we’re always doing the best we can with what we have. I know that there are more and more teachers out there who ARE looking to support us in working WITH our human selves to find actual peace - rather than teaching that in order to find peace we have to escape the human condition. I’m aware that not all teachings are what I have pointed out above - and that’s GREAT!
The purpose of this post is to speak to the teachings that ARE making the above claims, so that we can sort out fact from fiction here.
In my experience, human life is painful.
Not all the time.
Not in all ways.
But generally speaking, every human I’ve ever known have continually cycled through phases of joy and ease, phases of challenge and phases where life was a mixed bag.
In fact, most all people I know - from the most earnest spiritual seekers to the most atheist realists you can imagine - are essentially living very similar realities - they are all experiencing both joy and sadness, pain and pleasure, hope and fear, loss and gain - and there doesn’t seem to be a HUGE difference in actual life outcomes between those trying to escape the human experience and those who are more accepting of it.
I’ve not personally seen a big difference in the long term outcomes between those who are constantly working to shift themselves and twist themselves into new versions so that they can be positive and transcended and those just living a ‘normal life’. Other than the fact that those who are on the spiritual path tend to be a lot more stressed out and navel gazing than those living day to day.
I’ve not seen good evidence that this constant striving for alignment, transcendence, bliss and heaven actually leads to a life of more positive outcomes, more positive experiences, less pain or less human life.
In fact, what I’ve mostly seen is those in the spiritual/self help world who are constantly trying to transcend this human experience end up MORE neurotic, more anxious, more stressed and in more pain due to their pain than those who don’t have any kind of spirituality or personal growth practices.
In other words - a lot of the time these belief systems that we’re supposed to be able to transcend our humanness, the idea that we have bad parts we have to fix/get rid of, the teachings that our natural emotional responses to life are the THINGS that are causing us pain, the idea that there is a heaven we CAN and SHOULD be able to reach within this human experience, the idea that ALL of life comes down to something ABOUT US, the idea that we’re doing something wrong if we have pain we can’t fix OR if we have a perspective of something that simply isn’t positive, that we are ‘manifesting’ all of our painful experiences and have the power to ‘attract’ any positive experience - all of this actually drives us FARTHER from happiness and satisfaction than it drives us closer to peace and joy.
The REALITY is - we don’t have perfect control over our experiences and we never will.
The reality is it’s not our emotions that are CAUSING us pain - rather it’s our inability to PROCESS and be WITH our emotions and to LISTEN to what they are guiding us to see that’s causing us pain.
We are never going to create a life where nothing painful, challenging, unexpected or difficult ever happens again - because that’s not how life works.
We’re not the cause of everything that happens in our lives.
All of our negative behaviors have their roots in our current level of understanding and conditioning - and ALL of them are ways in which we’re meeting our needs in the best ways we know how.
Tragedies are always going to be a part of this experience.
Sometimes things happen purely out of randomness, or choices others have made that we have no say in. All parts of self are calling out for love and understanding, and it’s through CONNECTING with ourselves, our emotions, our thoughts and our feelings and learning how to work WITH them to create the best life we CAN for ourselves that we find actual peace.
In my experience, from what I’ve seen actually help others and what I’ve seen actually help me is shifting our spirituality/self help/personal growth away from trying to transcend or get rid of any part of human life, and moving towards developing tools to help us navigate this human experience in a way that leaves us feeling both more empowered AND capable of handling that which we cannot change.
What Does Truly Helpful Spirituality Look Like Then?
I personally believe that the spirituality/personal growth paths that help us INTEGRATE our lived human experiences, that help us work WITH the hurting/traumatized/immature parts of ourselves, that help us develop compassion for the beings that we currently are, that help us develop emotional mastery in the sense that we learn to work THROUGH and WITH all of our emotions - seeing all of them as messengers and guides rather than ‘good or bad’ entities - that help us uncover and process our traumas, that allow us to grieve and be upset over things that hurt and that give us the compass to determine that which we do have the power to fix and change and that which we have to learn to embrace is actually FAR more empowering.
