Today and next week I want to explore the idea of spiritual leaders projecting being sure of things they can't be sure of in their teachings - and why I personally don't follow teachers who claim to know what I know they can't know.
I want to explore why it makes PERFECT SENSE that we would be drawn to teachers to claim to have special knowledge of things we ALL want to know - what happens after death, what consciousness really is, what the true self is - and why learning to be ok with NOT KNOWING these things will actually set us up to have a healthier relationship with reality as well as with our spiritual teachers and teachings.
Let's dive into why learning to embrace the unknown may be healthier than looking for certainty, and how we can navigate this.
We Are All Searching For Certainty On Some Level:
I want my gurus/spiritual leaders to have healthy self doubt.
I know this is out of the ordinary, but hear me out on this.
I know in this world so many of us are looking for CERTAINTY. We want to know.
We want to know if our health practices are the ‘right ones’ to heal all that ails us.
We want to know if our spirituality is going to make us transcended, get us to the afterlife in one piece, get us to the next life in a better position than we’re in in this one, if it’s helping us live up to our purpose/be all we can be, we want to know if our ways of life are actually helpful and causing more peace on the planet rather than less.
We want to know what happens after we die. We want the existential dread of having self awareness but no idea where we came from or where we go after this to be settled once and for all.
We want to know if there’s life beyond this life. If there’s more to reality than we can see. We often really want to believe that there is more, especially when our current reality is painful, confusing and filled with uncertainty. At the same time, the idea that there may be more scares us if we don’t know what that more IS or how it’s relevant to us here and now.
We all have our struggles, our loops of pain, our questions and doubts, our challenges we haven’t figured out how to overcome. We all have those deep seated fears around the BIG questions in life.
In short, we have pain and fears we want solved.
We have a core desire to feel good, to feel certain, to know that it’s all going to work out for us - and this life very persistently makes those desires almost impossible to fulfill.
We are a species that craves the known, homeostasis and safety, living in a universe of immense complexity, change, variety and the unknown.
Which leads us to wanting someone around us to have certainty.
We want to go back to those safe and secure days of childhood where our caregivers were God and we could, for a while, believe that everything was going to be ok, because we were being taken care of.
To lesser and greater extents we all had that - for at least a while - and of course we long to return to that place.
It’s normal and completely natural to want to feel good.
To want our pain to go away.
To want to have certainty.
Often, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves we know, how much we try to find that settled sure place inside ourselves, no matter how much we try to lean into the unknown and make peace with it - at the end of the day, we all feel that core sense of just how complex and inexplicable our human experience is. Just how incredibly VAST our universe is.
We all have those moments where we realize just how small we are, how little we know, how little control we seem to have.
We go about our lives, doing what we can, planning, doing our routines, relating, eating, sleeping - then life throws us some sort of curve ball - a death, an illness, a global pandemic - and all of a sudden our sense of stable security, that bubble we were living in where it felt like we had it all figured out gets burst.
Or we have with us a constant and perpetual awareness of things not being right. Of things hurting. We may be specifically sensitive, unable to cope with life the way most can. We may have had experiences or simply a predisposition that made us less able to go along with life because we are simply MORE aware of the chaos, the bigness, the destruction, the pain and all we don’t know than the average person.
This is why we are drawn to spirituality and spiritual gurus in the first place.
Spirituality Tries To Fill In The Gaps That Scare Us Most:
For all of time, spirituality has been the place humans go when we want to tell ourselves we have the answers.
Spiritual people who claim to have knowledge of things unseen, who claim to know the afterlife, who claim to have answers to our biggest, burning questions are deeply attractive to us.
They fill that hole we all have, and whether or not believing them comes with having to abandon our sense of logic and reason doesn’t matter - because the emotional appeal of their certainty is a big enough draw to override the more grounded aspects of our consciousness.
We are drawn to doctrines and teachings that are strict, sure and disciplinarian because these characteristics help us feel settled in the idea that we MUST be following the ‘right thing’ - because it’s so organized.
We love teachers and teachings that have an answer for everything, that are black and white enough to give us a broad paint brush with which to paint the whole world, because this means that we never have to wade into those waters of uncertainty and grey.
The more extreme, the more all encompassing, the more ‘I've got a rule for you to follow in every circumstance’ a spiritual path is, the more we want it because again it fills that hole of questioning.
We love to listen to the spiritual guides who are SO SURE about our consciousness not being attached to our bodies, who are certain of what happens after we die, who ‘know’ that reincarnation is real, that our passed on loved ones are still there looking out for us, who can assure us that the pain in this life is just there specifically to teach our specific soul something it needs to know so that our next evolution can be more miraculous and joyful than this one. We are drawn to those who say they have special connections to aliens, ascended masters, God himself. Who claim to know what’s going on in our bodies, in our souls, who know how to transmute our traumas into light and dispel the darkness of our pasts. We get drawn into the stories of the wounded healers who’ve been tortured by this life, born special, led on some path of trial, only to emerge victorious and capable in ways we could only dream of being capable.
These people, these teachers, these doctrines that assume SO much - that when we take a step back, we realize we can’t actually prove, we can’t actually claim in any true or honest sense that we KNOW FOR SURE - make us feel safe. Cozy. Secure. They lull us into that false sense of security that allows us to sleep at night. That allows us to make choices in a sea of seemingly endless possibilities. They allow us to have a place to rest our heads. They allow us to feel like we’re ‘doing it right’ in those moments of pain, confusion, conflict and isolation.
But if we take a step back, we would all have to admit to ourselves that their guess is really just that.
A guess as good as ours.
Sure, they may have a lot of evidence for their guess.
They may have claims of supernatural experience - another thing we LOVE to fetishize in our spiritual leaders - that is supposed to give them credibility.
They may have such a strong conviction that their own sense of doubt is almost totally washed away.
They believe what they are selling completely.
They are bought into their own message. It’s what gives THEM the capacity to sleep, to move through this life, to have peace amongst the chaos.
They are sure, and they project that sureness onto the world around them as an assumed TRUTH that can’t be questioned. That can’t be destroyed. They KNOW it for whatever reason.
In reality, they don’t though. They have a strong guess. They have experience to back up their presumptions.
But they are claiming to know things that simply can’t be known.
We don’t like admitting this to ourselves, and we don’t like admitting this about our spiritual teachers.
Let's take a break here and come back next week for a deep dive into why embracing the unknown may be more peaceful than trying to KNOW what we can't know.