Removing the promise of a transcended life and instead offering tools for how to actually live in the real reality of being human, which will always contain both light and darkness - THIS seems to be SO much more effective for creating overall joy.
When we are constantly running from reality, I believe we block ourselves from joy just as we’re trying to run from and escape the pain. It appears to me that this attempt to get rid of all pain actually only leads us to never being able to fully ENJOY anything, fully trust anything, or fully embrace what IS good - because there’s the constant fear of the ‘bad’ coming back. There’s the constant feeling of failure, guilt, shame and like we’re doing something wrong when we experience pain, because we’re being told over and over again that pain means we aren’t doing our spirituality right. There’s a constant feeling of having to improve, to be better, to do better - because the standards we are reaching for are, in reality, totally impossible.
The fact that so much of our spirituality is based on the premise of us no longer being human, no longer being connected to our pain, our dark emotions and our experiences that are less than amazing, and around us working hard to AVOID any and all pain/blaming all pain on ourselves or looking for the lesson in everything is the REASON so many people on a spiritual path are actually suffering MORE than the average person who’s just living their secular life.
Being told we can achieve a perfection that, in reality, is impossible to achieve is making us less healthy, less happy and less reasonable human beings. It’s making our pain more painful, and it’s distracting us from the real work of developing equanimity WITHIN the human experience.
The whole human experience.
I personally believe that true freedom comes in learning how to navigate the ups and downs of life. Because when we expect that there is supposed to be an ending to this up and down reality - we’re always going to feel like we’re doing something wrong or like life isn’t going how it’s supposed to go - and THAT is what adds the extra layer of pain that doesn’t need to exist. It’s the RESISTANCE to reality that hurts the most. Meaning - there are going to be things that hurt in this life. There are going to be struggles. There are going to be times when the actions of others are truly harmful for us, where we don't have control over what others do, where we can't communicate our wants and needs, where we don't have access to what we want and need, where tragedy strikes, where we get sick - there are PLENTY of experiences in life that are beyond our control that cause pain - that again we would do well to have tools to NAVIGATE rather than believing we CAN control everything if we just try hard enough.
We aren’t going to escape pain, tragedy, having things happen that aren’t what we wanted. We’re not going to transcend the human experience.
But we CAN learn to hold ourselves in our pain, in our struggles, in our challenges and in our weaknesses. We CAN learn to process the traumatic, disappointing, hurtful and harmful experiences. We can learn to support one another in our grief, our losses and our pain. We can stop fearing the inevitable chaos of this reality and start learning to work WITHIN it in a way that allows for us to have catharsis, to learn what CAN be learned, and to make room for what was out of our control.
We can stop RESISTING the natural ups and downs of life and start to learn to RIDE them - and in this we free ourselves from the continual feeling that life is going WRONG - which disempowers us and takes away our ability to work THROUGH things - we can finally settle INTO life as it actually is, which again, empowers us.
Embracing the natural waves of reality actually make them easier to ride. Resisting them is when we drown.
I personally believe that true joy - even abiding joy - comes from EMBRACING the fact that we are going to be sad, mad, happy, down, scared, unsure, loving, tender, closed down, opened up, fearless, excited and every other emotion a million more times between now and when we pass on. Learning to be WITH our emotions so that we can get their messages and use them as tools for creating more and more aligned lives is actual freedom. Learning to hold ourselves when we’re sad so that we can move through whatever catharsis needs to be moved through in times of hurt, disappointment or loss leads to an overall feeling of healing Learning to express the anger we feel so that we can figure out WHAT is making us angry and therefore what needs to change so that we can be more liberated, leads to freedom. Making room for our discomforts so that we can work through our false beliefs or so that we can again create a life that works better for us leads to freedom. Addressing our anxiety and depression so that we can identify our traumas, the patterns that are hurting us (both stemming from our personal choices AND from the world around us) our false beliefs and that which isn’t working for us so that we can feel like we’re being heard and supported in our path of being alive leads to freedom. Embracing when we’re tired, embracing when we’re overstimulated, embracing when we’re in resistance - all of this is the way to actual emotional liberation. Each emotional state is a doorway to understanding, and the more we can be with our emotions again the less pain we have from the resistance and the more information we will gather that empowers us. The more we can simply process whatever emotions need to move through as a natural byproduct of being alive. The more we can just BE HUMAN and enjoy the experience.
I personally believe that looking for where we can best support ourselves in whatever we’re in - rather than trying to ‘fix’ whatever is happening to us as though it’s all a sign of a spiritual success or failure leads to an actual feeling of empowerment. Understanding that life is complex, and that we are all doing our best is the best foundation - vs. feeling like a transcended heaven like existence is the expectation and anything less than that is a challenge to be overcome. I personally believe that sometimes it helps to look for the meaning or bigger picture. Sometimes we do have power to change things and make things better for ourselves. Sometimes we are in a position where there’s power at our finger tips. And at the same time, sometimes there’s simply nothing we can do about what’s occurring. Sometimes we’re not the cause. Sometimes life is just hard - even when we’re doing everything ‘right’ in the sense that we ARE on the path towards what we want to create. Sometimes challenges arise that we don’t expect not because we did anything wrong - but just because this is how life works or because of circumstances beyond us. Learning how to lean into each experience we’re going through FIRST with self compassion - giving ourselves space to feel and express all that we FEEL about what we’re going through (including when those feelings aren’t ‘mature’) - and from there work with that which we DO have control over AND that which we DON’T - coming to terms with each of these two aspects within each of our experiences - THIS is what empowers us.
I believe that learning to love and embrace the parts of us that are immature, hurting, scared, locked in patterns of self abuse and that are stuck in addictions, scapegoats, self sabotage and coping is what really leads to us learning what these parts want and need. With this learning we can better show up for ourselves and find new ways of getting our needs met - in the ways that are currently POSSIBLE - which doesn't always mean we fully figure ourselves out or can meet our needs. We want to learn to meet them in their pain, their struggle, their trauma and where they got stagnated in their growth. We can then start to understand WHAT hurts so much about our lives that we are drawn to these behaviors that DO have some positive outcomes. We can start to have compassion for ourselves that we are living in a system that oftentimes doesn’t support our growth and expansion, and we can start to grow and expand anyway - in the ways that are possible for us - which again doesn't always mean transcendence! That in doing so we realize we never had to/have to fight against a ‘bad’ part of self, because there is no bad part of self. Rather we can understand more and more of what we need, how we're coping right now, seeing where we can choose new supportive habits to replace our current ones and seeing where we may just need the habits we have. Seeing where we DO have the power to heal the pain and where we may not. We can come to see that we're ALWAYS doing the best we can with what we know and have access to - and then we can work from there. Slowly shifting the nervous system where it's possible, and learning to love ourselves where it isn't. We can fully release the narrative that we have to work against any part of our being so that we can shift into a state of seeing our innocence and working from that true place. We can slowly mature all these parts of ourselves through love, continued presence, acceptance and a desire to SUPPORT vs. a desire to fix or suppress.
I believe it’s time we start looking for a spirituality that supports us in working with the natural realities of life.
It’s time we surrender this idea that we can transcend being human and that THAT is what will lead to happiness and freedom, and embrace that we will always be human - so we can figure out how to best work WITH that.
Again, expecting that one day the ocean is going to become waveless only means that we resist the waves. When we resist the waves, the waves don’t stop - we just have a much, much harder time swimming. When we accept the reality of an ocean that will always be mutable - sometimes incredibly wavy and sometimes smooth - we can learn to work with BOTH states - and everything in between - and THIS actually leads to true freedom.Learning to work WITH reality leads to so much more joy that working AGAINST reality and wishing for it to become something it’s never going to be.
Life is never going to be a perfect heaven of no struggle, no emotion, no identity and no challenge. Our emotions, our disappointment, our grief, our fear - these are all natural parts of human life that aren’t going anywhere.
So how do we embrace them so that we can create a life that feels good THROUGH all of this?
THAT is the spirituality I want.